You’re investing time and effort into your content marketing. How do you know it works?
We spend a lot of time talking about how effective content marketing is, particularly when contrasted with other marketing and advertising initiatives. But this begs the question: how do our customers know that what we do works? After all, it’s not entirely intuitive to believe that publishing articles on a website will lead to sales growth.
Fortunately, there is an answer to this. After spending so much time talking about SEO and content strategy, you may be wondering what it’s all about? Well, the purpose of all your market research and content optimization boils down to two numbers: the visitors on your site, and the number of those visitors who become customers. In classic sales terms, your leads and your sales. Or, if you want to think about brick-and-mortar stores, the number of people who walk into your shop, and the percentage of those people who buy your products.
How many people are coming to your website?
A well-run content marketing program should see a growth in web traffic. If you have Google Analytics running on your site, then look at your statistics from the beginning of your content marketing program. (If you run a hosted website, then you will probably have to rely on their analytics reporting.)
Google Analytics should tell you how much traffic your website is receiving from visitors, how long visitors stay on each page, and how many of those visitors “bounce” (leave the site within a few seconds).
As you continue to run your content marketing program, web traffic should increase, time on page should increase, and your bounce rate should go down. What should you expect from each of these numbers?
Web traffic will depend a lot on your baseline, and the amount it grows is a function of the frequency and quality of your content. You will need to know your audience and conduct good keyword research to make sure your message reaches the right audience. But if I were working with a small business that already had a few hundred to a thousand visitors a month, I would want to see that traffic increase by 20–40% after a year of steady blogging.
As for time and page and bounce rate, those are easier numbers. Time on page should be about as long as it takes someone to read the content on that page—for a 1000-word post, maybe three or four minutes. And when it comes to bounce rate, anything between about 40–50% is average. (This will depend on your industry—some types of pages have higher or lower average percentages.)
How many visitors become customers?
Web traffic isn’t the only metric you should care about. Imagine you run a brick-and-mortar store: you can have tons of foot traffic, but if no one buys anything it’s not actually helping your store. (Coincidentally, foot traffic is a way other advertising campaigns used to be measured. If you bought a TV spot and noticed an uptick in traffic, the assumption was that it came from the ad.) On the other hand, if fewer people came into your shop, but more of them bought your products, that would be much better.
We call ratio between visitors and paying customers your conversion rate, although that term is sometimes used to refer to your success percentage for convincing a visitor to do any desired action. So, if the goal of your campaign was to get someone to sign up for your emails, the number of people you convinced to do that would count toward your conversion rate.
Break down the math: which is better? A) 5,000 visitors on your site with a 1% conversion rate, or B) 2,000 visitors with a 5% conversion rate? A is a lot more traffic, but only results in 50 sales. B is a lot less, but results in 100 sales.
Clearly, conversion rate is a much more significant statistic. This is why we’re strongly against black hat SEO tactics or paying money for mailing lists. Sure, you reach more people, but they’re usually the wrong people. And by “wrong,” I mean “people who were tricked into coming to your site or else aren’t interested in your product.”
A high conversion rate means you’re successfully communicating with your target audience. Ideally, you want to maintain a high conversion rate while also growing your web traffic.
What’s your standard for success?
We’ve talked about these goals in simple terms about how to convince people to buy your product. However, for each client, goals will be different. To truly evaluate the success of your campaign, you need to know what you’re aiming for.
For some clients, their marketing goal is to build an awareness campaign for their non-profit. They may want to increase donations, or they might want visitors to engage in a certain activity. But their short-term goal might be to grow subscriptions to their email newsletter so that they can continue educating their audience. If they’re a small, local non-profit, growing their newsletter to 1000 subscriptions could be transformative to their organization.
On the other hand, for a large e-commerce store, 1000 more customers a month might be a drop in the bucket. They may want to increase revenue by a million dollars over the course of the year, and that might mean growing their web traffic by %10 while maintaining their conversion rate.
Know what works.
John Wanamaker, the turn-of-the-century department store magnate, once famously stated: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.”
It’s one of the most insightful quotes on marketing and advertising I know. But in the era of digital marketing, analytics, and data mining, it’s becoming increasingly less relevant. The truth is that, unlike advertising campaigns of the past, it is possible to know what’s working and what’s not, with the right testing.
Increasingly, marketers have to think like engineers to succeed. If you aren’t seeing the results you expect, that’s an indication that some part of your machine isn’t functioning. The response, rather than throwing the whole endeavor out the window, should be to test, iterate, and try again.
If you aren’t getting traction on your blog, look at where you’re sharing it. Examine your target audience. Review your keywords. Snoop on the competition. You no longer need to live in ignorance. If you don’t know why your marketing doesn’t work, you can find out.
In the meantime, set your success goals. Find out what you need to achieve for your marketing program to be a success. Then test and repeat.