Content Marketing, SEO

Not Getting ROI On Content Marketing? This Is Why

We’re all doing it. Feverishly churning out blog posts, video tutorials, how-tos, podcasts and infographics. Content is king, right?

But do you know why you’re creating content? 

Is it because everyone’s doing it, your boss has mandated it or because your competitors are?

Is it because you have a product to sell and you want to tell people why they should buy it (in a lot of words)?

Maybe you’re creating content because it’s ‘free’ and you’re working to a tight budget?

If there were checkboxes next to those answers, and you would have ticked one or more of them, we need to talk.

You see, content marketing done well can bring the customer and brand or business together in a way that no other form of marketing can. On the flip side though, content marketing done badly is a baron wasteland of lost time, effort and money.

What can you do to avoid creating content that achieves zero ROI?

You must rigorously consider your answers the three following, equally important questions:

  • Who cares?
  • Where’s it going?

and

  • What’s the goal?

Who Cares?

Everyone’s creating content but who is it for?

Maybe you have a topic burning a hole in your pocket that you think will knock punter’s socks off and it might, but you might also spend hours writing a comprehensive whitepaper or spending your hard-won marketing budget on a beautifully designed infographic that no one ever sees.

In 2020, Ahrefs studied 1 billion pages to work out how many indexed pages had page views. The upshot? 90.63% of the time no one views the content. And of the 9.39%, just 4.09% attracted 11+ visits.

How do you avoid that depressing fate? Do your research!

There are so many simple ways to find out what people care about.

 

1/ Consult your analytics.

Your own social media and Google analytics accounts are a great place to start. All of the social platforms offer an ‘Insights’ area where you can see which pieces of content have achieved the highest reach and what the engagement numbers have been across likes, shares and comments.

Google Analytics is a goldmine, too. Navigate to Behaviour > Site Content (see image) and drill down into the content you want to analyse.

If your site has a blog, you might want to use the search function to look specifically at pages that include /blog (see image). This will reveal your most popular blog topics.

2/ Connect with your networks.

Ask your clients, networks and colleagues; seed a discussion on your socials to see if the topic sparks a conversation or pose questions on platforms like Quora, Yahoo!, Reddit or industry specific forums.

3/ Find out what People Also Ask (PAAs)

Most search engine results pages (SERPs) will feature a ‘People Also Ask’ section.

Say I’m interested in writing about fairy bread as a theme. To find out what sort of queries are commonly searched for around fairy bread, I type it in and et viola, I discover that people want to know:
• Why is it called fairy bread?
• What does fairy bread taste like?
• What do they call sprinkles in Australia?
• When should you eat fairy bread?

These are all solid content ideas based on actual search queries that I can use to craft content that engages.

Another simple, related hack is to use Google’s autofill function for ideas. Again, if I go back to the fairy bread example, Google gives me these suggestions for terms I might like to search.

(‘Fairy bread petition’ was especially entertaining and, yes, there is a ‘Fairy bread day’. It’s on November 24 and I am hereby observing it every year.)

4/ Get on the tools.

There are a bunch of excellent content research tools available to help you drill down on what people care about. There are free resources like Google Trends which show you related topics, related queries and interest by region. You can search right back to 2004.

Answer the Public is another free tool that groups search terms into 10 subsections based on the type of query like ‘what’, ‘why’, ‘where’ and ‘how’.

There are paid content research tools aplenty like Ahrefs and SEMRush but Buzzsumo is probably the best for content marketing research. You can search for any keywords (e.g. ‘fairy bread’), and Buzzsumo will show you the most shared content that’s relevant to the keyword. It also shows you how these keywords perform across social channels, who has shared the content the most and who is linking to the content. This is treasure if you’re working on a link building strategy and need outreach ideas for content distribution.

As well as thoroughly determining that the care factor is there (or tweaking your idea so it does), be sure to also think of your presentation. While your subject might cause your target people to stop their scroll, the way you present it will also make a big impact on whether or not they read beyond the first line. Weave images and GIFs into your blog content to boost interest, for example. According to BuzzSumo, blog posts with graphics placed every 75-100 words get twice as many social shares.

When asked what type of content they like to engage with in Sprout’s 2021 Social Index, 68% of consumers preferred images, 50% preferred videos and 30% enjoyed text-based posts, so it makes sense to look at content creation with a multi-channel mindset. As well as publishing your content on your site, for example, consider shooting a video of someone presenting the content or repurpose it as a podcast. Create an accompanying infographic or case study. Take a poll to gauge people’s responses to your topic or host a Facebook Live session to take Q&As. The opportunities to bring attention to your topic and content are just about endless.

How Will You Promote It?

There’s a common line of thinking that views content is ‘free’, especially if it’s created in-house, but creating content always comes at a cost. You have to factor in copywriting, design, stock photography, videography, graphics creation and research. Even if you have these capabilities within your team, those people take salaries. And if you stop there – at the point of creation – and simply post it on your socials and publish it on your blog, it’s likely that the investment will earn you somewhere in the range of 0% return on investment.

We analysed content from 10 sites across various industries and discovered that the cost of content* ranged from $0.12 to $11.23. Typically (and unsurprisingly) the sites that promoted their content through a variety of channels fared better than those that didn’t. For example, the $0.12 site produces a range of different but highly relevant pieces of content including guides, videos, webinars, polls and shared the content via email and social media, leveraged relationships with media and industry partners, and ensured that their content was keyword rich. They also produced new content frequently – at a rate of 3-5 pieces/ week.

The $11.23 site promoted their content (primarily blog articles) through emails and social media but their approach was sporadic (every 2-3 months) and the content was generic. At $11.23 per page view, this site would likely achieve better results by investing in a paid media campaign.

The quickest way to kill all your hard content creating work is to do nothing with it. Before you put pen to paper or book a videographer, think about how you’ll get this piece of content in front of the people who will benefit from seeing it.

Consider your owned media:
How can you deliver your message effectively across your social platforms? Avoid a one-size-fits all approach as your brand persona and audience on LinkedIn, for example, is likely to differ from, say, Twitter or Facebook.

What sort of shape is your mailing list in? Is your content something that suits everyone on your list or do you need to segment your database to reach a niche? Can you make tweaks to your content to create a couple of different variations to speak to each segment’s sweet spot, rather than blasting something generic?

What about your blog? Which category or categories does it fit under and how can you create internal links and determine which keywords to use to get a solid SEO benefit?

Get them talking (earned media):
Creating content with relevance to your audience in mind is critical but it’s also well worth your while to consider the relevance to potential advocates – these could be industry publications, influencers, brand advocates, journalists, social accounts, existing customers – anyone who’s aligned with your ideas and topics enough to motivate them to spread the word.

And then we come to paid media:
According to a survey of over 1,500 marketers from different countries by Semrush, businesses are increasing their content marketing budgets in order to achieve their content marketing goals. That’s because better outcomes are achieved by promoting your content through paid social and pay per click (PPC) advertising than by relying solely on earned and owned media – there’s no sugar coating it. Outside of social and paid advertising, content marketers may also invest in influencer partnerships, event sponsorships, PR and the many (many) other activities and tactics that can help amplify your message.

* Based on unique page views and average content creation time of 4 hours per asset/ $50/hr

What’s The Goal?

While 60% of businesses plan to boost their content marketing budget in the next 12 months, only 10% believe their content marketing is highly effective in meeting objectives (Fifth Quadrant, Creating Connections Report, 2021).

The good news is that we know where it’s all going wrong and how you can start to remedy it. The issue we see day in and day out is that the objective is either too sales conversion focused or it just isn’t clear. You MUST start with a goal and work back from your desired outcome for every single piece of content you produce.

Often, content marketing is designed to fulfil one of the following objectives:

  • Brand Awareness
  • Engaging Existing Clients and Prospects
  • Search Engine Rankings
  • Conversions

Here’s the low down on each and how you can measure each goal’s effectiveness.

GOAL: Brand Awareness

If you’re goal is to raise awareness of your brand, push your sales KPIs aside. Brand awareness is best achieved by providing value based on your knowledge and experience; think how-to lists, educational videos, downloadable guides, tools, calculators, etc. Sure, you can add a call to action and sprinkle in a (hyper relevant) service or product offering here and there – if you must – but, on the whole, your aim is to reach people by demonstrating that you have authority on a topic that interests or helps them. Weave in an overt sales angle and you can expect a mass exodus.

According to the Content Marketing Institute (CMI), 31% of content marketers consider blog posts the highest performing type of content for building brand awareness.

Key Metrics: Unique page views + Entrances

To measure the brand awareness you’re achieving through content marketing, there are two key metrics you should keep an eye on.

Unique Page Views:
This metric refers to how many individual people viewed the page, excluding repeated views within the same session (i.e. visit to site before closing/ exiting). This is the best measure of the traffic you’ve driven to your content as it doesn’t count page views from people who might’ve refreshed the page or returned to the page during the same session.

Entrances:
This metric measures how many people came to a page directly, rather than clicking to it from another page on your site. This gives you an indication of how ‘clickable’ your content is off your page and how well the channels you’re using to deliver your content are working to promote it. A low entrance number in comparison to your page views means your traffic is being driven to the content from other pages on your site and you have some work to do to broaden the distribution network for that piece of content to gain new eyeballs.

GOAL: Engaging Existing Clients and Prospects

Content marketing is a great way to nurture prospects, and retain and grow existing accounts. With third-party cookies being phased out, nourishing and developing relationships with people who have provided first-party data via a newsletter sign-up or who have joined your social networks has never been more essential.

Using these channels, you have the opportunity to maximise the ROI a client perceives to have earned from their investment in your company. On top of that, you can upsell and cross-sell to an audience who already know you can solve their problems.

Similarly, using your mailing list, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and other ‘owned’ social media networks to engage prospects is an effective way to engage your warm prospects by educating, sharing wins, accolades and case studies, and promoting new products and services.

Key Metrics: Open rate/click-through rate (CTR) + Shares/actions/comments

Open Rate/Click-Through Rate (CTR)
These are the metrics to use to measure the effectiveness of your email marketing activity. Open rate refers to how many people opened the email and CTR refers to how many clicks it received.

Monitor your open rate to compare email campaigns over time and work out what the best day and time is to send your emails, what sort of subject lines perform and what the optimal frequency is to adopt between sends.

Drilling down into the clicks shows you what people are interested in and should guide your strategy as far as what sort of content to create in the future. Clicks on product or service related content should be considered as intent and followed up by sales to verify if there’s interest.

Shares/Comments/Likes (Engagement)
Use these metrics to measure the effectiveness of your social media content marketing. The most impactful of these is generally considered to be shares. If people are sharing your content, they value it. Also, by sharing, A followers turns into a valuable marketing channel of their own.

Comments give you an opportunity to start a dialogue with followers and build relationships and likes help to build social proof.

Combined, a high number of shares, comments and likes signal to the social platform that the content is engaging, which often also results in boosted exposure.

It can be tricky to monitor engagement across a variety of social media platforms so it can be useful to use a tool like Buzzsumo to track shares and determine which content is performing the best. There are also all-in-one social media platforms like SproutSocial available that combine all your social channels into one dashboard and offer powerful engagement insights.

GOAL: Search Engine Rankings

Focusing on keywords that help your site rank in organic search is a common and effective content marketing goal but it takes planning, research and dedication to quality to yield results. Remember that you are writing for the user first, not the robot, so don’t overuse keywords, duplicate pages or write meaningless content just to feature keywords you want to rank for – it simply won’t work.

A keyword plan should also be executed in conjunction with a link building strategy if you really want to catapult your rank.

KEY METRIC: Page rank
Use Google Search Console to monitor your average position in search results for all keywords as well as search results based on queries, pages, location and more. For more features like competitive analysis, backlink reporting and at-a-glance insights, look at paid tools like Moz, SEMRush and Ahrefs.

GOAL: Conversions

The most common measurement of success for content marketing programs is Total Sales at 62% (HubSpot, 2021). A sales goal for content marketing is an uphill battle from the get-go. Frankly, if you’re looking to drive sales, content marketing isn’t your best ally. It aids sales conversions, sure, but it rarely facilitates them in our experience.

Key Metric: Goals completed

Content marketing shouldn’t be salesy or agenda pushing. It’s purpose is to deliver value and positively influence people’s perception of whatever it is you have to offer.

Instead of sales conversions, think of conversion goals that relate to the action you want people to take immediately – rather than the end goal (i.e. sales). Consider conversion goals like page visits, email sign-ups, content downloads and other action-based measurements that are more commonly associated with top-of-funnel interactions.

If you refer to Hubspot’s analytics dashboard below, for example, you can see that they’ve created a conversion event (goal) to track anyone who’s clicked on a call to action on a blog post.

Image credit: HubSpot

Image hubspot



CONCLUSION

Good content takes planning. It’s the culmination of time, effort, diligence and consistency, and really knowing what interests your target audience.

You also need creativity and ingenuity to keep your material fresh and engaging to pull off any measure of success.

Using the tips outlined in this article will help you level up your content game and start to enjoy some of the game changing benefits and returns that can come from nailing you content marketing.

 

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