So, content marketing is in a really exciting place right now. As Michael at Curata (will talk/has talked) about, a lot of companies are still struggling to put together their optimal content marketing mix, and others are still struggling to even identify what content marketing is. But a lot of marketers are learning how to do content really well, and they’re starting to get very real buy-in from the higher ups, and the industry has really started to recognize content’s value.
But on the flip side of that, there’s a fair amount of uncertainty about where this all is going. People don’t want to invest in something that isn’t going to stick around, and there’s even some content marketing “detractors” out there – people who say this whole content thing is just a trend. And things change fast these days, so even people who really believe in content marketing feel a lot of pressure to stay on top of the latest developments and trends.
The good news is that myself and Michael Gerard from Curata are here to help you look into the future.
The bad news is that nobody can actually read the future.
Think about it: in 1999, only 32% of people in the US had cell phones. Today, it's 91%.Google has publicly updated its search algorithms more than 30 times since 2003.The way that marketers reach the public has COMPLETELY flipped on its head -- it used to be that sales was responsible for educating buyers; now it's all on marketing. Who could’ve predicted any of that?
All of which is to say that nobody knows what’s going to happen.
And I would argue that rather than making predictions about the future, we need to take a more measured, and measurable approach to the way that we do content.
So this might seem random, but If everyone can just bear with me for a second, I'm going to share a quick personal anecdote. When I was in college, like a lot of people, I was really unsure about what I was going to "be", what kind of job I'd be able to get. It seemed impossible to anticipate what kinds of jobs would be available or what kinds of skills I would need.
And this is what my dad told me: "The world is changing so fast, you'll probably end up doing a job that doesn't even EXIST yet." So instead of frantically trying to anticipate the exact skills I would need. I focused on getting good at what I was passionate about. I focused on the skills that I most enjoyed developing.
i think that the way marketers should think about content marketing -- about any marketing, really -- is that you can't predict how it’s going to change, so the best thing you can do is keep getting good at what you’re most passionate about.
When you factor in rapidly evolving technology, the changing nature of SEO, and the changing nature of the way people fundamentally buy and sell things, "content marketing in 2024 will take shapes and make use of technology that doesn't even EXIST yet."
And that means that the best we can all do, as marketers, is to figure out what our organizations are passionate about, and good at, and learn how to tell that story.
So how do you get good at telling your story, regardless of how technology changes, or how marketing changes, or how buying changes? First of all, you need to create content marketing processes that are incredibly agile, incredibly flexible, and above all, incredibly RESPONSIVE.
I’m single-ing out “responsive” here, because basically, the best way to figure out what’s going to work tomorrow is to figure out what’s working today – and to figure it out quickly and accurately enough to actually impact your strategy. And that’s where content metrics come in.
So content metrics can be thought about in a number of different ways, and the way you should measure how your content is performing depends entirely on what you’re trying to accomplish. At Marketo, we create a huge amount of content every month, and we’re always happy to share it, but the point of all this content is ultimately to move potential buyers through our sales funnel.
So that’s always what we’re measuring, and the results of those measurements are what we’re always responding to.
Another thing we do is divide our assets into Early, Mid, and Late stage content. Early stage content is for prospects who aren’t ready to buy our product – they might not even know what our product is. So these are educational materials that focuses on our core competency (marketing) but doesn’t explicitly plug our product. Mid stage content is meant for prospects who have shown some interest, and late stage content is very product-centric, designed for prospects who may be seriously researching our services. Dividing up your content in this way is a really critical part of our content measurement strategy, because it forces us to define what each piece of content is supposed to accomplish, which in turn makes it possible to measure that asset’s success.
Consumption metrics tell you how many people are reading or downloading your content. Total visits to a blog post or landing page,Number of unique visitors, Number of downloadsHow much time visitors spent on your siteBounce rate – the rate at which visitors left your site without interacting at all. This is really important for early stage metrics, because, as we’ve said, early stage content is all about helping you audience be educated and entertained. You can access these kinds of metrics with Google Analytics
Search engine rankings are all about how people find your content – again, this is an early stage issue, because at the earliest stage your audience might not even know who you are, so you’ve got to make sure they can find you. The days of keyword stuffing are over, but it’s keywords are still very important. The difference is that engines like Google notice whether or not your keywords actually match your audience’s complete intent. Basically, they’re looking to see whether you’re providing content that satisfies people who search for certain terms. If your audience indicates with their behavior that they’ve found what they’re looking for, you’ll rank highly for those keywords.
Vanity Metricstell you whether people are actively responding to your content once they check it out. These are called “vanity” metrics, but they’re actually pretty useful in the early stages, because they give you a good idea about the level of engagement a piece sparks, as well as how useful it is to the people you’re trying to reach.
And then finally we have Lead Generation Metrics, which shows you how many people who interact with your content move on to check out your mid-stage content, which as I’ve said, is Marketo’s primary goal for our content. This is one of those sets of metrics that you need something fairly sophisticated to track, such as marketing automation. If you do have marketing automation, you can combine details about when or how a piece of content is being consumed with what those leads are doing next.
When you’re dealing with people who are toward the middle of your funnel, that’s when you need to start tracking WHICH pieces of content got them there. Our early stage metrics were mostly about engagement and engagement, but once someone’s further along, you can start getting really useful data about which content is working best. You’ll start to notice that people don’t end usually up in that mid-stage area because of just ONE piece of content. They’ve probably been influenced by multiple things, so if you want to stay on top of what’s working and what isn’t, you need to track the influence of EVERY piece of content that person has been exposed to so far. That’s where you have to start thinking about First touch attribution versus multi-touch. First touch attribution goes to the FIRST piece of content someone engaged with in order to enter your site; but multi-touch tracks EVERY piece of influential content. If you want to keep optimizing your content, you need to know that kind of information.
So we talked about lead generation metrics for early stage prospects, where the question is about how leads your content pushes to the mid-stage of the funnel. So it’s probably obvious that once they’re in the mid-stage, your metrics should be telling you how many prospects get moved to the end of the funnel, where they can potentially become customers.
At the bottom of the funnel, customers are at the decision-making stage of their buying journey, fully engaged with your sales team. A marketing automation system that keeps track of multiple touches is ideal for this stage as well, and can help you and your sales team identify which leave-behinds, talking points memos, or product guides are working, and which ones need some time in the shipyard. You also need to partner with your sales team at this stage, because they are the ones using and distributing the content. How Sales tracks the content in CRM; how they’re using each asset; its effectiveness as a leave-behind or as emailed content; and what effect it is having in meetings and negotiations with customers.
So understanding how all of those metrics work, and how to actually look at those metrics, is what’s going to allow you to optimize your content, regardless of what the future of content marketing looks like.