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Learning From Your Content Performance

CHAPTER 6

LEARNING FROM YOUR CONTENT PERFORMANCE

Are you set up to apply feedback to improve your content strategy and update your content plans?

Planning how you will learn from content performance is an easy to overlook part of your strategy. However, it is communication and measurement that enables a content strategy to stay balanced between the needs of the audience and the needs of the company.

Most organizations have some reporting mechanism in place to track the performance of various types of content. This might be as simple as recording the number of views or likes for social posts. Or, you could have elaborate technology for tracking and attributing prospect and customer behavior to specific pieces of content. 

However, most measurement systems in most marketing departments are used primarily as passive mechanisms for tracking performance over time. They may be viewed frequently in a dashboard, but only occasionally are they reviewed as a team and discussed actively with the goal of improving business performance.

Your content will improve, and you will be seen as a leader in the organization if you shift from a passive feedback loop to an active learning loop.

The diagram below highlights four steps in an active learning loop for content strategy:

  • Communication
  • Measurement
  • Reporting
  • Updating

Let’s step through these stages.

Communication

The way to learn from past performance is to be clear about the content strategy being tested and the content performance being measured. 

You now have four documented components of your content strategy that will make it easy to communicate with your team and other internal stakeholders in a simple and consistent format:

  • Business objective
  • Audience profile
  • Content Topic list
  • Content campaign, which consists of a campaign objective, content briefs, and a calendar

Measurement

In order to optimize your content operation you’ll need to invest in ways to measure content performance. 

Getting measurement right is the never-ending story for a marketer. The pyramid below shows a four phase approach to improving content measurement in your organization. Start small, and then improve over time.

Phase 1

If you are getting started, the first step is to connect Google Analytics to your website. Two of my favorite resources for getting started with Google Analytics for marketing are Andy Crestodina’s and Neil Patel’s guides.

Phase 2

When you are ready to take the next step, you should make sure you are using UTM codes with the URL links you share so that you can start to attribute more precisely where web traffic and conversions originate. HubSpot has a great blog article that provides the details on how to implement UTM codes for your content.

Phase 3

Once you have Google Analytics running and you are using UTM codes to track content activity, you’re ready to adopt a marketing automation suite so that you start to get a view of content performance beyond your website traffic.

Phase 4

If a large portion of your content is offline or through earned media you’ll want to invest in a broader range of tools for measuring reach and engagement through those channels. The experts among us will invest in a customer data platform in order to gather as much performance about their audience as possible including content engagement.

Reporting

The most common data about your content will be data around visitor traffic and then possible engagement (clicks, likes, shares, etc.). What we would really like to know is how likely is someone to convert, retain, adopt, increase usage, etc. after they engage with a piece of content.

When all you have is traffic and engagement data you aren’t able to demonstrate a 1:1 match between goal achievement such as new sales or new leads and the content strategy. Your best friend in this case will be a track record of regular reporting in a simple and consistent format that shows correlation between the overall goal measurement and the traffic and engagement numbers for the relevant content campaigns.

When we can assign a value to past content consumption based on observed customer activities that we care about (like a purchase), we call that attribution data. When you have solid attribution data you can simply present actuals attributed to content vs. targets for the overall business objective and campaign objectives. 

Having clean attribution data across all of our content is a pipe dream for most of us. In the absence of clean attribution data, it is still important to report on the overall measured performance against the targets because these numbers are the most easily understandable across the organization. 

You now have 3 metrics for reporting on a content campaign or overall initiative:

  • Overall goal
  • Content engagement
  • Content traffic

Updating

Now it’s time to revisit your content strategy to close the active learning loop and improve your content strategy. 

What you do next will make the difference on whether or not the effort to get to this point is worth it. You need to lead two different conversations with your team and other stakeholders in your organization. 

Aligning conversations

The first conversation is about alignment. Aligning conversations are about asking questions and discussing the individual elements of the content strategy in the context of the reported results. 

The reason for reporting on the goal, engagement, and traffic is that it helps diagnose content breakdowns. When you have traffic and engagement numbers for specific pieces of content or for an overall campaign you can start to see an overall conversion journey through to the overall business objective. 

Doing this consistently allows you to build institutional knowledge around relative performance levels--making it easy to see when there is a breakdown.

Orientation conversations

Next, hold an Orientation conversation after you update your content strategy. 

The purpose of this conversation is to remind and update each other of what you have all committed to and reinforce how your activities are contributing to the overall goal.

Give yourself a score on the fourth C in Content Strategy: Communication & Measurement

How are you today at learning from content performance and including in your content strategy?


If you aren’t at a 5, commit to bumping up 1-level with your current content strategy. Revisit your communication and measurement process and improve it. This will lead to great conversations, more internal alignment, and ultimately more successful content.


Now you are familiar with the process to create a feedback loop that will inform your content strategy ongoing. The next chapter takes a wide view of the content strategy process and discusses the role technology plays in accelerating your workflow and improving your decisions. We’ll take a closer look at how artificial intelligence is making it easier to collect and analyze data and even make recommendations related to target audience, content topics, and promotion in the final chapter of this guide: The Role of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Content Marketing.