Measuring the success of a digital content strategy

Now that people consume Web content on a number of different channels, developing new metrics that accurately measure your audience's activities will help improve your digital content strategy.

It's more important than ever to understand how your audiences are consuming your digital content. The proliferation of distribution channels makes it imperative to know what works and what doesn't. Otherwise, you're just throwing money away.

There are many channels that deliver Web content, and because they're fairly new, it's important to develop metrics that measure success accurately. A good metric will correlate content consumption with buying behavior and identify causation, too. That means not only seeing that two actions happen simultaneously, such as a download and a purchase, but that the download is a cause of the buying behavior.

That's not always easy to do and why it's best not to rely on one silver-bullet metric. When assessing the success of your digital content strategy, measure these things for starters and add some that are specific to your business.

  1. Channel. It's not enough to measure social uptake; you also need to evaluate the relative performance of these channels. Is Twitter or LinkedIn better for your purposes than Facebook? What are the demographics of your channel and how do they match the ideal demographics of your audience model? A custom shirt company once tried to sell shirts to a channel that was made up of predominantly women. Predictably, the shirt company was unsuccessful and blamed social media rather than its own ineptitude at studying the demographics.
  2. Content type. The beauty of social media and the Internet generally is that all content types can be moved around at will. But that doesn't mean they are consumed equally. Does a particular content type work better in one channel than another? Does it work better with a particular class of prospect, such as C-level officer, line manager, technologist or financial analyst? You might discover you need the same content in multiple formats to reach all of your intended customers.
  3. Customer identifier. Identifying companies that are interested in your content can make a big difference. Today, you can cross-reference an address with a person and a title with third-party data from companies such as Dun & Bradstreet, Hoovers, Demandbase and others.
  4. Content sharing. Did the link get shared around the organization? Indications that a link is spreading virally within a company could be a strong buy signal on its own.
  5. Action through purchasing. Was there a purchase? Ultimately data like this comes from the sales force automation (SFA) system, and although it's retrospective it provides great insight into the future utility of your content.
  6. AIM. I know a company that has an internal program that scans the Internet for Actionable Internet Mentions by product, brand and other relevant data. To that list you should consider adding the titles of your content or the links they come from. Doing this can provide some measure of content's uptake. As opposed to simple downloads, uptake is a more reliable measure of assimilation because few people recommend something they haven't seen or viewed.

None of these measures is hard to achieve, and the most reliable approach is to combine a couple. For instance, you might find that for your business a particular content type works best in a given channel or with a customer's job title, so exploit that finding.

Finally, keep in mind that you're trying to do two things: measure current success and identify ways to improve your reach for future campaigns. This means you are always gathering feedback, evaluating results and adjusting strategy. That's a far cry from the old spray-and-pray approach, which was far more random.

The new ballgame of Web metrics

It's an old story: You want to track the success of your content to prove its worth -- as well as yours, if you're a marketer. When marketing involved fewer channels, you could capture downloads and IP addresses and declare victory when the numbers got big. If you were fancy, you might even be able to discover when a link got forwarded. That sums up vintage marketing automation and portals. Marketing could do it all, and there was no need to rely on sales to share data, for example.

Today, it's a new ballgame thanks to social media. Companies that focus on Twitter might have only enough space to post a link and a few terse words about it. Other social tools may be less structured, leaving more room for comment and elaboration. But whatever the social platform, you need to track the movement of content around the Web. Fortunately, there are tools to make the job easier.

A level-one approach to measuring content efficacy could simply mean measuring mentions. A tweet like "Good read at XYZ company site" with a URL might do the trick. That's fine if everyone uses the same identifiers but such consistency may be unlikely. It's best to provide compact URLs so that people don't roll truncate the URL with services such as Bitly and you can better gauge uptake.

A better measurement might be to collect IP addresses or simple form data at the source to understand who, especially at a company level, is reading your stuff. Then it's to correlate clicks, reads or downloads with purchases, assuming you can get closed-deal data from the SFA system. Naturally, a high correlation of deal wins and downloads is useful in making the case for the efficacy of content.

But content isn't limited to document downloads. Video has become a hot commodity, and many companies rely on it to tell their story because it's easier to consume and can convey as much in two minutes as a white paper, which could take 45 minutes to read. So the proliferation of content types makes it vital to have ways to track all of it -- or risk incomplete data and an erroneous idea of efficacy.

If I were tracking your website content, here are some of the things I'd want to know: content title and format (text, video, etc.), the channel it was consumed on, any sharing or forwarding and any correlation with actual closed business.

That's not a great deal of data, but if you slice and dice it correctly, you can discover the preferred channel content was consumed on, which would immediately tell you if you had a hole in your consumption model. All Twitter and little Facebook might be a good thing or not. Only you can determine that -- now that you have the information, that is.

The same is true for other combinations. Is your content consumed by only those who lack budget authority? Correlating uptake with IP information might help here. Also, if you have a white paper and a video on the same subject, are there channel differences in terms of consumption of that content?

All these metrics enable you to better evaluate how you create content and whether its destination makes sense in terms of your channel -- and your audience segment.

Next Steps

Five questions about social media monitoring

Content analytics for better business intelligence

The importance of social media monitoring grows

This was first published in July 2014

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