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My son runs an outdoor adventure camp in the summer and relies heavily on the camp's website for marketing and camper recruitment during the year. I recently spoke to him about how he's gauging the success of his site.
"Right now," he said, "we monitor who's coming and we watch our bounce rate," which measures the percentage of people who never get beyond the home page. "[But] our pages are not well-tagged, so we can't easily tell what our prospects are doing once they get there."
I suspect that my son's concerns are typical for Web publishers and site owners seeking to deliver effective digital experiences that get visitors to venture beyond the beachheads of their homepages. There's more to Web content analytics and marketing than just counting homepage hits and total page views. How do you look inside your site, decide what metrics are important and determine when you are successfully engaging your audience?
To begin with, I believe you need to focus on your key business events. In technical terms, business events are the critical actions occurring on your site that lead to purchases and new business. To implement a well-thought-out Web content management (WCM) strategy, you first must identify those events.
For example, in the summer camp business, parents are going to view the "dates and rates" page before registering their children. In the software business, prospects are going to attend a webinar, download white papers and product data sheets, and perhaps demo the products they're interested in before engaging with sales and placing orders. These are all events that can be measured as part of a content analytics program.
Whether there is one critical event or several, you next must identify the content that triggers each action. Then you need to tag the relevant pages, content displays and downloads.
Tagging content for measurement
Developers have been adding hidden tags to webpages for years, initially to help search-engine bots index the contents of entire pages. Many social media platforms and WCM systems now include tagging capabilities, so authors and editors can add terms to more granular content components in order to generate tag clouds and help both visitors and bots find items on the site. (Some blogging sites use tag clouds for ad hoc indexing.) As part of managing digital assets, editors need to tag photos, soundtracks, video clips and other kinds of rich media with relevant metadata, such as subject, creator, date and location.
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As Web publishers and site owners, you are already investing time and effort tagging your content for meaning. To support Web content analytics initiatives, you can leverage those ongoing efforts by also tagging your content for measurement.
Begin with your existing tag sets and make sure they involve content associated with specific business events. Add new ones if needed. Whether you are publishing content on public-facing websites or supporting sites within a corporate intranet, be sure to use meaningful terms. Often, you will want to track activity for content components instead of self-contained page views; the more granular the content you are managing, the more specific your tagging can be.
Once you have the relevant tags in place, you have instrumented your content to count how often site visitors access the tagged content. You then can log the activity data for various tags and pass the information along to a content analysis system or service.
Tools for content analysis
When it comes to analyzing your content performance data, there are analytics tools and applications available to fit almost any budget and line of inquiry. You can use an analysis service in the cloud or run software on premises, within your IT infrastructure.
For example, Google Analytics is a popular cloud option, particularly for small business sites; it features many easy-to-use information dashboards. Alternatively, some WCM systems feature direct integration capabilities with customer relationship management (CRM) applications. Visitors' actions on your website are automatically added to their customer records within your CRM system, where you can analyze the data to find out what content they have accessed.
A third approach entails adopting a specialized marketing automation platform. There is a small industry of cloud application providers that promise substantial results for targeted marketing in return for a relatively small up-front investment.
Getting started with Web content analytics
Of course, there are many ways to get started with content analytics and work to determine the success of your website. Here are three key points to bear in mind:
First, start simply and focus on the most crucial events that drive business value. Define the top two or three and add additional ones as your digital business develops further.
Second, not all business events need to originate within your WCM system. For example, you may run an advertising campaign in a community newspaper that is designed to drive people to register for an online event. Be prepared to track that uptick in interest.
Finally, content analytics needs to be an integral part of your website and not an afterthought. As you design your site or redesign it for mobile access and social networking, be sure to include content analytics as a core part of your underlying information architecture. Even if you do not implement the analysis capabilities in your initial rollout, be sure to plan on tagging your content for measurement, just as you tag it for meaning.
About the author
Geoffrey Bock is the principal of Bock & Co., a consultancy focusing on digital strategies for content and collaboration. He also is an author specializing in the business impacts of content technologies. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.