Keeping Tabs on Content Performance

By Gary Magnone

Over the years, we’ve all been told that in order to rank in the search engines, we need to create “quality content.” A bit of a vague direction, but our industry has run with it, turning to crowdsourcing options like Textbroker, outsourcing services like Contently, and even hiring our own in-house writers. Then when Panda hit the streets, Google officially jumped into the discussion, dialing up the impact that content quality has on rankings. Now that real traffic is at stake, it’s clear that “Create Quality Content” is just not enough to build a strategy around. Luckily for the early risers attending SMX West 2012 on day 3, some really smart content marketers and myself will be hosting a very interesting discussion on what exactly quality content is and actionable strategies for successfully implementing it.

In the spirit of analytics month here on the Thunder blog (check out parts 1, 2, and 3), I want to share a small piece of my SMX presentation showing how to measure your content’s quality level in terms of how your visitors are engaging with it and how it’s accomplishing your goals.

The first step in being able to track your content’s performance is to understand WHY you’re creating the content and WHO you’re creating it for. If you’re creating content just for the sake of creating content, then I’m sorry, but you’re doing it wrong. Before you do anything, check out Mike King’s work on using personas for search. The process of clearly defining your audience and understanding their need states is INCREDIBLY insightful for site user experience, keyword research, link building, and–you guessed it–content strategy. By doing this work up front, you’re aligning your content strategy with your business goals and giving your content actual purpose for being on your website.

So now that you know what your audiences need, you’re creating content to fulfill those needs, right? Ok good. I’m going to walk through a few examples of some goals you might have for your site’s content and ways you might track its performance.

You want to provide informative content for a first-time buyer to start the research phase of a purchase decision.

For this type of content, your goal is to give visitors the information they need so that they can feel comfortable making an informed buying decision. This could come in the form of Beginner Tips, How-to- Guides, Comparitive Buying Guides, or anything else that helps to educate and empower new buyers. You need to predict their thought process and provide timely links to appropriate content to keep them researching on your site. That way, when they feel ready to make a decision, they’re likely going to your site first, and if you can compete on price, quality, andcustomer service, you’ve pretty much guaranteed yourself a sale.

Track in Google Analytics: pageviews, time on site, bounce rate for URL or sub-directory

You want to provide expert high-level content to win mindshare and influence sales from well-informed visitors.

For this type of content, your goal is to display the type of industry insight and thought leadership that will impress visitors who have moderate knowledge of your products and/or services. These visitors already know the basics of your industry and have a good handle on the competitive landscape, so the way to win with them is to show them why you’re better than the rest. A combination of strong experience, industry foresight, and great customer service goes a long way in separating you from other category leaders. Ensuring that this content has a distinct call-to-action is imperitive to maintaining high conversion rates.

Track in Google Analytics: overall conversions, conversion rate for URL or sub-directory

You want to convey industry expertise to potential customers that are vetting different vendors.

For this type of content, your goal is to show visitors why your company is qualified to perform the work that it does. Make sure that your site has pages dedicated to the awards & achievements that your company has received, any press written about your company, and case studies targeting success in specific industries. Position links to this content along with links to any high-level research and whitepapers on pages where you’re optimizing towards a more complex conversion.

Track in Google Analytics: visitor paths for URL or sub-directory

You want to build brand visibility by providing timely and compelling content to visitors in and around your industry.

For this type of content, your goal is not aligned directly to sales, but focuses more on branding and word of mouth in and around your niche. You’ll want to create really interesting content around current news & events related to your industry, breakthrough products & techniques, and controversial or entertaining angles on industry topics. For this type of content to make an impact, you need to leverage the social web (social media, blogs, discussion boards, forums) to share and seed your content. Besides the branding impact, you should be looking to maximize followers & fans of your main social media profiles, subscribers to your RSS feed & newsletter, inbound links to your site, and mentions of your brand.

Track in Raven Tools: branded search traffic, referring traffic sources, social media fans & followers, inbound links, subscribers

While these are just a few examples of how you can use content to accomplish your business goals, this basic concept can be applied to virtually any type of online content. The key ingredient is that you take the time to understand your audience mindset as deeply as possible. Selling an eBook? No problem. Provide tree trimming services? Let’s do this! Just remember, only once you know what your audience is looking for can you give them what they need.

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