Picking topics for your content can feel like guesswork… you think you’ve got a good topic your target market will probably be interested in.
Sometimes you get lucky and a piece gets tons of shares creating a tidal wave of traffic. But when the dust settles you don’t have any more leads or sales.
And then, there’s that other problem… you painstakingly craft something wonderful, something you are sure people will love. But, then, nothing. No shares, very little traffic, and not a single comment.
According to research by the Aberdeen Group, 66% of best-in-class content marketers are able to attribute lead sources to specific content assets (Source: Content Marketing Tech 2015: Optimization with Marketing Automation, June 2015).
This makes sense. The top 20% of content marketers aren’t spraying and praying — they are able to identify exactly how many leads each piece of content is producing.
Their content marketing strategy is grounded in metrics that really matter. Social shares and traffic might feel good, but they mean very little to your bottomline. “Leads by piece” is about the furthest thing from a vanity metric.
They are learning from what is working. They can hone their strategy over time so it constantly improves and adapts to changes. They can see which topics, formats, and styles are working (and which aren’t).
They are able to segment their leads by content so they are able to assess the quality of leads each piece of content is producing.
They are able to trace their customers back to specific content so they can determine exactly how much revenue each piece of content is producing. They know what type of content is attracting and creating customers.
In this post I’ll walk you through setting up an automated system that ties your content marketing strategy to the leads each piece of content generates. I’ll also show you how to leverage that data to create a content marketing strategy that evolves, builds on your past successes, and adapts as your industry changes.
It’s a simple four-step cycle that begins and ends with creating content. Each time you go through the cycle, you’ll have more data to guide you as you invest resources in creating more content. You’ll have a content marketing strategy that gets a little better each time you revisit it.
CAPTURE: Give visitors a compelling reason to opt-in
People reading your content is wonderful — it creates a positive impression of your brand, positions you as an authority, and there are many other soft benefits.
But what you really want, what really matters, are leads you can follow up with, nurture, qualify, and move through your sales funnel.
The content at the top of your funnel is the both the bait that attracts visitors and the net that captures leads.
Rather than letting a potential lead slip through your fingers, you need to give them a compelling reason to give you their contact information.
There are a variety of strategies you can be using, such as offering high-value free reports and whitepapers. In the past this has pretty much been the best practice.
But there is a “new” strategy that is proving to be even more effective: offering content upgrades.
Content upgrades work. Bryan Harris of videofruit.com is getting a 20-30% opt-in rate using content upgrades and Brian Dean of Backlinko.com saw a sitewide 185% boost in his conversion rate after adding content upgrades to just 15 blog posts!
Content upgrades are offers for additional content that align perfectly with the content the visitor is reading. It’s a way for a reader to instantly “upgrade” the content in exchange for their email address.
It’s best illustrated with examples:
- In a post discussing a recipe, you could offer a PDF download of the recipe, ingredient shopping list, and nutrition facts in a single, printable page.
- In a post with a detailed process, you could offer a printable worksheet for download.
- For a video, you could offer a footnoted transcript with additional resources and commentary.
To create content upgrades, consider, “What can I offer that would make this content even more useful to a reader?”
Only your best, most popular content is worth creating content upgrades for. If it isn’t getting a considerable amount of traffic, it’s not going to generate enough leads to make it worth the investment.
TAG: Apply “content ID” and “interest” tags
When a visitor opts-in you’ll want to apply two types of tags:
Interest tags – You can surmise a lot based on the context of an opt-in. First, you can assume that whatever they were reading interested them. Then, you can assume that the opt-in offer you used (the one that motivated them to opt-in) appealed to them. Apply tags that identify these interests. For instance, if someone was opted in while reading this blog post I would tag them as “interested in content marketing.” If they opted in to receive a white paper on marketing automation I would give them that interest tag as well.
Content identifier tag – Apply a tag that allows you to pinpoint the exact piece of content that produced a lead. A logical format might be the type of content, a shortened version of the title, and the date of publication. For this post I might use something like “blog – content marketing strategy – 08/02/15.”
The interest tags allow you to send the lead follow-up information and resources that align perfectly with what they want. By keeping an eye on the number of leads with these tags you’ll also be able to get a feel for what topics are best for attracting leads.
The content identifier is what allows you to run reports so that you can optimize your strategy based on what is working.
To make it easy to keep track of your data and analyze, you could use Zapier or IFTTT to automatically create new rows in a Google Sheet when you publish new content:
From there you could easily fill in the data you want to track:
I’d suggest columns for:
- Content ID tag
- Topics covered
- Format of the content
- Style of the content (such as list, roundup, strategy, etc.)
- Promotional efforts
- Lead capture mechanism
- Leads produced
- Lead conversion rate
- Conversions produced
- Customer conversion rate
- Miscellaneous notes
- Content URL
OPTIMIZE: Analyze your data and shape your strategy
With this data you can figure out exactly which content is working (and which isn’t) and then create inferences.
By running reports on which contacts have which interest tags, you can get a feel for which topics are producing the most leads:
By running reports on how many contacts are tagged with specific content ID tags, you are able to see how many leads each content asset is producing:
By doing an advanced search:
… you can segment by customers and specific content pieces so you can assess the quality of leads each piece of content is producing and gain an additional metric — conversions per piece.
You can save these reports for easy reference later:
It’s at this point that this process becomes a soft science. You are working with data but the insights you gain, and the conclusions you come to, are largely a matter of interpretation.
There are so many confounding variables that you’ll have to be careful. For example, a post may be producing a lot of leads so you might assume you’ve found a hot topic. But it might be producing more leads simply because it is getting a lot of traffic. It might be getting a ton of traffic because it was promoted by a popular influencer or happens to be ranking well in the search engines for whatever reason — it might have very little to do with the topic.
You’ll want to look for trends and patterns rather than isolated incidents. If a certain topic consistently performs well, that’s worth banking on. If a topic did well one time and poorly all the other times, you’ll want to examine why that one was exceptional.
CREATE: Create content that works
We’ve gone full circle… you are back to creating content. But this time you’ll have the analytics to know which topics to cover, which formats to use, and what content promotion strategies work because you’ll know exactly which content is producing your leads and sales.
You can use your track record to produce the best content possible.
If a certain topic consistently works well, you might consider investing more resources into it. You could create a detailed, data-backed, long form blog post with the potential to go viral. You could invest in a video on the topic. You could create a white paper.
You could go back and update content that is producing leads so that it works even better going forward.
Use this data to inform your personas and define your target market. Based on which topics are creating the most customers, you can pinpoint what your target market is most interested in. You can compare these numbers to “leads that don’t end up converting” to define which topics might be best to avoid.
You can identify your top performing content and deliver that proven content to new leads that are tagged with aligned interests.
Whatever you do from this point forward you can be more confident it’s going to be a safe investment.