There’s no shortage of advice about how to measure content success. CMI has published plenty of it. Yet every year, we hear from content marketers struggling to understand the impact of their content marketing.
One stumbling block may be applying general advice to a living, changing, content program. No one-size-fits-all solution exists. Every team must tailor its measurement to its business goals and, often, to how well each piece of content contributes to the content marketing mission.
Though you can’t copy a brand’s content measurement strategy, you can take inspiration from their philosophies and practices. Start with these examples shared at Content Marketing World 2020 by winners, judges, and founders of the Women in Content Marketing Awards (hosted by Masthead Media).
Robin Bennefield, editorial director, Marriott International, and editor-in-chief, Marriott Bonvoy Traveler
A former journalist, travel writer, and digital media producer, Robin Bennefield knows how to tell a good story (that’s one reason she won a Women in Content Award for General Excellence in 2020).
One storytelling adage embraced by both journalists and content marketers is to know your audience. Robin uses her understanding of Marriott’s approach to goals and objectives to shape the way she and her team measure content success.
“It’s about setting up the story in the beginning,” she says. For example, when you create a new group of stories or content to support a campaign, figure out the benchmarks to hit at the beginning. Then you know what to track and whether it was a success.
“That’s how Marriott works as a whole. They want to know what’s the baseline. Can we meet that? Can we exceed it? So in all of the reporting, we (answer) … what was the benchmark. Did we meet it or not?”
Content marketing goals: Drive inspiration for travel destinations and Marriott properties.
KPIs: Page views, time on site, newsletter click-through rates.
Review frequency: Weekly, monthly, and quarterly.
What they look for in the numbers: Engagement signals, including how deeply readers consume or engage with content. “We’re looking at what destinations are resonating with people and what types or styles of travel people are interested in so we can adjust our storytelling accordingly,” Robin says.
Additional goals and metrics: Amplifying business objectives. Some content is driven by brand needs and objectives rather than solely by audience interest (though these sometimes overlap). In that case, Robin says, the metric is how well the content helped. Then the decision is, “Should we be creating content around this business objective or not?”
Robin points to the profiles of chefs and bartenders at Marriott properties as an example of stories they do to showcase the brand. They also engage the audience. “It’s something we think people travel for. They want to connect with the food in a place, and here is a property delivering on that for you,” she says.
Surprise success: The COVID-19 pandemic hit the travel industry hard. Robin and team had to look for ways to engage their audience of travel enthusiasts who had to stay home. They created a series of stories to let their audience travel virtually. They offered lists of TV shows, films, podcasts, and books to help satisfy the audience’s wanderlust. Though they scaled back communication with Marriott Bonvoy travel program members, they sent a newsletter with this story collection.
Robin describes the response as “gangbusters.” The newsletter’s open rate hit 28%, which blew past their benchmark of 15% for a typical newsletter mailing. “I think it speaks to the power of editorial storytelling, being able to be nimble and to tell that right story at the right time,” she says.
Maggie Leung, vice president of content, NerdWallet
Maggie Leung knows exactly which metrics her content team is responsible for – and which it’s decidedly not.
“We do not believe that revenue should be the responsibility of content if we expect to build a trusted brand,” she says.
She built a team of nearly 90 writers and editors after leaving journalism to join the personal finance startup. She’s clear about and protective of their mission – to establish NerdWallet’s domain expertise in a number of personal finance areas.
Content marketing goals: Build a trusted brand that helps people make personal finance decisions with confidence.
Primary KPIs: Search rankings and engagement (specifics vary by team and quarter). “Content at NerdWallet is the equivalent of a department store. We do not consider it good business or good editorial practice to designate from a centralized system,” Maggie says. For example, the KPIs for taxation vertical content aren’t the same as the ones for banking content.
Review frequency: Daily. Every content team member goes through analytics training when they join NerdWallet. Writers and editors are responsible for segments of the content library and check performance dashboards multiple times a day.
Additional metrics: Vary by activity. The company invested heavily in writers and editors who speak at events, get interviewed for stories, and produce content for syndication. Metrics are specific to each activity’s goal. For example, syndicated content isn’t measured for SEO contribution even though it may affect it.
Surprise success: Sometimes the numbers indicate an opportunity to help. With the pandemic affecting many people’s jobs, the NerdWallet content team noticed a lot of traffic and questions around personal finance setbacks. They created a landing page filled with stories from different segments to explain how to navigate options for student loan deferment, mortgage payment relief, bill paying, and more.
Giselle Abramovich, executive editor, enterprise thought leadership, Adobe
Giselle Abramovich helps shape the content strategy for thought leadership at Adobe, working on big ideas around the future of work, creativity, and digital experiences.
She’s also a proponent of another important Adobe theme – data democratization, giving access to content analytics to everyone who needs to know them.
But she doesn’t expect everyone to correctly interpret what they see in the numbers. Each quarter, her team analyzes the numbers and creates a listicle article for the rest of the company. Think: 10 Things We Learned From This Month’s Numbers. The goal is to make analytics useful to everyone. “You don’t need a data science degree to understand it,” she says.
Goal: Build awareness of the Adobe point of view on topics and themes important to the company.
Primary KPIs: Referral traffic to Adobe.com from editorial properties like CMO.com and the Adobe corporate blog. Behavior metrics for visitors (watching videos, downloading research, signing up for free trials). Page views on editorial properties to determine what resonates.
Reporting frequency: Quarterly for detailed analysis. Employees can check their own dashboards and numbers as often as they want.
Additional metrics: Giselle’s team works with Adobe customers and partners on content to share more than Adobe’s perspective. They track the number of customer-created stories and videos. “Even though we can’t tie that back to ROI, we know that it’s a great way to keep the conversation going with a customer even after they bought from us. We keep engaging with them,” Giselle says.
Surprise success: One partner story tied directly to results – for the partner. Adobe worked with the Red Cross this summer to raise awareness of the need for blood donations to help people with sickle cell disease who are at increased risk for complications if they contract COVID-19. The campaign’s centerpiece was a video of first-time blood donors meeting kids with sickle cell disease. The children, who are used to receiving blood transfusions, help the new donors through the process.
Engagement, Giselle says, “has been through the roof.” A week after the video debuted, it hit 5.5 million views, 60% of which were organic. Most importantly, almost 1,000 people registered to donate blood. Giselle’s team created a customer story about the partnership, and it attracted more than 13,000 views, which was a big success for Adobe, too.
Tell your own success stories
I started this article by saying no universal pattern for measuring and reporting content success exists. And that’s true. But there are common threads. One of the strongest that emerged from these brands is the role of context. What do the numbers mean? Well, what did you set out to do? Did you do it? Did you do something else that might also be valuable?
Without the story around the numbers, they’re just pixels on a screen.
How do you define content success? Share your stories in the comments below.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute