About Rebecca Lieb

Rebecca Lieb, digital advertising/media analyst at Altimeter Group, is globally recognized as an expert on digital marketing, advertising, publishing and media. An author, and sought-after speaker, she's the former vice president of Econsultancy's US operations. She was VP and editor-in-chief of The ClickZ Network for over seven years. For a portion of that time, Rebecca also ran Search Engine Watch. She consults on content strategy for a variety of brands and professional trade organizations. Earlier, Rebecca held executive marketing and communications positions at strategic e-services consultancies, including Siegel+Gale, and has worked in the same capacity for global entertainment and media companies including Universal Television & Networks Group (formerly USA Networks International) and Bertelsmann's RTL Television. As a journalist, she's written on media for numerous publications, including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. She spent five years as Variety's Berlin-based German/Eastern European bureau chief. Until recently, Rebecca taught at New York University's Center for Publishing, where she also served on the Electronic Publishing Advisory Group. Her book, The Truth About Search Engine Optimization, published by FT Press, instantly became a best-seller on Amazon.com. It remains a top-10 title in several Internet marketing categories. Content Marketing publishes in Fall, 2011.

Content & SEO: Getting Basic With The Basics

content-marketing-box-ss-1920Nothing matters more in search engine optimization than content. Nothing.

And, while search visibility is a high priority for most brands (and as SEO providers rebrand themselves as “content marketing” companies), in a survey I conducted of more than 75 very senior marketing executives, most at Fortune 500 brands, SEO ranked dead last on their list of content marketing priorities.

Yet when it comes to having a well-optimized Web presence that’s visible to search engines, content is the alpha and omega of those efforts — more specifically, written content. Search engines can only crawl, index and understand text — not images, videos, podcasts, photos or any other type of graphic or multimedia content.

That’s not to say you can’t optimize non-text content marketing elements.

Keywords Are Key

Strong, optimized written copy is the most critical part of any SEO initiative.

But before the first sentence, tagline or headline are written, first venture into the heart of search optimization by identifying those keywords and key phrases your target audience is likely to use when searching for your website, articles, blog entries or other content initiatives, as well as for individual pages or specific pieces of content within a website or blog.

These are the words and phrases searchers use, not necessarily the ones you use back at the office when you’re talking with colleagues. Perhaps you’re a medical professional who bandies about terms such as “myocardial infraction.” The average Web searcher is more likely to seek information on “heart attack.”

The first step in the keyword research process is simply to brainstorm a list of the words and phrases a searcher might use to find your site or business.

The trick here is to be specific. Forget broad terms like “shoes.” Focus instead on “running shoes” or “wedding shoes” or “nike running shoes” or “black patent leather high-heeled pumps.” It can be helpful to ask outsiders such as friends, family, clients or colleagues what terms come to mind.

Once the initial list is in hand, the next step is to determine how useful these terms really are. That’s where keyword research tools come in handy. (Both Google and Bing offer free keyword research tools. They require you to first sign up for an advertiser account, but no worries — they don’t compel you to run ads to use the free tools.)

By running the list of proposed keywords through a keyword research tool, you’ll learn how many searchers are actually conducting searches for a given word or term every day, how many of those searches actually converted, and other analytical information. These tools can also make you aware of words not on the list, or synonyms.

This information should narrow down the selections to a final list of keywords. Plug these into a spreadsheet that helps you to visualize at a glance each word or phrase’s conversion rate, search volume, and competition. This list helps narrow your focus and concentrate on the most important terms for your content.

Don’t completely eliminate very broad terms such as “shoes” — this helps searchers get a general feel for the content. But it’s the very specific, targeted terms (“pink suede ballerina flats”) that attract the targeted traffic at the bottom of the purchase or conversion funnel.

The best keywords have:

  • Strong relevance: terms for which you have content to support.
  • Relatively high search volume: terms people actually search for.
  • Relatively low competition: terms with a small number of search results.

Once you’ve determined which keywords to target, both for an overall content marketing initiative as well as for specific, smaller campaigns, it’s time to build content around those terms.

Bear in mind that search engines reward high-quality, original content more than virtually anything else out there. This is why content aggregation is fine (and relevant), but also why aggregation should almost always be regularly supplemented with well-written and researched original content.

A major way that search engine algorithms determine quality content is by examining how many links there are to specific pieces of content. Links can almost be considered “votes” vouching for quality content.

As far as search engines are concerned, this isn’t the most democratic process in the world: A link from a major metropolitan daily such as The New York Times is a higher-ranking vote than one from, say, a random tweet on Twitter. And links from sites that are semantically similar obviously make more sense — and therefore count more — than a link from something willy-nilly, say a site about politics linking to a page about Christmas cookie recipes.

One of the best strategies for getting people to link to you is, of course, to link to them.

Another approach is to follow relevant sites, blogs, online video channels and social-networking presences in your particular vertical and to comment on them, with appropriate and relevant links back to your own content.

Authoring articles and other types of content for third-party sites is also a valuable link strategy; most of these will have an “about the author” blurb that creates a link back to your own site or blog.

Internal links are also highly valuable, as links are what search engine spiders follow to find content in the first place. This is where site maps, tags, category pages, and well-considered taxonomies come in handy. They not only help visitors find relevant content, but help search engines find it, too.

Making content as sharable as possible is another valuable link-building strategy. It’s why so many sites contain those small icons encouraging visitors to “share on Facebook or LinkedIn or Digg or delicio.us,” or “tweet this.” Individually, social media links might not be as valuable as that New York Times citation, but many sites are seeing highly significant portions of their traffic originating from social media sites thanks to such efforts.

To this end, content authors should also be regarded as important link-building sources, particularly guest or third-party content contributors who can leverage links through their own websites or social networks to build links that benefit both parties.

Optimize Images And Multimedia Content

As stated above, search engines can’t “read” anything other than plain old text. They can’t “watch” a video, “listen” to an audio file, or assign a thousand words to a picture. So in order to optimize images and multimedia content for search, you have to create the words for the search engines.

What all these files types have in common is a need for clear, descriptive names or titles. These are not by all means the default name spit out by audio, video or image software — e.g., img230769.jpg. File names should be as descriptive as possible and match what the file represents.

If you’ve got a shot of an apple, for example, call it a “New York State Macintosh Apple” or “Ripe Harvest Orchard’s Macoun Apple,” not just plain old “apple.” For all a search engine knows, that “apple” could be a computer, or even a mobile phone.

Such descriptive names are not only found by search engine spiders, but often have the added advantage of appearing above, below or by the image itself, enhancing the user experience as well. Beyond any other optimization tactics, file names are accorded the most weight by search engines when it comes to ranking.

It should therefore come as no surprise that websites that regularly use multiple media files require a naming strategy or protocol to ensure consistency in the names used for graphics, audio or video.

After giving media files clear, descriptive names, don’t forget to add more descriptive text (or meta data) to the “alt” attribute in the file’s tag. Make it short and to the point, like the file name.

This is an opportunity to go a little bit broader. That New York State apple, for example, might be from Olsen’s Orchards, or have been a product of the 2011 harvest. Or perhaps this is the place to indicate it’s a sweet, crisp, delicious and nutritious apple.

Online merchants might want to use this field to add information such as a manufacturer, product category, or UPC code. Let’s say you sell DVDs online. The name of the media file, in this case a photo of the cover art, would obviously be the title of the film. The “alt” attribute might include the names of the actors, director, studio, genre, release year, and any miscellaneous information such as “Academy Award Nominee.”

Perhaps the media file in question is named “Lady Gaga on American Idol.” The meta data might refer to the specific contestant in the competition, the names of other judges, or list some of the singer’s credits so the video shows up on more general searches by her fans.

Keyword strategy, combined with content marketing goals, will inform what type of additional data are added in this section.

A caption adjacent to an image or media file helps search engines to “understand” what the file is about, because adjacent text helps search engines contextualize what they’ve found and determine relevancy. The goal here is to function much like a newspaper or a magazine by adding keyword-rich captions to files.

This way, even if someone’s been careless and named an image file “Bass.jpg,” the adjacent text and caption can help a search engine understand if the image depicts a fish, a musical instrument, or a particular brand of shoe. This approach can be broadened to optimize the entire page the media file resides on to further increase the depth of context and relevancy.

In the case of images, file type matters. Photos should be rendered in jpg format, logos should be gif files. The reason is simply that these are standard formats that search engines “expect” to find. Search engines assume a gif file has 256 colors, standard for rendering graphics such as logos, while photos are rendered in millions of colors.

And when using logo files it’s all-important that the file be named with whatever is in that logo. No search engine is smart enough to deduce a simple gif file represents the logo for Bank of America, Ikea or Acme Exterminating.

While it can be labor-intensive, posting an HTML transcript of the dialogue in an audio or video file goes extraordinarily far in terms of optimizing the actual content of these media files.

Given the nature of the medium, it’s best to keep these files short, optimally five minutes or less (particularly in the case of video). Cutting longer media files into shorter segments not only eases viewing, but also affords additional opportunities to optimize the content and to provide extra, spider-able links between episodes or installments. This is particularly helpful in the case of episodic videos or podcasts.

Quality Matters. So Does Specificity

It’s not just content that reigns supreme in SEO — it’s quality content. Google’s own published guidelines on the topic say in essence that anyone hoping to rank well in search should write for their own visitors and users, not for the search engines themselves. The company is putting its algorithms solidly behind this recommendation.

In recent years we’ve seen “content farms,” websites that churn out mountains of garbage content to game the search engines and rise to the top of organic search results, plummet, and in many cases even disappear from search rankings.

Creating a lot of garbage is, of course, cheap and easy. Creating — and sustaining the creation of — high-quality content requires thought and investment (particularly when everyone else is trying to do it, too).

There are plenty of good reasons to keep content interesting, informative, entertaining, engaging, witty, useful, well-written and well-presented. There are dozens of reasons to have a strong taxonomy, descriptive and compelling headlines, tags and other organizational attributes. Now you can add search engine optimization to that list, too.

You may be creating and publishing the best content on the Web — but what does that matter if no one can find it?

This post originally published on MarketingLand.

Content Marketing’s Chicken & Egg Budget Problem

baby-chick-and-an-egg_4473966_lrgIf you’ve been around digital marketing since the Pleistocene Epoch, which correlates roughly with the mid-1990s, you’ve doubtless noticed a trend. Whenever a new channel or medium appears — and appears to have staying power — marketers’ first instinct seems always to be: throw a teenager at it.

During the Web 1.0 era, businesses were literally hiring the senior vice president’s 15-year-old nephew to build the company website. After all, he knew HTML. When email was ascendant, the first email program managers were a mere notch above summer interns. Search, social media — the operative fallacy is that these channels are for the young, and therefore only the dewiest of candidates are qualified to tackle them. The kernel of truth inside that fallacy is that newer channels are poorly understood, marketers (and the C-suite) are reluctant to allocate budget, so they take baby steps — with babies – and staff that may have tactical proficiency but are lacking in business experience, a strategic approach, an understanding of business goals, and overall maturity.

Now that web development, email, search, and social have developed into fully-fledged disciplines, they often have their own departments, staff, and oversight.

Content marketing? Not yet. Although without content there can be no paid, owned, or earned media, content doesn’t have a formal home in most organizations. Heck, 70 percent of organizations that practice content marketing don’t have a documented content strategy (according to my research, and corroborated by numerous other surveys). Without a formal strategy, there is rarely a budget, an org chart, or an infrastructure for content.

And this gives rise to another wave of amateurism. Too many organizations still subscribe to the “hire an unemployed journalist” school of content marketing. The reasoning is that this low-rent ink-stained scribe can churn out blog posts at a regular cadence, perhaps even thought-leadership pieces and some marketing copy.

I’ve got nothing against journalists — having been one myself for many years — but literacy and a flair for writing isn’t enough. This “content associate” (as these positions are often called) hasn’t been trained in marketing and too often doesn’t understand the core business they’re working for. Ideas such as personas and brand voice are alien to them. Recently, I was regaled with the story of a meal-delivery start-up whose in-house blogger not only wasn’t producing copy, but flat out confessed to having little interest in food, dining, or nutrition as a topic.

Even those organizations lucky enough to land talented, interested writers aren’t going the distance. Content isn’t text alone. Increasingly, it’s visual, and audio-visual. It requires the talents of editors, videographers, and graphic designers. If content is embedded in or reliant on apps, it can also require developers. The content price tag has just shot up considerably from that out of work journalist, hasn’t it?

Business will soon leave the era of content managed by barely-past-their-teens practitioners. Content will be formalized and institutionalized. Organizations are on the verge of realizing no content equals no email, no search, no website, no social media, no PR, and no advertising. All these are channels and containers for content.

Content is growing up. Budgets and organizational structure must and will rise accordingly.

This post originally published on iMedia

Steps Toward Developing A Content Strategy

business-people-office-ss-1920-800x450Organizations are finally getting the memo: They need a clear, cogent, documented and well-communicated content strategy to govern their content marketing efforts.

My research (at Altimeter Group), corroborated by that of several other studies, indicates that currently 70 percent of companies practicing content marketing lack a documented strategy. But thankfully, this is slowly changing as the need to align content with actual goals, processes and procedures comes into focus.

What are the steps to outlining that documented strategy? The following is a list of my asks the moment I’m brought into an organization to help them develop a content strategy road map.

The first, and most critical part, is goals. What is content trying to achieve? What are the business reasons for creating and publishing content, and how are these goals aligned to broader company priorities?

This critical first step is determining the big “Why” of content. Without the why, there can be no strategy.

Part 2 may be secondary, but it’s of equal importance. It answers the question “How?” People, process, governance, tools, technologies, assets — all of these and more must be present and accounted for, aligned and communicated to numerous stakeholders. How is ongoing, but adheres to a broad procedural schema.

In order to determine Why and get to the How, these are my “Day One” requests when beginning a content strategy engagement.

List Of Tools & Technologies

What tools do you use to create content? To publish it? To store, archive, share and retrieve it? To optimize and measure it? What other tools do these tools have to play nice with?

This list might include Web or social analytics tools, SEO or SEM software, CRM solutions, marketing automation, even intranets and telephony software.

No tool or technology is an island anymore, so a holistic, 360-degree consideration of technology — what’s used today and what’s planned for deployment in the future — is essential.

Content Audit

A content audit is a painstaking, exacting exercise that many would be only too happy to skip. But you can’t.

If you don’t know where you are, you can’t chart the journey forward. A content audit is both a quantitative and, more importantly, a qualitative analysis of all the content for which your organization is responsible.

In order to conduct an audit, you’ll need a list of all your public-facing online properties, from websites to social media. When I conduct an audit I want to see your email marketing, your ad campaigns. I even (this surprises many of my clients) want to examine offline collateral, perhaps that big annual report or research study undertaken annually or semiannually.

It’s not enough to just have at the content itself. I’ll also request access to analytics software (Web, social, email, and so on). The purpose of an audit isn’t just to evaluate whether or not I like your content. I want to see if it’s being seen, found, used, shared and amplified — or not.

A good audit (they vary by purpose and type of engagement) is a 50-point diagnostic. They’re very deep and reveal often-surprising insights, not just about the content itself, but also requirements for the processes and technologies to create and sustain the flow of content. The goal is to define gaps and problems, as well as to identify strengths, and develop specific recommendations for improvement.

Stakeholder Interviews

The stakeholder interview is the most interesting part of developing a content strategy.

I’ll ask for a list of 10 to 15 stakeholders for in-depth interviews on content needs. What are their goals? Their wants and needs? Their vision of process? It’s usually up to my client to identify the stakeholders I’ll interview, but I don’t want all of them to be senior executives. I also want to speak with the techies, the creatives and tacticians to get a pragmatic, from-the-trenches perspective.

I don’t want to interview groups larger than two to three people (otherwise some will clam up), and I don’t want a senior executive present at all my conversations (self-censorship can be an issue).

While stakeholder interviews aren’t a democratic process, really asking people what they want and need around content can be incredibly revealing, and unveil very interesting levels of consensus.

There are, of course, other asks dependent on the size, scope and purpose of a content engagement strategy. But for anyone approaching their organization as a client in need of a content strategy, these three starting points are mandatory.

This post originally published on MarketingLand

Content Strategy Isn’t Set in Stone

To market effectively requires a strategy, but a simple fact that eludes many marketers is that you are allowed to change the strategy. I hadn’t realized how intractable strategy is perceived to be until a few recent calls with clients, as well as a student writing a PhD thesis on content marketing, left me shaking my head. All expressed reluctance to commit to a documented content strategy lest priorities, processes, technologies, or other resources change. What then? Strategy is, after all, inscribed on stone tablets, Ten Commandments-style, when it’s documented. Or so the belief seems to go.

Wrong, wrong, and wrong again. In fact, this misbelief may be precisely what underlies the fact that 70 percent of organizations that practice content marketing don’t have a documented content strategy. Not only does my research as an analyst point to that statistic, but that 70 percent is corroborated by virtually every study out there.

Strategies can, and do change. They have to. That’s where sustainability comes in. Media consumption patterns change, messaging changes, goals shift, customers change, and so do products. Target audiences might shift, new products are introduced, old ones changed. Budgets rise and fall.

There are a zillion and one reasons why a content marketing strategy can — indeed, will — change. Yet for some reason, marketers believe that once a strategy is established, it’s set in stone, immutable, and unalterable. In the rapidly shifting landscape of digital marketing and media, it’s essential to establish a strategy — to know why you are doing what you’re doing and how that goal will be achieved.

But that in no way precludes frequents checks, shifts, tweaks, and adjustments to stay on course. That’s how marketing becomes fluid, agile, sustainable, and successful.

How, why, and when should a content strategy change? Changes can be large or small, but the following are a few of the many reasons strategy should be reexamined, reevaluated, and re-jiggered to address priorities at hand.

Metrics/KPIs/optimization

What metrics and KPIs are important to gauging the success of a content strategy? Sales are an obvious choice, but there are a panoply of other KPIs that will take on greater or lesser significance as a strategy, as well as organizational priorities, evolve.

Content audit

Audits must be conducted periodically, ideally at least twice per year, to inform content strategy. Audits address what’s working, what’s not, and where gaps exist and how they might be filled.

Products/services

As offerings (and offers) change, so too will content strategy. Shifts might be seasonal, event- or launch-driven, or perhaps a new product line appeals to new customers with different needs, wants, and habits. If the organization itself isn’t static, content strategy will never be a set-it-and-forget-it box to tick.

Audience

Who comprises the target audience? Where are they online? Have they switched their alliance from one channel or platform to another, either in aggregate or by persona? Are personas and buyer profiles changing? What about their needs and wants? These and similar questions help to inform one of the most essential components of a content strategy: defining, and finding, who that content is supposed to reach and to influence.

Channels/formats/media

Ten years ago Instagram and Twitter weren’t part of anyone’s content strategy. They didn’t exist. Mobile was a department, not part and parcel of digital. Video, for many, was a nice to have, not a must-have. Shifts in platforms and the overall digital landscape necessitate periodic reevaluations of content strategy.

Resources

This can include tools, technology, personnel, budgets, processes — anything it takes to get content done. Content strategies don’t just define the goals content is intended to achieve, but also the procedure, processes and governance required to get there. Changes in resources necessitate changes to the overarching strategy.

This post originally published on iMedia

The TedCruz.com Domain #Fail

You don’t need a lot of content to make a big impact.

Mere hours after Sen. Ted Cruz threw his hat into the ring and announced his candidacy for the highest office in the land, TedCruz.com went live. The site consists of one sober page, white text on a black background:

Unsurprisingly, social media lit up with (deservedly) derisive comments. The same would have been the case 10 years ago. Cruz is hardly the first politician to flop so spectacularly online. I can recall Rudy Giuliani’s MySpace profile during his presidential bid — the page was marked “private” so no one could see the posts.

But that was then. I don’t think that today it’s going too far to say that a candidate that doesn’t have the foresight to secure his own name (not to mention any and all related domains) doesn’t deserve my vote. It’s bad decision-making. It’s bad politics. It’s bad content, image, spin, and PR. What would have been a big “oops” 10 or 15 years ago is now indicative of someone who (politics aside) is not making informed decisions.

Because today, digital is too important to ignore. Barack Obama owes his two terms not just to a platform that resonated with the electorate, but with one of the all-time greatest digital CRM campaigns. The White House has a chief digital officer now.

Contrast that with Cruz, who doesn’t have a top-level domain in his name.

This choice, or oversight, or whatever you care to call it, speaks volumes about Ted Cruz as a leader. What kind of people has he brought on as campaign advisors if this critical element of his messaging has been completely overlooked? A president is only good as his lieutenants. It’s hard to imagine a candidate who can’t buy a web domain becoming the most powerful politician in the world and appointing a qualified cabinet.

My friend Vin Crosbie has pointed out that ICANN’s Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy (UDRP) could, in fact, return TedCruz.com to Ted Cruz, because the current owner is using it in bad faith. To do so, Cruz would have to file a complaint.

“I could get it for him by the end of the week,” an SEO and reputation management expert commented on my Facebook page. “But he isn’t going to ask.”

It’s going to be an interesting election season. Simply from a digital marketing perspective, I don’t think the first candidate in the ring is going to be able to go the distance.

This post originally published on iMedia 

A Personal Transition & Career Change

CrossroadsThumnail

I’m in the bittersweet process of transitioning out of my role as industry analyst at Altimeter Group. I plan to remain with the company until early summer, finishing obligations and projects for some wonderful clients, including research and strategy work, as well as public speaking.

Then I’ll strike out and do something new. What, exactly, is still TBD.

I’m sharing this news for two reasons. First, transparency. At Adobe Summit last week, it was awkward to meet old friends and new acquaintances and answer the “what do you do?” question. Yes, I’m still at Altimeter, but one foot is inching toward the door.

I also want to signal my availability. I’m pleased to be in talks with a diverse list of organizations: brands, analyst firms, and agencies. I’m considering a variety of options, from remaining an analyst to putting my practitioner hat back on in a senior marketing role. I am also taking on client projects (advisory and thought leadership), as well as booking speaking engagements.

I’ve also been asked to join a number of advisory boards, an exciting prospect (unless I remain an analyst, in which case that’s a non-starter). I’m energized, daunted, nostalgic and sometimes wake up in the middle of the night, my head swimming with possibilities. It’s all good, and still very open-ended. I’m figuring this out while juggling a full workload and all the while maintaining my elite level frequent flyer status.

Working at Altimeter is one of the best jobs I ever had. I’m very proud of having produced a significant body of research on content marketing – more than any other researcher or analyst in the field – as well as my work in converged media. I’ve shared that knowledge in literally hundreds of keynotes and speeches on three continents, from major conferences to private events.

I’m also proud of my advisory and thought-leadership work with clients ranging from major banks, healthcare organizations, big-box retailers, and government agencies, to start-ups and non-profits. Recent clients include Home Depot, Adobe, Nestlé, Facebook, Gannett, Honeywell, The Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Fidelity, Wells Fargo, Anthem, American Express, IAB, as well as major ad and PR agencies.

I’m also honored to be frequently tapped for commentary by media outlets such as National Public Radio, The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the BBC when there’s breaking news about digital marketing or media.

And it will be my privilege to continue to contribute to the dialogue, the development, and the definitions of the disruptive technologies in marketing and media.

I’m also grateful. Charlene Li believed in me and took my career in an exciting new direction. Jeremiah Owyang supported me wholeheartedly and unconditionally as a fledgling analyst, and was an early co-author of a major piece of research. Brian Solis invited me to serve as editor of several of his reports, and to speak at his Pivot conference.  The brilliant and talented Susan Etlinger is another co-author and collaborator. We published new research together just last week.

I couldn’t ask you to name a smarter, more supportive or inspirational group of colleagues. The research team has also been exceptional. If I look good at Altimeter, so much of that credit is due to crack researchers Christine Tran, Jessica Groopman and Jaimy Syzmanski (so many names I’m omitting….)

What’s next? I’ll keep you posted. Rest assured I’ll continue to research, write and speak under my own banner in the long term.

A Business-Oriented Content Measurement Framework

The foundation of content strategy is goals. Without knowing why content will be created and published — to what end, for whom, where, and how — content marketing is at best a spurious, ad hoc activity.

Yet when my colleague and partner-in-research Susan Etlinger and I sat down around a year ago to discuss the state of content measurement, we quickly realized growth in that sector is nowhere near commensurate with the overall growth of content marketing. This lead to research into what KPIs marketers should be working toward and measuring for in content, the subject of our latest research report titled Content Marketing Performance: A Framework to Measure Real Business Impact (free PDF download).

Content can indeed lift sales, but it can achieve so many more measurable, revenue-linked goals associated not only with marketing, but with other business areas, from product development to customer service.  Our research outlines some of these KPIs, but goes further in that it helps marketers determine not just what to measure, but how to measure it.

Following, the key recommendations that resulted from our research:

Measurement must be the foundational principle of content strategy

In fact, there is no content strategy without measurement strategy. Before embarking on a content initiative, irrespective of medium or platform, it’s important to know what you want to achieve. Is it to drive more awareness? Build an audience? Encourage people to convert? Reduce call center expense by deflecting appropriate queries to a digital channel? Each requires different metrics — for content, yes, but also to calculate whether you have achieved your goal. Set and prioritize goals and desired outcomes, develop KPIs to track these, and measure and iterate constantly.

Every measurement strategy must focus on business outcome

Content metrics can be notoriously volume- or vanity-based, rather than outcome-based. This means that counting likes, shares, or organic reach in and of itself likely doesn’t demonstrate business value. To do that, you need to show a business outcome, using the compass in Figure 1. For example:

  1. An increase in reach can show audience growth.
  2. An increase in shares (preferably combined with other measures of engagement) can show engagement.
  3. To understand whether a content strategy has affected brand reputation, you must have a benchmark, measure sentiment, and look at the before and after. It’s critical to have an analyst who can perform this correlation with an eye to other confounding factors. For example, a “viral” video may be immensely popular, but if there is a product recall, pricing change, or other factors, it may be difficult or even impossible to assess the impact on the business overall.
    A business-oriented content measurement framework

Know your metrics and your data

Some signals, like click-through rate, are clear and relatively easy to assess. Measuring sharing behavior requires that an analyst assess multiple platforms — Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, etc. — to define what “sharing” actually means. Compounding this issue is the fact that some of the most valuable data — for example, private Facebook data, or Snapchat data — are not available for privacy reasons. So analysts must take that into account as they assess impact and create defensible benchmarks as part of their process.

Be realistic about organizational capabilities and tools

Because content performance data comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, from various platforms, it often requires a great deal of manual intervention to analyze properly. This is simply a reality of the market today; content vendors often supply their own analytics dashboards, while social media tools also serve to measure content reach, resonance, and other (content-specific) outcomes.

It is not uncommon to require a mixture of web analytics, content measurement, marketing technology, and social media tools to assess the impact of content. As a result, content strategists should work with their analysts to develop a realistic (short-term) and aspirational (long-term) measurement strategy. Otherwise, content strategists and business leaders will inevitably become frustrated, while analysts will burn out from all the manual work needed to deliver reports.

This post originally published on iMedia