Shane Snow is co-founder of Contently.com, an “agile publishing” platform for brands-turned-publishers and freelance journalists.
Most people quit blogging — and most companies do too, for that matter.
Like healthy diet, frequent exercise, proper posture or any other New Year’s resolution, blogging results take time. A 2008 Technorati survey put the abandonment rate of blogs at about 95%.
Part of the reason for low blog success rate is that most of us have a hard time predicting what kind of return blogging will achieve. “If I blog every day for a month, will I get more leads?” Probably. But it may take six months, not one.
That doesn’t mean it’s not worth the fight.
Before the Internet put publishing and distribution tools in everyone’s hands for free, companies that wanted brand exposure paid for time and/or placement on a third party media property (radio ads, TV commercials, banners). Many still do, but a general shift is occurring online – away from outbound marketing and paid media, toward creating one’s own branded content and spreading that media across the social web.
According to the Custom Content Council, 68% of CMOs say they are shifting budget from traditional advertising to this type of content marketing.
But measuring the return on investment (ROI) on content is difficult, especially if you’re not judging success by ad revenue.
Nine out of ten organizations market with content, according to a recent B2B content marketing survey. Companies like Mint, American Express and Hubspot are now competing with “traditional” media companies for eyeballs with their own content. They’re seeing results -– not necessarily in the form of advertising, but rather, through leads, subscribers and brand awareness.
A recent study by Hubspot indicates that Hubspot customers who practice inbound marketing (of which content is a core element) increase leads an average of 4.2 times within a few months. Other studies have shown similar results, that consistent content output increases conversions.
Content costs money, and measuring the results of your content effort is important. But an effective content strategy is like planting a garden: it takes consistent work that eventually pays off in large quantities. However, failure to water or plow that garden will result in weeds, in other words, a blog post every three months whose only comments are spam.
So how do you convince your boss, your partners or even yourself that content is a good investment? Here are three steps to effectively measure your content strategy:
1. Understand What You’re Measuring
Traditionally media companies use readership and ad revenue as the yardstick for content’s success. In content marketing, however, the goal is typically to achieve some sort of conversion or to build “brand awareness,” a rather ambiguous metric.
A conversion can consist of a mailing list or an RSS subscriber, a user signup, a phone call, a sale or any number of user interactions. The first step to measuring ROI on your content strategy is to set a goal.
If your content goal is to increase user signups, you first need to know your baseline: how many signups are you getting now, and from what sources? Once you start your content efforts, you want to be able to measure the results against that baseline.
2. Use Proxies to Measure Initial Success
Unless you’re already starting with a large audience (huge mailing list, captive user base, etc), it’s going to take a while to build momentum, and even longer to start seeing conversions. However, several proxies can help you chart your progress.
These proxies present immediate signs of encouragement, more so than, say, search engine ranking, which can take a while to manifest. Here’s a quick list of proxies for measuring a blog’s ROI:
- Facebook likes
- LinkedIn and other shares
- Links back
- Time spent on page
- Average page views per visitor (especially if you’re effective at internal linking of your posts)
These proxies will monitor how well your content is resonating, how you’re building trust in your brand. That trust will eventually turn into loyalty, advocacy and continued conversion.
It’s important to note that absolute measurements are rarely useful. What you’re looking for is a trend line. The number of retweets relative to previous content on your site or peer sites is a more useful yardstick than the total number of retweets.
Though it may not seem like much, an average of five tweets on a post today versus an average of one tweet three weeks ago is a great sign of progress.
Also, because some pieces of content will be outliers (whether spikes or duds), it’s important to pay attention to aggregate trend data rather than isolated post data. For example, the average number of retweets in June compared to April is a better measure of progress than the number of retweets on today’s blog post versus yesterday’s.
3. Measure Both Primary and Secondary Conversion Indicators
From a practical standpoint, measuring conversions can be as simple as installing Google Analytics, or keeping a spreadsheet of leads or even tick marks on a whiteboard.
While keeping track of the raw conversion numbers (How many leads are we getting this month versus five months ago when we weren’t blogging?) is important, it’s also crucial to measure secondary indicators. If you’re measuring leads, these might include the following:
- Quality of leads
- Retention period
- Lifetime value per lead
- Length of sales cycle
- Number of new customers referred by lead
“One way we try to quantify ROI is to track content users very closely,” says Sam Slaughter, a producer at Comcast.net. “That way we can tell if they went from consuming content to buying a product, or to bookmarking the page, or to digging deeper into the publisher site or any number of actions that the publisher might be able to monetize. From there, we can often come up with an actual dollar value from that piece of content.”
Patience Is the Secret
Content strategy for most businesses isn’t about instant advertising metrics anymore; therefore, clear ROI data can take a while to manifest. Once it does, however, returns will generally increase as you continue to consistently publish.
“When we talk about ROI for content we often use terms like ‘adoption,’ ‘time on site,’ ‘page views per unique’ and things like that,” says Slaughter. “The idea [is] that while you might not be monetizing the content on your site directly, you are using that content to attract new and better users who you can monetize down the road.”
In the end, planning, tracking and consistency will help you succeed. As Problogger founder Darren Rowse recently tweeted, “Building blogs is like building muscles.” Great content properties, like muscles, take patience.
Image courtesy of iStockphoto, pearleye
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