Generate More Leads with Data-Driven Content Marketing

For many of us, content marketing is a throw against the wall and see what sticks strategy.

I have spent countless hours, days, even weeks creating content that just failed.  

In fact, I even plotted every piece of content that the Curata marketing organization has ever created in order to see how successful it has been. This chart includes content types (e.g., blog posts, webinars, ebooks, case studies) across all channels (i.e., owned, earned and paid).

social-shares-for-all-content

And I found what I expected – that there’s a long tail of “failed” content. And even when content is considered a “success,”  it’s typically measured as being successful based on the number of social shares it got (as seen above), or page views, which do not necessarily demonstrate impact on the business.

But we can learn from these failures (and successes) to greatly improve the effectiveness of our content marketing.  And we can demonstrably show that this has had an impact on our business goals.

But both of these – learning from successes and showing business impact require data.

In this post, you will learn:

  • How other industries are using data to make decisions
  • How we created a data-driven content marketing strategy
  • How you can get started on your own data-driven strategy

How Other Industries Use Data to Make Decisions

Using data to inform future content strategy decisions is nothing new. Other industries have been using past successes and failures to make decisions for years. Here are two examples:

Digital Advertising

Screen Shot 2015-10-20 at 12.01.09 PM

In digital advertising, there is also a long long tail. Many digital advertising campaigns start with buying hundreds of thousands of ads across combinations of media properties, keywords, offers, landing pages, and ad creatives.  And the truth is, despite all that effort, most will fail. But through data, campaigns can be made highly effective by focusing on the successes. Ad planners then typically prune 95% of the ads, and reallocate their budget on the 5% that perform the best.

Journalism

The Huffington Post has become one of the most popular news sources online largely through a data-driven content strategy. For example, they performed A/B testing between the headlines ‘‘How GM Silenced a Whistleblower’’  and ‘‘How GM Bullied a Whistleblower’’  and found that “silenced” far outperformed “bullied.” This is the headline they used going forward.

Screen Shot 2015-10-20 at 12.21.41 PM

While content marketers are not running the Huffington Post, there’s a number of lessons that we can learn on how to be much more effective – and impactful – from data.

Before Implementing a Data-Driven Strategy

A year ago, our own marketing organization was not data-driven.  We were intuition-driven – and more often than not, as we saw from the long tail of failures, our intuitions were wrong.

We would create content on a hunch – guessing what would work best. We would track content performance based on the number of social shares and the number of page views. We used to measure our team based on how much content they would produce in a given time period.

Ultimately, we were unable to justify our content spend, but did it because we “felt” it was working – but just how much was working, we didn’t quite know.

Here’s how we used to track our data:

Screen Shot 2015-10-20 at 8.55.04 PM

This spreadsheet took hours to complete, and at the end of the day, we were only tracking page views. We had no idea how our content was impacting the middle and bottom of the funnel (i.e., marketing pipeline and sales pipeline). Worst of all because it was so tedious, we were only tracking content performance for the first five weeks rather than it’s whole lifetime.  Much of our evergreen content continues to generate the majority of our page views and social shares, even years after they were published, but we were oblivious to this.

How We Created a Data-Driven Strategy

Since this method of analyzing content was tedious and ultimately insufficient, we decided to start from scratch. We wanted to use data to inform decisions across three areas of our content marketing process: strategy, production and promotion.

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We plotted out the key metrics we wanted to track and created the Content Marketing ROI framework below:

content-marketing-roi

The goal is to measure our content marketing ROI. On the performance side, we chose the above six separate metrics to track. To learn how to compute each of these metrics, see our Comprehensive Guide to Content Marketing Analytics & Metrics.

Here is how tracking this data helped us make decisions in each of these main areas of our content marketing process.

1. Strategy

We were able to answer the following strategic questions:

  1. What topics should we create content about?
  2. What formats should we use for this content?
  3. What should be prioritized based on available resources?
Choosing Topics

To determine our topics, we used a variety of tools such as Ubersuggest and BuzzSumo. Data from these sources helped us determine what topics were being searched and what topics were being shared. 

But, we didn’t rely on data alone. We also looked at our larger objectives as a corporation and determined a number of Content Marketing Pyramids to execute in the coming months.

corporate-objectives

What is a Content Marketing Pyramid?

At a high level, a content marketing pyramid is a strategic framework that enables the execution of a content program, assuring optimal content consumption, reuse and reach.

chevronTo learn how to implement this framework today, download our 70+ page eBook on the topic: The Content Marketing Pyramid.

Choosing Content Formats

Once we established our content marketing pyramids, we had to decide what format this content should be presented in. We wanted to know: Which content formats are the most effective and have the best ROI?

We were able to draw many conclusions with the data at hand. Here is one example that led to the largest change in our strategy:

Focus on Long-Form Content over Short-Form Content

Previously, we created one short-form piece of content every week to send out in a weekly newsletter. Based on intuition, we thought this was the best strategy — it makes sense to create fresh information each week for your audience. But, our data told us otherwise. After some analysis, it was revealed that, on average, long-form content generates 8x more page views, 3x more social shares and 9x more leads than short-form content.

Screen Shot 2015-10-21 at 9.01.04 AMThis helped us pivot our blogging strategy. Even though long-form content takes more effort, the results greatly outperform short-form content. We now exclusively write long-form content, even if we are only able to produce two pieces of long-form content a month.  (check out more business blogging secrets here)

2. Production

After forming a strategy, we moved on to production, where we used data to answer questions such as:

  1. Who should work on which content?
  2. What’s the status of our content supply chain?
Choosing Content Creators

To evaluate which content creators we should continue to use, we ranked all of our writers based on the average number of social shares they garner for their content. 

Screen Shot 2015-10-21 at 9.03.34 AM

From this, we were able to prioritize which freelancers and agencies we should work with again, which guest bloggers we should invite to write for us again, and which internal employees were good content creators.

We also learned what didn’t work: The low producing creators on the right side of the chart. These are mostly people in non-marketing roles writing about a subject they specialize in. Instead of asking them to write for the blog again, we will have our dedicated content creators act as journalists and interview these employees for content pieces.

Determining the status of content supply chain

A key element to a data-driven strategy is the upkeep of a robust editorial calendar, enabling you to analyze data in multiple ways. It also provides a quick look at the status of each piece of content as it moves through the calendar (in process, under review, published). The following picture provides the fields that we use as a marketing organization and what we recommend using for your own calendar:

 editorial-calendar-fields

chevronNeed a template pre-filled with these fields? Download our content marketing editorial calendar template today.

3. Promotion

When it comes to content promotion, here is one question we were able to answer:

What should we promote in our newsletter?

Since we decided to focus solely on fewer pieces of long-form content versus many pieces of short-form content, we needed to ensure there was a high enough quantity of content options in our weekly newsletter. We added more freshly curated content, and also included our most popular evergreen content. Again, we looked to the data to identify the best content for this effort.

We looked for content that was popular with our existing audience (i.e., through “Leads Touched”), as well as content that was doing well in terms of consumption such as page views. This was the content we would recycle and promote to our audience.

Screen Shot 2015-10-21 at 9.16.19 AM

The Results

Creating our data-driven strategy is a work-in-process and we still have many areas that we would like to improve. For example, we’d like to incorporate more data sources and measure more content types (such as YouTube videos). However, in the year since we began this journey, we have seen the following results:

  • 4x page views
  • 20K leads generated through content alone
  • 1.5x revenues were generated in sales pipeline via content

How to Get Started

Want to create similar results for your content marketing program? Here are a few ways to get started:

  1. Create an editorial calendar (e.g., 12 must have fields)
  2. Start measuring basic analytics
  3. Build a content measurement dashboard that combines your calendar and your stats together

To learn more about each of these steps and to take a deeper dive into our content marketing journey, attend my upcoming webinar, Data-Driven Content Marketing: How to Generate More Leads with Content.

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