Content marketing has evolved into a fully-fledged marketing function but as with many newer communications channels finding the best measure of success remains a challenge.
Only half of marketers believe it is possible to accurately measure content marketing’s return on investment, according to a study by the Content Marketing Association (CMA), and 52% are unsure whether a universal metric is realistic.
But almost a third (29%) of content marketers are worried that budgets will move away from harder to measure channels if measurement is not sorted.
Just last week, Facebook admitted a number of errors in the way it measures audiences, after earlier this year owning up to the fact it had be overstating how long users watch videos on its site by up to 80%.
The report shows that half of marketers currently spend 6% to 15% of their content marketing budget on measurement, and while 73% of senior level marketers do class measurement as ‘very important’ to their content marketing strategy, only 45% are planning to increase this over the next 12 month.
Although Marketing Week columnist Mark Ritson does not dispute the value of content marketing, he is not convinced it should be treated as a separate form of communication. Furthermore, he argues that simply creating more content will not increase consumer engagement.
He said in a recent column: “The problem appears to be content marketers who, in a modern version of marketing myopia, seem to think that their reason for existence is to create content, rather than communicate with clients and sell stuff.”
What is the right measure?
“Content marketing is as much about relevance as it is about reach,” says Pete Markey, brand communications and marketing director at Aviva – whose aim is “to create something genuinely helpful or with a purpose, that considers the individual person at a specific moment in their life”.
Markey says this “leads to a much broader range of content, in many different formats, which means the old rules of measuring effectiveness of advertising, like brand tracking, are harder to apply”.
We would like to see the industry working together to establish some accepted engagement metrics.
Charlie Edelman, Story Studio at Evening Standard
It can be difficult to disaggregate individual parts of a campaign and “that’s no different for content pieces”, according to Charlie Edelman, director of Story Studio at Evening Standard owner ESI Media. She says: “Ultimately, it all comes down to setting and communicating your objectives and defining your key metrics.”
Edelman added: “We would like to see the industry working together to establish some accepted engagement metrics across different digital media such as content articles, video and social media so that clients can better understand performance and benchmark the branded content they invest into.”
The CMA report says action (44%) and interaction (41%) are seen as the most important short-term measures to gauge the effectiveness of content marketing, 45% of respondents cited views as the least important and 68% believe marketers should seek to measure emotional engagement.
The CMA findings are backed up by exclusive research shown to Marketing Week, based on the content management challenges of organisations – including the CMA membership of over 40 companies, which shows that only 26% of organisations say they are able to measure the effectiveness of the content on their websites extremely well.
The report by content management firm Acquia also reveals what metrics marketers use to measure the effects of content marketing. The highest proportion (45%) measure repeat visits and transactions, 44% track brand awareness and 41% measure audience share. Measuring customer satisfaction (38%), unique visitors (37%) and conversion rates (37%) also make the list.
Aviva, whcih works with Zenith, believes “the purpose of content is to drive interactions”, so it developed a brand engagement score. “By aggregating all of the interactions up into one score with weekly data points we are able to use this as an input to market mix modelling, allowing us to prove the impact on sales in the short and long term,” adds Markey.
The challenge is whether the industry can agree on which metrics are the best indicator of content marketing effectiveness, because currently “there are no common measures of success across the industry”, according to Lexi Jarman, commercial director at The Financial Times’ content division FT².
FT², which launched last year, measures engagement to show success, which is in line with its editorial heritage.
Jarman says that active time on page and scroll depth tell the company “a bit more about why people are engaging and how engaged they are”. It is a move away from historic display metrics that “are great for display but don’t tell us enough about success for a piece of content”.
She adds: “Our editorial team don’t measure the success of their content based on a display metric. We are aiming [to look at] how [editorial teams] measure success, which is tricky in a market that still measures success based on something that tells you that something else is successful.”
Content marketing is as much about relevance as it is about reach.
Pete Markey, Aviva
Some marketers do still look at click-through rate (CTR), which is important says Jarman, but admits it “means relatively little if you’re not looking at the conversion”.
The content division’s next step, therefore, is to “find out what a conversion looks like”, examining brand uplift and turning a conversion back into “something meaningful”.
The problem is that “you can end up delving into every single metric going to man and still not surface the information that you want”, according to Michelle Tassi, ecommerce marketing and sales insight manager at Forest Holidays. She advises marketers to “keep it simple and keep the metrics as clear and consistent as possible so you are comparing like-to-like”.
Forest Holidays has its own content hub called Forestipedia that aims to promote Britain’s forests and connect people, nature and local communities.
The key areas that Tassi measures are traffic, SEO visibility – looking at keyword rankings on search engines using advance web rankings, overall visibility of the website and keyword volumes, and it uses Hitwise to compare market share.
In addition, each blog is measured for reach via social media channels through social seeding and traffic to Forestipedia itself and the Forest Holidays website.
Measurement is also a long-term job. Tassi adds: “Short-term insight is important but continuing to monitor the SEO visibility of keywords and blogs is long term, so persistent measuring is critical to understand the overall impact.”
Don’t get bogged down
HomeServe, which provides emergency home insurance cover and domestic repairs, launched content hub Ketchup over a year ago. Instead of agonising over a content strategy brand director John Greaves wanted to “dive in”, working on metrics as the hub developed.
“The longer you devise the plan, the more time you are wasting,” he says. “There is nothing that can be gained from waiting for the perfect strategy.”
Ketchup achieved 250,000 unique users in its launch year and looks at conversions to the website, unique users and user profiles, total page views, number of page views per visit and time spent on page, organic search visibility of Ketchup articles and when using Ketchup content in existing customer communication it tracks email open rates and click-through rates.
Greaves adds: “As we get sharper and smarter, convergence will naturally mean we will want to have some more direct and specific metrics but ultimately for us it’s about telling a story of the organisation and wanting customers to interact with us.”
Whether there will be an industry standard for measuring content is yet to be seen but content is supposed to go beyond being another advertising channel to push products, so measuring its worth could continue to be a sore point for content marketers.