This week’s Thriving in Tough Times session features Ben Worthen and Miguel Helft, former journalists who now work together at Message Lab, a top content marketing agency. Ben and Miguel shared their thoughts on how companies can effectively reach prospects and customers now that in-person meetings are on hold. Their advice covers how to engage people online, but also what to measure to determine whether content is effective.
What companies should talk about now
Most marketers tend to think content has to be about their company or product. Sometimes that’s true. More often than not, however, the best way for a company to engage with an audience is by writing about shared ideas and interests. In particular—and we hear this again and again—audiences are hungry for stories of how people like them solved problems similar to the ones they face, and for information that will help them do their jobs better. People will seek these kinds of pieces out and spend the time extracting the relevant lessons.
How to tell if it’s effective
The analytics programs most companies use to assess their success aren’t designed for content. Google Analytics and Adobe Analytics are made for ecommerce—getting someone to buy a plane ticket or a pair of slippers. They help you figure out how to move people as quickly through a purchase funnel as possible. With content, the goal is to get someone to engage with your ideas. And for many businesses—real estate agencies or software companies, for example—expecting someone to click from an article to a “buy-now” page isn’t a realistic goal. Bounce rate is an example of a commonly used stat that can be misleading when it comes to non-sales content. If someone spends a lot of time with your ideas, but then leaves, that’s valuable information that you want to be able to capture and do something with.
A better system for determining value
Analytics for content has to be built around different units of measurement—around variables that capture the behavior you’re trying to encourage. At Message Lab, they use engaged time, which measures how long someone is actively on a page, regardless of whether the person eventually bounces back. Engaged time isn’t an outcome in and of itself, but it is a good proxy. It shows whether a piece of content delivers value, and engaged time is correlated with the sorts of outcomes companies seek. The second part of an analytics model for content is to translate your user journey into things that can be measured. In technical terms, it means capturing data—events, in analytics speak—whenever someone does one of the things we want them to do, like sign up for email, download a file, share content on social, or click on a link to some other asset.
Telling the real signals
Message Lab has one client that gets millions of organic page views on its blog, but hardly anyone sticks around for more than a minute, or takes any of the other actions they’re measuring. The page views give the false impression that content is contributing value to the business. For another client, they were able to show that about 40% of all marketing leads had previously engaged with our content and that they complete forms at more than twice the rate as everyone else. The key is that by capturing all of this data, they’ve equipped themselves with the tools to figure out what it is that’s causing those outcomes. And that sets us on a path to making content that’s not only more engaging but also gets measurable results.
It’s not always a content problem
Message Lab has learned by studying the online behavior of more than 5 million people that successful content requires more than the right words. Effective content depends on a great UX, an effort to reach the right audience, and a willingness and ability to test and iterate. You might have great content, but if your site is hard to use, people will leave before they ever start reading. And if you just put a piece of content online and think you’re done—and don’t work hard to get it to the right people—you’ll likely never get any value from it.
Thanks again to Ben and Miguel for sharing their insights with us, and stay tuned for more lessons learned on building community in a digital-first world and running effective virtual meetings.
For more expert insights on thriving in tough times, check out the previous posts in the series.
Originally published on Crunchbase.