What type of goals should content marketers be held accountable to?
This is a tricky question, as business goals and content marketing goals aren’t always one and the same.
While content marketing initiatives do need to be strategized and held accountable in one way, shape, or form, the big question is: how?
This topic was inspired by a Slack forum conversation that Alex came across where a content marketer was bemoaning being goaled on content-attributed leads. Their reasoning? That revenue-driven goals clashed with a customer-focused approach to content.
Our team chatted with Tommy Walker, founder of The Content Studio, to think through what content goals truly make sense, and when.
Business goals versus marketing strategy
On a high level, linking content with goals seems absurd.
That’s because almost nobody reads a blog post once and then immediately signs up for a product or service.
“The whole goals thing is ridiculous, right? What do you goal on is always going to be contextual to the business first and foremost, but then secondmost is what’s your attribution modeling that’s available to you? And the reality is most people don’t have solid attribution modeling,” Tommy says.
Tommy has worked with Fortune 100 enterprises, and even then the attribution modeling for content marketing is difficult to do.
“I have to tell leaders all the time like, when was the last time you read a blog post and then immediately signed up for a thing? It never happens. You’ve never done it. I guarantee you’ve never done it, because nobody does. It’s not a human behavior.”
That said, you still need content to be guided by goals and guardrails.
Even though revenue is a lagging metric that might not be seen for months after you publish content, it’s still the driving force for any business.
“I’m of the belief that revenue should be the end goal,” David says.
“You’re not going to see returns for months. But you can at least see, are we getting more return visitors? Are we getting leads? What are the quality of those leads?”
While leads may take a long cycle before they close, you can still be measuring and tracking those inputs on a regular basis so that you can look back at the end of the year to try to determine if content helped drive a specific portion of that revenue.
While a CEO should define business goals, it’s up to the marketing leader to decide how content can best serve those goals and what metrics should be measured.
If the business goal is to drive more revenue pipeline for sales, the marketing goal should be lead generation and pipeline.
If the business goal is an account-based strategy, the marketing goal isn’t to get millions of views. It’s about getting quality leads consisting of content views from the right people.
You should not just be blindly measuring traffic or other specific metrics unless they make sense for your business model.
When to focus on organic traffic
Because revenue typically lags so far behind content marketing initiatives, the best metric Omniscient Digital has found for search-driven client content is organic traffic and rankings.
“For the most part, our strategies are search-driven,” Alex says. “For search-driven content, it’s organic traffic. It’s the easiest thing to track.”
As long as we’re dealing with relevant keywords and not pulling tactics like writing about motivational quotes or how to make a shrug emoji, pursuing traffic is a worthwhile goal.
“Organic traffic is going to be the best mid-level metric for us as we track the program. And then earlier on, if it’s search-driven, we’ll typically track rankings even. Just to say all right, the tip of the iceberg is shining through,” Alex says.
Keep in mind that this makes sense in the context of a search-driven content marketing program.
When to focus on return visitors
In addition to organic traffic, Tommy likes to focus specifically on repeat visitors.
That’s because his theory is that a one-time visitor will not convert. And when nobody converts, a content investment is ultimately a waste of money.
“There are certain metrics that are easy to goal, right? Let’s get a lot of traffic from these particular key phrases. Easy, clean, super simple. Not indicative of what actually becomes a customer,” Tommy says.
His personal philosophy is that traffic is a vanity metric.
But when it comes to repeat visitors, he’s interested.
That’s because if you’re going specifically and almost exclusively off of search traffic, then you have to cast a much wider net.
“You might have a bunch of one-time-only visitors. And then what? If you‘re spending $500 on a blog post, which I’ve frequently done, or $1,500 on a blog post, if somebody visits once or if the majority of the people visit once, and they don’t turn into anything, then how much money did I actually waste on that one specific piece?” he asks.
When you’re strategizing the right way, you can find ways to tangibly illustrate that your content budget isn’t a black hole going nowhere.
When to focus on shares, discussion, leads, and sales
Since he doesn’t like to rely overly on metrics when it comes to content, Tommy personally likes to prioritize one of four goals when he sits down to write any given piece of content.
They are not all traditional business goals, but he finds they work best in the world of content.
“Having one of those intentions in mind is what drives the whole energy that goes into the piece. And if we’re doing things like the keyword research, and we’re trying to get that discoverability up there, cool. And that will happen as a by-product of that,” Tommy says.
When this play works, it means that posts intended to be shared end up being shared widely, and there is organic discovery by other readers as a result.
Every goal has a tradeoff
When you prioritize one goal, there is always an impact elsewhere.
For example, increasing traffic will lower your conversion rate.
“If you’re a conversion rate optimization specialist, most often people are going to say, all right. We’re going to increase the conversion rate month over month, or quarter after quarter,” Alex says.
“Well, the trade-off there is, yeah, it’s a very specific attainable measurable thing. But if you increase your traffic, if you add more volume to the ads you’re spending and you lower the conversion rates, you’re increasing your lead count and it’s still economically viable. Well, it’s not a bad thing that your conversion rate got lowered, right? You’re just raising the umbrella.”
Some metrics can also be “gamed,” resulting in great traffic but an irrelevant audience.
For instance, you can easily employ tactics to dramatically increase metrics like overall traffic or first-time visitors by pouring money into paid ads into your content.
This will look great for meeting the goals set by your company, but will likely be made up of a completely irrelevant audience.
You could do things like start writing blog posts on motivational quotes that aren’t ever going to convert to sales, build meaningful conversation, or shares.
“How useful a metric is, is often diametrically opposed to how precise it is, and how actually meaningful it is,” Alex says.
You have to consider the tradeoffs between tactics that are useful, and tactics that are precise.
Recognize when goals are out of your control
Content marketers can create an amazing asset, but if the rest of the business is not aligned that can impact your chances of seeing success.
“Some of that stuff is just completely out of your control. You write a really great blog post that drives a lot of traffic, but then your product marketers, there’s no congruency between the two pages,” Tommy says.
“Or your salespeople don’t know how to close, or your demand gen person doesn’t know how to write a sequence, or at least in a way that there’s a concrete story across the board that everybody’s telling the same story.”
When these things are out of alignment, it’s easy to blame content as the scapegoat. But the truth is that there is enormous synergy between the internal workings of a company and a successful content program.
In fact, that’s exactly why Tommy made the switch from a career in content to a focus on content operations.
“That lack of visibility across the board and between departments means there’s very little coordination between the messaging that you’re putting out there, which kills everybody,” Tommy says.
“It makes you all look bad, and nobody knows where to point the finger.”
Don’t become a soul-sucking content farm
Business goals, marketing strategy, company culture, and brand vision ultimately all come together to inform the type of content you create and the metrics you should measure.
The one thing to ultimately avoid is becoming robotic in your content efforts.
“SEO-driven content isn’t going to be great. It’s not going to be great for the brand. Probably not great for the content marketing team’s culture either, if that’s all they’re pumping out. That’s kind of soul-draining stuff to write, to be honest, if it’s purely just for traffic,” David says.
Instead, identify the type of content that’s valuable to your organization and why, versus just looking at metrics like revenue and traffic.
Tommy believes that a sense of creativity is the secret ingredient to a memorable content production process.
The best environments he’s worked in have prioritized brainstorming and risk-taking.
For example at QuickBooks, there was a culture of shared brainstorming where saying “no” never happened.
“You throw it all your ideas, no matter how stupid they might sound. No judgment zone there. Once we have that, and we come out of that brainstorm session of whatever it is that we’re trying to do, then we can start to whittle it down,” Tommy recalled.
“I think that’s the biggest thing, is as a leader, to reach any goal you have to facilitate a culture of courage.”
One of the biggest problems confronting content marketing today is that people seem to hesitate when it comes to sharing a definitive point of view. But despite our fear, that’s exactly the type of content that people crave.
The best content has substance and a unique perspective. When you marry that mindset with smart guardrails, you’ll have a recipe for success.