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037: Kitchen Side: What Should a Content Marketer Be Goaled On?

037: Kitchen Side: What Should a Content Marketer's Goals Be?

What should a content marketer be goaled on? 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 where a content marketer was bemoaning being goaled on leads attributed directly to content. Their reasoning? That this type of revenue-driven goal clashed with a customer-focused approach, where some of the true value of content marketing lies. 

In this Kitchen Side episode, where we take you behind the scenes at our agency, 

we invited Tommy Walker to join us to think through what content goals make sense, and when. Listen in to hear our thoughts on long-term, goal-oriented thinking. 

Show Topics

  • Revenue is always the top priority
  • When to focus on organic traffic
  • When to focus on return visitors
  • Business goals versus marketing strategy
  • Every goal has a tradeoff
  • Don’t become a soul-sucking content farm
  • Take risks and re-evaluate

Show Links

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Key Takeaways

6:16 – Content is not transactional 

Tommy believes that on a high level, linking content with transactional goals is silly. 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. I’ve worked with Fortune 100 enterprises, and even that the attribution modeling for content marketing specifically is so difficult to do. Because we’re looking at a very transactional thing in a lot of cases. Your data scientists are like, do you get a lead? Good. Yes. No. Not like, does this lead have a return visit? How many times have they visited? When was the last time that they visited? How many times have they visited since the last time that they visited? All of these things. 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.”

14:17 – Revenue is always the top priority

David says that even though revenue is a lagging metric that might not be seen for months after you publish content, it still is the end goal for any business. 

“I’m of the belief that revenue should be the end goal. And there are probably a lot of inputs and a lot of—revenue’s like the lagging metric. You’re not going to see returns for like months. But you can at least see, are we getting more return visitors? Are we getting leads? What are the quality of those leads? Those leads that might close in, I don’t know, three, six, maybe nine or 12 months. And then I don’t know what the case would look like, but measuring each of those at least inputs regularly. And then at the end of the year, be able to look at the lagging metric of revenue and then see how much content drove of that. Granted that assumes you have all the attribution set up and it’s clean.”

15:24 – When to focus on organic traffic 

Alex says that because revenue lags so far behind content, the best metric Omniscient has found for search-driven client content is organic traffic and rankings. 

“So we’re always pushing for revenue, which keeps us honest with regards to which keywords we read about, how we’re converting people from those posts, including top of funnel. We try to track that back as well. But then we track backwards from that macro lagging metric goal and say all right. For the most part, our strategies are search-driven…for search-driven content, it’s like organic traffic. It’s the easiest thing to track. And as long as we’re honest about being relevant with our keywords, and not pulling a HubSpot and basically writing about how to make a shrug emoji or the most motivational quotes. Typically our clients don’t have the time and budget to waste their time and money on keywords like that. But organic traffic is going to be, I think, 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. But that’s all in the context of a search-driven content marketing program. I think return visitors is kind of more interesting, because it encompasses more than just one channel.”

16:52 – When to focus on return visitors 

Tommy says that in addition to organic traffic, he 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. And that’s the school of thought that I come from is like, traffic is a vanity metric. I’m that guy, I fall in that camp. And it’s terrible, and I probably am not popular for that reason. But I mean the return visitors, like, okay. If you’re going specifically and almost exclusively off of search traffic, then you have to cast a much wider net. And 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, and I’ve gone that as high as that. 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?”

18:05 – Business goals versus marketing strategy 

David says that 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. 

“I think there’s two inputs to design what the goals are. It’s what’s the business goal? Maybe the business wants to drive more revenue pipeline for sales. And so the goal should be lead generation and pipeline. And maybe the strategy is an account-based marketing strategy. So you’re not trying to get millions of views, you just care about getting views from the right people. So then views don’t matter, it’s just quality of leads and pipeline. So there’s a question that Karissa posed in the prep notes of like, should the CEO be defining the goals for content marketing? I think the CEO should be defining business schools. It comes down to the marketing leader to then decide how does content then feed into that? And based on the strategy and the business schools, what should we be measuring? Versus we should not be just blindly measuring traffic as a goal, unless you’re a media company selling ads or something.”

20:01 – Shares, discussion, leads, and sales 

Tommy prioritizes one of the four above goals when he sits down to write any given piece of content. They are not traditional business goals, but he finds they work best in the world of content. 

“When I think about goals, I’d measure on—I think when I write or when I edit, I think about one of four goals, and one of four goals only. And one is, is this getting shared? Is this generating discussion? So one and two. Is this generating leads? Or is this generating sales? And 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. But if I can have somebody discover over search, because I’ve intentionally done that, but then the infusion, the energy that I’m trying to put into it is to be shared, and then people are sharing it. Then we have that organic discovery that’s going along there. And that’s nothing in the traditional list of goals.”

22:46 – Every goal has a tradeoff 

Alex says that when you prioritize one goal, there is always an impact elsewhere. For example, increasing traffic will lower your conversion rate. Some metrics can also be “gamed,” resulting in great traffic but an irrelevant audience. 

“In terms of goals, I try to think about what’s the trade-off to a specific goal. There’s always going to be a trade-off. For example, with 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. 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. And then there’s a gameability. Like how gameable is this metric? And something like, let’s say first-time visitors, like overall traffic. Crazy gameable, right? You could pour a bunch of paid ads into your content, even if it hits an irrelevant audience. You could start writing blog posts on motivational quotes that aren’t ever going to convert to sales, nor are they going to build conversation or shares. So it’s completely gameable. And then there’s, I guess this is still a trade-off. But it’s like, what’s the split between the utility versus the precision. So how useful a metric is, is often diametrically opposed to how precise it is, and how actually meaningful it is.”

30:51 – Prioritize pain-point SEO

Alex and the Omniscient team like to let themselves be driven by pain points that customers raise, rather than traditional SEO. When you hear people raising the same questions again and again, it’s a great indication that you can create valuable content, even if it’s a niche audience. 

“So pain point SEO, we’re almost doing pain point SEO by these podcasts. This is almost how we do things. Except we almost remove the SEO element from it. It came from a community forum. I saw somebody asking a question. When we’re working through troubles, you know, challenges with our clients, often issues come up. And we’re like, let’s talk about this one. It’s clearly an issue people are having. So instead of coming from an Ahrefs content gap analysis, or a SERP analysis, or People Also Ask, you’re pulling ideas from the actual pain points that your potential customers are having. So I think this [podcast] is a good example of that. I would often just mine CXL forums, and Facebook groups, and conferences. It would come from conversations. If I would write a blog post, there would often be questions about the blog post. And then I’m like alright, I can write a new blog post based on that. For example, people would always come up and ask, how do I run multiple concurrent AB tests? Or how do I AB test on a website with low traffic? Well, there’s no search volume for those, because they’re pretty niche questions. But we heard the question 12 times and we’re like, there’s clearly people who are interested in this.”

33:42 – Recognize when goals are out of your control 

Tommy says that 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. 

“To talk about goals, like go back to like revenue goals and stuff. 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. You know, they go to a transactional page and the product page is garbage. 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. You’re going to be the first one to get blamed, right. Because you’re the front line. But there’s so many other places that could be looked at. That’s why I started focusing on content ops, by the way, because of that visibility. Not to like segue into that side of things, but 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. It makes you all look bad, and nobody knows where to point the finger.”

41:31 – Make space for creativity 

Tommy says that creative brainstorming is critical to the content production process. The best environments he’s worked in have prioritized brainstorming and risk-taking. 

“There was an exercise that we did when I was at QuickBooks, and I thought it was great. And Pixar does this too. So if you guys are wanting to look at some of these experiences, Creativity Inc is a really great book. It’s a culture thing, where you’re going, you know, we’re not going to say no. If we’re brainstorming ideas, we’re not going to say no. We’re gonna just kind of have a free-flowing conversation. It’s a free space. No one’s going to judge you. 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. But you’ve got the green area, which is where we all brainstorm together. And then some places actually have this. You have a green area of a single room. Everybody moves to that part of the room. And it’s like you’re signaling to yourself, this is a creativity area. And then the other side of the room is the red area, where we start to talk about the ideas that we’ve had. But with content marketing in particular, it’s always like we’re afraid. I think that’s the biggest thing, is as a leader, to reach any goal you have to facilitate a culture of courage. The biggest problem that we see with content marketing and just in general, is that we go back to that point of view thing, that perspective thing. Give us your take on whatever it is that we do. But we’re so afraid because everybody’s looking at this transactionally. I’m afraid to give my opinion, because I feel like maybe you’re going to judge me, or maybe I’m going to say the wrong thing.”

45:42 – Don’t become a soul-sucking content farm 

David summed up the group’s thoughts by saying that business goals, marketing strategy, company culture, and brand vision all come together to inform the type of content you create and the metrics you measure. 

“If I were to pull this back to the content marketing piece, what I’m hearing is it’s not just business goals or marketing strategy. It’s also what’s the company culture, and what’s the company brand that you want to create? Because 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. And it seems like it’s one, we agreed it’s not the CEO that defines goals. But it’s up to the content marketing leader to say to the team hey, like I know we have goals around X, or this is what the business cares about. But we’re not going to become a soul-sucking content farm. This is the type of content we value, which generates maybe it’s discussion, or generates shares or something, because it’s interesting to the user base, versus just looking at revenue and traffic. But I guess where the challenge comes is, how do we tie that to business value?”

47:45 – Take risks and re-evaluate 

Tommy says that the best content has substance and a unique perspective. When you marry that mindset with smart guardrails, you’ll have a recipe for success. 

“Take the big risks, but also take time to reevaluate. Everything that I do as a content marketer, I’m also looking at heat maps. How much did people scroll down the page to actually do that? Where are the hotspots on here? And can I quantify how much that hit? And then would that quantification, again, some of this might just be in my head. But with that quantification, does this page generate more return visitors? Are people coming back to this page and revisiting these thoughts and concepts? I think about it like movies, where it’s like, I watched Fight Club I can’t tell you how many times. And the reason is because that has so much substance that I want to come back to it. And then thinking about that, taking it a step further like, does this generate more and more and more and more and more? I mean, you have to have those guard rails.”

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Alex Birkett

Alex is a co-founder of Omniscient Digital. He loves experimentation, building things, and adventurous sports (scuba diving, skiing, and jiu jitsu primarily). He lives in Austin, Texas with his dog Biscuit.