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Field Notes

Field Notes #018: What Numbers Matter in Our World of Words?

what numbers matter in our world of words

Content marketers struggle to determine quality without quantity. 

“What’s a good word count? When’s the best time to post? How many posts per week will get me traffic the quickest? Why would we pursue zero-volume keywords?”

All of these questions pursue a number, even when a number may not be necessary. 

People spend too much time obsessing over benchmarks, asking “What does good look like?” They then answer that question with organic traffic growth rates, conversion rates, etc.

This is another way of saying “I don’t know what to aim for.”

Benchmarks are flawed because they’re based on (1) averages and (2) other businesses that are very different from yours.

What you should be asking is, “What’s our baseline, and how do we do better?” 

Below, we’ll discuss a variety of content marketing measurements and metrics, when and why they matter, and how to determine what’s best for your content operations.

If you have a different opinion or experience with one of these metrics, please reply and share it with us!

1. Search volume

Yes. Search volume matters…if organic traffic is your goal. But writing an article targeting a high-volume query doesn’t immediately equal that amount of search traffic. The higher the search volume, the more competitive the query—which means your content needs to be top-notch and your site’s domain rating needs to be relatively strong.

Alternatively, low search volume isn’t a bad thing. If your team or product uses a term regularly, you should create content around the keyword—even if it has low volume. Don’t make it the cornerstone of your strategy or expect immediate traffic, but by using the term repeatedly and regularly, you effectively “claim” it.

By claiming the potentially empty SERP, your post will already be ranking as competitors and customers start to search and use the term. As volume for the term expands, so will traffic to your content. Your company will then be associated with this term as it grows in popularity.

Then, your competitors likely create content for this term. You’ve essentially established demand for the term (versus meeting demand set by others). We’ve seen this happen with multiple clients. One did it accidentally: “That’s just how we’ve always referred to [term], and now we’re ranking #1 for all variations.” 

Another client faced a competitor who followed this process. It’s been an uphill battle to rank for the term. No, not every keyword will work out, but neither do all of your SEO bets.

By incorporating a few low-volume terms, you gamble on the future of your industry and leverage your unique knowledge—a smart way to complement your high-volume keyword pursuits.

2. Word count

Word count depends on what else is ranking on page one of Google. The SERP is a goldmine of what Google considers the best possible content on a given topic (excluding the ads).

If you’re wondering about the ideal word count for a certain query, Google it and evaluate what’s ranking. You can also use a tool like Clearscope to determine the ideal word count.

You’ll find that most short-tail, high-volume queries (“content marketing”) are answered with ultimate guides with word counts over 5,000, while long-tail, lower-volume queries (“Why is content marketing important?”) result in posts with 1,500 to 2,000 words, sometimes shorter.

The rule of thumb here is word count is relative to what else is ranking.

3. Publishing frequency and cadence

Yes, publishing frequency matters. More good content leads to traffic which leads to greater mindshare and market share. However, don’t publish content for content’s sake. Blech.

As for cadence, Google generally looks for publication consistency. If you can keep up with publishing every day, props to you. Most content teams can’t do that, and that’s OK. (That’s why they work with us. 🙂) 

My recommendation is to stick to a cadence that you can maintain for a while. If you can only publish bi-weekly, that’s OK. Increasing that cadence won’t hurt your site, but decreasing it will. Start small as you ramp up operations so you don’t lose publishing steam.

4. Publish the date and time

The date and time you publish each piece of content don’t matter. To Google 6:00 AM and 6:00 PM are the same.

However, publishing metadata is important for content updates and refreshes. Google looks for fresh content, so anytime you refresh and republish content, update the publish date and time, too.

5. Social repurposing (in tandem with your blog publishing scheduling)

We’ve recently received some interesting questions from clients about distribution strategy: “Is there an issue with publishing a batch of blogs and then promoting content as we have time to slot it in? Does distribution only work if it’s for the most recent post?”

No. Your content distribution doesn’t have to follow the same publishing frequency and cadence as your blog calendar. If you want, you can batch publish and schedule promo over time. 

In fact, it’s wise to follow email and social media marketing best practices regarding when to distribute on those channels. CoSchedule and Sprout Social provide helpful resources on this. 

Moreover, you should distribute and promote your blog content more than once on other channels. It’s super powerful to re-promo old posts to re-engage followers on social and gain more traffic.

6. Competitor traffic

Don’t get hung up on competitor traffic numbers. We’ve seen founders time and again get super hung up on competitor organic traffic numbers without any knowledge of how that traffic is ultimately contributing to the bigger picture—or what kinds of resources their competitors have at their disposal.

As a baseline, it makes much more sense to focus on your own month-over-month growth. If you’re going to pay attention to your competitors, focus on how your content can add something new to the conversation around a query. Or keep an eye on how your keyword movements compare to theirs on the SERPs so you know when it’s time to refresh your content and keep it competitive.

7. Conversions by keyword

This is one we’ve seen folks not focus enough on.

Conversions from content matter; on this, we can all agree. But have you ever dialed down to see what keywords attract that converting traffic? Take some time to do this, and then flag those content pieces for routine refreshes and extra distribution to drive more high-intent traffic. These topics may also be strong candidates for conversion assets or sales enablement material.

Alternatively, if you have keywords performing well in paid campaigns, flag those as new topics for organic content pieces.

8. Average time on page 

Time on page is a toss-up. A higher time on page can indicate your content is relevant, easy to read and understand, and targeted at the right audience.

However, sometimes your content may answer a question quickly, and your visitor leaves. The time on page would be short, but your content did its job. Also, did you know that GA keeps tracking time on page even if your reader’s window or tab is hidden? So this metric may not the most accurate. 

9. First-touch attribution

Content should drive business growth, not just organic traffic. (David talked a lot about this in last week’s newsletter. If you missed it, let me know and we’ll re-send!)

Placing pipeline and revenue as your north-star metrics allows content to become a true growth channel and gives your content marketers a seat at the table. Many marketers measure performance through last-touch attribution, but the reality for most content teams is that few buyers convert from their very first interaction with a post—especially a TOFU or MOFU one.

It’s already difficult enough for content marketers to measure the ROI of their efforts, especially on elements like brand awareness, word of mouth, dark social, and other nebulous stages of the customer journey. 

Because so many content strategies (especially organic ones) target TOFU and MOFU content, first-touch attribution gives you a better idea of how your content impacts the buyer journey. If a visitor finds your product or service through a TOFU blog post and returns later to subscribe or download or purchase, first-touch attribution still recognizes content’s role in that conversion.

And if you can show your content is actually driving conversions or sales, then you’ll have greater luck getting buy-in for riskier initiatives

If you have a different opinion or experience with one of these metrics, please reply and share it with us! And if you want to chat about whether content can support your business goals? Book time for a free consultation.

Recommended Reads

1. Fireside Chat with Tim Stoddart of Copyblogger: I chatted with Tim about a ton of awesome stuff (literally nothing to do with content marketing metrics), but it was one of my favorite podcasts ever, and I think you’ll love Tim as much as I do.

2. Content Marketing ROI: 6 Steps to Measuring Growth: Start here if you want to get started measuring the impact of your content marketing program.

3. Content Marketing Metrics: 23 Metrics to Track Success: Alex dives deep into more metrics and how helpful they can be for your content operations.

Allie Decker

Allie is co-founder and Head of Client Success at Omniscient Digital. She previously led content initiatives at HubSpot and Shopify.