When it comes to using content in your product or marketing, understanding what resonates with prospects is not just a “nice to have.” It’s a strategic imperative. Content engagement drives subscriber acquisition, retention and revenue whether or not you actually offer a content product. With developments in technology and analytics, engaging subscribers with content is becoming more of a science. The following are some best practices to consider:
1. Use Segment Based Content Metrics
Segmentation does not only apply to your paid subscribers but plays an important role in getting “tire kickers” to become subscribers. Instead of looking at macro-level stats like overall visitors or conversion rates, it helps to look at deeper metrics with your potential subscribers.
For example, how often do the prospects you care about most come back to your website? Measure this by creating different segments of prospects that are at the beginning of the marketing funnel, based on actions like newsletter or email notification sign-ups.
When your prospect list is further enriched with third party data, it’s easier to create more meaningful segments to increase engagement that can make a bigger impact on your business. One of my clients, a K-12 education company, had a “Math concerned” segment. We created a free math assessment tool that was part of a broader customer acquisition strategy and revenue gains soon improved by double digits.
Content segmentation, of course, also applies to subscribers who are already on board. Many companies are connecting their subscriber databases to their analytics software, so they can understand with great granularity which topics resonate most among different subscriber groups. This way they know which specific types of content and topics drive page views, repeat traffic, pages per visit and perhaps most importantly, retention.
Ecommerce retailer Onward Reserve moved from a “batch and blast” strategy to a segmentation strategy that included best customers, non-purchasers, churning customers and others. The groups were sent the same basic emails but with different messages and content based on previous engagement with their website. They doubled their conversion rates and improved their average order value by 39% as a result.
2. Get the Resources to Win
In order to win the content game, you first need the resources to win. Outbrain, the content syndication platform, has multiple data scientists on staff who inform the content mix so that Outbrain’s content recommendations receive the maximum engagement. They are staffed up to win the data-driven content game. Who is on their team? Data scientists, engineers with experience in machine learning and even a VP of Recommendations.
If you don’t have the resources to handle it internally, there are outside communities of data scientists like Kaggle that offer a more cost-effective way to harness a ‘cognitive surplus’ of top data scientists.
And if you don’t have sufficient usage or scale for a big data project, there’s always the tried and true method: creating new accountabilities and roles in your organization focused on content analysis.
3. Have Leadership at the Top
Building a data-driven content culture takes leadership at the top. Pete Cashmore founded Mashable.com at age 19 and grew it to two million readers within 18 months. In an interview with Inc., his passion for the numbers was clear: “I would look at the stats everyday and say, ‘Have I beaten yesterday?’ And almost every day I would have beaten yesterday in terms of the number of people who were reading the site. So, that kind of kept me going.” With visionary leadership at the top, Mashable’s audience exploded. Today they have 45 million monthly unique visitors and 25 million social followers.
At Penton, our data-driven content initiative was backed by the CEO and executive committee.
- We developed personal content dashboards for every editor in the company so every author could see the metrics for the content they created.
- We encouraged friendly competition and set up internal sessions where editors shared what works with their colleagues. This way, content creators weren’t just hearing a mandate from the ivory tower, but were receiving helpful feedback from their peers.
- Performance was measured with common metrics on engagement across all of our 70+ brands, starting with benchmarks and goals for each.
Ultimately we began to shift the culture. Today, Penton has high potential data products that are creating new revenue streams for the company.
4. Go Predictive
The content game is becoming more predictive.
Mashable uses data scientists to predict the likelihood of their content of going viral. Recently I had the pleasure of hearing a talk by Haile Owusu, Chief Data Scientist at Mashable. Owusu discussed how their approach to predicting content performance is similar to weather forecasting, the oldest data science in the world. They’ve gotten so good that within five minutes after a piece of content is published, they can predict the “velocity of sharing” with 75% accuracy, rising to 95% accuracy within 24 hours.
To do this, Mashable looks not only at engagement with its own content, but content across the web. To feed their content models, every day they crawl 1 million different URLs and 5 million social data points.
Of course, not every company has the scale to justify this kind of investment. But predictive analytics are becoming attainable through cloud-based tools, particularly with marketing automation. Kapost reports a 250 percent increase in ROI when marketers incorporate predictive analytics tools into lead scoring. Some vendors like Enfusion even predict which keywords to use in content creation (based on analyzing traffic, conversions, SEO value and more).
5. On a Budget? There’s Always Google Analytics
One of the advanced features of Google analytics is content grouping. This allows you to categorize your content into buckets, to better see what kind of topics and issues resonate most. Here are some uses:
- See the impact of short form content vs. long form content that has a higher word count.
- Group your content by author. Which authors drive the most traffic and revenue?
- Group your content by departments. Are certain departments producing better content?
Speaking of Google, it has even built a tool called Content Experiments to help you conduct A/B tests to see what content performs best. (Actually, well informed sources told me Google acquired some technology to make it, but still let’s give them some credit).
6. Headlines and Titles Matter
I’m not advocating for salacious headlines that make for click bait. But carefully crafted headlines that capture the imagination can make a real difference. Recently Source Media helped a client with a piece of custom content. The client’s headline was “Survey of State Tax Departments.” The Source Media team suggested “How does Your State Tax Department Stack Up?” which was tested vs. the other headline. It resulted in a 146% increase in clicks.
7. Still Not a Believer? Consider Google’s Algorithm
Not everyone is drinking the data-driven content Kool-Aid. But don’t we all want more traffic from search engines?
On May 20, 2014, Matt Cutts tweeted that Google was rolling out Panda 4.0, an update to their ranking algorithm. Remember the companies that lost huge amounts of traffic? It was the content farms (sites that quickly generate and publish low-quality and thin content) that suffered the biggest losses.
When your content is more engaging, Google will take notice. And when it’s not engaging, they notice too. In particular:
- A high bounce rate can signal to Google that your visitors aren’t finding what they’re looking for on your site, or that they don’t consider your site to be very useful.
- If your site’s visitors only come to your site once, never to return, Google can take that fact to mean that your site isn’t all that relevant or useful.
8. Data-Driven Content can set Creativity Free, Not Limit it
Some content creators feel that the numbers can stifle their creativity. Most content people are creative souls who want their originality and perspective to shine through. I’ve been there personally. I wrote for the Wall Street Journal when I was twenty. Somehow, along the way though, I became more of a geek, and I learned that being driven by metrics does not necessarily imply a lack of creativity. On the contrary, it can provide helpful context and a framework that can guide creativity in directions that bear the most fruit.
Brad Mehl, our INSIDER Guide to Subscriber Engagement, is President of Boundless Markets, a marketing and sales consultancy/agency for the information and software industry. Boundless Markets’ expertise is growth through digital channels, transformation of marketing and sales functions, and gaining unique audience insights. (Read Brad’s full Bio)