Everybody’s Publishing Content – But Is Anybody Tracking It?

Last week, the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) issued its annual “State of Content Marketing Report.” There are a lot of interesting findings in the report, but I want to focus on one issue identified as a distinct differentiator between good and bad content marketing: the issue of tracking.

While 70 percent of content marketers surveyed reported that they created more content in 2014 than they did in 2013, more are finding it difficult to track performance. “Almost half of B2B marketers cited measuring content marketing effectiveness as a challenge — a number that has gone up from 33 percent last year,” wrote CMI’s Joe Pulizzi.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve spent so many years in a field in which the ability to precisely quantify results is a core principle, but I was a bit taken aback by the CMI’s report. Who in their right mind would be spending money on publishing content without putting in place some kind of system to track its effectiveness? Isn’t the old business truism that “you can’t control what you can’t measure” applicable in today’s way new marketing world?

Sadly, it seems to be a lot of firms – in fact about one in eight companies surveyed by the CMI not only didn’t have success tracking their content performance – they admitted that they didn’t track at all. Only a tiny minority – 5 percent – of respondents reported that they were “very successful” at tracking content ROI. Only 21 percent considered their tracking efforts “successful.”

Tracking content performance isn’t rocket science, folks. Nor does it take big bucks to install an analytics package that can track all the important variables you’ll need to track for any content marketing campaign. You don’t need to license an expensive third-party tool to accurately track the performance of your content (although some of these tools are great investments for large teams). Google Analytics – a free tool – has improved markedly over the years, both in terms of providing better (including real-time) data and in terms of integrating with Google Docs (which many teams have adapted as an adjunct to, if not an actual replacement of, Microsoft Excel).

Here are some speculations on why so many content marketers fail to follow through and track their efforts:

  1. Good analytics people are hard to find. I was at an SEO workshop in Manhattan this past week and I was struck by the complaint of a technology recruiter who announced that finding people who know their way around Google Analytics is the hardest part of her job. In my opinion good “GA samurais” are worth their weight in gold; maybe it’s time to revalue their contributions to the organization and pay them accordingly.
  2. Silos that won’t die. SEO and analytics smarts are likely still being locked up in teams that aren’t regularly being asked to share their insights across the organization. These skills are so critical today that they need to function as a “knowledge overlay” that can inform all teams – including marketing, PR, and product development. My bet is that many institutions are moving far too slowly in this area, failing to integrate expertise where it matters, and thus are failing in their content marketing.
  3. Because content is “organic” it’s undervalued. You can bet your boots that if these organizations were buying media from Google or another supplier, they’d demand a full account of their spending. But because content is considered “organic” it may not be taken as seriously. Big mistake.
  4. Content ROI is harder to compute than anyone thought. As I mentioned in my last ClickZ column, content marketers often have to fight for their budgets, face unrealistic expectations, and are often hamstrung by the fact that the folks who approve budgets use narrow, short-term metrics that fail to account for the real long-term benefits that content marketing can offer.

As you know, I’m bullish on content marketing, because I’ve seen what it can do to transform Web properties from forgotten losers into lead- and profit-generating winners. But the only reason I can make this kind of statement is that I have the numbers – the actual traffic, referrer, and conversion data – to support it. And I’d counsel any content marketer who wants to succeed to set up a tracking system before – not after – publishing a single piece of content to the Web.

Not every venue where you publish content will provide you with rich analytics, but certainly your owned domains and social media accounts are a great place to start. Once you measure, you can see what works and improve on it.

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