Back in the last century and at the dawn of the new millennium one of the key reports looked at in your typical web analytics system was the “Top Pages” report. It usually showed day after day, week after week, that the “top pages” were always the same. These days no one really looks at these reports (do they?), but does that mean that understanding content consumption and managing the ROI on content isn’t important? As with all questions to do with digital analytics, the answer is: it depends.
It probably depends on what kind of business you’re in and on what investment you’re making in content production. But it’s likely that no matter what business you’re in, understanding the ROI on content is increasingly a key component of your overall optimization strategy because content costs. It doesn’t cost in the same way that a PPC campaign costs or an affiliate deal costs, but it costs all the same. Whether that be in-house content teams beavering away producing new content for your digital properties, or specially commissioned multi-media content produced by external agencies. The costs are there and so the question is: who looks at this stuff and what value does it have?
The first question about who looks at this stuff can be broken down into two questions: how many people look at this stuff and who looks at this stuff? The answer to the “how many people” piece is basic reporting but can be quite insightful. You need to get beyond the top pages report though and understand the long tail. It’s as important to know which content isn’t being consumed as it is to know which content is being consumed the most.
A while back I was consulting for a company that had a media site to support their brand. They employed a significant number of editorial staff to generate content, creating and uploading new articles on a daily basis. We looked at the frequency with which people tended to visit the site and discovered that most of the articles being created were read by less than 2 percent of people who visited the site in a month. The velocity of content production was out of line with the needs of the audience. The core recommendation was that fewer, better quality articles were likely to be more impactful than more frequent ones, or indeed that they could cut down on the overall volume of content production needed.
The question of “who looks at the content” will depend on the business you’re in and whether you have the means to identify visitors through some kind of identification process such as registration. If you do, then it’s possible to build up an understanding of what kind of content is being consumed by what kind of people. If not, then there is still value to be gained by looking at content consumption patterns by different visitor segments. For example, what kind of content is typically consumed by someone new to the site?
The real question though is: what value does content have? In the same way that we strive to attribute value back to different marketing campaigns, we need to attribute value back to different types of content. We need content attribution as well as campaign attribution.
Content attribution (just like campaign attribution) can be anything from simple rules to sophisticated models. The analytical complexity required will be dependent on the business environment. If you’re running large-scale testing and experimentation programs, understanding which pages or content are the priorities to optimize is going to be important. Having robust content attribution models is going to help that process. If you’re investing in expensive multi-media content, then understanding whether people who consume that content are ultimately more valuable to you is going to be key. Some recent work we did with a travel company showed that people who watched their videos on their site early on in the research process were far more likely to purchase a vacation from them down the line. This gave them the confidence to continue to invest in the production of high-quality video content of their products.
As retailers become publishers and publishers become retailers and the content and commerce worlds collide, understanding the value of content and its ROI is as important as understanding the ROI on marketing spend. While the top pages report might be past its “use by date,” content analytics is increasingly the dish of the day.
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