Often when I am reading articles on content optimization the goal for the content is very straightforward. Most articles talk about optimizing content in situations when the visitor is acquired and converts in the same visit — often in as little as one to three pages. This gives website owners the ability to score content very easily. The content either converts in the immediate visit or it doesn’t. But for most websites, the role of the content is much more complex than this simple scenario.
For the majority of Fortune 1,000 websites, site content serves several goals in complex sales cycles. Often, content is meant to simultaneously acquire traffic, educate, and persuade users about the superiority of an offering, and convert visitors to either e-commerce customers or qualified leads that are then nurtured by the content over several visits. We find that for complex sales cycles, the content needs to be graded on a wide variety of levels. We also find that most Web analytics platforms are not configured to have this level of content reporting out of the box.
Below are some of content reports that can help determine the role and the value of content in a complex sales cycle on a complex site.
Most traditional reporting focuses on how well content brings visitors to websites via multiple traffic channels.
- Referral: Content popularity can generally be measured by external mentions of specific articles, the number of links to specific articles by external websites, and by the amount of traffic those external links drive back to your site. This often requires a tool for monitoring external mentions, which most off-the-shelf analytics tools do not provide. Monitoring external links to content on your site gives you insights into how well your site content is acquiring both referrer traffic and search engine traffic.
- Social: For content that is promoted on social sites (intentionally or unintentionally) it is important to understand how content performs in the social realm. While typical content reporting focuses on pageviews and engagement, social content reporting should show items such as likes, shares, favorites, and retweets.
- Search Engine Optimization: Website content can contribute to SEO in a variety of ways. Keyphrase targeting can acquire traffic in one or more visits. For this reason, you need a good tool for measuring keyphrase density, keyphrase styling, keyword ranking, internal links to pages, and external links to pages on your site. Tools such as MOZ and Ranks.NL do a great job at this.
- Direct: Viewing reporting data on direct traffic to different pages is a great way to determine how memorable the page URL is for visitors, how many visitors are bookmarking a page and/or emailing it to co-workers.
- Multiple Visits: For sites that are nurturing visitors into leads, qualified leads, and then customers, it is important to understand which pieces of content are viewed multiple times (often in multiple visits) by users during a sales cycle. For example, pages that show loan interest rates for products that require considerable deliberation such as mortgages will often get visited three times over several weeks before a visitor converts.
- Multiple Visitors: For organizations with costly products, such as enterprise resource planning platforms (i.e. SAP) or customer relationship management platforms (i.e., Salesforce) multiple visitors from a company (or department) will need to view the content before or during the sales cycle. For these reports we often look at the number of times specific companies are viewing content and how it corresponds to user journey models.
- Landing Pages: Content strategist Dana Larson writes that for many sites, while the website owner would say that most pages on the site should be generating traffic, typically less than 20 percent of the content is actually acquiring visitors from any traffic channel. For this reason, it is good to analyze the percentage of pages that are acquiring traffic, and to view this data by content category, content authors, backlinks, and the last edit date of each page.
In complex sales cycles, content engagement is an important series of data points to understand because engagement typically correlates directly with difficult-to-track goals such as lead nurturing, sales assistance, thought leadership, and lead scoring.
- Click-Through Rate (CTR): For many pages, click-through rate can demonstrate how effective a page is at stirring interest in a user and getting them to click through to high-converting pages. Reporting on CTR is essentially the opposite of reporting on abandonment or bounce rates. Pages with excellent click-through rates within the page copy can often show best practices for linking strategies throughout the site.
- Click-Path Reporting (CPR): While CTR reporting typically focuses on how well pages are handing traffic to other pages, click-path reporting focuses on when visitors are most interested in specific pages during a website visit. For example, the “About Us” is often a great page for assisting in goals such as lead generation. However, this page is often not seen until the end of a visit. In contrast, product pages and press release pages that also contribute to lead generation are often the first or second page in a visit. Understanding the most useful place for a page in a click-path helps content owners understand how to develop navigation within an article, and also helps in developing the context of the content.
- Time on Page: We often debate on which value of this metric is important as it can simultaneously report on visitor interest and confusion/boredom. But one useful insight this data point can show is how pages with a lot of content and low time on page are likely not piquing visitor interest for a variety of reasons.
- On-Page Events: Often a more conclusive set of data points that shows engagement with content is on-page events such as scrolling, mouse movements, tab clicks, accordion clicks, clicks on jump links, or tool usage. These events often require custom coding to track but can do a much better job of showing how engaging content on a page is.
- Driving Multiple Visits: While most pages should not need to drive multiple pageviews during a single session, many pages can drive repeat visits to a website. For this reason, it is good to persistently track users to a site across multiple visits and report on which pages drove visitors to come back to a website at a later time.
- Multi-Visitors: For products and services that require a group of decision makers to research and purchase, it is good to understand which content is viewed by individuals verses viewed by groups during a sales cycle.
The most important reporting on content performance is how well every page contributes to (or hinders) goal conversions. Goals can be anything from lead generation to sales assistance, e-commerce purchases, or self-service. Goals should have defined values based on business results that are attributed to the content based on standard models (i.e., first interaction, last interaction, linear, time decay, etc.).
- Direct Conversion: Most goal-tracking attributes the conversion values to the visit in which the visitor converts (i.e., becomes a lead).
- Assisting Conversion: It is also important to track multi-visit conversions and attribute the goal value to the content accordingly. This becomes increasingly important when the primary goal of the content is to nurture leads or assist the sales team. Experts in Web analytics reporting will often attribute goal values to content that was viewed by visitors of the same company of the lead (which are not necessarily the same person as the lead).
For sites with localized/translated versions of multiple pages across a site, it is always important to compare content performance across languages. It is very common that performance of content will be more decentralized across English pages on a site and more centralized to a few translated pages. This is important for reporting to help the teams better understand when translations are optimal verses performing poorly.
Content optimization processes are still in their infancy and most organizations are typically focused on reporting for very simple sales cycles. As Web analytics tools are becoming more configurable and content teams are getting more sophisticated in how they track content performance, we will start to see content optimized for complex sales cycles — involving multiple decision makers over multiple visits, both before and after important events such as lead generation. As this happens, I suspect we will start to see much better content on corporate websites and all data points surrounding engagement start to improve.