Many organizations have now become reasonably sophisticated in key aspects of the day-to-day management of their web sites — things like order taking, customer service, and fulfillment. But there’s one area that bedevils most companies: the content portions of their sites.
There was a time not long ago when the mantra of many Internet marketing experts was “Content is king.” The problem was that nobody really knew what that meant in reference to corporate Internet marketing strategies. Many companies have experimented with all manner of content — stock quotes, wire services, article libraries, white papers, and so forth. But anxiety about content remains, an anxiety that has marketing executives asking themselves, in one form or another, these questions:
Is our content any good?
- Do we have enough of it?
- How do we keep it fresh?
- How do we manage it effectively?
- How do we know if it’s doing us any good?
Yet, the largest, most critical question, which should inform all the others, is hardly being asked at all: Have we optimized our content so that it is a major contributor to sales and relationships?
The increasing demands for personalization and relevance put more pressure on marketers to have a coherent, well-defined content strategy. However, most organizations still struggle with the basics of structuring and organizing a site, to the extent that they are distracted, or just plain exhausted, when it comes time to consider a site’s optimization.
Managing customer relationships effectively requires that online marketers design a strategy in which content plays a key role in driving prospects and customers through a successful sales cycle. As a marketer responsible for results, you need to determine what demands you will place on content. Doing so should include, for instance, identifying which articles, case histories, testimonials, etc. contribute most to the bottom line.
Here are four questions you as a marketer must address to move from being anxious about the role played by your site’s content to maximizing its impact on your company’s bottom line:
- Have we worked out the best-case scenarios of exactly how our content should work in moving someone through a sales cycle?
In almost every case where the product or service requires more than passing evaluation, content replaces the sales function (a sales rep or call center rep in the offline environment). The need to first flesh out the salesperson’s exact role in the traditional model, and then approximate it online, is the first key to designing a successful content strategy.
- To develop credibility as experts in our category, do we have enough content that is more about educating people than about our specific products?
An initial contact made in the offline world between a prospect/customer and a salesperson has generally been about the initial passing of information, the creation of “chemistry,” and an evaluation of the prospect by the salesperson. In the online world, individuals who are trying to learn about a product or service generally want to engage in an even more low-key encounter. They want to explore the possibilities and eventually harvest enough information to take the next step — either make a purchase or establish contact with an actual employee.
Therefore, it is absolutely essential to monitor and analyze how optimized your content actually is. This may mean creating targeted associations between editorial content and the products/services on the site that can clearly indicate whether and to what extent a prospect is interested. Or it could mean a much more dynamic, integrated content management approach driven by data gathered through prospects’ self-reporting and inferred behaviors.
- Are we testing how the organization and tone of our content affects its contribution to sales or demand generation?
In the case of mapping content to products, know which content (it does not have to be all) can contribute to moving someone down a path toward the goal — a pre-sales relationship, a request for more information, a trial purchase, etc. To do this, you need to develop a way of describing this content-marketing relationship so that monitoring and measuring are easily accessible. This requires the creation of a meta-data layer that can map content to marketing tactics and e-commerce parts of the site that will yield a clear view of content’s relationship to cause and effect.
So, for example, a visitor to an insurance site looking for information about long-term health care can read articles that help him decide which aspects of the product are most important to him (cost, coverage, ease of understanding, etc.). Then there needs to be a clear associative path through the content to all possible calls to action (send more info, have someone get in touch, etc.). In analyzing the results, you want to ascertain which article or articles prompted the overall best results.
In the case of a more integrated, dynamic content management approach, the ability to create relevant segments that are customer-centric will allow you to see which aspects of personalization and mass customization work for your product/service set.
For instance, the Symantec Small Business Center has created a model that efficiently forecasts how many sales will occur based on how many times an article is read. Sales forecasts begin to fall out of the cause-and-effect because, over time, Symantec institutionalizes and validates the approach according to what works. Symantec monitors response to articles continuously, and thus is able to feature the best-received articles on other parts of its site: on the home page, in a banner, as the lead item in an email newsletter, etc.
- Do we have the necessary systems in place to gather and analyze the data we need so as to adjust our content to maximize its bottom-line impact?
The next step in a content strategy is describing the relationship of content to sales and relationships on the back end. The formulation of flexible data architecture that will mirror these relationships is critical. The reports and monitoring you do on a daily basis are crucial to site optimization. Things like content-read-to-leads-generated, to sales, to upsells, etc. all require predefinition and infrastructural commitment.
Content anxiety is a curable disorder. You simply need to develop and follow a logical plan that has as its goal relating your content to your sales results and bottom line.