Tracking Content Engagement: How Your Lack of Accountability is Killing Your Business

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With access to an endless amount of content across the web, the B2B decision makers you are working hard to influence have drastically changed the way they research and purchase your products. It’s no big secret that today’s B2B buyer researches much of what they need to know to reach a product decision before ever engaging with a sales rep, and as a result, the vast majority of B2B businesses are investing heavily in content marketing as a means to attract prospective customers and move them through the sales funnel. If your company is part of that majority, then you’ve likely noticed keeping a prospect’s attention and driving repeat engagement with your content is becoming increasingly harder to do.

In fact, a recent B2B Content Engagement Benchmark Report published by my company, Docalytics, indicates that the average reader consuming longer form content like downloadable resources including eBooks, white papers, reports and guides spends only 2 minutes and 3 seconds reading these multi-page documents. More jarring is that over 35% of these readers spend less than 30 seconds in the resource, and the vast majority, (84.7%) of all readers will never return to consume an additional content offer.

bleak stats for content marketing

What do these bleak engagement stats mean for you & your marketing team?

Many marketing leaders are beginning to pay attention to these types of engagement metrics as a barometer for the quality of the content their team creates. Savvy organizations understand the positive correlation between quality of content and conversion, and have put in place content performance reviews to ensure their teams are accountable for driving engagement with the content they produce. As such, gone are the days when content marketers can fly blind and merely assume the content they create is valued by those who happen find it.

Robert Rose, Chief Strategy Officer of the Content Marketing Institute summed up the rationale behind these types of reviews during a recent interview when we asked if it matters if people actually read your content:

“It absolutely matters. What good does the data do unless the prospect wants to receive more content? If the content doesn’t deliver value, capturing the data does nothing other that create an annoyed prospect who will want to hear less from you over time.”

Assuming an end goal of your company’s content marketing efforts is to capture more leads and quickly move those leads through your marketing and sales funnels, a key to success will be to routinely measure the quality of your content and hold your team accountable for improving reader engagement across all your content over time.

First, I firmly believe in pegging a team’s content efforts to the revenue it helps your business generate. Revenue is the most straightforward metric for assessing the effectiveness of your brand’s content, while aligning your marketing and sales teams’ objectives. However, when you look at the different triggers to boost the revenue generated through content, measuring and improving upon reader engagement, is one of the most effective ways to get there.

How can you use content engagement metrics to boost revenue?

The first step in this process is to establish a baseline around how your readers currently engage with your content. Barry Adams, editor with The State of Digital, outlined some initial steps your business should take to understand and ultimately improve upon reader engagement across your website.

This includes:

  • Master the Basics: Understand the most popular pages on your site and how much readers engage with them as a barometer for content quality.
  • Understand the “Ins” and “Outs”: Put tools in place to know where traffic is coming from and what readers do after they reach a page. How does conversion differ by content type, how does time spent impact conversion, etc.
  • Be Socially Smart: Pay attention to what types of shared content and post formats drive conversion and measure impact to traffic driven to your site.  From there things are pretty simple – do more of what works, and less of what doesn’t.

In terms of the tracking activity with the downloadable content offers the first thing an organization must do is establish benchmarks on how their existing content is performing. Understanding the levels of engagement your team currently captures and how that relates to similar content engagement benchmarks within your industry, will allow you to objectively track team improvement over time.

Once you’ve grasped how your audience consumes your content and what topics, design and elements resonate best, your team can take steps to improve content engagement, which will increase the likelihood of a given prospect to eventually ‘opt-in’ for additional content offers and open the door to begin building a meaningful relationship with your brand.

What does this look like in the real world?

Below are two examples of how a brand used reader consumption patterns to adapt and improve their content, ultimately driving higher engagement and conversion across marketing and sales funnels.

Not fixing early abandonment is bad for business. Here’s why:

A global service firm was able to leverage their well-established brand to drive considerable traffic to a broad range of content offers, however driving repeat engagement and proper nurturing proved extremely difficult. Once content performance reviews were mandated, the firm quickly discovered that overall reader engagement with their long-form content would routinely drop within the first few pages as illustrated by the page by page metrics below.

Poor Engagement: Early abandonment suppresses opt-ins

dropoff in time on site, overall views and lowered engagement scores

For the company’s leadership, this was a strong indication that the promoted content was not resonating with the firm’s readers, and was further supported by the low level of return traffic to the site. This resulted in significantly fewer opportunities to drive conversion and failed to move prospective customers into paying customers.

Once the problems of early bounce rates and low reader engagement were uncovered, the marketing team was able to use the data to revise how they created and designed content with a particular focus on:

  • Getting to the point: Readers lose interest quickly, so by covering the main points up front and cutting down on the number of pages, the average reader was much more likely to consume the full piece of content and opt in for more information at the end.
  • Mixing up Design: Resources with uniform page layout showed that readers would skim more quickly and leave the document much sooner. By changing page by page layouts and incorporating graphs, tables and other visuals into their content, reader engagement stabilized and bounce rates decreased dramatically.

Using engagement metrics to diagnose the problems allowed the marketing team to change their approach to how they created, designed and promoted their content.  These changes resulted in much more uniform engagement and lower bounce rates (as illustrated by the ‘Improved Engagement Metrics’ below).  The result of these improvements was a boost to lead conversion, measured by higher opt-ins and return visits, which improved by over 50%.

Improved Engagement: Consistent consumption and lower drop-off

time on site, lead scores go up

How does understanding reader interest help to drive conversion?

A leading technology firm invested heavily to produce an annual research report that would serve as the foundation of their lead generation strategy for the remainder of the year. Once engagement benchmarks were established, the marketing team noticed consistent patterns whereby readers gravitated towards a particular table located three-quarters of the way through the report:

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The marketing team used this data to place additional in-content opt-in offers surrounding these highly valued elements, and carved out the tables as separate gated content offers featuring the highly requested data.

These minor adaptations, made possible by understanding reader interest, resulted in a nearly 250% improvement in leads captured over the original content offer.

Think Individually, Apply Globally

Measuring engagement at the individual resource level as outlined above is an important first step for improving conversion and boosting revenue. However for any content performance review to be successful, a business must also apply findings across their full resource library to ensure all content delivers consistent quality.

Doing so will allow your team to proactively promote your most consistently engaging pieces of content, but also retire those resources that don’t perform as well. This last step is key, but most organizations rarely perform such audits, and as a result their overall content quality, conversion and revenue driven from content suffer.

What processes do you have in place to hold your content team accountable?  I’d love for you to share your best practices via the comments below or connect directly and discuss further.

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  • Sharp piece. An important corollary is that engagement when people arrive is only half of the puzzle, in a lot of cases distribution is poorly setup or done by another person or team that’s not thinking about this stuff at all.

    Unbounce wrote something a couple of years ago about that: http://unbounce.com/ppc/poor-message-match/ – they’re talking about messaging match for paid ads and landing pages, but the way they address it has implications for how people structure content marketing as well.

    • I appreciate your sharing the Unbounce resource and drawing the parallel with content marketing. Agree 100% that what’s effective in PPC > Landing Page promotion can also be applied to content promotion…

      As the Unbounce article describes, proper “Message Match” is one of the key factors influencing landing page success or failure. I’m certain the principals tied to that observation impact the success of any promoted content. More specifically, following through on your ad’s promise and reaffirming they are in the right place with consistent message/visuals, will probably do more to drive meaningful engagement than the content itself. This is a large part of why my company and the marketers we work with are on a mission to kill gated content landing pages once and for all, as if you promise a killer piece of content and drive to an optimized landing page instead, aren’t you immediately NOT following through on your ad’s promise?

      In fact, would be interesting to test differences in engagement when “Message Match” is consciously applied vs. not and what impact the message mismatch of driving to landing pages vs. right to the content has on a campaigns KPI’s.

      Hmmm…I think you just gave me the idea for our next content experiment…Thanks Joe!

      • That’s a good point re: gated content landing pages. And that message match is such low hanging fruit that’s fixable, it’s a shame people ignore it.

        I like your experiment idea, I’ll be looking to see what happens with that. Sidenote: interesting ideas proposed over on this recent Buzzsumo post: http://buzzsumo.com/blog/50-of-content-gets-8-shares-or-less-why-content-fails-and-how-to-fix-it/ – I do not agree w/the idea that the quality of content will probably matter less than amplification / distribution, but it does suggest some of the thinking that’s out there.