Since the advent of the web channel for content delivery in the mid-1990s, practically every company has been happily generating content and publishing it online. Organizations post content for any number of reasons, such as helping a customer solve a problem or enticing a buyer to delve deeper into the site, to get eyeballs on the site to sell ads or to build a corporate brand by showing a level of expertise on a particular subject. Given the wide range of content and the many different objectives, it is difficult to evaluate the return on investment (ROI) on content. One way to get a handle on this information is to use web analytics software to help you identify a range of metrics that, depending on your goals, help you decide if you are getting a decent ROI.
Many companies still generate content with little concern for how effective it is (i.e., if it is generating a decent return on investment, however you choose to measure that). As Phil Kemelor, VP of strategic consulting at web analytics consulting firm Semphonic, and the lead analyst on The CMS Watch Web Analytics Report explains, “I think companies are still only just getting the message that web analytics are the key to controlling costs in web development and analyzing and marketing your content. It seems companies have been comfortable spending money on developing content and they don’t know if it’s being read or not and if it’s really contributing to their bottom line.”
Part of the problem, according to Stephan Pretorius, president of Acceleration—a firm that works with companies to help them build a marketing technology infrastructure around site analytics, advertising, email, and search—is a lack of understanding in the marketplace about the connection between content ROI and web analytics. “I think from a site analytics perspective, which is obviously measuring content and content pieces, one of the key things we find is that customers don’t really have a grasp of the difference between actual data and key performance indicators (KPIs).” He adds that you can’t have a goal to improve KPIs because they are health measures themselves. Instead, he explains, you need to identify actionable data you can measure to have an impact on your KPIs and hence your ROI.
Matthew Langie, director of product marketing at web analytics software firm WebTrends, says that web analytics software can help you do that. He explains that when you produce offline content, it’s harder to measure customer behavior. But online you can see where users clicked, if they subscribed, and the path they took through your website and your content. “Almost everything is measurable online, which is the beauty of that form of marketing. You can optimize what you can measure,” he says. Once you can measure, he adds, you can make decisions based on how effective a piece of content was on your site. “From that, we can measure based on the click stream which content is more effective than something else. What’s great is you can measure most if not all the user behavior online,” Langie says.
Before you can understand content ROI, you need to identify the type of content you are publishing and what you hope to achieve with it. Kemelor says that by knowing the type of content, you can better recognize the objectives you want to achieve and then be equipped to decide if the content is successful or not. “The first element of analyzing content is to understand the purpose of the content. So for example, you have content serving different purposes: content delivering information, content to persuade or inform [and so forth]. It’s really key to understand how the content on your site maps to the goals and objectives of your website,” Kemelor says.
Akin Arikan, senior segment manager for internet marketing at Unica, a web analytics company, identifies four content types: retail, B2B, customer service, and publishing. He says, “This industry distinguishes four types of business models, and depending on which model applies, you end up prioritizing related metrics and finding out what works.”
With retail or B2B sites, Arikan explains, the goal is to generate leads or sales. A customer service site is trying to supply the necessary content on the website to prevent a more expensive call to a live customer service agent. And content-oriented sites, such as a publisher’s website, are trying to generate advertising sales (unless they use the subscription model).