Lead generation is/ should be a priority in your content marketing efforts. Yet, it's likely that your company isn't measuring content marketing ROI. Either because:
A) You don't care
B) You know there's value in you don't know how, or what, to measure
C) It's just too hard to measure the value in marketing
There's this long-held belief amongst marketers that you can't measure the true value of content marketing. In fact, in the early days of my career, I'd held firm to this notion, steadfastly writing articles with the solid knowledge that it would pay off in the long run.
I wasn't alone.
Most content writers I've spoken to over the years were under the same impression. It's not entirely unfounded. It takes a while to build up backlinks, domain authority (which makes it easier to rank with search engines), enough keywords on your site, etc.
Over the years, your content starts ranking higher. You get traffic easier. Reach is greater. You don't have to fight as hard to bring attention to your content after you've built enough "street cred".
My perception changed dramatically when I began freelancing. First, because I was focusing a lot more on lead generation for my own content marketing services. Second, because I found myself needing to justify my rates, both to myself and to clients.
Strangely, I found that most companies aren't doing the same for their content marketing efforts. Many are still stuck on the idea that the value of content marketing is built over time. That measuring marketing ROI is damn near impossible.
It simply isn't true.
In this article, I'm going to cover how to directly link your business blog to lead generation and what metrics to look at beyond vanity metrics.
The content marketing value you CAN'T measure.
I want to cover this first, because there is a foundation for the claim that you can't measure the value of content marketing. It really, truly is a challenge, and no one can identify all the leads brought in from blogging.
Aimee Meester, the CEO of Madison Taylor Marketing, put it excellently the other day during our call:
"What's the ROI of your mother?"
A reference to a talk by Gary Vaynerchuk:
She went on to relate the value of your mom to content marketing. It boiled down to this:
You grow up, you have success, and you thank your mom. You can't point to one specific point in time in which your mom was the key to your success, but you know that she is. It's the culmination of all that she's done, said, and provided.
There are intangibles that are difficult to measure. As Aimee puts it, there've been clients that've gained huge contracts from articles or resources they've created, but they know this because the client informed them of this.
Without insights from clients, it can be challenging to know where leads come from.
Why is this?
There are actually quite a few reasons for this:
The lead may have called the company instead of signing up or filling out a form on the website
The client found your content a long time ago, but are reaching out to you months or even years later. They may have been following you for a long time, keeping you in the back of their business plans. (Google Analytics can only track first impressions as far as 3 months back)
There are multiple people in a marketing team or management team sharing content, adding companies to lists of potentials to work with, etc. It's challenging to know when the first person in the organization found you, especially if they're not the decision-maker.
The above events make it really difficult to track leads, and the larger the organization is, the harder it is to attribute leads. For my own business, I'm able to determine where my leads come from simply by asking or paying attention to how they reach out to me.
For instance, messages through LinkedIn often reference a post that's prompted them to reach out. A recent lead reached out due to a connection request I'd sent, and noticed that I was a freelancer.
Facebook messages I've received have referenced a post they'd seen in a Facebook group. Or, someone in my network informs me they're sending me a lead, and connects me to that person.
Larger organizations are able to ask how you'd discovered them on their contact forms or by asking during consultation calls.
Still, there are some leads you just can't trace.
The intangibles of content marketing
As mentioned above, you can't always track where a lead comes from. Especially if those leads don't follow your lead funnels. But besides leads, there are other benefits of content that you simply can't track, such as:
The value of your thought leadership
Word of mouth shares
It might not be fully fair to place all of content's value on the things you can measure. That being said, as a business, you can't put money and time into something without knowing that it's working to bring in leads.
How do you find the value of content marketing?
A lot of content marketing agencies track vanity metrics- traffic, social media shares, comments, likes, etc. We call them vanity metrics because they're pretty surface level.
They aren't a good measure of how many leads you're bringing in, yet if you aren't tracking actual lead generation goals in Google Analytics, traffic is a good measure of content performance.
As Ashley Amber Sava, Content Marketing Manager at Pushnami, puts it:
"Traffic is the most important metric for measuring content success. Boosting engagement, establishing brand authority and landing conversions simply isn't possible without traffic."
While this is true, I fully believe that you can get leads from your content without a huge amount of traffic. You just have to convert more of the traffic that you do get using content that reaches your target audience and solves their problems.
I wanted to find out how other top content marketers and marketers within companies track the value of their content.
Ashley Amber Sava gave me great insights stating:
"The ultimate goal is to increase the amount of returning visitors to your content. Identifying the ratio of repeat visitors is a critical metric for understanding whether or not your content is good enough to fulfill the needs of your audience."
Return visitors is a great way to ensure that you're actually producing content that people want to see. It says that you're on the right track, and that your potential customers are coming back to your site again and again because you're offering something truly valuable.
Another great way to measure content performance, according to Ashley Guttusso, Director of Marketing at Simple Focus, is to follow engagement and consumption of the content. This means:
"Following views in channel and pageviews on site... In Google Analytics, I use site content, all pages, and start filtering to see what’s getting traffic over time. When I’ve had HubSpot, I’ve tied different pieces of content to campaigns and then used reports to pull metrics like views and CTA clicks. I also look at referrals to see which sites are sending the most traffic."
From what I've seen, this is far more content tracking than most businesses are currently doing. But doing so allows Ashley to see which content performs best, and why, to trim the fat on content efforts, and repurpose the content that performs best.
Peter Caputa IV, the CEO of Databox, also weighed in on the subject, stating:
"We track performance by measuring the sessions and signups for our product. We look at every section of our website and every page... We are constantly improving pages by adding additional content or making design/ copy changes, building internal links to the pages that can rank higher or that are already converting well."
Tying content to signups is pretty similar to my recommendations in the section below, where I'll explain how to use Google Analytics to track content success.
When I pull back and look at everyone's suggestions, it's easy to see just how many methods there are for measuring content marketing ROI:
Opt-ins to more content
List growth over time
Open rates for emails
Unsubscribes for emails
Video views on YouTube
Emails directly to me saying thanks for this content
Trial signups/conversions to paid
Traffic over time
Social media metrics
Setting lead generation goals in Google Analytics to calculate content ROI
All of the above is absolutely true about content marketing value. By all means, think of your content marketing efforts as a single body that leads to future success.
Understand that it takes a build-up of content to make a difference.
Put most of your attention on traffic, social media engagement, and returning traffic.
All of those tracking methods are valuable. They provide you insights into what content gets the most views so you can continue making similar content; ensure that you're on the right path with your overall content strategy; help you optimize pages.
As our experts above pointed out- tracking sign-ups and opt-ins is another important metric to pay attention to.
I personally believe it's the most important metric if you want to prove that your content has tangible benefits.
To do that, simply redirect all of your sign-ups to a thank you page and set that thank you page URL as a goal in Google Analytics.
Okay, let's break that down a little.
In most cases, you're pulling leads from various places. This great. It's exactly what you want. But this typically doesn't include blog content.
To add blog content to the mix, follow these steps:
Step 1: Create a general thank you page
This doesn't have to be spectacular. Just a simple page that states they need to verify their email address and thank you for providing us that sensitive information. This is what mine looks like:
Make sure that this page is a dynamic page that can only be reached if someone fills out an opt-in or sign-up form. Do not link to the page anywhere else on your site.
Step 2: Set a goal in Google Analytics
Honestly, this is rather simple to do. Many marketers already know how to set up goals in analytics, as well as use other features and reports within GA. But there are still plenty that don't know how to set up goals, and aren't measuring their conversions from blog content or other types of content. The following is for the latter group.
When I added the goal to my analytics, I followed this chain:
Admin> Goals > New Goal
You may also be able to follow this chain:
Conversions > Goals > New Goal
The goal setup page will look like this:
Give the goal a name such as "thank you page" or "conversions". Click on the "destination" bubble, click continue.
Equals to is simply the URL of the final page of the funnel- the thank you page they land on after converting.
Enter the full URL here, not just the end of the slug. GA makes this a little confusing by adding that little description under the "equals to", stating to insert the end of the slug. Unfortunately, GA won't measure the conversions accurately without the full URL.
After you hit save, you'll be able to look into the conversions reports, and the source of the leads.
If you go into your goals, there's a little button that says "source/medium" at the bottom of the page. You can get a quick look at the referral there. We'll take a closer look at reporting in a bit.
Step 3: Lead magnet in content
So, lead magnet might be a little misleading. You don't need a true "lead magnet" such as a checklist or infographic or slide deck or ebook to pull leads from a blog.
A simple "Download this article as a PDF" sign up at the beginning of the article, or a pop up asking you to join a newsletter, works perfectly fine.
Readers are still interested enough in the content to provide their email address, fully knowing that it may lead to you reaching out to them later on.
Of course, if it's an article you think will do really well, or you have a relevant resource you want to provide as a content upgrade... then by all means, use it as a lead magnet.
Just make sure to make the sign up form redirect to your thank you page.
Why should it redirect to a thank you page? You might be wondering, since you could also connect your individual sign up forms, or contact forms, to conversion goals.
Frankly that's just extra effort. If you send all of your leads to the same end point, GA will automatically generate reports showing you where those leads came from.
How to see which pages are generating leads
If you just want to get a general view of which pages are converting, there are a few reports you want to pay attention to in Google Analytics;
To get to acquisition channels, follow this quick path in GA:
Acquisitions> All Traffic> Channels
You'll see the various channels that drive leads to your content (social, direct, organic, referrral...). This is just scraping the surface of lead traffic, but it allows you to see which channels are most beneficial to your lead generation.
This is vital for optimizing your marketing channels, and trying to determine what to put your effort and budget into.
You get to acquisition sources with the same path as the previous section, but select sources/mediums instead of channels.
Again this is pretty surface level, but it takes it one step further than channels, providing you a look into the actual social media channels and sites that are driving traffic and leads.
To get to this report, follow this chain:
Behavior > Site Content > Landing Pages
This is where you'll be able to find the exact blog pages that your audience converts from. Thing is, it's just where their journey ended... where they finally took the plunge by giving up their email address.
It gives you great insights into what pages were strong enough to push them over the edge, but it doesn't tell you where their journey started.
What if they've been reading your blogs for months and finally found an article they wanted to download or a resource they really wanted.
What if they've read tons of your blogs, but go to your contact page to get a project going right away.
Believe it or not, there is actually a way to see some of that data as well.
Using Google Analytics Model Comparison Tool for a truer look at conversions from content
It's pretty challenging to get a legitimate count on where your ALL of your leads come from, especially with blog content. However, you can get pretty close- at least the lower end of your conversion numbers- by using the model comparison tool in Google Analytics.
In your landing page report (from the section above), you're looking at "last-click attribution" numbers. In other words, the last place your visitors were before converting into a lead (ie signing up for your newsletter).
Generally, readers aren't converting from a single blog post. Content marketing really is a long game. Sure, you can shorten the game by targeting your real audience.
I touch on how to do with in my article on converting readers into leads.
BUT, in most cases, readers need to become a bit more familiar with your brand before being comfortable handing your their precious email address.
For that reason, you need to focus more on:
First click attribution
First Click Attribution
First-click attribution tells you which content piece brought the user (visitor) to your sight. What content sparked their initial interest. It then shows you the path that user took until they converted.
As mentioned, your visitors need to become a little more familiar with your brand. That's why it's vital that you offer as much helpful content as possible, and link to that content within each relevant blog.
Doing so creates the reality that you have a lot to offer, and all of that content is helpful to them.
The more they read, the more likely they are to convert.
What's great about first-click attribution, is that a user can leave your site, and come back a month later to view more content and Google Analytics will still pick up on that.
GA tracks the IP addresses that interact with your site- thanks to cookies.
It's able to track those previous interactions up to three months in the past. So if a user interacts with your site before that, you won't be able to account for that. However, you can account for returning visitors within that three months, even if they haven't visited your site in a month or two.
Linear paths of your site users
Your users don't take a direct path to converting, and you shouldn't expect them to. Marketers know this, and it's often why they don't take too close a look at which articles make the most impact to conversions. They simply consider the body as a whole, pushing the user towards the end goal.
In many cases, that's enough. You can take a general look at conversions, increases in traffic, and higher rankings for keywords and generally understand that your content is working.
However, as a freelancer that works with a lot of tech companies, and one that works with B2B businesses, I want a more detailed look at my content.
I want to know which articles users are touching on their journal to converting. I want to optimize content and my content strategies to include more of the content that really works.
Linear paths allow you to see which articles your visitors read on their journey from first-click to last-click attribution and conversion.
GA Model Comparison Tool gives you a more complete look at your lead's journey
You don't need the model comparison tool to look at last-click attribution. That's readily available in your landing page report.
However, if you want a more complete look at their journey- where they first interacted with your site and which articles they read along the way- you need to see first-click attributions and their linear touchpoints. You can only find this with the model comparison tool.
"Tool" makes it sound like something you have to download, or a plugin you need to enter into GA, but it's actually just another reporting function that's easy to access and use.
How to find, set up, and use the model comparison tool in Google Analytics
Google Analytics was really intimidating when I was first introduced, and I don't think I'm alone in that. But I quickly learned that the model comparison tool is an easy find, and is even easier to use.
You can find the model comparison tool with this path:
Conversions > Multi-Channel Funnels > Model Comparison Tool
It'll look like this when you get there:
It doesn't look too helpful like that. To set it up to view the right metrics:
Click on that first box labeled "conversion".
Change it to your thank you page.
Set the lookback window to 90 days. Right now it says 30, but when you click on it, a slider appears and you can push it all the way to 90 days.
Click on "Select Model" and change it to "First Interaction".
Another box will appear after vs. Change that to "Linear".
Where it says "Primary dimension", click on "other" and select "acquisition" and then "landing page URL"
A search bar will appear, so you'll be able to filter down pages to blog posts by typing in "blog" (or in my case "post") so that only your blog content shows up in the table.
Okay, but how do you make sense of all that?
Reading data from the Model Comparison Tool
Looking at all the data might not make sense at first, but once you're familiar, it's quite simple.
This is from when I first set my thank you page as a conversion goal and began testing out the comparison tool ( I screenshot everything), but I think the lack of data here might make this easier to explain and understand.
The first row is me accessing the page when I first set it up and previewed it, but you see it pop up as a last interaction conversion (in the first column).
If it were an actual signup, it would mean that is the user converted on that page, in the same session where they found your site. Meaning, it's their first and last destination before converting.
This is the same metric you'll find in the landing page report.
If there were a number in First Interaction, you'd see that it the particular URL was the first interaction a user had with your site before going on to other pages.
Meaning, that page initially drew users to your site, but it isn't where they converted.
Notice though, that in the "linear" column, there is a .02.
Linear value takes into account all of the pages a user has visited during their interactions with your website. So, say for instance, a user comes to your site 4 times over 3 months.
The first page they visit is an article. The next time they visit is a different article. The third visit is to your services page. They go away for a few weeks to talk to others in the company about you and try to see if you'll fit into the budget or content plan. They come back again but go straight to your contact page.
Linear will keep track of the pages they visit, and attribute part of the lead to those pages.
So, when you look at the URL for one of the pages the user visited, you'll see .25- a quarter of the lead for 4 visits to separate pages. Each of those pages gets a quarter of the credit.
The reason my first column says .02, is because it's tracking all of the pages I've visited on my site in the last 90 days. I often return to blog posts, my service page, and other pages on my site to make sure they're functioning right or to check popups or grab links.
I believe it counted about 21 pages before I landed on my thank you page. That's why you're only seeing a fraction of the "lead" go to the page, even though it's counted as a "last interaction".
Really, it was just the last interaction with my site in that single session on that day.
(P.s... if this doesn't make sense, feel free to reach out to me on my social for clarification.)
Other noteworthy reports to combine with model comparison
If you want an even clearer look... yeah, it can get clearer... then stay in the "multi-channel funnels" section under conversions, but now click on time lag and/or path length.
Time lag will show you how many conversions you have and how long it took for those users to convert after their first interaction with your site.
It'll just show the number of days (1,2,3...) and the number of users that converted within that time period.
Again, I'll use the example from my first thank you page set up.
That's my "conversion" (me previewing the thank you page) and the time lag is up to 90 days due to my interactions with my site over that time period.
Path length simply counts how many interactions it took for a user to convert. In other words, how many times did they have to look around your website before they were convinced to sign up or give you their email.
It only measures up to 11 interactions before it caps at 12+.
It's not totally necessary to look at these reports, but it does paint a really detailed picture of how your site and your site content works towards the goal of lead conversion.
My final thoughts:it is possible to view the base level of conversions.
It's not always easy, but it is possible to attribute blog posts to actual lead conversions. I like this, because it proves that there are actual, tangible benefits to creating blog content.
Marketers already know there's value in content, especially blogging.
But a lot of people aren't marketers. I can't even tell you how many times people have told me they don't blog because it's a waste of time, or it doesn't actually bring them leads, or they tried it but didn't get a lot of traffic so they quite.
Business owners and executives want you to prove value before they invest in something. This is just one way of doing that.
Looking at your content in such a detailed way helps you view what's working in the here and now. It helps you see the immediate value, and can guide you in content strategy.
That being said, content marketing is a long game. It brings in leads over time. Articles from years before can still attribute to lead generation today.
Ashley Gutusso makes this point:
"Instead of asking if one video or post or pdf download created a lead, I try to measure the results of the sum of all content on signups and retention. If I can establish that a particular blog post, video, or social post was a hit, I can try to pinpoint what about it resonated and try to create more along those lines, or make sure it’s part of a welcome email."
So, yes, look at your content with the metrics and reports in this article. Those are defining moments (insights)... but consider your blog a long term strategy.
Look at it as an entire body- like your mom.