Content drives the Web. But measuring its direct value is very difficult.
I’ve been writing weekly articles since 1996. These articles have been key in helping me build a reputation and earn a living. I have also published five books. I have made a small amount money off the books and I have never made any money directly off the articles. Nor do I intend to. In the past, I have refused advertising because it just gets in the way of the messages I want to communicate.
Content for me helps unlock a door for consulting and services. My strategy is to target large organizations with complex websites who have a need to simplify and become more customer-centric. Content is one of the most important methods I use to target these organizations. But it is a method, a tactic. Unless you are a professional media company, content is not strategy. Content serves strategy.
For most organizations, content in and of itself has very little direct value. Its worth lies in what it supports. Has it increased sales leads? Has it reduced support calls? Has it shifted customers from the phone channel?
“Content marketing remains the bright, shiny objet du jour for marketers, even as they work to figure out how to best implement it and measure results,” a January 2013 Advertising Age article states.
“Content marketing is attracting its share of marketers' budgets,” Ad Age states. “Yet, it's clear most marketers are struggling with some pretty basic questions: Who should be the "boss" of content? How much should be spent on content marketing? Is it effective?”
Many people measure the effectiveness of content based on the number of visitors. This is fool’s gold. It’s participation in the Cult of Volume. Visitors and volume are very easy to manipulate on the Web. In fact volume, particularly when it comes to volume of pages, is often a negative. Whether it’s with Norwegian telecom company, Telenor, Microsoft Excel or the Liverpool council website, we usually find that deleting 80% of the content leads to much better results.
Why? Because content that is not core to the product or service often gets in the way when the customer wants to buy the product or use the service. It clutters search and navigation. It confuses and sends the customer in the wrong direction.
That’s why I keep my articles on a separate website to our Customer Carewords website, which lists our consulting services. The articles’ purpose is to communicate ideas about managing large, complex websites, but the Customer Carewords website is about helping you decide which services you might need.
When content is asked to pay the bills it struggles. WebMD in December 2012 announced that it was letting over 100 staff go because advertising revenue was not hitting targets. By all accounts, WebMD publishes quality content and is a leader in health information. 59 percent of the US adult population looked up health information online in 2012, according to Pew Research.
The Achilles Heel of content is that it’s very hard to measure how it delivers direct value. To be effective, it needs to be linked to other drivers of value such as support and sales.