Some annual performance reviews are worse than others. Mine is pretty standard: Fill in a form, boss returns it with comments, have a call to discuss. Spoiler alert: I still have my job, so things typically turn out OK. However, my boss asked a question early on in my most recent review that stopped me dead in my tracks. I believe I experienced something akin to existential dread. OK, maybe that's excessive. But it shook me.

You see, I'm the director of content, and he asked: "Why do we even have content on our site?"

Mind you, I had filled the review form with stats about site performance, engagement, reach, and influencer engagement. But that's not what he asked me. He was seriously questioning the point of absolutely everything I do. OK then.

Here's the thing: When we launched, we had a slew of reasons to launch a content initiative. But now, six years (and a new CEO) later, it was, in fact, a fair question. So, content managers out there: What would you say?

No content, no leads

I recently edited a piece that gave me some terrific insights into the value of content: "We Stopped Producing Content. The Results Were Not Good."

The title of Parse.ly senior market analyst Kelsey Arendt's article is pretty telling. The company she works for helps media companies understand, own, and improve digital audience engagement through data. Needless to say--given their robust grasp of performance analytics--she and her team always figured content was good for their business. But when they found themselves with more projects than time and team members, they decided it would be alright to stop producing content for a short while.

As you might guess from the article title, things didn't go so well.

Despite the fact that content is often justified by the traffic it drives to a site, Paser.ly didn't actually experience a big overall traffic decline. Actually, the impact was much worse. The traffic to their blog did drop off, which was not a surprise. However, leads were down at almost exactly the same rate as the blog's traffic. That's a big deal.

I have seen a range of evidence suggesting the content on our site can be linked to leads. In Parse.ly's case, the company saw decline across all of its lead generation mechanisms that directly correlated to content (or a lack of it). While I might not advocate for a content hiatus to test this theory on your site, the Parse.ly example offers compelling evidence.

Content and customers

Like many organizations, we serve a number of constituents with our website. Concern has arisen about serving certain segments (with content, as well as navigation and other factors). So, we dug in by approaching a wide range of activities through the perspective of different personas. We looked at search logs to examine navigational pain points and the terms our visitors used. We explored the navigational pathways users explored on their way to finding what they needed (or not). We also put up an exit survey to better understand who was visiting the site, what they were trying to do, whether they experienced difficulty, and whether they were ultimately successful.

We learned a lot. But for me, the most gratifying thing was seeing that, overwhelmingly, the reason people visit our site is for content--from industry news to research to finding perspectives and insights on the issues our industry faces. I also learned that people find our site through searches around issues and report their subsequent experience as a rewarding one. Given that we are an organization that seeks to inform and lead the discussion in our industry, this was very good news.

For most CEOs, delivering against the core objectives of the organization is the top priority. Therefore, it isn't surprising that they don't immediately see the connection between content and these objectives. It is important for marketers who leverage content as a primary tool to clearly understand larger organizational goals and map their work to them. This isn't easy.

Increasing brand awareness and driving traffic are two things marketers track that content clearly helps with. However, generating and converting leads is something most business leaders can get behind, and something for which content is an effective tool (as Parse.ly's experience clearly demonstrates). It can also be leveraged for user retention all the way down to specific tactical objectives, such as reducing customer service calls. Of course, different objectives require different content.

Ultimately, marketers need to question every activity and how these aid larger business objectives and fuel the bottom line. Content is no different. For all the fun of telling terrific stories, content is good business. So be prepared to make a good business case for yours.

Published on: Aug 20, 2019
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