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Does This Article Suck? Measuring Content Effectiveness
It is 2:00 a.m. The deadline for the column passed hours ago. And yet, I have spent the last two hours watching 30 Rock reruns and playing Angry Birds.
Sometimes you just dry up.
FTC disclosure: A deadline was provided to this author free of charge and may influence the content of the piece.
I’m completely dry.
So… This One Is Going To Suck
In my heart, I know that this is going to get me kicked out. This article is going to wrap itself around my neck with chains of mediocrity and drown me in an ocean of apathy weighted down by my own hubris.
Yes, I thought big words and a metaphor might save me. Fortunately, my scientist’s mind kicks in whenever it detects a hypothesis.
The Burning Question: How Much Will It Suck?
The question many of us are actually asking, “How much does a particular piece of content suck?” More accurately, “how much does this particular piece of content suck people into my sphere of influence?”
All we need is a good set of hypotheses and some reliable ways of measuring them and we can use data to answer that question.
Thank you, scientist’s mind.
Etymologically (scientist talk for “looking at the words”) when we say “suck” we mean “failure to achieve some predefined goal.” So, when we say our content “sucks,” we mean it didn’t meet the goals we have for it. What do you expect of your content? What can you expect?
Today, we’ll look at some typical goals for content and how they might be measured.
The first step is to find a way to measure the effect that an individual content item has on our business. The most common way to do this is by instrumenting the page on which the content lives. Most analytics packages report the URL of pages that are visited. As long as we maintain a “one content item per page” rule, we can measure what is on our web site.
This strategy doesn’t typically work for content on the home page, but works really well on interior pages.
In measuring this particular column, there is a problem. The Conversion Science column lives at Search Engine Land, and I don’t get regular analytics reports.
So to measure this story, I’ll have to correlate metrics I collect on my web site to the date an article goes live. This requires an editorial calendar or log of your content.
The Google Analytics Annotations feature is what I use to track results-influencing events.
A date-based calculation I call my Suck Index tells me which of my stories on Search Engine Land sucks the most visitors to my site in the weeks between columns. It compares the referral traffic—as measured in pageviews—for an article to the best performing one.
To read my best work, then, stick with Copy Vs. Design: Which Is Most Important To Conversion? (SI=100.0), The Site As A Service: Core Conversion Marketing Strategies (SI=93.4), and The Perfect Social Media Measurement Plan (SI=80.2).
I also use link tagging and URL shorteners to identify the content that people visit as well as the source of the visit. I discuss these in How To Coax Social Media Insights From Google Analytics, an article which has a relatively low Suck Index of 34.9. See below.
Once we have a way of isolating our content, we can start looking at our goals.
Goal: That Our Content Is Seen
Our thinking with this goal is, “The more people that see us, the more people might love us and express that with their precious attention and dollars.”
Whatever you call it—eyeballs, clicks or pageviews—we want more traffic to our content. This is a predictive metric, meaning it may not accurately reflect that good things happening for our business. It hints at what might happen.
It’s easy to get lots of poorly qualified traffic, but unqualified visitors won’t buy from us, so it only reduces our conversion rate.
As a case in point, the third most visited page on The Conversion Scientist blog is an infograph I did of a David Pogue presentation. David has a seven-figure Twitter following, and Figure 1 shows us the impact of his tweet on the blog’s traffic. As we’ll see, few of these visitors were interested in conversion.
Visits, visitors and pageviews are interesting, but flawed metrics.
Goal: That Our Content Be Consumed
It is probably more important to measure how many actually read, viewed or listened to our content.
The most brutal way to measure this is the bounce rate. Those who come to a page and leave immediately are said to have “bounced.” Google Analytics measures Bounce rate as those visits that involved only one page for the session. This can be misleading, as visitors may have really been moved by the content, they just didn’t spend any more time on the site.
We might be more convinced by the average time on page metric, which gives us an estimate of how long visitors are spending on a page, and by association, our content.
In general, it is a guessing game as to whether or not content is consumed by a visitor.
Goal: That Our Content Be Shared
I have to admit that I play Tweetmeme roulette. I compare my Tweetmeme counts on Search Engine Land to other authors. It can be both exhilarating and depressing.
Dan Zarrella did an interesting experiment in which he artificially inflated his Tweetmeme count. It didn’t increase sharing activity over an average or zero Tweetmeme count.
Tweets, likes, comments, replies, and bookmarks provide a benchmark for sharing behavior.
Please share and comment below.
Goal: That Our Content Generate Leads And Sales
Readership has immense value. However, if we are able to identify that content that actually drives people to take action, we have a potential gold mine. All we have to do is keep giving people that content and we should be rich and famous.
Figure 2 seeks to understand which social media scion I’ve featured on my blog generated the most new email subscribers, one of my most important conversions.
Pogue’s crowd spent over seven minutes on average with my infograph of his PubCon keynote presentation. If only Pogue’s crowd had been more qualified!
Articles that contained downloadable resources on my blog have high Suck Indexes in general. In-copy links are a great way to increase traffic to key pages. In general visitors from Search Engine Land are well qualified with 2.91% of visitors joining my email list.
So… What Is Your Suck Index?
You don’t have to be a famous Search Engine Land author to learn important lessons from your own Suck Index.
Business-to-business web sites often have a loooong sales cycle to support, and good content can bridge that gap. Wouldn’t you like to know which whitepaper, blog or video was generating the most leads for you?
I invite you to begin looking at how your content affects your business all the way down to the bottom line.
What do you think the Suck Index will be for this article?
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.