Navigation analytics for content marketers
In my article “The marketing metrics even the CEO might care about” I introduced the idea that a well-structured approach to analytics should be built around three tiers, with each tier providing a distinct view or purpose.
I also suggested that analytics should be designed to support the marketing strategy and relying on just what comes out of the box with each platform is more likely to create an analytic fog – lots of interesting information, but not overly useful in the broader scheme of things.
In this article, I wanted to drill into a bit more detail into the first tier – navigation metrics.
To recap, a navigation metric is a high-level indicator that keeps your overall marketing on course. They are optimised for navigating the marketing machine and making sure it arrives at the outcomes intended, but they are probably not much use for troubleshooting and diagnosing problems.
Activity metrics (the second tier), give you a more detailed view of your marketing activity across the funnel and channels. They allow you to make decisions month to month on where to focus your marketing effort.
Diagnostic metrics (the third tier) give you low-level data on individual components within the platforms, useful for optimising those components, but also troubleshooting and diagnosing problems.
When you start to split out your analytics this way, you’ll have better insight and tools to check you are on course, identify and take action when problems or opportunities may be emerging.
What makes good navigation metrics?
I’m going to focussing here on digital channels and assume a strategy based on lead generation through content marketing.
First, metrics should provide coverage across the marketing funnel from attraction, capture to a customer. For the activities that happen at the top of the funnel to have any real value, they have to have some tie to the outcomes generated at the bottom. And for this to happen efficiently, you have to measure the journey through to ensure flow remains as unobstructed as possible.
Having said that, while the basic model of the marketing funnel is simple to understand, it’s difficult to properly convey via a full set of analytics. There’s just too many unknowns and assumptions in the real underlying data.
I recommend tweaking the model slightly, still keeping the same underlying idea but making it translate to the analytic data we have available. Instead, I group metrics into phases. These phases, give an indication of how successfully leads are moving through the funnel. Here’s a summary of the phases I use:
- Traffic – This is any traffic that comes past any of your digital presences – i.e. your website, LinkedIn pages etc.
- Reach – When traffic can be captured so you can engage with them in some capacity, it becomes part of your marketing reach
- Outreach – Initiating some kind of outbound interaction or communication with the contacts in your reach
- Engagement – Successful outreach establishes some level of engagement with your audience
- Qualification – Some contacts within your reach will achieve over time qualification as a genuine sales opportunity
I would suggest that in most cases, you can ignore traffic as a useful navigation metric. Traffic on its own isn’t relevant to the outcome of marketing unless it can be captured. For this reason, I think the growth of reach is a more useful indicator.
Growth of Quality Reach
The key reach metric is growth. You need to know that not only is there an inflow of new contacts coming into your reach, but that your ability to capture reach is becoming more efficient over time.
An important dimension to reach is “Quality”. In this context, I define quality as being contacts who are in your ideal target audience hopefully lining up with your personas.
Not all reach is quality, and you’ll probably find a significant proportion of it won’t be. Good navigation metrics should filter outreach that is not high quality.
Let me introduce the first KPI – New Quality Leads (by month). This one indicator wraps up a lot of data. This example also shows how I like to see my navigation metrics – a number (e.g. for this month) and a trend line showing month to month variation.
This metric incorporates any quality measure you’ve applied to your contacts. Since anything of low quality is filtered out, problems with poor targeting or traffic from sources of little value don’t artificially bloat the indicators.
The total number of new quality leads for the month are shown, but the real gold is the trend line. Overall, in this example, it looks like our ability to expand quality reach is growing.
The next metric is Cost per Quality Lead, shown below.
This metric is the total spent on acquiring all new leads divided by the number of new quality leads.
This example shows a possible trend that needs to be monitored. It looks like it’s becoming increasingly more expensive to acquire new quality leads. When read in context with the New Quality Leads KPI, one possible backstory is driving the faster influx of reach has meant going to more expensive channels!
This indicator packs in a lot of information. Any significant change to targeting, underlying costs per click, cost per conversion, conversion rates, impact on quality of conversions etc. will show up here.
An upward (negative) trend on this metric might reveal:
- Decreasing ability to attract high-quality contacts (e.g. poor targeting or messaging)
- Falling conversion rates on landing pages
- Changes to underlying pay per click cost structures and ad spend that needs review
For navigation, I ignore metrics directly around outreach (e.g. sending emails to subscribers) as I think it adds very little value from this perspective. The impact of outreach can be integrated into the engagement metrics, so would recommend focussing attention there.
A big focus of engaging the audience will come from email marketing, so I’ll use this one as an example.
At a navigational level, we should be able to answer the question “Are we getting better or worse at engaging our audience?”.
Really, this question is answered in two parts:
- Are we making sure our content is getting better or worse at engaging our audience?
- Are we creating enough content? We could be going gangbusters at expanding reach, but if content runs out after a few weeks and they never hear from us, the potential we’ve spent good money on creating is severely diminished.
All these things should show up as lower levels of engagement. Poor performance in these areas is symptomatic of common content marketing problems like:
- Writers getting busy with other “billable” work and slowing down the level of content going out.
- Content not hitting the mark, not enough thinking, insight or perspective. It’s way too easy to create poor quality content lacking all these things and therefore gains no cut through with the target audience.
A visible, well-designed metric will ensure accountability that production of highly effective content is created on an ongoing basis, although it’s a bit more complicated one to design.
One approach could be to measure the total email clicks and divide it by the total number of contacts within reach. Note, we use reach here and not just number of emails sent as the basis of the ratio. This is important because we want the metric to trend down even if emails aren’t being sent.
A flat or upward trend would imply that as reach grows, the level of engagement across the entire audience is being maintained or improved. A falling trend would indicate we are experiencing one of the two problems mentioned above.
One further complication here. Reach is always growing and it’s inevitable that the proportion of stale disengaged contacts to new leads will increase over time. Therefore, this metric will nearly always trend down.
To solve this, I’d suggest adjusting the calculation and use growth in reach over a time period like 12 months instead of total reach. This would ensure that if we double our growth of reach, we should at least expect to double the number of email clicks. If it falls, either we are getting less engagement, or it could be that there is proportionately less of our audience being reached.
I call this metric “Engagement Over Growth Ratio”. See below how this could look as a KPI.
Using this as an example, email clicks represent 6.7% of the new quality leads added in the last 12 months. We can see it’s trending up which in turn implies a healthy, ongoing commitment to writing quality content that is generally attracting increased attention.
As with other metrics, we limit our data to only include quality leads as they don’t contribute any useful data to the KPI.
Marketing should ultimately deliver qualified leads to the sales team and is the ultimate measure of success.
When a lead is reviewed by sales and qualified as being a potential genuine sales opportunity, they are flagged as a Sales Qualified Lead (SQL).
There can be a long lag between marketing activity and creating a sales opportunity, and there are often many indirect influences in the process. While this metric is, therefore, less effective as a short-term navigational indicator, it does provide an objective measure of marketing’s contribution to the bottom line of the firm.
There are two metrics that are important from a navigational level. These are similar to the growth of reach indicators discussed above.
This example trend line indicates the month to month movement in the number of SQLs is increasing slightly. Considered along with the other KPIs like increasing quality growth and levels of engagement, we would expect that into the future, to see an increase in the rate of SQLs being created.