Episode 29: How to Measure Content Success | With Marco Giordano

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Performance tracking and measurement doesn't just apply to things like conversion and click-through rates. It applies to your content, too. But which metrics should you be monitoring?

Podcast 29 Minutes
Episode 29: How to Measure Content Success | With Marco Giordano

On this episode of the Strategic Marketing Show, David is joined by a man who claims that you either use data, or get used by the data.

His current freelancing projects include helping content-driven websites and publishers better harness the power of data as part of their content marketing strategy.

A warm welcome to The Strategic Marketing Show - Marco Giordano.

[You can find Marco on LinkedIn or on Twitter.]


Watch the episode via your preferred pocast platform:

Topics discussed on this episode include:

  • Do you need to have tracking metrics for every piece of content?
  • What are the types of metrics that you like to track for different types of content?
  • How do you audit your content success?
  • What systems do you use?
  • What are some more efficient ways of managing content?
  • How does this feed into deciding on the type of content that you should be making?
  • How do you segment the purposes of your content?
  • As an example, you say that Wise.com are doing a good job? 

Full transcript:

Marco Giordano  00:00

Many people think about the execution (which is completely fine because, at the end of the day, you still need to do the work) but they forget about systems – about the long term. If you have to update some pages, updating pages is not a strategy. It's part of your execution, right? It's something you do.

But you should have a strategy for handling your boring processes, which is why I'm telling you to have systems – like documenting your processes, honing them, and understanding how you can make it simple when it synergizes with other elements.

David Bain  00:42

The Strategic Marketing Show is brought to you by Insights For Professionals: providing access to the latest industry insights from trusted brands, all on a customized, tailored experience. Find out more over at InsightsForProfessionals.com.

Hey, it’s David. I'm joined today by a man who claims that you either use data or you get used by data.

His current freelancing projects include helping content-driven websites and publishers better harness the power of data as part of their overarching content marketing strategy.

A warm welcome to the Strategic Marketing Show, Marco Giordano.

Marco Giordano  01:21

Hello, guys.

David Bain  01:23

Hey Marco, thanks so much for joining us. Well, you can find Marco by searching “Marco Giordano” on LinkedIn or, of course, on Twitter as well.

So, Marco, do you need to have tracking metrics for every single piece of content?

Marco Giordano  01:38

Well, usually, yes. Because if you can't measure something in marketing, or even SEO, then you're not doing a good job in your strategy, because you don't know how to track your progress, and how to report. It's also for efficiency. The answer is yes: ideally, everything should be tracked. But it's quite simple to do it.

If you have, let's say, 100 articles – so if your content strategy has an output of 100 or any number of articles – ideally, you should have some list, some file, or something that is able to enclose some information about their performance. Some of the metrics that I'm going to mention should be tied to the articles to what you're gonna write in your planning, so that you're able to monitor and fix as you're doing it.

David Bain  02:35

I assume that there are different types of metrics, different metrics that you'd recommend for different types of articles and different types of content?

Marco Giordano  02:44

Yes. In general, the answer is the usual “it depends”. But, for specific types of websites, it's more likely to have some formats. For instance, if you're doing SaaS – Software as a Service – it’s more likely that you have case studies, or you cover some other formats where the success shouldn't be measured by organic traffic because you don't really care. You care most about the traffic in general, or that it’s coming from certain sources like Reddit or LinkedIn, or probably about some actions. If a user clicks on a button or performs an action, that's already more successful compared to a page view, because that's what you want to measure.

In other cases, like the ones I usually deal with (mostly content websites or these types of models, where traffic is important for ads, and so on), you don't really care about lead generation or about interest, sometimes. Sometimes you can only care about pageviews. In other cases about commissions, if it is an affiliate website – which is still an action. But, if it is B2C, you also need a lot of traffic, usually. So there are totally different concepts.

David Bain  04:19

Going back to your SaaS example there, you mentioned that having case studies is one of the most efficient, effective forms of content that you can have for a SaaS brand. And you mentioned that click-throughs or clicks within the page content are a good form of measurement.

What about a call to action? Are you saying that the best form of call to action within case studies is maybe to have some kind of “book some kind of initiating call with the brand”? Is that the kind of call to action that you'd recommend within there?

Marco Giordano  04:51

I mean, I don't work with those websites, because I avoid – like Software as a Service. But, usually, yes. As a user, when I have to buy or do something, it's better to have a call to action like a “book”, especially if your SaaS is something very technical, in my opinion, and I need to understand it. I would prefer some option like the one you mentioned in those cases. 

In other cases, like Semrush for example. If I am a private user, a normal person, I don't need to book anything. I just want the pricing or the button where I can subscribe. So, it also depends on your audience. If it is more B2B, or if you're selling something very technical  (like some of my friends who have very technical software) where you need to be guided, then booking a call is the best option.

But, as I told you, if it's something very simple or B2C, you just need to show the subscription options. Or, you can also have the option to let them subscribe to your newsletter. But again, those are not the cases I usually deal with. Because with pure content websites or B2C, you don’t usually ask people to book a call. You usually ask them to subscribe to your newsletter or something like that.

David Bain  06:18

Okay, and how important are metrics like time on page or time spent on the website based upon someone discovering you through a piece of content? Are these kinds of metrics key as well?

Marco Giordano  06:34

Well, I'm not a big fan of Google Analytics metrics, because they're hard to understand. I mean, to really understand them – not the actual explanation.

David Bain  06:43

So, what's an example of the kind of metrics you're talking about? 

Marco Giordano  06:47

I usually measure for B2C content, not for B2B. So, let's leave B2B out for a second.

I usually measure, of course, clicks, impressions, CTR, and the unique query count – so, for a page, how many unique keywords that page is ranking for, to measure the spread of that page and how topical we can say that page is. This is a very underrated metric, but it's very powerful. I also measure decay.

All of those metrics are not standard, you have to create them. Because the standard metrics you get with Google tools are quite limited. That's normal because you have to create your own metrics. It's completely fine.

David Bain  07:35

And what do you mean by decay? 

Marco Giordano  07:38

Okay, decay is a metric that signals if that content (if it is old enough), over the last period of time (weeks, months – you decide), has been losing clicks. So, it's like a trendline, to understand how it's going. This metric is only one value, and this value can be between minus infinity and plus infinity. So, it can be any value, positive or negative – even zero. If it's positive, it means growth. If it is negative, it means decay. If it is zero, it means stagnation or staying stable, so nothing is happening.

David Bain  08:21

Okay, I think that's a really important metric just to actually make sure everyone's aware of, and how it actually occurs. So, if you've published a piece of content, maybe, three years ago, and you've had a lot of organic success from that but you find that, gradually, the traffic volume coming to that page is decreasing, then obviously decay is what you'd be looking at, which is essentially the reduction in the level of organic traffic that you're getting. The clicks through from the SERP.

Marco Giordano  08:51

Yeah. So, essentially, I just have some custom code to do that. Because this is something you usually do with other systems, like coding or scripts, that enable you to just add this column, this metric, on a per-page basis, so it's by page. You have this nice value that you can compare and see what's going on. As you said before, if a page is three years old, you have a lot of data. You have a lot of clicks. You have to imagine that, if I do it by month, it will be 36 months, at least, where you're able to see the slope.

The slope – like in high school, it’s the same concept – is what they used as a proxy for this metric. If the slope is negative, it means decay, because the line is going down. If the slope is positive, it’s going up, so it means there is growth. It's very simple. If the slope is kind of pointing towards a flat line, something like that, it means it’s stable or there is stagnation.

Once again, it depends on your data points – on what you have, your historical data. It's not for the future, it's for the past. And, based on the past – on what's already there – you are able to understand what you can update, or what is no longer getting success.

David Bain  10:22

So have you been able to determine what an average slope is like? Because I would imagine, for businesses, once they publish a piece of content and start promoting that, gradually rankings will improve, traffic volumes will start to improve, they'll hit a maximum point, and then you will have the decay after that.

Have you been able to map any kind of average slope or average reduction after a certain period of time?

Marco Giordano  10:45

Well, usually, I don't like to do that for one reason: because the concept of averaging things can be dangerous. I understand that you need an estimate because it makes sense for decision-makers but, in general, I try to first check, depending on the type of website I have in front of me. Also, I use Search Console data, so it doesn't matter if they promote their content because it's not taking social media or other channels into account. It's only Google clicks, so it's not biased by other channels. It's purely organic in Search Console, so there is no bias in promotion, it's only about rankings.

You can also do the same if you use Analytics with all the traffic, right? You will be able to do the same, but you take into account all the marketing channels, so you can also do it. But my current approach is only with Search Console, so you don't take into account other channels.

David Bain  11:48

So just staying on this point for one more follow-up question. And that is: how do you halt decay and actually turn it into growth? Is that worthwhile doing? And if so, what do you do to actually improve it?

Marco Giordano  12:03

Okay, you mean, for one article that is showing decay, for instance, right? Okay, so I don't update articles by themselves, I usually check the group. I check individual articles, but also groups. What I do is, I split the website into sections or categories. If they already have them, it's easier. If you have a content plan, or something – some internal data – I can just join them and it's finished. Or I can also scrape the website to find some relevant sections or labels that I can use. So, I measure group performance. Say you have the group “books” on your website. This group is showing decay, and I'm able to then pinpoint, within that group, those specific pages that show decay and work on them.

How I work on them, practically: first of all, I check the introductions, because the introduction is usually the part where people make the most mistake. And it’s one of the most important because Google is able to understand your text (and what's written in the first 100 words is like a myth. I don't really know the exact numbers) in the first words of your text. So, the introduction is more important because Google values more the entities placed at the top; they have a higher relevance to the article.

It's important to keep introductions short, around 150 words at most. It can change but, in my opinion, that is a good balance. And make your concepts clear right away. Many introductions are fluff. They are diluting your text; they should be straightforward. If you're talking about, I don't know, roofing sealants – you shouldn't start talking about your company, you should just say roofing sealants, and go on. Mention the main concepts and go on – cover the pain points of your user, potential user, customer, and so on.

Then I check the structure. The headings, usually that is not where I see problems, unless it's a really bad website and they made the structure completely wrong. A very common example of that, for my websites (it’s not a bad structure, but it's very old fashioned), is when you have an H1 which is like “15 Best Ways To Prepare Toast” – something like that. Then, the first H2 is literally a clone of the H1, which is a very bad practice because this comes from a background, which is very old, where they thought that stuffing keywords in the headings – which is true. I mean, you should put keywords in the headings, but with some dignity. There is a limit.

David Bain  15:03

So, you're talking about the main heading and the subheadings of the page. Don't just repeat them; don't have the same subheadings as you've got for the main heading.

Marco Giordano  15:11

They should be unique. Otherwise, you don't need the heading, because it's already included in the one before. That's what I usually check.

Then, I also try to add the usual on-page stuff. I try to add a bullet list – because Google loves them and also because machines, in general, love this type of structure, and also for the users. I find that many articles can benefit from such simple fixes, like having a bullet list, because they are more visual and faster to understand, instead of adding three lines of text.

If it is a comparison article, or if it is an article where you can make comparisons, or you need to summarise some facts, then tables are a must-have. Usually, people think that content decay can be fought by just adding more text. Like, “you're not ranking, just add more text”, and it's not really true, because sometimes you don't need to add text, you need to add other components or present content in a different way.

Here are the real skills in content marketing – because this is not only SEO; this is also content marketing. You should be skilled because you have to understand how to present content in a different and more efficient way. If you have an affiliate website, or you're doing a product round-up or something like that, you need to include tables. They are very useful. Google is also telling you in their guidelines that they are good. So, you should include tables not just add more text, because it's not really relevant for the user intent, sometimes.

The last piece that I do is, of course, internal linking, which is super, super, super important. No matter what your website is, internal linking is a must-have. And I also check the anchor text, like what are the anchor texts you're using. This is simple to do. You can just use Screaming Frog, and you have the opportunity to check your internal links – to export them in Excel. Then you can just see your anchor text. You don't need to check them all, just a quick overview in five minutes, and see what's going on. Then if you have a more specific subset of pages, you can filter them and see what the anchor texts are by page. What are the anchor texts that this page is getting when they link to it (internally, so not backlinks. I'm talking about internal links)?

This is what I usually do. If the anchor text is the title, or something very sketchy or coming from automated solutions, I recommend putting something more custom within the body. If you have to link to a page which is, for instance for food, “The Best Iron Bars”, you would link to this article with an anchor text like “best iron bars” or “most recommended iron bars”. The important thing is that you keep some currents – some consistency – because it can confuse Google and the user if you link to the same page with a lot of different anchor texts.

David Bain  18:34

That's some great examples there. Obviously, you started off by talking about how to define how your existing content is performing and, if it's not performing as well as it used to be, then how to actually improve that, how to enhance that, and how to bring more visitors to that. You mentioned Screaming Frog there. That's obviously an SEO crawler.

I’d just like to follow up with one other thought/question, and that is actually thinking about how to find future opportunities. I mean, it's all well and good to look at what you're currently doing but how do you use data, how do you use the metrics that you have, to decide on what content that you need to publish in the future?

Marco Giordano  19:14

Okay, so this is a “predictive” question and what I said before is “descriptive”. For the viewers, it means that “descriptive” is about what's happened; it’s about what's already going on and about the past, because we are describing our data. What I said before is about showing the decay based on historical data, what's going on, etc.

This problem is more about predictions. It's about predicting what can be useful. I'm not really a big fan of prediction in SEO for one reason: it’s that SEO data is very bad in terms of quality. By quality, to explain it very simply, I just mean that we don't have processes or strong quality checks on the data we get from Google because they're already filtered, we don't have anonymized queries, and a lot of them are sampled. In my opinion, this is not really the definition of quality. That's why thinking about prediction is very hard in SEO, because you're not very sure about the quality of your past data. You don't even trust your past so it's hard to base your decisions on that to make future choices.

My approach for the future – for prediction – is usually to first understand the website. What are the main topics? Then, once I have this information, I find possible topical gaps. I ask domain experts (subject matter experts, if you prefer) too, because they will usually know the trends. This is not something I do with a machine. Okay. There are other methods. There are methods that you can use to predict the future in SEO to forecast – which involve using time series. Based on historical data, you're able to predict what can happen in the future or what can be a possible trend. I'm not a big fan of this approach, because Google releases a lot of updates. It's not predictable.

David Bain  21:32

Okay, that's great. What you're essentially saying is, your own data is based upon what you've already achieved in terms of successes, and even data from other sources might predict what is currently happening, but it's not even necessarily going to be able to predict what your target consumer is going to be searching for in the future.

So, you need to have conversations with people who are active on the ground. Influencers, as you mentioned, and maybe the kinds of questions that your customers are asking your customer success team, and your sales team as well, and incorporate that into the decisions for the content that you intend to publish in the future.

Marco Giordano  22:09

Yeah, correct. That's exactly what I mean.

David Bain  22:13

Great, okay. You also mentioned beforehand, before we started recording, that you thought that Wise.com were doing a good job with their content. Why do you feel that is?

Marco Giordano  22:23

I was reading a presentation (I don't recall if it was for Brighton), by the Head of SEO, if I recall correctly, of Wise, and they had this very nice architecture. They were showing how they handle data in Wise. I don't recall the exact context because, in my opinion, a presentation is not enough. You have to be part of the organization to understand all the nuances, right? But it was more about storing data in BigQuery – which is a data warehouse system. You just put your data there, so it is safe – and how they were retrieving them. So, pulling this data to put it to use. For example, how to measure attribution. If I recall, it was about attribution of the channels and how to understand what's performing well, even though it wasn't really specified about the metrics.

I don't recall exactly if they were mentioning the exact metrics they were using, but it's not a problem for me, because I told you the best metrics for organic success are always about clicks, impressions, the unique query count, decay if it's old, then, if it is an affiliate or another type of website, you can include some sort of revenue metric, but it's not part of Search Console for analytics. You may also use other software or other data sources, but this is not really a problem.

They were also mentioning Google Trends. Again, it's a nice tool, even though there is no official API. If you want to create some software, as far as I know, you can only use an unofficial version, which is, in my opinion, still good. It’s still enough for many needs, even for big companies. I think it's already better than having nothing. So, they were mentioning Google Trends to access their content as well. Because sometimes what's going on is that you can have a drop in impressions, but maybe it's not your fault. Maybe it’s just seasonality.

David Bain  24:40

Great point. Yeah, absolutely. It’s easy sometimes, when you're looking at your own data, to think, “Oh, my goodness! I’ve had a 50% reduction in the traffic that I'm getting for this.” But if you're not mapping your own data against actually what's happening with everyone else, using a tool like Google Trends, then it could be normal.

It could be seasonality, it could be a particular trend for a product or service that’s naturally not as popular as it used to be, and you need to focus on other things instead.

Marco Giordano  25:09

Yeah, much like heaters or refrigerators. They are very seasonal businesses. Your data is going to be skewed in some periods. It’s going to be kind of strange if you don't know the context of your data.

David Bain  25:26

So, not necessarily thinking about what we’ve been talking about so far with measuring content success, what's the number one thing that marketers need to be thinking about to incorporate into their strategy?

Marco Giordano  25:38

Well, first of all, I would say – not for tactics, but just for strategy – systems. Solid, reliable systems. In my opinion, they are not only a tactic – they are part of your strategy. What I mean is that many people think about the execution (which is completely fine because, at the end of the day, you still need to do the work) but they forget about systems – about the long term. If you have to update some pages, updating pages is not a strategy. It's part of your execution, right? It's something you do.

But you should have a strategy for handling your boring processes, which is why I'm telling you to have systems – like documenting your processes, honing them, and understanding how you can make it simple when it synergizes with other elements. If your strategy is to tackle certain topics – to target a certain audience – you still need a process or to have systems for that. Which is very simple to say, but very hard to implement.

A system or a process is not that immediate, even if it is something simple like editing and publishing an article. It's simple. Once you do it, you find there are a lot of bottlenecks. For instance, if I am writing an article and the editor tells me it's wrong, then I have to fix it. What if I fix it, and then there are other problems? Do you see? It's another bottleneck. A lot of people don't think about that during their planning, because they only think about execution and only about getting things done – which is great, but you still need to take into account these problems and these challenges. A great way to do so is to have reliable systems and processes that you're able to improve because you can say, “Okay, if this happens, then we should do this one instead and adjust our strategy, if necessary.”

David Bain  27:48

That's a great point, and it also actually leads to having a more consistent approach when it comes to publishing a specific type of content. I mean, here at Insights for Professionals, this particular show, for example, is published as a blog post as well. And there's a system for creating a podcast episode, creating a video from that – the blog post and social videos from that – and looking at the metrics from that.

But, if you're not consistent in terms of the style of content that you produce – maybe if you produce commentary as blog posts and lengthy articles, and you're doing things on an ad hoc basis in terms of what you just feel was right at that moment – you’re not going to have that system in place, then, because you don't have that consistent form of content that you're producing.

Marco Giordano  28:34

Yeah, this is what I mean – especially if you have a multi-channel approach. Because if you create an article, and you want to distribute it as a podcast, as a video, as multiple social media posts, etc., then you need a good strategy – a good approach for doing that. Because what you describe is a system.

David Bain  28:56

I’ve been your host, David Bain. You can find Marco Giordano by searching “Marco Giordano” on LinkedIn or on Twitter. Marco, thanks so much for being on the Strategic Marketing Show.

Marco Giordano  29:05

No problem. The pleasure is mine.

David Bain  29:09

And thank you for listening. Here at IFP, our goal is simple: to connect you with the most relevant information, to help solve your business problems, all in one place. InsightsForProfessionals.com.

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