Guarantee Positive ROI from Content Investment

Simon Penson 7 years ago

The following is a transcript-cum-post of my SES London presentation for the track on delivering great content marketing on a budget. Its focus however is on structuring a process to ensure that whatever you do invest in content return the maximum amount of profit back out again.

I have taken this tack as the assumption is if you are marketing your product of service then it would suggest that you want to grow your business as a result and with it your ability to invest further in that cyclical process.

If you are marketing content then chances are you don't want to be the 'small' guy at all actually. Instead you want to grow a 'targeted audience of value with content' and it is that statement that really sums up what the 'new' content led digital marketing approach is really all about.

With the stranglehold on the distribution channel now wrestled completely from print, radio and television to a lesser degree all brands now have the ability to play 'publisher' and create their own audiences using the content they create. This change has massive ramifications for the future of all marketing as the power, and responsibility of content creation is now in the hands of all instead of the 'expert' few of the past.

How do we capitalise?

The above is the key question then on everyone's lips and the answer is that intrinsically you do not need a huge budget to prosper. A content-led approach requires one thing - great ideas delivered consistently over time - and that process starts with one thing; a great singular, or collective, mind.

In reality a digital content approach actually requires both left brain 'logic' and right brain 'creativity' to really prove impactful and below we run through a few of the processes and techniques we use to make sure we maximise the input from both.


To execute a quality content led plan the reality is you will really need a 'team' in place to bring the various skill sets necessary to the table. And that means marrying right brain creatives:

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With left brain logic. As you can imagine socially that is challenging!

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But....there is a way!

The 'Creatives'

Right brain led team members are really the heartbeat of any content strategy. In experience, however, to ensure you get the most out of those talents solid structure is required to avoid sidetracking and to capture every ounce of value.

It's for this reason that we created the Zazzle Idea Creation process; as a way of adding structure to the regular idea meets we hold for client content plans. Below you can see how we break up the time into specific conversations around particular 'pillars':

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Each segment is designed to tap into particular channels from which new ideas can be created - everything from brainstorming around different content types, such as infographics, posts, ebooks etc to creating ideas for existing marketing personas ensures we leave no stone unturned.

Also amongst those pillars is work on how to extract value from the move towards semantic web. As I have written about previously, semantics will be playing a much larger part in the digital marketing mix in the coming years and pulling it into your strategy going forwards will ensure you stay ahead of the curve. Tools such as the LSIKeyword tool can help you easily discover semantically relevant phrases, from which you can brainstorm ideas for content around.

We also use learnings from the world of magazines to reverse engineer great content flow once we have all the ideas down on paper. This helps us to organise that content into a consistent and engaging 'flow' of interesting and varied 'stuff' that will improve return visit percentages.

Left Brain Logic

We have worked really hard to create a balanced team of skill sets at Zazzle and as a result we now have the ability to call on a wide range of skill sets - from technical SEO and web development, through to data analysis on the 'left' side of the process.

The key is for you to ensure you have access to similar skills so you can make the most of any content investment.

Why is this so important? In simple terms it is all to do with the distribution channel. Until this point those channels had been controlled by specialist companies that managed the printing of newspaper and magazines and subsequent delivery of that printed matter to the outlets we all purchase from. That 'process' is now in our hands but that doesn't mean we have moved to a 'build it and they will come' model.
Instead we have to work hard on two specific areas:

1. Ensuring the platform we distribute our content through is 'fit for purpose'
2. We know how to find the right digital influencers to leverage their reach and ensure it reaches its intended audience.

What does this mean in practice? As we know the core principles of good technical 'SEO', or optimisation still very much have a part to play in the overall process. Panda has made the understanding of indexation and technical duplication critical in the quest for good search visibility.

The 'left brain' team members will ensure that all of this is managed, while also ensuring that the creatives do not miss any opportunity. A key characteristic of left brain led people is (usually) a detail orientated approach. If you are unsure as to which side of the fence your team members fall into then I recommend running Myers Briggs and MBTI Personality Types tests for everyone involved in the process to really define strengths and weaknesses.

Social Data

One other area very much worth investigating as part of the content strategy piece is social data. While this post/presentation is not a how to on doing this (that is on its way!) it is certainly worthy of mention. We have been investing heavily in social data mining tool creation in recent months as the data sat behind Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest etc gives unprecedented insight into our audiences.

As an example we mined for a major drinks brand page. By looking at what else their Facebook audience Liked we discovered a huge correlation between the brand and skincare brands. This has really interesting output as far as the content those people may also be interested in!

We have also learned over recent months that when it comes to influencer outreach the left brainers can really add significant value. Initially we left the target list creation to our content team but really moved the needle when we brought in our developer-focused guys. They very quickly created tools to make the process more effective and efficient and as a result we were able to successfully place 15% more content for the same hours spent. The lesson: get everyone involved in every process initially.

The tech team is then also very good at organising the ideas and I have written before about how we go about planning content. The detail-orientated nature of our left brain team means we get every aspect right and a process in place that ensures we deliver a consistent and engaging brand message via awesome content.

Ensuring people find it

Again, while this is not a presentation/post about outreach, marketing content is a critical component of the process and so it is important to share a little extra insight into the tips and tricks we have tested and found deliver extra traction.

One of those is very much the influencer discovery piece and as mentioned above we have worked hard to create a tool that allows us to mine targeted data effectively to find the right people. Sure we use Followerwonk and the host of other tools out there but at the centre of it lies the Black Hat SEO's best friend - Scrapebox - a tool that is responsible for the majority of comment spam you receive!

In the right hands, however, it is a really powerful tool to collect domains and contact detail for very specific searches. We modify to ensure we end up with huge lists of potential target sites picked based on everything from domain metrics to mentions of guest contributions and back again.

We then also use such techniques as analysing competitor backlinks using CognitiveSEO's segmentation by website type, allowing us to look at our competitor's latest links from blogs.

This can be coupled with conversion tactics such as the investigation of existing content on target sites to discover the most shared topics. This is easy to do using tools such as Crawlytics or Audience Wise's Shares By URL. Knowing this gives you a powerful communication point from which you can suggest follow up pieces based on the knowledge that the initial piece was the most popular on their site.

One final thing worth considering is Facebook content amplification. Get the targeting right and you can very easily push specific content in front of tens of thousands of the right people. In practice it has worked brilliantly at times for us as part of a wider marketing campaign.

Measuring it

Within the deck I have also shared a couple of custom reports we then set up to help track the value of all content created. Both on and off page. Many marketers know this is important but then gloss over the finer detail. This is a tragedy when it comes to content as often the up front investment is high in either resource or monetary terms and the ROI can easily be miss measured if not thought about from the very beginning.

Agreeing KPIs and understanding the various user journeys to get to conversion is key from the outset as it then allow you to set up event or goal tracking in Analytics so you can monitor performance in real time and throw more budget at particular tactics mid-campaign should you see it working.

The final point
While it may seem obvious the single biggest barrier to a successful content led campaign is top level measurement of value. In a world where we are used to immediate return content sits a little uncomfortably as it is very much a long term marketing approach. Even traditional SEO would be viewed as a short term ROI tactic in comparison. Why? Simply because you are attempting to not simply win a customer for a single-transaction relationship but for life. The point of a content led approach is that lifetime values are huge as you are creating a brand, a reason for those people to associate themselves with you and keep coming back for more.

In the example I gave it took 20 months for ROI to match that of paid search but by the time we were three years along the line we were getting 3.2 times the number of leads for the same cost. It pays, therefore, to stick at it!


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