Data: The most valuable (but little understood) benefit of content marketing

Data - valuable benefit of content marketing

Content marketing has received a lot of coverage in the business media and blogosphere for its power to cultivate strong relationships with current and prospective customers. What many people don’t realize, however, is that it generates a wealth of data that can help marketers increase the effectiveness of their content initiatives. From page email opens and web page visits to click-throughs and downloads, today’s marketers have access to a mountain of data they can use to increase their effectiveness.

There’s no excuse for making content strategy decisions based on hunches any more.

What can this data reveal?

Content engagement data can provide you with a wealth of useful insights, which you can use minimize waste and focus your scarce time and resources, justify your investment in content marketing and identify new opportunities.

Here are some of the ways in which savvy content marketers are using data generated by their content initiatives to significantly improve their effectiveness. Which one can you adapt to your needs?

  • Identify content that has received the greatest engagement from your audience, which you can repurpose or expand upon to extend its life
  • Measure which variations of content are most popular with your target audience (A/B testing)?
  • Measure sign up and conversion rates on landing pages
  • Understand which topics and content formats are most popular with your target audience
    Identify the best times and social channels for publishing your content
  • Track the behavior of visitors as they return to your website
  • Identify the influencers you should connect with to help amplify your messages to a larger audience
  • Develop more accurate profiles of your target audience – based on the behavior their engagement data reveals
  • Identify popular pieces of content that could reach a larger audience via native advertising or paid promotion
  • Make the case for scaling back or eliminating content types that are not getting adequate engagement (everyone has their “pet” project that they will defend to the death. Data can help you justify the death of these unproductive content projects).
  • Create personalized experiences for key prospects and customers.
  • Develop rich storytelling opportunities from the data you’ve collected and the inferences you can draw from it.
  • Track the performance of your guest posts and external content, to help you zero in on the best platforms where you can share your expertise.
  • Identify your marketing staff or outside contributors whose articles get the greatest engagement, and have your other contributors seek to emulate his or her writing and storytelling style.
  • Refine the topics you’re writing about to better focus on the needs of your target audience.
  • Determine the optimum length of content that resonates with your target audience.
  • Measure and compare the number of leads and inquiries generated by each marketing channel. Focus on those that deliver the best ROI.
  • Create content or reports based upon the data you have compiled. Companies like Uber, Mint, OKCupid and Optimizely do a masterful job of this.
  • Tailor your content strategy to accommodate evolving customer trends.

As you can see, there are a wealth of ways in which you can use data to enhance your content marketing initiative. But don’t get overwhelmed by all of the possibilities. Pick several that are aligned with your marketing priorities and use the insights you gain to increase the effectiveness of your customer communication. Then select the next group and repeat this process.

Opt-in lists, are they really better?

This is a question that we always discuss with our clients before embarking on an email marketing program.  The short answer is yes, but opt-in can mean different things to different people, so let’s start by quickly reviewing how the various permission methods work.

Opt-out: These types of lists may contain old, harvested, scraped or purchased email records.  Some we’ve seen were built using bait and switch methods like pre-checking a box on a form to download something like a whitepaper. While technically legal by providing a means to opt-out, this loose compliance to CAN SPAM laws is very risky to the technology infrastructure required for email marketing.

Single Opt-in: This method requires someone to actually fill out and submit a form to join your email list. While better than opt-out, it’s still open to risk for things like SPAM complaints because anyone can sign anyone else up with out their explicit permission.

Confirmed Opt-in: This method adds a layer to single opt-in by sending a triggered thank you / confirmation email as soon as someone joins your list. This follow up email contains a link to unsubscribe from the list.

Double Opt-in: The best practice method for list growth in our opinion. With double opt-in, when someone joins your list a triggered confirmation email is sent that they must click before they are added to your list. When a member confirms this list subscription, their IP address is stored along with the time and date they joined.

Now that we have a better understanding of the various permission methods for email marketing, the question still stands – Does getting permission really make a list perform better? There are very solid arguments on both sides; opponents argue it makes things more difficult to join a list while proponents argue list quality vs. quantity. It’s times like this when I’m reminded of a sign that hangs in an old client’s conference room; “In God We Trust, All Others Bring Data”.

Until recently, data on this subject was hard to dig up unless you had it yourself. I can certainly confirm that double opt-in lists we manage for clients always perform much better, but let’s look at some other cases that people have crunched the numbers on.

This first example comes from MailChimp, an email service provider. They took a random sample of 30,000 users who have sent at least 10 email campaigns with lists that ranged from 500 to 1.5 million. Once the stats were aggregated together they found double opt-in garnered a 72.2% increase in unique opens, and a 114% increase in clicks as compared to single opt-in lists. They also found that double opt-in reduced the hard bounce rate by 48.3%, and have a 7% lower unsubscribe rate.

The second example comes from ClickZ, a resource for interactive marketing information. They analyzed a large house-hold name organization that practices different permission methods in different business units. They analyzed 8 business units that are strictly opt-in and 7 that are strictly opt-out. You can view more in-depth stats here, but again the findings show that the opt-in business units, on average, garnered 82 % higher open rates than those of the opt-out business units.  Click through rates were also greater; on average the opt-in business units saw more than double the click-through rate (3.1%) garnered by the opt-out business units (1.7%).

This last example comes from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society who had rampant deliverability issues due to too many SPAM complaints.  They found that 30% of their list wasn’t getting email because of IP Blocking. On the good advice of their email service provider, they executed a campaign to re-confirm permission.  They saw their list slashed from 33,636 members to only 4,510. Sounds drastic right? By trimming over 29K unengaged list members, they saw SPAM complaints drop from 27 (or 0.51%) per campaign to zero.  Their list’s average open rate also rose from 25.2% to 53.1% and the average click-through rate rose from 6.6% to 21.5%

In today’s changing email landscape, many Email Service Providers require double opt-in to protect their infrastructure and the best interests of the rest of their customers who share IP addresses.  The fact is that successful email marketing today is largely based on maintaining a good sender reputation and clean IP address by keeping your list members engaged, minimizing SPAM complaints and keeping your list free of hard bounces.

So, are you still questioning the need for a permission based email strategy? Let me know about it in the comments section below, on our Google+ page, or on Facebook or Twitter.

Mike