Rand hates the phrase “high-quality content.” Quality is entirely subjective. And because it’s subjective, it’s impossible to measure, let alone find agreed-upon standards.
Here’s an example: Remember that Ted Lasso Season 2 episode, Beard After Hours? Rand thought it was art while Casey thought it was drivel. (I have the least helpful opinion here which is that I thought it was fine. A fun slice of life, but it felt like wasted time in not seeing the overall plot move forward.)
That might be an example of “quality” being subjective. Although I think that’s a better example of style. Would I say that “Beard After Hours” was incredible on a stylistic level? Absolutely. But did I love it? Like I said, totally unhelpful; it was cool, I guess.
Now when it comes to content marketing, I think you actually can have agreed upon standards for what makes something “high-quality.” As a not-classically-trained marketer, quality is something that has always guided my process, which I’ll outline below.
For starters, keyword research was never my first step. Instead, I started with audience research and social monitoring. I’d consume the content my audience consumed and then I created content on the ideas they might be thinking about next. Or I kept up with the social media chatter and tapped into the top-of-mind trends. Every now and then I’d get lucky when I was able to tie that into a high-volume search term.
I don’t think my process made a lot of sense to my past bosses. But they didn’t complain because 1) I was productive and 2) I drove business results even if I didn’t always drive SEO results.
These results were driven by quality content gauged by several key performance indicators that we’ll get to later in this article.
Here’s my process:
Always Tie Content Goals to Business Goals
I’ve always tied content goals to business goals. I do this by connecting content to broader marketing goals, and then by extension, the overall business goals. Fortunately, the marketing funnel can help us visualize this process. Here are some examples using common business goals:
- Increase revenue. Certainly, creating lead magnets to attract people in a target market is only one way to work towards increasing revenue. Lead magnets can be anything from a thoughtfully researched white paper to a highly-sought template — a classic partnership between Content Marketing and Demand Generation.
- Improve customer satisfaction. If the entire company is working to improve satisfaction, it’s the marketing team that will focus on customer retention. The Lifecycle team might focus on nurture campaigns for repeat buyers or win-back campaigns for customers who have churned. Content Marketing can work with Product Marketing to identify customers at risk of churning, and then write guides to help customers maximize value of the product. These guides can also be used in Lifecycle campaigns.
- Reduce costs. As the company works to reduce spend across all departments, the marketing team might try to reduce their customer acquisition costs. One way to take this down to content marketing and be more economical about creating is to use examples from your most loyal customers. Create tutorials substantiated by user-generated content. Develop a case study and ask the customer if they can be on-deck to speak to reporters. Then those customers you build the strongest relationships with? Invite them to your Customer Advisory Board where they’ll get to beta test new products and features. Check all the boxes across the Growth, Lifecycle, PR, and Product Marketing teams.
If you think about how content can serve your business, you’ll elevate your thinking beyond the typical content metrics. You’ll end up scoring short-term wins and alignment across your marketing team, and your content will serve multiple business stakeholders.
Gauge Success With New KPIs
Page views, keyword rank, and search rank are all things you can (and probably should) keep an eye on. But they’re just a means to an end. They can help you stay on track as you keep the big picture of business growth in mind. (Of course: If you secure a top 3 ranking for a highly sought-after keyword, you definitely deserve your kudos!)
As I’ve looked at tons of successful content pieces — from blogs to podcasts to courses and more — I’ve homed in on six KPIs that are possible to keep tabs on:
1. Off-platform shares
It’s one thing to track engagement on a LinkedIn post directly on LinkedIn. It’s another to see whether your content is shared or engaged with off that platform. This could be as simple as a viral tweet that’s posted on Instagram. It’s your blog post that’s shared across several social networks. Or maybe an old friend pinged you to say that their co-workers shared your ebook in the company Slack.
Frustratingly, though, you can’t track this. Even if you were looking at social media referral traffic, you’d be drastically undercounting the referrals. None of those Slack, TikTok, WhatsApp, Discord or Mastodon shares will show up in your Google Analytics. And you’d only see a portion of correct attribution from Instagram messages, LinkedIn messages and posts, Pinterest posts, Reddit posts, and Twitter messages.
But if you’re leveraging social listening and generally keeping a pulse on your audience, you’ll catch at least some of the off-platform shares.
2. Quality of discussions
Social media chatter. Literal chatter at events. The live chat in your webinar. Heck, maybe it’s even a thoughtful reply to one of your email newsletters.
(Note: My earlier blog post, “Maybe You Need a Fractional Marketing Director — Not a Fractional CMO” incorporated quotes from three folks in the SparkToro community. These quotes were sourced entirely by thoughtful, asynchronous discussions over email, where these marketing leaders replied to one of our newsletters.)
If you’re inspiring thought-provoking questions, participating in nuanced discussions, and fostering relationships within your community, there’s a good chance your content is pretty darn good.
3. Adoptions and copycats
If folks in your industry are copying you or adopting your way of thinking, that’s a great sign. That’s your content’s influence in action.
I knew I was onto something last summer when I wrote about zero-click content. But I didn’t know for certain until the marketing community started embracing it, and it even found its way into job descriptions. (Sadly, I forgot to take a screenshot of this.) Similarly, there’s also:
- Khe Hy’s notion of “$10k work” to describe your most meaningful, highest leverage activities. This concept powers his successful productivity course in which he helps you uncover your lowest leverage (or $10) activities, and how to focus on those $10k tasks.
- Katelyn Bourgoin and Demand Curve’s Un-ignorable challenge where they implore and teach you to become “un-ignorable.”
- And of course, Forget the Funnel’s “customer-led growth framework,” one that founders Gia Laudi and Claire Suellentrop literally wrote the book on.
All of those examples show a method or way of thinking that have resulted in cult-like adoption.
4. Two or more stakeholder goals met
The most robust content programs are meeting two or more marketing or business stakeholder goals. But you don’t need a historic blog or years of published content to accomplish this.
You could look at brands in highly commoditized industries. A brand like the Sill is in the competitive space of plant care, and this team is economical about their content choices. All their content feeds the various marketing programs: their plant care library serves as a customer support function; their Plant Care 101 course grows their email list; and their blog fulfills search queries. Customer marketing, growth, and SEO for the win.
Or you could look at category creators. Zapier’s blog isn’t just about productivity; it’s full of product tutorials with direct links to their automations or “zaps” that you can click and make your own. It’s product-led SEO done right, where all the goals of brand/product awareness, customer acquisition, and customer retention intersect.
These brands’ content isn’t “high quality” because they look nice. They’re high-quality because they’re useful enough to be repurposed across multiple business functions.
5. New programs inspired
Just about all the content we create at SparkToro is some form of a test. For each piece we publish, we gauge how our community and the broader marketing community responds. Then we work on the next step.
Our Office Hours series first sprung out of the demand for demos of our tool. But if we positioned this as a mere demo, there would be no reason for people to keep coming back. Instead, we present on marketing strategy, incorporating SparkToros’s capabilities where it’s most salient. Over time, we’ve seen that the repeat attendees blossomed into a sort of decentralized community. Folks started answering each other’s questions, and we would receive great follow-up questions over email. We knew we had something special — which gave way to our virtual summit, SparkTogether.
Based on raw signups (sometimes well over 1,000 per episode), we knew SparkToro Office Hours was a success. But that it birthed a whole new virtual event was a clearer signal about the quality of our content.
Other examples of content inspiring new programs:
- Masterclass’s product became their SEO content: Perhaps this is an unfair advantage because Masterclass’s product is content. But they’ve taken this to a new level by turning the content from their courses into articles that rank for high-volume keywords. A literal masterclass in reaping the benefits of the expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness of their teachers.
- Databox embraces personal brands: If you’re a marketer on LinkedIn, you’ve almost certainly heard of Databox. Not only is Databox the producer of the Metrics & Chill podcast, but their content crosses over the Databox accounts, into the personal pages of employees John Bonini, Jeremiah Rizzo, and of course, CEO Peter Caputa. It’s a solid distribution strategy that also nurtures the personal brands of the people who work at Databox.
- Masters of Scale podcast gave way to annual summit: The popular business podcast hosted by Reid Hoffman has transcended an audio show and become a huge event with speakers like Bill Gates, Ron Howard, Tyra Banks, and many more. (I know, you’re rolling your eyes, “Yeah, right, it’s easy for a billionaire to host a successful podcast.” Noted. But Hoffman himself doesn’t produce the show. WaitWhat does.)
6. Is economical
Being economical about your content efforts is the other side of the coin in ensuring your content fulfills the goals of other marketing stakeholders. If you’re using one piece of content to power two marketing functions, then you’re already getting a lot of bang for that buck.
Economical spending is worth breaking out as a KPI because content creation is expensive. If you hire a freelancer to write a $3,000 white paper for you, you sure as heck should make sure you’re milking that content for all its worth. Some ideas:
- Can you take one or more of the findings and position it alongside a case study? Your case study is the shining example, and that white paper backs it up with substance.
- Can you break out multiple facts or stats to use as zero-click content for your social media channels?
- Can you home in on just one key idea from that paper, and re-write it into its own blog post? (Another zero-click win!)
- Is there an accompanying step-by-step guide that aligns thematically with that white paper? That can be its own separate ebook, or maybe it serves as a self-paced course, dripped out over two weeks of email.
So strive for economical. If it takes time to see the ROI of a meaty project like a white paper, you can play up the quick win with the intention that that piece of content will be used multiple times across marketing functions and channels.
There is one caveat in all this…
Among all these six KPIs, there is one caveat: the first three of those KPIs are things you can watch unfold if and when they occur. The latter three are the ones within your control.
Tie your content creation efforts to your business goals. Along the way, gauge quality and success by focusing on those latter KPIs. Strive for what’s in your control and you’re likely to have a successful content program.
Just be sure to track the kudos that’s out of your control — because you deserve credit for that too.
And if you have a strong point of view on “Beard After Hours,” feel free to sound off below.