How to Measure the Social Success of Content Marketing

Content marketing is often a key component of digital marketing strategies. Utilizing social media is frequently a key driver in content marketing success.

Knowing how to measure the impact that social media has on content marketing efforts is of utmost importance if you want to accurately measure success. 

Before you can begin to accurately measure success, you need to ensure that you have accurate data. Without accurate data, you will be looking at a very murky representation of the results. This begins with implementing a robust system to tag all links to your sites content that you put out on social channels.

The process of tagging these links also needs to be ingrained in anyone involved in promoting the content on external sites. Without continuous and proper tagging, you will be left with gaps in your data. This can be done using a simple spreadsheet or by using a more advanced campaign URL tracking tool.

The key piece of tagging links is to make sure there are parameters that can be keyed in on to measure each individual link across various social channels.

Using Google Analytics as an example, there are five parameters that can be used. They are:

  • utm_source
  • utm_campaign
  • utm_medium
  • utm_content
  • utm_term

Utilizing these parameters will allow you to key in on any piece of content and segment it to see exactly which links posted on which sites delivered the best results.

As a very rudimentary example, let’s say you’re trying to generate interest in Product XYZ using content marketing on social channels and have two blog posts that will be used to drive interest.

Each blog post will be promoted on both your Facebook page and Twitter account. By appending the following parameters, you would create four unique URLs that would allow you to track each of the posted links separately in Google Analytics or segment by any combination of the parameters.

Onsite Metrics

Once you have the system in place to ensure proper tagging of URLs, you can begin to analyze onsite metrics related to the content that is promoted in social channels. Utilizing the custom reports feature in Google Analytics is likely the best way to access the data.

You can customize both how you segment and drill in to the data using the various parameters as dimensions as well as customizing which metrics are included in the report. This will provide you with the greatest flexibility in how you view your data.

While you can see metrics such as visits, goal completions, transactions, and revenue in custom reports, there are a few key metrics that are currently unavailable. These metrics are related to assists, which can be critically important especially if content marketing is utilized more heavily at the top of the sales funnel.

Currently, to see assist related metrics, you either have to go through the standard reports or use the API. This makes it a bit more complicated to get all the data you need, but the combined data puts you on the right path to proper measurement of content marketing in social channels. Since the data can’t be combined in a single report in Google Analytics, you will want to export the data to Excel where it can be combined with the relevant offsite metrics.

Offsite Metrics

Now that you’re measuring what is happening on your own site, the next step is to include offsite metrics that come from your posts on the various social channels. Since this post doesn’t get into advanced techniques, I’ll stick to just Facebook and Twitter for the sake of keeping it simple.

Unless you’re using a robust social media analytics tool, it will be a bit of a manual process to pull the data you need. Also, the process will vary slightly between Facebook and Twitter.

For starters, you need to keep a list of all your posts and tweets that contain links back to your sites content. This will allow you to go back to those posts and tweets and pull performance related metrics for each of them and then tie that data in with the related Google Analytics data. Doing so will provide a fairly complete picture of how the content that you share on social channels performs both on and off your site.

A variety of metrics are available for the posts and tweets related to the promotion of your sites content that can be tracked, but I’ll stick to two fairly simple categories. The two categories are exposure and engagement, which should be tracked for each individual post or tweet that directs people to your sites content.

Exposure

Exposure is fairly straightforward for Facebook since Facebook Insights provides it to you as the reach number at the post level. Since you have been keeping a list of posts that have links pointing people to your sites content, it’s just a matter of pulling the reach number for each relevant post.

Twitter, however, isn’t that easy. As of now, Twitter doesn’t provide the number of people who have been exposed to your tweets.

While admittedly quite flawed, one way to estimate an exposure figure for your tweets would be to take the sum of your followers and the followers of anyone who retweeted your original tweet. Tthis is a very rough estimate as there’s no way to know which of your followers saw the tweet, who may have seen it as a result of hashtags that you used, or anyone else who may have come across the tweet through other means.

Engagement

The second offsite metric category is engagement which can be broken down into three sub-categories – communications, endorsements, and distributions.

  • Communications: For Facebook, communications is the number of comments received on your post. It is easily retrieved from Facebook Insights by clicking on the number value listed in the Talking About This column of the Page Posts section. For Twitter, the communications value is the number of replies received. To retrieve these values manually, you will have to go through and find each relevant tweet and count the number of replies.
  • Endorsements: Endorsements are likes in Facebook and favorites in Twitter. While they aren’t exactly apples to apples, they are both indications that the individual enjoyed your post or tweet. To get the metric value in Facebook Insights, you again click on the number value listed in the Talking About This column of the Page Posts section. Twitter is again a more manual process since you have to go through and find each individual tweet that is relevant and pull the number of times that it was marked as a favorite.
  • Distributions: Shares and retweets represent distributions on Facebook and Twitter respectively. Just like with communications and endorsements, distributions is retrieved in Facebook by going to the Page Posts section and clicking on the number value for the relevant tweet in the Talking About This column. In Twitter, you again have to go find each relevant tweet and document the number of retweets that were generated.

Once you have all the data, you can compile it in a simple spreadsheet that tracks the performance each piece of content. The table below is an example of how the data could be brought together in a spreadsheet. Once the data is in place, you can then utilize pivot tables in Excel to segment or key in on any combination of the first five columns.

content-marketing-success-spreadsheet

While this manual process can be quite tedious and time intensive, it’s a starting point which can be used to begin to understand the impact that social channels have on content marketing. Robust social media analytics tools can automate this process for you, so once value is proven, it is likely worthwhile to look into the options that are available to you.

Regardless of if you measure using a manual process or with an automated tool, the key is to make sure you’re measuring results as accurately as you possibly can. Without proper measurement you will otherwise be left guessing and it’s hard to justify the impact that social media has on content marketing if you don’t have the data to back it up.

10 SEO Considerations for a Content Management System

Solving content management system (CMS) issues is one of the 10 most important lessonsSEO professionals need to learn. Let’s explore from an SEO perspective the 10 issues that are the most important watch items when considering a CMS, as well as address some of the functionality that you should look for when evaluating the SEO-friendliness of a CMS. 

1. Must be Able to Customize Page Titles, Meta Data

Any good CMS should allow for customization of:

  • Page title
  • Meta description tag
  • Meta keyword tag
  • H tags

All of these fields should be able to be independent of one another (H1 not based on Page Title, etc) if desired even if the default behavior does make them dependant. The option should be available to customize any of these fields without a character limitation. However, there should also be a capability to auto populate these fields based on custom rules in order to automate the population of these fields if necessary.

2. Drop-Down Navigation Menus Built in CSS

Drop-down navigation menus are very important internal link structures that contribute to SEO performance. They serve as votes of relevancy from every page of your site back to your most important pages. It’s critical that search engines can index them.

Ensure that your drop-down menus aren’t built using JavaScript, Flash, or JQuery but rather that they are built using CSS. While it is possible for Google to index some JavaScript menus, it’s recommended that you avoid JavaScript based navigation menus as most engines can’t process these and even Google can have issues with them, depending on how they are coded.

Also make sure that you can customize the link text in your drop down menus and that the link text is not dependant on the title of the page that it points to.

As a side note, this also applies to old school JavaScript selector menus that are indexed as text and not links.

3. URL Structure

Ensuring that your CMS system is capable of producing SEO-friendly URLs is a must. It is preferable but not required that you are able to create static, keyword focused URLs (for example http://www.domain.com/keyword1/keyword2/index.html).

However the biggest issue with CMS systems that must be considered is that they only produce one unique URL for any given page of content. For example, if you have a product page where the URL is dependent on the navigation path, you may have issues if the product appears in more than one category.

Here is an example: I once had a client that sold dresses. A particular dress could be a wedding dress or it could be a prom dress depending on how the user found it on the site. The same dress lived in two locations: http://www.domain.com/wedding/item1.html as well as http://www.domain.com/prom/item1.html. Therefore the same content was displayed on two unique URLs. This system created a lot of duplicate content. The solution was to reconfigure the URL path to the dress to one absolute URL: http://www.domain.com/item1.html.

If your CMS produces multiple URLs for the same page of content, you may have a duplicate content problem. Also, avoid CMS systems that use session IDs or dynamic URLs that change every time they get a new visitor.

4. Support for the rel=canonical Tag

The rel=canonical tag is a great way to prevent many duplicate content issues. It essentially specifies a URL path for any specific page of content.

It is especially useful for anyone using tracking codes on links to track campaigns. If you don’t know what this tag does, please visit this page.

Make sure that your CMS is able to add this tag and customize it on a per page level.

5. XML Sitemap Creation Function

There are actually a number of ways to produce XML sitemaps so this isn’t a deal breaker if a CMS can’t produce an XML sitemap. However, it sure does make life easier if your system can automate the production of your site map.

6. No Frames / Iframes

Search engines have a very difficult time understanding frames and can’t properly index iframe content (the engine will credit the iframe URL and not the URL where the content is actually displayed). CMS systems shouldn’t use frames or rely on frames or iframes for displaying content.

7. 301 Redirects, Not 302

Make sure that any redirects produced by your CMS return a 301 header status code and not a 302 to ensure proper indexing. CMS systems should by default support 301 redirects and avoid 302 redirects or meta refreshes. 301 redirects are the only mechanism that transfers link connectivity metrics from the old URL to the new URL.

302 redirects do not transfer link connectivity metrics and may cause duplicate content problems. To check your redirects, enter a URL that has a direct into the tool on this page.

8. Pagination

In order to consolidate link metrics across multiple product pages that feature the same type of products, it’s useful that your CMS system support the rel=next / rel=prev tags. For more information about the proper use and implementation of these tags, please see this page.

9. Custom Alt Tags

The ability to customize the text of all attributes is a mandatory requirement for your CMS. Search engines see non-linked image alt tags as page content which contributes to the keyword relevancy of the page that the image is hosted on.

Search engines see image alt tags that are links as a replacement for link text. They affect the pages that they are hosted on but have even more impact on the pages that their links point to. Matt Cutts has recommended that alt tags be 4 to 7 words in length.

Note that link title attributes on text links are useful for user experience but don’t impact search.

10. Breadcrumb Navigation

CMS systems should support the customization of breadcrumb navigation. Breadcrumb navigation is very important for user experience as well as link connectivity for pages not found in the Global navigation template.

Breadcrumb navigation can be driven by page titles as a default behavior but should allow for unique, keyword focused customization where appropriate. Additionally, breadcrumb navigation functionality shouldn’t create unique URL paths.

Bonus Recommendation: Supports Microformat Data

A number of data types have specific microformats that increase their visibility in search. Your CMS should support the implementation of these microdata formats.

Microformat data types include:

  • Reviews
  • People
  • Products
  • Businesses and Organizations
  • Recipes
  • Events
  • Videos

Each of these data types has a unique micro data format.

Google provides more detailed information about micro-formats here.

Extra Bonus Recommendation: Avoid Flash

Small Flash elements can be useful in augmenting the appearance of a website, but avoid using Flash to display important content, especially navigation menus, as search engines still don’t index Flash that well.

I have had numerous experiences where someone’s entire site was built in Flash and they have asked me why they don’t show up in search. When I show them Google’s text cache for their homepage and they see a blank page, that’s when the light bulb usually turns on.

Conclusion

Hopefully these watch items give you a better perspective in what to look for when evaluating the SEO-friendliness of a CMS system.

A good CMS can have a dramatic impact on your SEO performance and conversely, a bad CMS can kill your SEO program and any hope you have of success. Take the time to evaluate how yours may be affecting your program.