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Our Content Marketing Survey, held in the autumn of 2020, revealed the top 3 challenges faced by content marketers. These perfectly correlated with the sales funnel stages:

  • Creating content that drives traffic — top of the funnel
  • Keeping the target audience engaged — middle of the funnel
  • Generating quality leads — bottom of the funnel

The question is: How do we address these challenges when Covid-19 has shifted our approach to assessing content performance and doing business in general?

One of the biggest challenges I have is that year-on-year analysis is really difficult right now, as we’re just getting to the point of where the pandemic hit. Our ability to see how things are changing and evolving is challenging.

Judith Lewis

As you can see, we asked the industry experts! At a recent AMA webinar, Andy Crestodina (Orbit Media Studios), Keith Reynolds (, and Judith Lewis (Decabbit Consultancy) discussed the above challenges and shared some ideas on how to solve them in 2021. 

Read on to find out how the pandemic transformed the content marketing funnel and what data and metrics can help you keep it optimized. 

Content Funnel Optimization 2021

Top of the Funnel: Put on a Detective’s Hat

Right now, people are looking for what is relevant to them at the moment, and a lot of our evergreen content from 2019 and before isn’t evergreen anymore.

Judith Lewis

47% of our survey respondents listed attracting traffic as a major challenge, and it will only get tougher. The number of internet users has increased due to the pandemic, as well as the time people spend online. But user behavior in search is quickly evolving, including the content types, topics, and formats people tend to go for, directly affecting organic search strategies. 

As the global situation changes more quickly than ever, content marketers need to strategize their efforts and become more flexible. For example, the Digital 2020 April Global Statshot Report found that people were actively seeking out more ‘how-to’ videos and tutorial content during lockdowns, as uncertainty was growing. 

If you still plan to write with search intent in mind, you’ll have to undertake a thorough investigation of your audience and possibly redo your keyword research and content plans from scratch. 

  1. Start by evaluating how your users behave on your website and other platforms, what content they consume, what their current buyer journey looks like, and what impact content has on it. 
  2. Next, check if your keywords’ search volume has changed, if you still rank for those you targeted before the pandemic, and if you still want to target the same keywords at all.
  3. Then, review your editorial plan and prepare to repeat this process a number of times, based on month-on-month and even week-on-week data.

Key tips on getting more relevant organic traffic in 2021:

  • Base your content decisions on the most recent buyer journey and user behavior data. Don’t limit it to only looking at keywords, and do your best to truly understand your customers.
  • Opt for long-tail keywords and analyze user intent by looking at the content that ranks at the top of the SERPs for your target keywords.
  • Evaluate traffic quality and user behavior for each channel to detect a potential mismatch between your target audience and customers landing on your pages. For example, users coming from display ads may act very differently from those finding you in search.

Middle of the Funnel: Deliver a Better Experience

Instead of having a blog that just has a list of articles, think of it as a multimedia magazine. Not only will your customers find it more convenient than having to go to a YouTube channel, and your events page, and your blog …You should eliminate the word ‘blog’ and give it a name, you know, your North Star, and then connect with the customer through the name of your blog. Then connect your events, your webinars, your interviews, and storytelling about your customers — all in one place.

Keith Reynolds

43% of content marketers admitted that creating content that resonates with their audiences was a big challenge. Now, when most marketing communications have been pushed further online, and attention spans are getting shorter, it’s becoming even harder to compete.

Solving your customers’ problems is key, but it might not be enough anymore. People are looking for brands with which they share common values and lifestyles. 

  1. Be ready to leverage the entire company’s efforts to design content experiences your audience deserves. Involve your customer-facing teams — from Sales to Customer Success — and all other business units in brainstorming and content creation. You shouldn’t underestimate the value of the insights you’ll be able to collect. Today, everyone should be part of your content marketing strategy.
  2. Next, combine this qualitative knowledge with data gathered from multiple sources. Create a clear structure of metrics you will use for each content type and funnel stage. For instance, some brands build predictive models or use advanced end-to-end analytics to navigate this ever-changing environment.
  3. Incorporate all of these findings into your editorial calendar and your content optimization efforts. Don’t plan too much ahead and make ad-hoc formats and even newsjacking part of your strategy.

Key tips for engaging your audiences with content:

  • Diversify your content and focus on the user experience. Get creative with content formats and start thinking beyond blogs and webinars. For example, use tools like Ceros to design interactive and immersive content instead of boring PDFs.
  • Make your content analytics process ongoing and agile. Consider introducing automation to analyze your content performance in real time.
  • Design a process for a monthly content audit to make sure what you publish reflects your audience’s current reality.

Bottom of the Funnel: Work Smart Rather Than Hard

If you’re unsure whether a blog post is going to convert, but it’s going to assist in brand affinity, you’ll just be looking at a non-converting blog post.”

Judith Lewis

51% of our respondents found it difficult to generate leads with content. Why so many? Because the path from awareness to consideration has quite a few barriers. And, the more marketing messages an average user gets in a day, the harder it is to design and manage these paths.

Creating the so-called lead magnets is a part of the solution. But, to incentivize the desired action, these should offer exactly what your customers want — at the right time and in the right place. This brings us back to the importance of understanding the user journey and building your content marketing funnel around it. For example, if a piece of content wasn’t created with lead generation in mind, simply adding a CTA may not be enough.

  1. To see the big picture, analyze your content and its historical performance in thematic clusters. Group your similar posts together under common topics, gather your data on blog performance, and align your content creators and other stakeholders on the insights you’ve gathered. Then, stop focusing your efforts on content and content themes that don’t generate business results.
  2. Use the data gathered during this analysis to decide which lead magnets to create. For instance, if you see a thematic group of blog posts constantly outperforming in traffic and leads, you might want to repurpose some of them into a BOFU (bottom of the funnel) content offer.
  3. Personalize your content. Use your audience insights and run A/B experiments to produce segmented content offers to appeal to each of your prospects.

Key tips for optimizing your content funnel to generate leads:

  • Attribute a specific and measurable goal to each content piece, make sure you do your best to achieve those goals (e.g. by adding Calls To Action, links, and nurturing workflows), and start tracking them. 
  • Produce enough content for each funnel stage, create conversion paths and smoothly take your users through the buyer journey.
  • Use predictive modeling to detect content that already converts well and ensure a stable traffic flow to this content. You might also want to make sure that your sales teams know about this content.

Finding the Content Performance Metrics that Really Matter

With great data comes great responsibility. As soon as you understand what your audience wants, it’s time to find the right metrics to measure whether your content is valuable enough.

Even though collecting quantitative data is an essential part of content performance measurement, most individual metrics are meaningless out of the context of their impact on your business goals.

Four Common Content Performance Myths Busted by Our Experts

  1. Myth 1: Bounce rate is an important metric for all types of content. The importance of bounce rates depends on the page type and the traffic source. There’s also no correlation between the bounce rate and an article’s rankings. While this metric is not very helpful in assessing blog posts and other pages attracting organic traffic, it works well for pay-per-click and product landing pages.
  2. Myth 2: A higher word count guarantees better rankings. It’s often thought that longer content tends to rank for more keywords simply because there are more words in it. In reality, though, to achieve good results, you still need emotive, connecting copy that is meaningful and tells a story. Long-form content outperforms because it’s comprehensive and covers a topic in depth.
  3. Myth 3: Conversion rate is the only effective way to measure content. Conversion rates are not the only way to judge your content performance, especially at the top and middle of the funnel. For example, you can use your content as a networking and sales enablement tool, e.g., for reaching out to potential podcast guests or writing an article about someone. Conversion rates are generally much higher for users who come from sales pages as opposed to blog posts. Yet, blog posts have many roles to play other than just turning traffic into sales, such as:
  • getting contributor quotes, which help you build your network; 
  • increasing reach on social media; 
  • building links and thus improving your website’s authority score. 
  1. Myth 4: The more views, the better. Views matter, but only when they transform into tangible results. Besides, this metric can’t always tell you the right data story about your audience. Dwell time — especially if it exceeds 8 minutes — can be more critical as it shows if you’ve made the right connections with your customers, which increases the chances of conversions.

Content Analytics Tools to Have at Hand

It’s part art and part science — researching what the customer goals are and then coming up with a ‘north star’ idea and an editorial strategy to support that. Then, using reporting and analysis as a follow-up to keep improving on what you have.

Keith Reynolds

Having enough data and being able to understand what the statistics are saying are two different things. You can rely on your intuition, but professional content analytics requires the right tools, techniques, and templates that can let you spot meaningful patterns and jump on the revealed opportunities. 

Here are the analytics tools our experts recommend using:

  • Google Search Console provides useful keyword data and helps you to find out what people are looking for and which headlines give your content an emotional hook that will resonate with the target audience. 
  • Hotjar lets you understand how users are moving through your website, visualizes their behavior, and shows you where attention drops. 
  • Google Analytics shows how people are behaving on your website and where they click once they arrive. 
  • ImpactHero breaks down all existing website content by funnel stages, detects highly — and poorly — performing pieces and formats, and offers actionable insights on promoting content via different channels and improving its performance. 

While you can use the performance data available through Google and other tools in a myriad of ways, you will always benefit from a solution that can collect and analyze information automatically, return metrics, and provide recommendations specific to content marketing.

Final Words

Google Analytics doesn’t immediately show us the insights. You’ve gotta dig for them, right?

Andy Crestodina

As you can see, the pandemic crisis has changed the ways brands build their content marketing strategies and measure their results. This in turn increased the need for advanced content analytics that can help continually track, analyze, and optimize your content performance by funnel stage. 

To understand your customers and their needs, you should focus on the holistic buyer journey and design content for each stage and touchpoint. Leveraging a data-driven approach to optimizing your content funnel is the key to success in 2021 and beyond.

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