Remember when you were a kid and you invited your class to a party? Do you remember anxiously wondering, “Will they come? How many will show up?” And then, as if by magic, the doorbell rings and, one after another, in they come… and it’s party time.
I recently attended CMW Sydney and had the opportunity to learn, share and discuss insights on content marketing and native advertisement. I began noticing a common theme across those conversations – a tendency to focus on questions like, “How do I get traffic?” and “How much traffic will I see?”
Similar to the birthday boy, people were focused on turnout rather than the actual party. However, in reality, traffic is the easiest problem you’ll need to solve. The real question is, what happens with your audience once they are on your site? Finding ways to maximize engagement and retention to meet your business goals – THAT’s the real challenge.
Leading a horse to water
I realize that getting traffic could seem difficult, so let me explain why I think getting traffic is easy…
As the saying goes, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” Paid traffic acquisition solutions allow you to seed your content online and guarantee your content gets in front of people when they research the web (Search), when they connect with friends and family (Social), or when they simply view videos and read articles (Discovery), which is the space in which Outbrain operates. All those online behaviors and platforms let you seed and promote your content, usually on a CPC basis.
To make a smart traffic acquisition, you need to address the following questions:
• How much traffic do you need?
• How much will it cost?
• Which channel brings in the ‘best’ traffic?
Of these three questions, I find the third one the most interesting because of the subjective definition of ‘best’, which can mean different things to different content creators. We’ll dive deeper into that as we touch on measuring audience behaviour later in this post.
But hang on a minute… what about free traffic?
Ideally, you’ll gain some free traffic as viewers share your content through social channels (here’s some recent MS research about viral content). Unfortunately, viral is impossible to predict, and as such you can’t bank on your content being so good that people organically share it with friends and it goes viral overnight.
Hence, traffic acquisition is an easy problem to solve, because you can pay to solve it. However, it’s up to you to engage and maximize reader experience. The Beatles said it best: “Money can’t buy me love”. You can buy traffic, but you can’t buy engagement.
Engagement strategy: work that post-click magic
A small budget can get your site thousands of new visitors each month, from people who click on your links as they come up in search, social and content discovery channels. But the click is the least interesting part of it all; what happens after the click is so much more important.
An engagement strategy is where you define how to leverage and maximize the audience you’ve acquired. This starts with one of the most basic, yet most difficult, questions: “What are you trying to achieve?”
There are many resources available online regarding content marketing KPIs and measurements that I’m not going to get into right now. However, regardless of which KPIs you choose to measure, if your audience doesn’t engage with your content, you’ll struggle to meet those KPIs. This means that defining and designing for engagement is critical to your content marketing strategy. How do you design a post-click magic experience that surprises, delights and keeps your audience coming back, while making it as easy as possible for them to share your content with friends?
Here are a few key points to consider:
• Consumption – Help readers discover and enjoy as much content as possible on your site. Their journey on your site doesn’t have to end with the article they first clicked to read. Design pages with the aim of gaining multiple page views per session. Promote and suggest additional content from every page on your site based on real interest and not just based on comments, related content, social shares, metrics, etc.
• Retention Now that you’ve paid to bring viewers to your site, be sure to make it easy for them to discover new content you produce. Make it easy for your audience to sign up for RSS feeds and newsletter subscriptions, or to connect with you on social networks.
• Social impact Design your site to streamline social sharing, so that viewers can easily share it with friends and other like-minded people. Keep in mind that most social sharing is done on mobile devices, so make certain to serve your content differently for different devices.
Don’t fly blind:
These days, there’s a lot of talk about brands becoming publishers. If brands are going to create and publish content effectively, they need to watch what publishers do, so that they can learn how to increase engagement and grow their audience. This starts with diving deep into measuring, analyzing and fine-tuning your site to drive the behaviours that your business needs to succeed. Without measurements, you are effectively flying blind on what your next step should be and you resort to guessing. This eConsultancy article does a good job of covering the wide spectrum of KPIs you can set in your analytics system to measure engagement.
When it comes to channels you use for paid traffic, make sure every source is tagged properly so you can evaluate the effectiveness and behaviour properties of the audience coming from that channel against your KPIs.
In addition to engagement metrics, other meta-data that can provide insight on different channels include:
• What time of day are visitors coming in?
• What type of device are they using?
• What browser are they using?
Finally, if you’re not already following Occam’s Razor, by Avinash Kaushik, make sure you do, as it contains invaluable tips on all things analytics.
To sum up, then:
• Traffic can be easily and affordably achieved through paid channels such as search, social and discovery.
• Focus on engagement and on what happens after the click. Design your site with engagement in mind. Load time and first impressions make a world of difference. Simplify and streamline consumption, retention and social impact – this, in turn, will also drive SEO benefits.
• Become a web analytics pro. Set up your reporting and analytics system to aggregate data and meta-data. This data allows you to drive deep insights and fine-tune your efforts going forward.
Image courtesy of Justin Wise on Flickr