Last October, to coincide with the launch of the Rattleback brand we embarked on a study of serious content marketers. Conceptually, we wanted to build a better understanding of the value content is creating for their firms. More specifically, we wanted to test a few hypotheses:
- Better packaged content creates more value for a firm.
- Firms that are using marketing automation and other similar technologies to measure their performance derive more value from their efforts.
We released the preliminary findings of our research in a 30-minute webinar last month. In this month’s newsletter, we explore the findings in more detail.
The survey was distributed by email and social media, and 40 firms responded to just over 25 closed-ended and open-ended questions. Respondents came from across the professions including consulting, engineering, accounting and law. While the majority of respondents had less than $50MM in annual revenue, larger firms responded as well. To qualify for the survey, respondents were required to dedicate some portion of their marketing budget to producing and promoting educational content.
Content marketing budgets ranged from less than $25k to over $250k. One of the more interesting findings of the survey was that we found no discernible correlation between budget and performance. In short, small firms are just as likely to get business value from a content marketing effort as large ones – encouraging news for principals of smaller firms.
One of the goals of our survey was to get a better handle on how firms view their website strategy and objectives. Interesting to us was that while every responding firm is utilizing an educationally-oriented, content-driven approach to marketing, 83% of respondents cite “demonstrating experience” as the primary purpose of their site. We found that odd — a strong content program focuses first and foremost on educating clients and showcasing what the firm knows (its expertise) not on documenting what the firm has done (its experience).
At Rattleback, we see “demonstrating experience” as a very passive objective. We feel like a site’s primary objective should be to educate and inform potential clients. And, no surprise to us, the most successful firm in our study was the only firm citing this as the primary objective of their site (more on that later).
Of firms responding to the survey, only 54% are actually using a content management system. Of those that do, 44% are using the open-source technology, WordPress. This is very concerning to us. Effective and efficient use of CMS needs to be a core competency of all firms that hope to thrive in the content age. 54% of responding firms see their content as an “add-on” to their website. An example of this would be a blog that exists on a subdomain and is not fully integrated with the site. This represents a missed opportunity.
When educational content is central to a site’s design, it becomes more useful to clients – it can be presented as related content alongside service pages, used as a tool to shape the buying process, and even as a way to lead score individuals based on their activities and behavior.
Conversions and SEO
One of the critical elements in building a successful content-driven site is ensuring the effective use of calls-to-action throughout it. In this regard, we’re recommending that firms use more than a simple contact page inquiry or contact form. Ideally, we believe a site should offer multiple ways for prospects to get connected with the firm directly within key content pages. Generally, we recommend incorporating short sign up forms that allow visitors to “raise their hands” and give the firm permission to market to them (for more information on this topic download our website benchmarking handbook). A full 67% of survey respondents claim that they their sites have effective calls-to-action of this nature. While this may very well be true, our past research finds that most firms don’t do this as well as they may think they do. In fact, of the 85 firms we audited last summer in our handbook, every single one of them got this element of the site design wrong in our opinion.
When it comes to search optimization we found similar results – a majority of survey respondents feel their site is well optimized for search. That said, our past research across the broader segment has found that the majority of firms actually have a long way to go towards ideal search optimization (again, for details of what we mean by this please download our Website Benchmarking Handbook — the fundamentals of on-page search optimization are outlined on pages 9-10).
Profiling Top Performers
One of the goals of this study was to determine whether firms that are using marketing automation or similar measurement systems are deriving more value from their thought leadership marketing. As it turns out, the survey was unable to answer this definitively. Most of the firms that aren’t using these technologies aren’t really using any metrics to measure their performance – they simply don’t know how many leads they derive from their site or what percentage of their business is derived from their content efforts. So, there’s just no basis for comparison.
That said, we do know that top performers are much more likely to use systems like marketing automation to measure their efforts. And, there’s an old saying in business — what gets measured gets done. So, it stands to reason that those firms that are committed to measuring their performance are likely deriving more value from their efforts.
On the whole, we drew two main conclusions from the study:
#1 – Rethink the Purpose of Your Site
We think it’s time for firms to rethink the purpose of their website. By and large, firms still see their site as a place to showcase what they’ve done in the past — a repository of case studies and testimonials, if you will. By contrast, the highest performing firm in the study was the only one to describe the primary purpose of its site to be “educating and informing potential clients.” This high flying firm is deriving 45% of its leads and a whopping 27% of its annual revenue directly from its content and its site. I think it’s also quite telling that this firm outperformed a small handful of firms that described the primary purpose of the site to be “to generate leads.” This just seems logical. Buyers have an internal defense mechanism that automatically goes up when they feel a firm is trying to sell to them. Generating a lead a sales objective. By contrast, educating and informing a potential client is in a way more altruistic. It’s less threatening and therefore much more likely to attract clients to the firm.
#2 – Get Serious About Systems
Not long ago I wrote a blog post regarding why more consulting firms aren’t using marketing automation. I’m consistently surprised that these technologies aren’t more pervasive than they are. It’s time to shed past beliefs. While no marketing model will ever be perfect, with a closed loop marketing system combining marketing automation, CMS and CRM, it’s quite feasible to determine what types of content are performing most effectively, the original source of an opportunity, and the percentage of revenue derived from our marketing activities. You’ll probably never be able to eliminate secondary influences from the process of measurement, but we still must commit ourselves to the process of measurement and incorporating the necessary systems to do so. One of the most fundamental things we learned from this survey was that the commitment to measure has the effect of improving outcomes.