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The 2021 Content ROI Checklist: Tania Dworjan and Jeff Coyle Discuss SEO + ROI

The following is a transcript of a recent webinar chat between Jeff Coyle, Chief Marketing Officer, MarketMuse, and Tania Dworjan, Director of SEO, Content & Community, Botify. 

Jeff Coyle: So the first thing we wanted to talk about was your experience with return on investment (ROI) and justification. It’s one of the hardest parts when you’re an agency selling it to a client and you want long-term agreements where they continue to be fulfilled with the value you’re delivering.

Or if you’re an, in-house trying to get work, prioritizing amongst a sea of other projects. Tell us about that experience and your perspective on that. 

Tania Dworjan: I’ve always been lucky that I’ve been in organizations that value organic search as a performance marketing channel.

And I think that’s really key – that internal alignment of seeing it as [performance marketing], but a lot of organizations do struggle with, you know, how exactly do we measure our content – period? There are some organizations where it’s just the check box of being published on the blog, we’re done with it. Some people are still looking at average SERP position, traffic, average time on site or what scroll depth on an article looks like. And when you’re looking at those kinds of KPIs, for something like a piece of content, it can be really difficult to understand how it fits into the bigger picture of a business.

You can have a blog post that gets thousands of eyes on it. And, it can have absolutely no impact on the buyer journey/customer journey across your website or create any sizable revenue because doing the minimum isn’t enough. You’re not connecting it to the rest of your bigger picture. So I think the biggest challenge that we always have as both SEOs and content marketers is trying to figure out what are the KPIs that we really should be measuring to align to business and that can differ. 

You know, if you’re in an e-commerce field, you should be trying to move your business to align content performance to metrics like average cart value. What is the amount of revenue generated from each individual post on core topics and how does that align to what that performance looks like? If you are B2B, you’re really having conversations with your SDRs about lead quality from content and pipeline, bookings, and LTV. Getting comfortable with the metrics your board talks about like MCAC and what is the LTV on different product lines, for example. But we do still struggle with that as a career sector. 

Jeff Coyle: I love what you commented there because it leads to discussions of one big thing: return on investment is a mutual agreement, a vision matched internally on what does attribution mean at X company.

If you’re claiming something has indirect value – “hey, I’m getting a lot of traffic here, but just trust me, it’s yielding a lot of value.” It’s taking it to that next step and saying, “what is that value?” Is it measurable in any way, even if it’s an unorthodox way. How do you think about attribution for content? 

Tania Dworjan: Yeah, I think it’s probably the biggest question we’re all faced with is if somebody comes to your website through blog post and then scrolls through 20 more blog posts and then they buy something/they requested a demo/they convert to your email subscription, who gets the credit for that?

It actually comes down different ways for different businesses because you have to be able to look at your content and – I’m not somebody who believes in content for the sake of content- and say what is the need for content on your website. Starting from the very first premise, what is the goal of that content piece when you’re putting it up on your website? Is the goal to generate organic traffic? If it is a piece for SDRs, direct mail, outreach, or if it is a piece that your CEO really wanted to publish because it involves a press quote from someone who is an industry leader? All of those are OK. But so long as you know the goal to start with, then you can start to align it to other metrics and ask difficult questions in organizations like, “Hey, you know this has been getting a lot of traffic. Our tools aren’t telling me anything beyond that, who on the performance marketing or revenue team, etc. can tell you what else you can align those traffic numbers with.” There is information out there inside of your company that can help you get to those actionable nuggets. Even if it’s just one cookie that can tell you the persona that has been looking at a piece of content.

The next step is trying to create this indirect relation. Not only is my content getting all this traffic, but it’s getting traction from the right personas so I believe that it is impacting our revenue, or our engagement as a brand, and then digging deeper with your marketing operations team, or your sales ops team, or your dev ops teams to get to that next step.

Attribution is an onion that has so many layers. No one’s gotten to the bottom of it. So just keep digging. If you hear a fun abbreviation you don’t know about or phrases, learn what that means and learn how you can use it. 

Jeff Coyle: I think that’s really cool. And you know, a couple of things that I’ve had to experience is that we used to say every content piece has to have a why, why are we doing it? But in the end it may be why plus because there is that “plus” value that we maybe couldn’t predict and that’s fine.

You can always go back and re-examine your page and then maybe tweak it, improve it, make it actually lean in a direction you didn’t predict. You can also go back and just evaluate how successful it was. And I think that that’s really important. An example of that is we understand that maybe this page isn’t going to have any direct conversions, but our expectation is that over the course of months, it’s going to lead to a lot of return visitors, or it’s going to lead to success or delayed conversions. Those are valid goals. 

Tania Dworjan: Absolutely. And I think that is critical for content in particular. I’ve been in situations in previous companies where the revenue generation team wanted certain content that was at odds with more of the thought leadership, broader content.

But both goals were just as good, they just had different purposes. 10 years ago, you could post about this content on the internet. Google would find it and you could walk away from it. But now, there’s a reason that every marketing session that you hear is talking about personalization. It’s talking about customer journey. You hear these buzzwords everywhere. And one of the exciting things is that content is the only thing that spreads across all of the buzzwords. Every single buzzword, you have an opportunity to meet with content.

Now it’s thinking about new goal posts. Maybe the goal was just to see if you could bring in a new persona, even something as simple as that – I have a hunch that we can get in that persona. Let me see if we can.

And then figure out what the next step is. What is your exit intent on that page look like? Are you using live chat as engagement? Are you giving your SDRs or BDRs talking notes or are you giving your customer success agents a head’s up? If you’re an e-commerce business, are you giving them the kind of talking points to upsell that when they get somebody on the phone with an issue? Are you bringing them to the “next” content in that journey? What does that bigger journey look like? Instead of just creating it – to your point for the first goal – content now is about all of the why’s (or the “plus” value as you called it). The more places we as marketers can connect it, the more endemic we’re becoming in our businesses, the more touch points we create and data we leverage, the more effective we are. 

Jeff Coyle: You’ve hit so many key points – that list you just rifted off is a treasure trove of wisdom. I think that people could take that and that’s worth the price of admission today. It almost makes it sound like your content, you should consider it always on trial, right? It needs an advocate. It needs someone speaking for it. It needs someone telling the story of all the different ways that it could be valuable or else people will pigeonhole it as being only one thing or only having one metric. So that’s something to really be thinking about is, “do you only do direct value?” A great example of this is when people go and they sort their pages by traffic, and then they delete all the bottom; all the ones on the bottom that don’t have a ton of traffic. You couldn’t possibly do a worse audit than that, but that happens so widespread. What are some things that you, where you’ve seen ROI justification, go wrong like that? Where people aren’t considering indirect value? 

Tania Dworjan: One of my best examples is display ads. So for those of you who have no role with your paid search departments, display adverts are those annoying sidebars you see on websites. In a lot of cases, they’re probably following you around the internet in creeper style to display that ad because you were on their websites and they are remarketing to you. I’ve been in organizations before where we’ve looked at every single page that generated opportunity or business dollars and cut off any ad campaign that did not do that. The first things to go were display for many reasons. One thing about display –  I don’t know about you guys – I’ve never clicked on one in my life and neither have most people so conversion rates are always very, very low. From a direct-click perspective, it’s very difficult to attribute a direct click on display. In my particular case, in a previous business that we had those direct ads going to content pieces and we cut those off and we saw an immediate pipeline problem. We saw immediate issues in getting leads in the door and we couldn’t figure it out. You know, we did all of that analysis that you do where something is wrong. Google Webmaster Tools says everything is okay. You know, nothing’s broken. I checked Marketo, I did all of these things right. Nothing is wrong. And you know, we flipped those display ads on again just as a last ditch effort and that’s what turned out was wrong. Our audience wasn’t clicking on the ad itself but instead Googling it and they were coming to our site, and reading the article, and converting through different channels that we weren’t attributing that influence to. Instead, we make the judgment that it’s not working for SEM, when really, it was helping to drive our organic. 

Jeff Coyle: That’s awesome. Now that’s a cool example of understanding the true omni-channel journey. I use this image sometimes from Gartner where it’s what you think that the customer journey is and what it actually is.

And it’s just this huge, wandering, path chart. So one thing that you brought up was the customer journey with content – I find most commonly in B2B technology and B2B companies –  the demand gen team is, has a heavy hand in trying to get teams to write only content that is going to have direct conversion.

And they’re not understanding that you have to have content throughout the funnel: early stage awareness, middle of the funnel for various industries, etc. But you also don’t want to forget about the post-purchase troubleshooting, advocacy, adherence, and community content. 

Managing content, SEO and community. Do you see any bias in that way or have you experienced any bias in that way? Or how do you advocate against that? 

Tania Dworjan: I think sometimes with content marketing on the B2B side, the biggest kind of loophole we all fall into is creating bottom of funnel content, because it’s so easy to take, a product like Botify or MarketMuse and say, okay, well, I obviously am here to make money for my company. So let me write posts only about why you needed a technical SEO tool –  bottom of funnel content- it’s so easy. But what we do when we do that, we tend to neglect this bigger funnel around it. It always goes back to remembering that content touches literally every part of the journey, whether or not somebody comes directly to your website, through the URL and they’re reading the content on your site, or they heard it through word of mouth. Content is touching all of those touch points. And what I personally like to do  in my content calendar, I’ve always added what vertical does this piece of content target, as well as persona and funnel position. I’m an Excel person and I can really quickly pivot that and see, if I don’t have a lot of top of the funnel content, which means that, you know, I’m not casting my net largely enough to educate the audience. We’ve all probably been in situations in organizations where someone’s like, “Yeah, where we want to break into talking to a different persona, but we don’t have enough educational content.”

And when you start to hear those words – we need to educate, we don’t know how to break in, etc. –  it’s a really clear signal indicator that you don’t have enough at the top of the funnel. The middle of the funnel, I think also often gets left out just because it’s really easy to focus on education and closing the deal. 

But that middle point is also really important to you because there is nobody that goes from top to bottom linearly. That middle position is I think becoming more and more valuable as more people are staying home. We are doing everything on the internet, opening prospects to more touches with a brand. So if you’re not thinking of every one of those positions – you’re missing opportunity. You may have somebody who potentially you might need to upsell, or you might need to cross sell, or even just return to the site. You need them to return to purchase again, again, and again. If you’re not thinking across that whole entire spectrum, you’re missing so much. And it’s always so strange to me because as search marketers we know that value. Search is the one thing that actually tells you what people are looking for.

When we talk about search and intent, we are talking about what, somebody who is looking for this keyword, is trying to find. When we’re talking about creating content around it, we’re looking to match that intent. But it’s, if you have that information for the whole entire funnel, use it.

Jeff Coyle: That’s hitting the nail on it right now. What other ways do you help track the ROI of content items?

Tania Dworjan:  So for me, I am really big on doing things on the URL level. This obviously depends how sophisticated your tech stack is and what tools you are using, but looking at an individual URL and figuring out whatever you can do to take it to dollars.

So even if it’s something just as simple as, our business team has told us that every organic visitor, we convert 50% of them to actual bookings. You go into Google Analytics, and back out to a dollar value for that URL that works for your business. There are tools that can do this directly for you as well. They can tell you in tools like Dome or Looker what that URL actually generated for the business. When you do that, you’re then talking about all of the right metrics for everyone whose job you want in five years. You’re talking about everything the higher ups in your org care about; your VP, your CEO, etc. You’re hitting the nail right on a very tactical head. We need to do that. I’ve been in places with no budget for this and so I created my own numbers where I’ve said every organic visitor is X dollars and our organic traffic has grown Y. As a result, we believe the impact on our bigger business has been this dollar amount or this percentage or this delta change. You know, anything you can do to get it to the, to the almighty dollar is how we will all move forward. 

Jeff Coyle: Quick pivot on this question, cause we’re talking about return on investment generally for all of your investments, but some of your content is going to be influenced by technical SEO. It’s going to be influenced by potentially something that isn’t traditional content, but it is more product-led SEO. Maybe it’s a template ID page, maybe you have product pages. How do you connect the dots between the value of SEO from a standpoint of technical SEO, from the value of product-led SEO, and then also your content? 

Tania Dworjan:  Well, I think the most important thing is technical SEO is kind of the first in that line. We always talk about content as king, right? I always look at it as content is king, but really Google is more of a matriarchy and technical SEO is definitely it’s queen. If you are not getting crawled, you are not having Google render and index your content and you’re not going to rank. It means nobody’s coming to your site to convert. You’re not even in the ballpark. The ballpark is Google and technical SEO gets you to the park. SEO is kind of your roadmap on how you get there. We actually probably all have blog sections that with various URLs, we have pagination. Something as simple as how you treat pagination is a very lightweight, technical SEO issue and can make massive impacts if you’re suddenly telling Google to look at something other than the 400 pages you have for your blog. 

You are literally telling Google what you want them to look at. Sometimes as content and SEO people, we feel a little bit powerless and a little bit helpless. We have people in our organizations going “just fix this Google thing” or “put this up on Google for me.”  We can’t always do that. But with technical SEO, we have the control where you can say Google is not looking at all of this amazing content over here that I need traffic to – but I can make it look there. 

Jeff Coyle: Yeah, I think it’s another way of being an advocate for your content. And like you said, I always like to say, your technical SEO is the invite to the party. You’re not even allowed in without the invite. 

Here’s what happens if you have a page that takes 10 seconds to load, you know, it’s going through and really walking through these negative situations that can make sense to the average software developer, right? I mean that’s something that I think that a lot of teams struggle with is, “gosh, I’m, how am I going to get this prioritized?”

Is that something that you’ve had, that you’ve had as a challenge? 

Tania Dworjan: When you understand the value of technical SEO, it’s much easier to get technical changes prioritized. I always have approached the situation historically with data in hand. And I’m not talking entirely about my data from Google Analytics or whatnot, but data that we can all find on the internet.

There’s a statistic that any page that takes more than three seconds to load, 70% of people bounce from it. Or, if somebody has to go to the second page of Google, less than 0001% of people actually will.  

For example, let’s say your site, your site is slow or you have a lot of page depth going on. You know, Google can’t get to your ‘actually’ great content because of that, I always use the argument of going through and saying, “Hey, if you were looking for these blog posts, what would you search?” 

Great. Let’s search it together. “Oh, it’s not there. Okay. Well, let’s go to the next page and the next.” Then have them click to result once you finally find it. While you’re waiting for the page load (because you know) it’s slow, you remind them of the average person. If it takes more than three seconds to load this page is going to bounce. Your money bounces. 

Imagine if we had 70% more revenue than we currently do from this one page. Alternatively, with mobile becoming more important, look how poor this page displays on mobile. Would your potential customer trust us? Do you think what we have instills competence as a brand? When you look at this one page that is still loading or that I’m getting aggressively bombarded by cookie pop-ups, then your live chat, etc., do you want to work with this brand? If it’s such a hassle for us to get to our content, why would we expect our audience to do more work? Why would a potential customer, why would we expect the onus to be on them? The onus should be on us to put it right in front of them. 

Jeff Coyle: Nice. No, I think that that’s great. There’s a wonderful study that was done by Colleen Jones from Content Science that really outlines that people make that judgment about content in microseconds.

Whether it’s written by an expert – and that’s something that we work with teams to realize is the content that a lot of people are seeing, does it exhibit the signals of being written by an expert? 

You know, I’ll tell a story about the time I found a link from was 404ing. A major page in one of my inventories and I cleaned it up and that quintupled traffic, and you can show that with data. You build that internal credibility. That’s awesome. 

So how do you view the value of content or the value of publishing content that’s successful? Show the opportunity cost of producing bad content, the true cost of bad content? What are the different ways that you view the value of content and how that relates to the true cost of content? 

Tania Dworjan: I think the biggest thing is that for me: content is content. You talk about things like expertise, authority and trust – there’s a reason Google gave us acronyms and all these little tricks to figure it out because the true value of content is immeasurable.

Not only can you directly tie it to dollars, but there are so many smaller ways that content can make that value. Even something as simple as when you’ve rabbit-holed on a website and you click on one article, and then on the next one, and the next one, and the next one. All of a sudden, you’re there for hours and you remember that, when you’re in a meeting, and you bring up a statistic you read on that page. The person you’re talking to goes to the website to read one of those pages. That’s two visitors – neither one, you can’t directly attribute to a dollar or to anything beyond an IP address, but that value is real. Or similarly when you see a ping back in your blog from some random site. Once you investigate that site, you find that it might make sense for a partnership and start a conversation. 

Content has the ability to be so transformative and literally do everything. It is the all-engagement, all-revenue, all-conversation magic machine. Everything is content. And so when you start to think of it like that, you realize content is the biggest tool. 

But on the flip side of that, you have had content that you look at it and you’re like, “oh, that’s bad.” We’ve all seen the articles that are like 200 words and they have a stock photo of some cheesy guy, holding an envelope and passing it over to someone with no authorship credit. The website overall looks a little funky and we walk away from it. I’ve done that with corporate websites before. I’ve done that with city websites when trying to pay property taxes. It doesn’t instill user trust. From a tactical perspective, a lot of times, Google won’t find the pages you want them to on a site because they’re paying attention to these light, useless pages. Maybe your site just published an amazing Q&A with an industry leader, but Google can’t see it. Instead, it sees that terrible article. You can look at the opportunity loss of that bad content. It was a distraction. Not only, all the technical elements that are involved, but realistically it just takes eyes away. You’re saturating your own random marketplace with things you don’t want when you’re just keeping it around.

Jeff Coyle: Now the true cost of content, if you don’t use an efficiency calculation, and if you don’t use these ROI metrics of engagement in, in that value, it’s how much content did we spend money on?

To get the yield of whatever our ROI is. And even if you’re just calculating costs, you know, only 10% of my content performs. Well, that means your true cost is 10X of what you think it is. I mean, that’s the easiest conversation to have. 

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