Let’s start with a simple question…
How, exactly, does content marketing make money?
Because that’s the end goal, right?
You’re not hunched over your keyboard, racking your brain for attention-grabbing ideas because you enjoy it. You expect to get clients, sales, or some other tangible result for your business. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but sometime in the future, all that work you’re putting into creating and publishing content had better pay off.
Except… what if it won’t?
What if your entire understanding of the way content marketing works is wrong?
What if all the time you’ve invested into creating content was, in fact, a senseless waste of time, never possessing even the slightest chance of turning a profit?
It would be a tragedy, and yet I believe that’s precisely what’s happening. Not just to you, but to millions of entrepreneurs around the globe.
Is it because content marketing is just a fad? Or worse, an elaborate hoax?
No. On the contrary, I believe the hype is totally justified. If you execute the right content marketing strategy in the right market, the results are breathtaking.
But that rarely happens. There are lots of reasons why, and I might eventually write a short book explaining them all, but by far the biggest reason why most businesses get crappy results is they completely misunderstand what content marketing is about.
Here’s what I mean…
Content Marketing Is Not about Traffic
I know, it’s heresy. Just saying that, I’m half expecting a mob with pitchforks to show up at my door.
But stick with me for a moment.
Over the last decade, I’ve created or helped create content that has generated over 200 million page views. What might surprise you though is the vast majority of that traffic was completely worthless. People came to the site, stuck around for a minute or two, and then left.
So yes, it’s an impressive number, but it’s also a meaningless one. In fact, all the numbers connected to traffic like pageviews and unique visitors are meaningless. They are what’s called “vanity metrics.”
To be completely transparent, I didn’t realize this until about halfway through my career. For the first half of my career, I thought traffic was the only thing that mattered. I measured it to the exclusion of everything else.
But then I noticed something peculiar:
A minority of the content was producing the majority of the revenue.
When I talked to customers about what influenced them to purchase, they brought up the same articles over and over again. Out of thousands of posts, maybe only 20 of them actually influenced a purchasing decision.
I began to wonder, “Was all that other content a waste? What if I had published those 20 posts and nothing else, saving myself literally years of effort?”
And that’s when I had an epiphany.
The One Metric That Matters
In the software world, there’s a concept called “The One Metric That Matters.”
The idea is, every business has a single number that matters more than all others. Depending on your type of business, it might be monthly recurring revenue, time on site, friends referred, or something else entirely. The bottom line though is you have to figure out which number matters most, and then focus on it relentlessly.
Still with me? Okay, so here’s the difficult question:
In content marketing, which number matters most?
Your knee-jerk reaction might be, “Well duh, revenue.” If content doesn’t result in revenue, then it’s worthless to your business, right? So, the common sense answer is to focus on a metric like revenue per visitor. Publish content that makes money and nothing else.
As it turns out though, that’s wrong. Here’s why:
If you publish an article today, you don’t really have a firm grasp of how much money it will make you for months or even years. It’s what experts call a “trailing indicator.” By the time you can measure it, it’s too late to do anything about it.
So, what’s the right metric? If you’re running a business, what can you track and improve on a daily basis that will produce a corresponding increase in revenue?
It took me years to figure it out, and the answer might surprise you. Certainly surprised the hell out of me. It’s not page views, unique visitors, the size of your email list, revenue, or any sort of complicated ratio combining them.
In fact, it’s not a metric I’ve heard anyone discuss, so I had to create an entirely new framework to explain it. Let’s dive in.
Why Some Content Marketers Make Tons of Money (and Others Don’t)
Suppose for a moment that you are in a real estate brokerage firm in San Francisco, and you wake up one morning to discover you rank #1 on Google for the term “san francisco real estate,” sending you hundreds of hot prospects per day.
You’re obviously going to make a ton of money, right?
Well, not necessarily. For instance, what if…
- Everyone visiting your website takes one look around and concludes you are a moron? Or worse, a huckster?
- You fail to gather their contact information?
- You do gather their contact information, but you never follow up, and they forget about you?
- Nobody can figure out why they should work with you instead of your competitors?
- Even if they do decide to work with you, you lack the persuasiveness or authority to convince them to act?
Any number of things can derail the sale. Properly used though, content can actually solve each of the above problems. For instance, continuing our real estate example, it can:
- Build trust with website visitors, making them far more likely to reach out to you about representing them.
- Give people an incentive to hand over their contact information, e.g., to access “premium” content like an e-book about where to find the hottest deals in town.
- Remind prospects of your existence, so when they are ready to list their property (or purchase one), your company is the first that comes to mind.
- Separate you from your competitors, both in the tone of your marketing and through embedded examples that demonstrate how your company is different.
- Build trust and authority, so when you do approach prospects about representing them, they will be far more likely to both agree and respect your expertise.
In other words, content isn’t just about traffic. It affects every stage of the sales process, and the content marketers who are making the most money are the ones who leverage it for that purpose.
And what’s more, they track the actions of prospects at every step.
A Simple Way to Measure the Effectiveness of Your Content
Here’s a simple question that brings everything I’ve said into perspective:
After reading your content, how many people take the next step?
For instance, going back to our real estate example, your first goal is to get someone to visit your company’s website. Perhaps you do that by publishing a blog post they might be interested in, and then sharing it on Facebook.
From there, what’s the next step?
Well, you want to capture their contact information, so you can build trust and authority with them over time and eventually convince them to become a client. Next, you might put them in an email sequence sending them some of your best blog posts, or perhaps a video or two. And so on.
We can put the whole process into a simple table:
|Type of Content||Indicator of Success||Metric|
|Blog Post Headline||Prospect Clicks Link||Traffic|
|The Blog Post Itself||Prospect Reads It||Time on Page|
|Free E-book Offer||Prospect Subscribes Via Email||Opt-In Rate|
|First Email Subject Line||Prospect Opens Email||Email Open Rate|
|First Email Body Copy||Prospect Clicks Link||Email Click Through Rate|
Conceivably, the table would continue with dozens of steps until the prospect finally makes a purchase. In each step, you’re measuring the success or failure of your content by its ability to influence the prospect into taking action. The metrics in the right-hand column are simply a way of measuring whether or not readers are moving through the process.
In other words, the metrics themselves are not important. The action is.
If you’re publishing lots of content and getting tons of traffic, but no one does what you ask them to do (e.g., actually reading the post), then your content is worthless. The opposite is also true. If you publish content, and not many people read it, but those who do read every word and happily proceed through your funnel, then your content is quite valuable.
This thinking leads to two simple maxims:
- The purpose of content is to create influence.
- The purpose of marketing is to convert influence into action.
If you build a massively influential brand, but you never ask anyone to do anything? Well, you’re not going to make much money.
If you are constantly asking people to do things, but you have no influence? Well, you’re not going to make much money in that case, either.
In other words, you need both content that creates influence and marketing that asks the prospect to take the next step. Sadly, the reason why most businesses get such crappy results from content marketing is they have neither. The content they publish doesn’t build any influence with their readers whatsoever, and they never make it clear to the reader exactly what the next step is.
On the flipside, a small number of businesses (like Smart Blogger, I’m proud to say) release content that builds influence with millions of people around the globe. They also combine that content with marketing that slowly but surely moves prospects toward a purchasing decision.
Millions or even billions of dollars in revenue. If you think I’m exaggerating, ponder this:
The reason Oprah is a billionaire is because her TV show creates massive influence with tens of millions of people, and then she monetizes that influence by showing viewers advertisements that prompt them to take action. She’s a content marketer, just like the rest of us.
The bottom line:
Stop obsessing over your search engine rankings, share counts, the size of your email list, or any of the normal metrics. Sure, it’s all interesting, but none of it matters unless you inspire the reader to do something. Not with one post, not by demanding they do what you want, but by creating a flow of content that subtly nudges them down the path to victory.
Is it hard?
Yes, but it works. If you can master creating content that generates influence, and then you back up that content with marketing that converts influence into action, you’ll have built a “machine” that prints money for years or even decades into the future.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to constructing such a machine:
- Map out the process prospects follow before deciding to buy from you.
- Create content for every stage of that process that builds their trust in you.
- Create marketing that follows behind the content, asking them to take the next step.
- Measure the success or failure by your ability to get the prospect to take that step.
- If the process breaks somewhere, as it certainly will, improve the content and marketing in that stage until you can get the prospect to take action.
That’s it. Content marketing in five simple steps.
Next up: world peace. First though, I need to take a nap.