bridge with big content

Big Content – content that requires significant time and resources – is all the rage today. But how do you turn this from a fun content project to something that really drives business?

I reached out to 4 marketers who make large content projects work for their companies and clients, and asked them how to make sure you get a return on investment from your Big Content.

Our Esteemed Panel

Cyrus Shepard – Senior Content Astronaut at Moz

Kelsey Libert – Director of Promotions at Fractl

Kane Jamison – Founder of Content Harmony

Doug Kessler – Co-Founder & Creative Director of Velocity Partners


Cyrus Shepard

cyrus for post

 

 

Cyrus Shepard is Senior Content Astonaut for Moz. Follow him on Twitter and Google+

 

 

How do you measure the ROI of your big content initiatives?

Our process at Moz isn’t much different than most companies. We look at the numbers of social shares, links, mentions and page views. Down the line, we also look at the number of assisted conversions the content contributed to our software Free Trial conversion funnel.

That said, the number one measurement of ROI can’t actually be measured. Our primary goal is to deliver value to our audience, and this is often hard to quantify through traditional means. The numbers can suggest value, but often you go with your gut.

What factors – ideation, production, promotion – are key to realizing a return on your investment? Where should companies new to big content focus?

Can I choose all of them? They all need to be excellent if you want to proceed. If I had to choose one, I’d choose ideation, because most people start way too small for success. If your ideas are big, the content follows and everything falls in place. You can always scale back from a big idea, but it’s harder to scale up.

Typically when researching an idea, I look at the best resources that have been created on the subject, and ask myself “How can we top this?” <<Tweet This!>>

We’ve all launched pieces we thought were great that underperformed for a variety of reasons. How can you manage risk in your content  marketing?

Always have your next 2-3 projects in the pipeline. That way you are always looking ahead and not getting caught up in the success or failure of your current project.

One challenge in making big content work is driving longevity through maintenance. How do you plan for upkeep and continuing to get value out of content for a long time?

 This varies by industry, but in our industry we find we need to update our “big” content pieces every 2-3 years. In all honesty, we could probably do a better job of this. There is a constant push to produce things that are “new”, while updating older content isn’t as sexy.

 To help with longevity, we try to move our big content pieces away from the blog (which by nature has a transient feel) to a more permanent home. This allows us to drive more traffic to the project over time, and helps it earn more natural links – folks are reluctant to link to a 2 year old blog post, but not as hesitant to link to a piece of evergreen content that stands on its own.

Can you share a little bit about a ‘big content’ project you’ve been involved in, and how it worked?

Let’s take an idea that started as a simple, small project: The Google Algorithm Change History. This started as a simple goal to publish a record of Google updates.

moz example

I acted the project manager. My job was to wireframe the original concept and detail the project specs. I then worked with the design team to create the visuals and we brought Dr. Pete on board to do the research and write the content. In the end, Dr. Pete did such a phenomenal job we passed the whole project over to him, and he’s been driving it forward ever since. It’s now one of the most visited single pieces of content on Moz.

What do you think is the future of big content in terms of form, style, approach, and and concepts?

Tech is so simplistic now, to the point that “interactive” is still a big deal. I think the future of big content is multi-platform. Imagine a campaign that delivered content across your browser, television and Google Glass.

The best big content projects go way beyond the form and achieve something that is really hard, which is storytelling. Personally, this is something I’m trying to improve on myself. If you get the story right, the content takes care of itself.


Kelsey Libert

kelsey for post

Kelsey Libert is the Director of Promotions at Fractl. She has refined the art and science of digital PR, which often has an unparalleled impact on campaign awareness, link-building, and search engine rankings.

Prior to joining Fractl, Kelsey’s knack for creating and placing content has led to featured placements on Mashable, CNN, The Huffington Post, The Motley Fool, Mint.com, ESPN, and many more.  In addition to Kelsey’s work, she often writes and speaks about content promotion for several highly regarded industry publishers.

You can connect with Kelsey on Twitter, G+, or LinkedIn.   

 

How do you measure the ROI of your big content initiatives?

Our clients typically look at a variety of metrics that great content can drive.  These metrics fall into short and long term categories.  Sometimes a client will know from past campaigns or other marketing initiatives how ‘valuable’ certain results (such as links) may be, sometimes this is something we help them evaluate over time.

We even have a simple ROI tool we often use to help clients roughly estimate the unique value specific campaigns provide.

Some of the specific numbers we tend to report on include:

Short Term:

  • Overall traffic generated & reach of the campaign

  • Total number of links and syndications achieved by the content

  • High profile placements (what major websites featured the content)

  • Social media penetration (total share numbers on-site and across syndication channels)

  • Immediate conversion events

Long Term:

  • SEO impact for campaign related keywords as well as across the board

  • Growth in branded keyword volume from organic search

  • Volume of traditional PR opportunities that often arise from highly viral content

What factors – ideation, production, promotion – are key to realizing a return on your investment? Where should companies new to big content focus?

Without a doubt, the idea matters more than anything.  The vast majority of content creators falter at this step, and it spells doom for the entire campaign, regardless of the level of production quality.   

When evaluating content ideas, we utilize an extensive vetting rubric.  The purpose of each question in our rubric is to measure how strong each idea is from two specific vantage points.

  1. Does the content say something that’s never been said before — does it bring something completely new to the Internet?  Does it tell a story that hasn’t been told?

  2. Does the content resonate emotionally, does it initiate a reaction of surprise and delight?

Once you’ve fully vetted your idea, you need to choose a content medium that best helps you tell your story.  Find ways to be innovative here, the novelty and surprise factor can go a long way.  Ultimately, though, choose a medium that is best suited to your unique data/information/message.

From a promotions perspective, involve publishers early on (as early as the idea generation process with those publishers you’ve formed strong relationships with). Find out what information they believe their audience wants to learn more about.  Find ways to help them craft a story.  Make it as easy as possible for them to do their job. Some things we often provide publishers with include:

  • Embeddable content with supplemental content to link to (give them various ways to embed or feature the content)

  • Details about the reason the content was created (its purpose and mission)

  • A full fact check doc with sources

  • An article to accompany or introduce the featured content (upon request)

We’ve all launched pieces we thought were great that underperformed for a variety of reasons. How can you manage risk in your content marketing?

It’s important to realize two things about content marketing, which help shape your perspective on the place of ‘big content’ in the overall scheme of your marketing mix.  

  1. The most effective content marketers don’t focus on ‘one-off’ campaigns.  Instead, they see content as integral to their overall marketing efforts, and the lifeblood that energizes each communication channel with their customers and potential customers.

  2. Like applying to college, the success of any single piece of content is a bit of a crapshoot.  However, if you check all the right boxes and are consistent, you will have more wins than losses. Over time, it becomes possible to accurately gauge the ‘average’ ROI of your individual efforts, and optimize on an ongoing basis through audience-specific learning you acquire over time.

For certain metrics (like link-building & brand exposure) — single, correctly executed ‘big content’ concepts can have an absolutely unprecedented ROI <<Tweet This!>> (worth millions).  We will be publishing a case study diving into this truth in more detail.  Business can’t afford not to pursue this type of marketing.

One challenge in making big content work is driving longevity through maintenance. How do you plan for upkeep and continuing to get value out of content for a long time?

We love to create interactive content that updates itself (by pulling data from API’s for example) — but there are many ways to extend the longevity of your content.  

Choosing evergreen concepts during ideation, using data and sources that are updated or known to be published every year, or creating comprehensive resources that can be consistently grown over time are all ways we routinely build longevity into our campaigns.  

One big mistake many people make is to move onto new content initiatives before they’ve exhausted the potential reach of the stuff they’ve already created.  Think critically about how, where and when you promote the campaigns you create — look for opportunities to expose that content to audiences that have not see it yet.

Can you share a little bit about a ‘big content’ project you’ve been involved in, and how it worked?

We recently worked on two projects for a client that aimed at visualizing the Drug Economy and its impact.  They’re complementary, but unique in their own ways.  Our approach was to use innovative types of content to help tell an incredibly compelling, data driven story in two different ways.

  1. Drug Bless America – Interactive Parallax

  2. Visualizing The Drug Economy – HTML5/WebGL Experiment (view in Chrome)

fractl example

These projects are just parts of an integrated, longer term content initiative aimed at brand exposure and growth.  These campaigns have collectively driven millions of visitors, hundreds of high quality inbound links from unique linking domains, and exposure on some of the web’s most authoritative and highly trafficked websites.  

What do you think is the future of big content in terms of form, style, approach, and and concepts?

The second half of content marketing is outreach — getting your content seen by large audiences and shared.  There’s been a massive shift in what potential publishers expect when it comes to sharing content created by third parties. They are inundated by pitches, and need to quickly sort the wheat from the chaff.  

Original research is essential to success here– you absolutely need to give publishers something NEW, something they can construct a story around.  Rehashed, regurgitated information (even if beautifully presented) will eventually become impossible to place.  

If you manage to create content that tells an original story, the next big step you can take is to innovate via the medium you tell your story through.  New web technologies like WebGL and other experimental aspects of HTML5 will enable the next generation of interactive content.  Spending more to achieve a very high production value can also pay you back in spades — your goal should be to convey your message in a stunning, original way.

If you strive to tell an original story, and tell it in a way people haven’t seen before, you’re winning.  

 


 

Kane Jamison

kane for blog

 

 

Kane is the founder of Content Harmony, a Seattle-based content marketing agency, as well as a Moz Associate. You can usually find him on Twitter and Google+.

 

 

How do you measure the ROI of your big content initiatives?

Return specifically is difficult to measure, particularly since many of our projects are with lead-based businesses, not e-commerce. We set the typical content goals: traffic, press mentions, links, social shares, and rankings if applicable, and primarily judge the performance of the content based upon those metrics.

I like the concept of the content ROI calculator developed by the Fractl team. I don’t think you can ever exactly calculate the ROI of these big content projects, but they’ve broken it down into a framework that at least takes a somewhat objective approach to determining the value of a project. We’re working towards similar reporting for our bigger content projects.

What factors – ideation, production, promotion – are key to realizing a return on your investment? Where should companies new to big content focus?

I think the most important aspect, which most BuzzStream users will appreciate, is the pre-outreach stage. Getting buy-in from your ideal journalists and influencers before the project has begun. Any project that you begin without a launch strategy in mind is going to be half baked, and by building pre-outreach into all of your content projects you greatly decrease the likelihood of a flop.

We’ve all launched pieces we thought were great that underperformed for a variety of reasons. How can you manage risk in your content marketing?

Funny that you ask this question, because I’m halfway done with an article titled “Risk Management for Content Marketing”. In short, I think there are two analogies that can be made to illustrate the primary risks faced for ongoing content projects and big content projects:

For ongoing content initiatives, you need to take the same risk management approach that you’d see in financial portfolio management, typically related to diversifying your efforts across a number of content investments.

Big content projects, however, are more analogous to a large real estate development project, like a skyscraper. You need to enter into the project with a number of potentially profitable exits to ensure it’s worth your time even if you fail in one department. For example, if a piece of content could fail to pick up much traction socially, you might want to balance that risk by designing the content so that it can still rank and pull in organic traffic.

There’s also quite a few risks during the development of the project, like delays due to subcontractors or internal teams that aren’t meeting deadlines that are necessary for the rest of the team to make further progress. Or perhaps it’s something more subjective, like a stakeholder that suddenly decides they don’t like the direction the project has headed. Both of those problems need to be addressed before the project begins by implementing a clear work flow and project milestones along the way, and making sure all parties understand how they fit into that scheme.

One challenge in making big content work is driving longevity through maintenance. How do you plan for upkeep and continuing to get value out of content for a long time?

I think this is a bigger issue for projects that feature content those becomes dated. We have one piece of content that is an infographic about tax incentives related to a client’s services. For that particular project and client, we simply make updates as part of our ongoing services, since the tax incentives change at unforeseeable times. In the event that we stop working with the client, we also hand over the original graphics files so that the client can have updates made on their own. It’s their investment and it’s tied to their brand, so it’s my feeling that it’s inappropriate not to give them full ownership of those files.

For content projects that need to be updated on a more recurring basis, we’ve started to build in a maintenance component during our project quote, where we automatically handle the updates each year for a set cost.

Can you share a little bit about a ‘big content’ project you’ve been involved in, and how it worked?

We’re in the middle of a project now that is a 100,000 word guide with about 100 URLs. Since we’re not capable of delivering that much copy internally within a 2 month period, we’re effectively acting as the strategists and project managers on behalf of the client. We deliver writing prompts and titles to the writing team at a separate company, and then handle revision requests for all of the content. As each page of content is delivered, we’re simultaneously submitting graphics requests to an internal graphic design team. Once final copy is approved and graphics are completed, we’re building out the pages on a staging server and preparing to launch the content. Finally, we’re handling the outreach and promotion for the project, and perhaps handling a paid content amplification component on networks like StumbleUpon, Facebook, etc. Project pricing was bid using time estimates for each stage of the project, very similar to how you would bid a large web design project.

We’re a small team, so it’s important that we can manage a project like this effectively by relying on other specialists for copy, graphics, etc. Our best skill sets for this particular project are concept and strategy, project management and quality assurance, and promotion of the content. We recognized that and brought in third parties who could do good work on the rest of the project.

What do you think is the future of big content in terms of form, style, approach, and and concepts?

I’ve spoken in the past about my belief that data-based content is a huge competitive advantage for companies that use it effectively <<Tweet This!>>, so I think there’s a lot of opportunity there. (I wrote about this extensively here.)

Parallax scrolling projects haven’t been completely run into the ground yet so there’s still opportunity there, but it’s decreasing as JS libraries are being released that make these projects easier to develop.

Finally, I think there’s a great opportunity for companies that can make online big content projects that are reusable offline. For the tax incentives infographic that I mentioned earlier, we were able to reformat that piece of content so that the company could print it onto rack cards for their sales people to use. Being able to revamp content like that means the project can see more results for a small addition to cost.

 


 

Doug Kessler

doug for post

Doug is the Co-Founder & Creative Director at Velocity Partners.  He wrote Crap: The Content Marketing Deluge and the B2B Content Marketing Strategy Checklist.

Doug is a displaced Yank who started his career at Ogilvy & Mather, New York. Soap and fabric softener bored him rigid so he jumped ship to specialise in B2B.

Doug is a content marketing junkie. He’s a copywriter at heart but with a secret jones for analytics. And Lagavullin.

You can connect with him on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest.

 

How do you measure the ROI of your big content initiatives?

Shares are our first key metric. We want to produce content that our target audience wants to share with their networks. <<Tweet This!>>

That may not be a direct, revenue metric but it’s a great indicator that we’ve hit the mark.

After that, we use every metric there is – from traffic to engagement to search-related measures – and, ideally track it through marketing automation and CRM right through to revenue.  That’s the ideal scenario and it’s happening more and more.  But often we’re looking at the metrics that correlate with revenue rather than tracking to actual money.

Finally, it’s important not to forget the harder-to-measure things that great content generates. We call these ‘Ripples’ and they include invitations ot guest blog, speak at conferences, new friendships with prospects and influencers… all sorts of things that wouldn’t have happened without the content.

What factors – ideation, production, promotion – are key to realizing a return on your investment? Where should companies new to big content focus?

A fantastic piece of content that breaks through and resonates with people can make up for a lot of bad strategy and weak promotion. So we emphasize the primacy of the idea: a powerful timely insight that hits a nerve with the intended audience.  Start with one of these and you won’t go far wrong.

Of course, terrible production values and listless promotion can kill ROI. But a great idea, well argued can overcome even these obstacles.

We’ve all launched pieces we thought were great that underperformed for a variety of reasons. How can you manage risk in your content marketing?

Content marketing risk feels lower than many of the risks in traditional marketing (like backing a massive ad campaign).

In even the best content marketing program, some pieces win and some lose.  Often they’re not the ones you’d predict.  The thing is to fan the flames of the winners, move on from the losers and learn from both.

It’s important to be honest in any analysis of both success and failure.  Many factors affect results and we often see people leap to conclusions based on very little science. Things like, “eBooks don’t work for us. We tried one and it flopped.”

For me the risks in content marketing are more reputation risks than financial ones. You mitigate the financial risks by tracking everything and correcting as you go.  Reputation risk is when you go out there and say something that alienates your target audience. We protect against this on the riskier pieces by running them by some friendly prospects before going live.

One challenge in making big content work is driving longevity through maintenance. How do you plan for upkeep and continuing to get value out of content for a long time?

If you treat content marketing as if it were a campaign, it will fizzle out and stop delivering returns.  It’s not a campaign: it’s at the heart of any marketing strategy and you can’t stop doing it (any more than you can stop doing marketing and expect the world to still beat a path to your door).

The ‘fire and forget’ approach means that there’s a hell of a lot of untapped value locked up in content libraries out there. In B2B, we always look to use the content assets in ongoing nurture flows, so they can keep performing long after they’re day in the spotlight.

Watching the numbers is critically important in maintaining return on content: web analytics, lead nurturing, CRM… they’ll tell you what’s working and make their own case for continued investment.

Can you share a little bit about a ‘big content’ project you’ve been involved in, and how it worked?

For Salesforce, we helped get the Social Success content microsite up and running in a few months, from a standing start. It’s now packed with great content on social selling, social-powered customer service and the social enterprise in general.  The first results (mostly around traffic and engagement) have been fantastic. Now it’s all about using lead nurturing to translate all this into sales-ready leads.

salesforce social selling center

Salesforce.com is ideally positioned for content marketing: the company is packed with real experts, it’s got an open culture that enjoys sharing what it knows… and it’s walking the talk as a company.

What do you think is the future of big content in terms of form, style, approach, and and concepts?

As content marketers, we all need to keep looking for new ways to tell stories. That means new media (like Prezi instead of PowerPoint), new formats (like scrolling sites, mobile apps and purpose-built Slideshares) and new styles (attitude-filled rants instead of bland white papers).

I talk about some of our predictions for content marketing in a deck called Five Beyonds: The Future of Content Marketing (moving beyond print paradigms; the rise of content tools; stuff like that).  But it’s mostly about the ‘how’. Content marketing is still driven by ideas and always will be.

 


Thanks to all of our panelists for participating! Now it’s your turn – how does your organization do big content, achieve an ROI, and manage risk? Leave your thoughts in the comments…

mattgratt

Matt works on customer acquisition at BuzzStream. Before BuzzStream, he worked as an SEO Strategist at Portent and a Marketing Manager at AppCentral (acquired by Good Technology). You can follow Matt on Twitter or Google Plus.

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