One of the biggest challenges link building and outreach professionals face is measuring the results of their work and connecting them to revenue.

Today we’ll look at how you can measure the impact of outreach, link building, and content promotion across multiple dimensions, including referral traffic, brand lift, search engine performance, and direct sales.

measurement image

Why is Measurement Important?

Effective measurement not only allows you to show the fruits of your labor to your manager/clients, but enables you to effectively lobby for future investment. Business cases can be built based on previous success rather than generic platitudes about great content.

Additionally, without measurement, it’s difficult to form hypotheses for future improvements. You might notice things like “Despite strong Twitter traffic, our piece didn’t generate many new Twitter followers for our brand,”, and form a hypothesis like “In our next content piece, we’ll try to use CTAs with Twitter Web Intents to increase our Tweets -> New Followers and Traffic -> New Followers ratio.”

Measurement is only valuable if you take action based on that data – be it organizational action or marketing action. Otherwise, metrics are an exercise in vanity, not data-informed marketing.

Showing the ROI of Content Creation and Outreach

Content creation and outreach can be a very effective set of tactics, but it can be difficult to show their results. While traffic and pageviews are simple to measure, they reflect only one part of the value of the value of creating excellent material and placing it (or links to it) on other sites.

This content + outreach combo delivers value far and above those pageviews (especially when benchmarked against ad impressions or something similiar) due to not only the increased fundamental value of those pageivews – where potential customers aren’t just being yelled at but actively engaging with content that’s somehow related to your brand.

So let’s start by looking at the impact of all of these activities from a 10,000 foot view: What does link development impact?

Good link development and content promotion can achieve the following outcomes:

  • Drive referral traffic
  • Increase Search Engine Traffic for a Specific Page
  • Improve Domain Wide Search Engine Visibility 
  • Grow Brand Awareness in Target Markets
  • Create Social Mentions and Shares
  • Drive Sales/Leads/Other Conversion Actions from the Above Increases in Visibility

So let’s dive into how to measure these things. In these examples, we’ll concern oursleves mostly with Google Analytics and Google search impact – if you use another analytics product or target other search engines extensively, you can apply the same foundational principles, but the actual execution of the measurement will be different.

We’ll go through each of these outcomes and their measurements in detail:

Driving Referral Traffic

This is by far the easiest thing to measure, or so it seems.

In Google Analytics, cruise over over to the ‘Referrals’ section. (It’s under ‘Traffic Sources’, in the ‘Sources’ dropdown.) Then, look for the domain that’s linked to your site in the search box at right, and see how much and what quality traffic it’s sending.

 

referral traffic from content promotionThe other part of referral traffic is the so-called ‘dark social‘ – referral traffic without a referrer, coming from things like email clients and IM sharing.  This is best measured through looking at direct traffic to landing pages, in the direct traffic report in Google Analytics.

Email Opt-Ins, Cookie Pool Growth, and Other Permission Marketing Assets

This is relatively easy to measure, provided you’ve tracked out your micro-conversions as custom events or goals in Google Analytics. (If you haven’t, you should get on that.)

Simply select traffic that uses your content piece as a landing page (hint: advanced segments are awesome), and look for events or goal completions.

If you have a retargeting platform (here at BuzzStream use AdRoll and only have good things to say), you can create a segment for the piece of content you’re promoting to see how many new visitors are added to your cookie pool from your compaign.  

Improving Search Engine Results for a Specific Page

Now let’s look at measuring search traffic.  Google doesn’t make it easy to do this in a perfectly causal way (IE you can’t say ‘this link led to this traffic increase’), but you can measure it and show value through after-the-fact correlation.  As with anything involving correlation, it doesn’t equal causation, so take this data with a grain of salt – there can be other things going on that improve search performance:

still not causation, nope, really, still

If you’re creating external links to an SEO landing page that ranks for some phrase, there are two approaches to measuring the search engine results increases, best done in unison.

You can measure:

  • Ranking improvements on search terms that the promoted page ranks for using a rank tracking tool like Moz or Authority Labs
  • Google Traffic to a given page before/after a link is placed
  • Improvements in Search Engine Impressions and Clicks to a URL from Google Webmaster Tools

You can find this last metric by filtering by URL in the ‘Landing Pages’ report, under ‘Search Engine Optimization’, if you’ve linked that site’s Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools together.

Improving Search Engine Results Site-Wide

The next benefit to measure is increases in site-wide search sessions, based on domain authority.

Given Google’s shall we say, reticence to enable access to great data, there’s a couple of approaches to take here, each with advantages and drawbacks:

Google Analytics Search Sessions

You can view search sessions, site-wide, before and after you launched your content (and, if you promoted it properly, basked in the influx of links and mentions you received.)

To see this in action, Paul May wrote his ‘Content Marketing Fairy Dust‘ post on June 6th.  We see a 5.58% increase in search sessions from the two weeks before from a comparable period after the post:

google analytics sitewide sessions

Google Webmaster Tools

You can also measure this through site-wide clicks and impressions in Google Webmaster Tools.  Because Google Webmaster Tools seems to report randomly chosen impression data for terms you’re on the 100th page for, take this data with an entire shaker of salt, and look to confirm any increases here with increases in other areas.

Leads, Sales, & Other Conversion Actions

This is, of course, the big one. Why we do these things in the first place – to ring the cash register, either directly, or with the help of a sales team.

These are easy to measure if you’ve set up your conversion goals correctly in Google Analytics – just look for the number of leads captured or sales gained in your Goals column.

Improving Brand Awareness

This one is far trickier to measure. Basically there are no easy ways to measure brand awareness. You can take surveys in your target audience (traditionally difficult and expensive, still somewhat, but rapidly declining) or you can look at proxies for brand recognition, like direct traffic or brand searches.

In this case, we’re looking for an improvement in a brand’s position in their minds – often for people who aren’t yet customers.

While it’s difficult to measure any positions in people’s minds without mass MRI scans (which I assume is outside your budget and tolerance for creepy futuristic things), you can get an idea through our favorite database of intentions, Google Search.

You can start by looking for increases in branded search volumes in Google Trends. If you have a big brand, this will be less useful than if you have a smaller brand where you can really move the needle through content and outreach.  However, this data is not particularly fine-grained, and often you’ll lose the impact of say, an individual infographic or ultimate guide against a successful PR campaign.

Winning the Conversation

If your audience is on Twitter, it can be valuable to measure a rise in mentions, through a tool like Topsy.  To make this more relevant, you can also measure the Twitter mentions of your brand versus a competitor or two, through a tool like Topsy Analytics:

topsy

This report shows how you’re winning ‘the online conversation’, which can either be a big deal, or unimportant, depending on your industry.  In this case, I can see that an AMA on Inbound.org helped BuzzStream get more ‘share of online voice’ than one of our competitors. 

Google Suggest for Names of Pieces of Content

If you’re creating ‘big content’, a great indicator that you’ve been successful is when people search for that specific piece of content. You’ve become important enough to merit an entry in the database of collective intentions.

You can do this by using Google and not hitting enter or using UberSuggest:

 look at all that content marketing success

Putting It All together

Before you ever start building your content or promotion strategy, you should come up with some goals. And based on those goals, you can create measurement criteria. (If you haven’t gotten your analytics package set up to track these goals, this is a great time to get this in place.)

Then, you can choose a portfolio of metrics – probably around some blend of the factors above – to measure your success. Often a portfolio approache can neutralize the weaknesses of any individual measurement method, thus getting your closer to quantifying things that are difficult to measure.

Conclusion

Peter Drucker famously said, “What gets measured gets managed.” I, Matt Gratt, offer a less notable but perhaps more actionable aphorism: “People that show a measurable impact on business impact keep their jobs.”

These are just some methods – marketing measurement is an incredibly complex topic, and the growing panorama of ways for people to express their voices creates a new world of measurement opportunities. This article isn’t’ meant to be the final word in this – How do you measure the impact of your link building, content promotion, and outreach?

(Photo credit)

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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