I have been swimming in the web metrics for several of RBI’s brands recently, and am constantly amazed at the insights that pop up. The question I am given again and again is:
"How can we increase performance?"
Sometimes this question is with regards to an entire editorial strategy, other times it is focusing on just one content channel such as blogs, or it gets into focusing on one particular blog, newsletter, video series or Twitter account.
When looking for improvements, you try for the straightforward solutions first – tried and true tactics for online content:
- SEO training
- Structure content so that it is scannable
- Use images to engage readers
- Use links to connect great content
- Focus a lot of effort on headlines
- etc, etc, etc.
Most media brands are no longer amateurs in online media. They have been doing this for years, and have long ago realized that this it’s not a choice of print vs web, but of serving readers wherever they are.
What this means is that the answers to the question "How can we increase performance" are no longer simple. Why?
- Because it is not easy to serve experts, which is what B2B markets consist of;
- Because audience behavior is changing quickly;
- Because there is more competition nowadays;
- Because revenue models have shifted;
- Because search has changed the media landscape;
- Because media brands are expanding their product lines to include a variety of revenue models;
- Because while tactics can be quick, strategy takes time to analyze, implement, measure, and iterate.
In my recent diggings to answer the question about increasing performance, I find that every answer leads to another question, and then every question leads me to a better understanding of the needs and behaviors of the audience & product I am focusing on.
For example, if I focus on a particular blog, I find myself segmenting and segmenting to get to the heart of what is going on, and find opportunity in the gaps. For instance:
- Discern What is Working and Why
Critically looking at top content, analyzing it based on specific time periods & marketing channels, and looking at deeper metrics such as age of the blog entry, bounce rate and average time readers spent with it.
- Focus on Core Audience
Considering different audience types, and how a product can serve core readers and a broader audience in different ways.
- Segment Search Traffic
Reviewing search traffic separately from other referrers. SEO is incredibly important to a media brand, but each marketing channel requires its own analysis, because each has different underlying behavior patterns and engagement.
- Understand the Niche Market
While metrics are critical to analysis, you also need to get in the trenches, reaching the blog, the comments, and reviewing competitors offerings. If you can’t see the product from the perspective of the audience, then you are going to miss the opportunity for improvement.
- Embrace Research
Surveys, usability testing and industry research is a critical element to blend with web analytics and anecdotal evidence. If there is one thing I would love to see more of, it is primary research on niche markets.
Talking to the editors, to the sales team, to the external bloggers to find out more about the audience, what they need. Often this means reading between the lines – usually an audience doesn’t ask for what is missing, they only ask for what they know you already deliver and what they are already expecting. In an ideal situation, you would be able talk to readers often.
- Look Outside The Box
Look outside a particular market to find ideas for growth. Applying idaes from another field can be a powerful competitive advantage.
Overall, the goal is to take things from good from the great. And that’s difficult, because:
It’s hard to look at something that is good, maybe even REALLY good,
and say "this isn’t good enough."
This week I have become mildly obsessed with a four part interview with Ira Glass, host of NPR’s "This American Life" radio series. He talks about storytelling:
When Ira discusses the challenge for him and his team, he talks about how hard it is to find a great story, and how valuable it is to not be afraid to throw out "good" ideas, "good" stories, and considerable effort. Ira says they end up ditching half of the ideas that they actually moved forward with, meaning that they are willingly throwing good stuff in the trash.
His reasoning is that, when you throw something "good" out, it gives the chance for something GREAT to be born.
For B2B media, what this means is moving beyond simple answers, beyond adding on one more tactic to an existing strategy. It means focusing on two things:
- Understanding and serving the needs of the markets that one is focused on, and always willing to rethink what those needs are and how audience behavior evolves and changes.
- Constantly refining the products & solutions that you are offering.
In the media world, some are making a big play in the "content" space by churning out a huge number of articles:
- Demand Media paying $15 per article from freelancers.
- AOL is ramping up its low-cost content strategy in a similar way.
Will such a strategy work for B2B markets – those filled with highly experienced experts who need advanced solutions to move their business forward? Will "good" be good enough for these markets? Will "good" put smiles on the faces of those deep in the trenches? Will "good" grow media revenue models?
When considering how a brand serves the needs of their market and rethinks the value of their product offering, Gary Hamel offers the following advice:
"Organizations need to move from building competitive advantage to building evolutionary advantage over time, because no matter how good your strategy is, strategies die. For the first time in the history of the world, each new generation is born into a new world with new technologies, new preferences, and new ways of communicating… Organizations get into trouble when they don’t change their offering as fast as the needs of their customers have changed."