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Content Analytics: The Formula for Creating a Successful Blog

3 Case Studies on How to Diagnose the Health of Your Blog Note: This post was co-written by Boris Vassilev, data scientist at Scripted, and Ryan Buckley, cofounder and head of partnerships at Scripted.  The most common questions we’re asked at Scripted.com are, “What’s the ROI on a blog post?” or “How do I know if […]

3 Case Studies on How to Diagnose the Health of Your Blog

Note: This post was co-written by Boris Vassilev, data scientist at Scripted, and Ryan Buckley, cofounder and head of partnerships at Scripted. 

The most common questions we’re asked at Scripted.com are, “What’s the ROI on a blog post?” or “How do I know if I’m doing this content marketing thing right?”

Until recently, we didn’t have insight into these answers because we only delivered the writing.

But, we recently launched our Scripted Analytics product and now have the ability to dive into the most difficult questions that content marketers face.

We’re excited to share them with you now!

First, let’s define some important key concepts.

A Few Definitions:

  • Evergreen content. We define an evergreen post as one that continues to drive readers to your blog one year after it was published. Evergreen posts have, via good writing, interesting and lasting topics – or good distribution – remained popular and accessible by readers. A post about the history of a product category would be more likely to have lasting engagement, and therefore remain evergreen, than a post about a specific product release. Evergreen posts are the gift that keeps on giving, driving readers to your blog long after publishing.
  • Viral content. When one of your recent posts clearly dominates your recent traffic, we define that as viral. Not everything you push out will get on the front page of Reddit and Buzzfeed, but if it performs far better than your other recent posts, we view that as viral relative to your baseline. Viral content can signal hot topics for your readers while also providing clues as to which distribution channels work best for your content.
  • Users, Visits, and Time on Page. Each of these statistics is trackable and each surfaces a different facet of your customer engagement. Users shows how many unique individuals came to read a post on your blog. Visits tells you how many times they returned. Time on Page informs you of their overall interest. The longer you keep your customers engaged, the more likely they are to convert.

 

How to interpret Scripted Analytics charts

In order for you to more easily understand the following case studies, I’m going to quickly break down how our Scripted Analytics graphs work:

 

Streamgraph

The dark blue section represents the volume of traffic coming in from evergreen content (published more than one year ago), the lighter blue section is transitioning content (published between 3 and 12 months ago,) and the faint blue on top is recent content published in the past 3 months.

These time frames are all relative to the week you select, by mousing over and clicking. The sum of these distinct cohort streams, as shown by their stacking up, represents your total blog traffic.

 

Donut Charts

 

A successful evergreen donut has most of its mass in the “All Other Posts” category.

This means that there is no one single post responsible for evergreen traffic, which makes your readership less vulnerable to shifts in distribution channels (a linking partner changing a post, a social media drive ending, a front page mention timing out) or topic fatigue.

A diverse post portfolio in your evergreen chart ensures a lasting and stable traffic base for your blog.

 

 

 

The counterpart to the evergreen donut, the recent donut, seeks to inform you about which of your recent posts are performing best.

Posts are like diverse experiments in reader interest, and this chart quickly highlights which experiments are going well. The ideal recent donut has most of its traffic driven by a few superstars, which, with the right focus on distribution, will ideally trickle down the streamgraph over time to become part of your evergreen bedrock.

 

 

 

If the evergreen and recent donuts inform you on the ‘what’ of your successful content, the sources donut clues you into the ‘how’.

Marketing campaigns via social or email marketing, paid ads, or good ol’ organic search can quickly be surfaced here.

Armed with the knowledge of which posts are most engaging to users from the evergreen and recent donuts, the sources donut can direct efforts to reach customers in the ways that have been most successful to you in the past – and track the progress of new ventures.

Now, on to the good stuff…

Three blog analytics case studies

Let’s look at three examples of real company blog analytics and discuss what we can learn from them.

 

Case Study 1: Evergreen Decay

Screen Shot 2016-06-10 at 3.21.05 PM.png

 

Evergreen Decay is a blog that initially looks spectacular, with high weekly traffic flow and an abundance of evergreen content. However, on close examination of the cohort streams, we can identify a stale content strategy as the primary cause of an overall slow decay.

 

What we can learn

Even the most engaging content will get less readership over time due to topic saturation and changing reader interests.

In this case, too much of this blog’s traffic is coming from evergreen content. Some weeks, evergreen content accounts for 90% of traffic.

While that speaks to the quality of the writing and distribution of old posts, without new content to interest readers, the overall engagement of the blog is steadily dropping. Fresh content is almost non-existent in some weeks, meaning the company is not continuing to publish new content or distribute its new content successfully.

This is slowing performance partially masked by the strength of their evergreen cohort, but without replenishment, reader interest is slowly grinding down.

 

How they can improve

This company needs to post new content regularly again.

They should look at both recent and evergreen posts in their donut charts that have been successful and expand upon those topics,  while also promoting these posts via the distribution channels from the sources chart that have traditionally worked well.

 

Case Study 2: A Healthy Baby (With Hiccups)

Screen Shot 2016-06-10 at 3.27.44 PM.png

 

In contrast to the Evergreen Decay blog, this Healthy Baby shows a lot of promise.

 

What we can learn

This blog has the breakdown of recent to evergreen traffic that we’ve seen as indicative of the best-performing blogs: about ⅔ evergreen and ⅓ new posts.

 

This way, the new posts will convert to transitioning, and eventually to evergreen, diversifying this blog’s content age and engagement. We found that despite two hiccups in their traffic – which were unfortunate instances of blog downtime in March and April – their readership steadily increased.

 

How they can improve

These guys simply need to maintain! Their topics and choices of distribution channels are building up readership quickly and keeping it engaged with a diverse content offering. They should strive for better uptime so readers don’t shy away from their blog. Other than that, it appears to keep moving up and to the right.

 

Case Study 3: Growing Pains

 

Screen Shot 2016-06-10 at 3.29.44 PM.png

 

In our final example, we see the Growing Pains blog, a new blog that is having trouble getting off the ground and really engaging with readers.

 

What we can learn

At a glance, overall traffic trends positively, but a closer look reveals some trouble areas.

An overwhelming part of the traffic is driven by fresh content, but despite high levels of conversion to the transition stream, very little of that early, successful content is converting into evergreen. This means that a large portion of traffic is dependent on recent blog posts as opposed to a more diverse offering, making day to day traffic shaky and unpredictable.

Compounding this problem, topics selected for these blog posts aren’t carrying weight with readers or being distributed in successful channels, resulting in a fast decay with no evergreen conversion.

 

How they can improve

This team needs to identify topics with evergreen potential by analyzing the few posts that have withstood the test of time.

 

They might also consider using popular trending topics to make their posts more widely accessible. We also recommend that they diversify their distribution channels and track which ones really work over the coming weeks, then double down on those channels.

The key here is to make sure that the posts they publish recently are getting traffic long after publication.

 

Conclusion

There’s no formula for how to create a successful blog. That takes good writing and consistent publication. We have found that there is a formula, however, for diagnosing the overall health of your blog. The formula is:

  • About two-thirds of your blog’s traffic should come from evergreen posts.
  • Your evergreen traffic should come from a variety of posts, distributed evenly, rather than just a few high performers.
  • About one-third of your blog’s traffic should come from recent posts.
  • Your recent post traffic should be spikey, with a few posts going (relatively) viral among your readers and their followers.
  • If you can maintain this traffic profile while publishing consistently, you will see your overall blog traffic growth snowball upward as recent posts transition into evergreen posts.

 

Why does this matter?

It matters because the more minutes that visitors spend on your site, the more likely they are to convert. This conversion could be as simple as signing up for a newsletter or demo, or going all the way through an e-commerce shopping cart purchase. This is a numbers game, and the more activity at the top of the funnel will drive conversions through the bottom of the funnel.

Whether you use our Scripted Analytics tool or any number of other blogging analytics products, the important takeaway is that it’s critical to discover trends in your content’s performance.

 

 

If you see that recent content is not performing well, you have to address it quickly or risk compromising future growth from evergreen content. There’s a discipline involved here in maintaining both a macro and a micro view of your blog, but the benefits will pay off. I promise!

5 Keys to Hiring Growth Marketers

…And Why It’s So Hard to Do It Right The need for growth marketers has exploded over the past several years… Born out of the concepts around Growth Hacking popularized by Sean Ellis and others, Growth Marketing has emerged as the biggest trend for startups trying to ramp up their revenue quickly. The new wave […]

And Why It’s So Hard to Do It Right

The need for growth marketers has exploded over the past several years…

Born out of the concepts around Growth Hacking popularized by Sean Ellis and others, Growth Marketing has emerged as the biggest trend for startups trying to ramp up their revenue quickly.

The new wave of marketing talent has to be analytically focused, be able to iterate and quickly improve what they are doing, and master an array of technologies to get their jobs done.

Many others have written about the difference between marketing and growth hacking, and more recently, the difference between Growth Marketing and Growth Hacking.

My personal take is that Growth Marketing is a better term for the mix of skills that companies need to scale up and out (and happens to be my title at New Relic).

I feel that using the term ‘Hacking’ is limiting in a way – almost as if growth is something to magically unlock via tactical tweaks and tests rather than through a programmatic, highly scalable growth strategy.

Understanding growth strategy and demand generation tactics aren’t enough, either. A hugely important part of being a successful Growth Marketer is understanding how to use and manage a huge array of technologies.

Hockey stick growth in Marketo jobs, courtesy of indeed.com job trends

Hockey stick growth in Marketo jobs, courtesy of indeed.com job trends

The importance of this will continue to increase dramatically and there’s no reason to think marketers who can marry the creative and technical won’t also continue to be highly sought after.

Because of the need for this unique skill set that isn’t a part of academic marketing degrees, supply isn’t matching demand when it comes to hiring growth marketers. Thus it’s increasingly difficult to fill these roles.

As a direct result of the difficulty I’ve found in hiring the right set of talent to drive growth, I’ve evolved my personal philosophy in hiring. I’ve found success in focusing on looking for certain traits that can result in quality hires rather than focus primarily on experience.

I’ve created a framework that originally was targeted at hiring technical roles within marketing, but as I’ve employed it (and gotten feedback from other marketing leaders) I’ve found it’s an effective construct for hiring roles of all types to support highly successful growth marketing teams.

Hiring Growth Marketers

I first shared this framework at the Sirius Decisions Technology Exchange in San Francisco, and the response so far has been very positive.

Hiring Growth Marketers

PHACE Talent Framework

One of big questions I’ve gotten when using a Framework like this is, “How does it actually help with hiring challenges?”

The core difference of this idea is to move away from making hiring decisions primarily based on experiences and qualifications. Any organization or hiring manager can use the framework (or even a customized version) to identify qualified candidates that you might not have otherwise considered if you were only looking for people who met a specific profile or worked for certain companies.

Sometimes folks with an unexpected path have a great combination of skills and experience to fill those roles you need in a modern marketing organization.

In other words, you build your own unicorns.

For example, for marketing analyst positions, people who have been performing roles outside marketing can be great potential fits.

I’ve found a lot of value in hiring people from different backgrounds like consulting, business operations, financial services or even actuarial jobs. You want to look for areas where people have been applying similiar skills – just to different problems. It gives you a whole new pool to swim in to get the right talent for your team.

This is similar to the ‘Moneyball’ concept pioneered by the Oakland Athletics and Billy Beane.

Michael Lewis has a great line in that book: “when you rule out an entire class of people from doing a job simply by their appearance, you are less likely to find the best person for the job.”

Well, I think many recruiters, executives, and hiring managers are consistently ruling out entire classes of people by their ‘appearance’ – aka where have they worked, and for how long?

The Oakland A’s in the early 2000’s famously found that On-Base Percentage (OBP) was a better predictor of scoring than more traditional metrics like batting average, and thus players that had this particular skill of getting on base were undervalued relative to their peers. If you can look for the right set of talent characteristics, you are able to play moneyball in your own recruitment efforts.

I also get asked consistently about those particular set of characteristics: how I chose them, and why they are the most impactful? Well besides forming an easy to remember acronym (PHACE), they each have a particular value in Marketing:

1. Proactive

I love people who are proactive!

Of all things, a moment from Curb Your Enthusiasm best demonstrates the kinds of folks you want to avoid, who are passive and not proactive.

In this dinner scene, the elderly survivor becomes so agitated that he knocks his glass of wine all over Larry David. A dinner companion says, “Somebody get a sponge.” Larry, ever the pragmatist, blurts back, “I don’t understand. Why don’t you get a sponge?”

Missed Opportunity to Be Proactive

You want to find and support the kinds of folks who would immediately jump up and get the sponge, and not sit there wondering why others aren’t doing anything. You want to find people that don’t start sentences with “We should…” but with “I’m going to…”

2. Hacky

As I mentioned, I’m not a huge fan of the “Growth Hacking” term, as I think it belittles the role that marketing (and marketers) play in driving Growth.

But I do like the concept of having folks who think in “Hacky” ways.

What I mean by this is folks that are always willing to try new things, to experiment, to think differently and aren’t afraid to break things as a result.

While it’s cliche now, the concept of encouraging thinking outside the box and constant testing and experimentation against a set of hypotheses is crucially important for growth marketers.

Much as many of the most important inventions in history came unexpectedly, you never know where you will uncover some untapped potential for growth within your own organization. The best marketing leaders know this and actively encourage it for everyone on their team.

3. Analytical

Out of all the talent characteristics in the PHACE framework, this is probably the most obvious.

Simply put, in our current data-dense state as marketers, it’s table stakes to have folks that have an analytical mindset. This is one area where you really cannot have enough brainpower devoted – with the amount of data we have to work with and building value for customers and potential customers, the real key is figuring out how to make the most of it.

And it’s not just about pivot tables in Excel or creating reports in Salesforce – it’s about knowing what kind of data you need, where to get it, and how to present it to enable effective decision making.

4. Connected

Being connected in marketing is hugely important. People often confuse this concept with being extroverted.

There are introverts who are connected, and extroverts who aren’t. I look for a willingness and desire to connect with others; certainly folks need to connect with colleagues within your marketing team, and also elsewhere within your organization (Sales, Finance, IT, etc).

The value in connectedness is just social. Being connected provides an amplifying effect for your employees and by extension the entire marketing team. I’ve found that the Metcalfe’s Law, originally developed to describe telecom networks, applies to personal networks as well. By being able to establish and maintain connections and build deep, mutually beneficial relationships, each employee is adding significant horsepower to their own abilities.

5. Empathetic

I strongly believe every modern marketer has to get closer to the business side of things to be successful – at a minimum they have to know how their work drives Sales, and strive to make as big an impact as possible in revenue.

But as Marketers, we’re also working with Product teams, and are probably working with some combination of Legal, Finance, and IT as well.

That’s why I believe empathy in marketing is so important. But far too often I see Marketing teams that aren’t adding as much value as they could be to the business, because of strained working relationships they have not only with folks outside their department, but even the colleagues they sit next to and work with every day in Marketing.

You really need to look for folks who are willing to put themselves in others’ shoes, and use that empathy to improve the overall state of your business and drive growth.

Evaluating Marketing Talent

If you’ve bought into the PHACE framework (or something similar), you’ll need to be able to evaluate talent as you source and recruit growth marketers. I’m not a fan of the ‘standard’ set of interview questions in general, and they’re especially poor at evaluating growth talent.

If you are asking ‘where do you see yourself in 5 years?’ or ‘what are your greatest strengths/weaknesses?’ you’re doing it wrong. Because we’re looking for specific talent characteristics, we don’t need to drill-in as much on work experience.

One of my favorite questions to ask is, “What metric do you wish you could track (and how would you do it)?” It’s very interesting to see how candidates take this one – they could talk about work, or personal metrics, but this allows you to see how analytical they are as well as proactive.

Bad interview questions

Bad interview questions

After a virtual or in-person interview session, best practice is to do a follow-up exercise (I call them homework assignments). After all, very little work consists of answering questions 1 on 1 in a small office.

Depending on the position, you’ll want to customize the homework assignment. For instance if it’s an analyst position, you’ll want to focus the exercise on using data to provide some sort of insight and present the findings.

If it’s a digital demand position, you might have them make recommendations on improving your landing pages and website. Regardless of how you choose to do it, it’s important to use this as a primary method of evaluating potential talent against the characteristics you are looking for.

In order to evaluate candidates against each other, I like to use a simple visualization.

After gathering feedback from the other folks on your interviewing committee, you can map out how they rank on each of the talent characteristics in PHACE. Creating a radar diagram for each candidate is helpful and can take a little bit of the emotion out of hiring.

If you don’t take the time to evaluate folks quantitatively you often end up relying on your gut, which may or may not work out. Now you aren’t trying to be an android ——. This is also helpful if your first choice doesn’t work out for whatever reason – you can head back to your evaluations of the candidate pool and decide if you want to pursue other candidates or keep looking.

Radar diagram for evaluating talent

Radar diagram for evaluating talent

Final Thoughts

When it comes to applying this framework within your own organization, you don’t have to use this exact set of talent characteristics, rather the key is to look for strengths outside of experience alone in order to broaden the base of possible candidates for your team.

What happens in most organizations is hiring managers put really high requirements in their job descriptions, and they don’t realize that by doing that, they’re excluding a large group of potentially valuable candidates. Everyone is looking for the same  ultra-rare “unicorns” with very specific skill sets, thus everyone winds up fighting over the same people, which drives up the price for talent. Which in turn leads to an arms race that I don’t want to engage in.

Bottom line: experience is a lagging indicator, and a winning philosophy is hiring for the upside and potential rather than focus on deep experience (not that that’s a bad thing of course!).

Baxter Denney

Baxter Denney

Baxter is a true marketing geek, having led marketing operations and demand creation teams at Citrix and Couchbase. Prior to that, he was a marketing consultant, specializing in politics and sports marketing. Currently he leads the Growth Marketing function at New Relic, where he is responsible for all digital marketing and customer experience. When not geeking out on funnels and budget spreadsheets, Baxter “enjoys” participating in endurance athletics and watching the Washington Redskins lose football games.

Want to read more about marketing and personal productivity? Check out Baxter Denney’s website or connect with him via Twitter.