The whole game that SEO people play revolves around getting content to rank for keywords.
Get yourself on the first page of Google search results for a relevant keyword, and you funnel targeted traffic back to your site. People who do this well can make themselves and their clients lots of money.
But what, exactly, happens when you get your content to rank for a relevant keyword? What business benefits do those website visitors deliver? Some of what happens falls under the jurisdiction of conversion-rate optimization, but that’s not the whole story.
Something else very important happens, as well.
To be clear, we aren’t in the SEO game, at least not explicitly. We do create content for our clients, and some of that content does end up ranking for keywords, but that’s a side benefit.
Here are the organic-search stats on one piece we wrote:
The piece is a 1500-word explainer about a topic that is utterly esoteric to anyone outside of the insurance industry. And yet, the esoterica is why this piece earns backlinks and attracts high-value organic traffic month after month:
These aren’t huge traffic numbers, but they shouldn’t be. The natural audience for this information is a small but engaged group of professionals. (Also, ahref’s organic traffic figures underestimate monthly readership by a factor of four. More on that in a moment.)
So, I spent some time with Google Analytics to get a feel for what business value this post delivers to our client.
If you’re a business owner or a director of marketing in a niche B2B vertical, I hope this case study will give you a little more insight into what, exactly, you’re buying when you hire a content writer.
Keyword Data and Traffic Figures
With this post, the client — a SaaS company in the insurance industry — had specifically asked us to write about the managing general agent business model. Managing general agents are essentially vendors in the supply chains that the client’s own customers rely on, so this is an important discussion for the software’s end users.
There was also some inherent keyword strategy in play. By writing about managing general agents, we were naturally going to enter into competition for keywords like “managing general agent” and “mga insurance,” which the post ultimately was able to rank for:
Notice the CPC values for those keywords. If you want to run a Google Ads campaign for them, you could end up paying $10 or $15 for each click. But these are targeted keywords. Odds are, someone who is going to bother searching Google for “mga insurance” is someone an insurance SaaS company will want to talk to. Already, the potential for lead generation is emerging.
And this is a nice stream of potential leads, too. Here are the Google Analytics figures for visits to that article in a given month:
Let’s break these figures down:
- A little more than 1,000 unique people view this post each month. Most of that traffic comes from organic search via keywords like “mga insurance” and “managing general agent,” among others.
- The average person spends about 3 and a half minutes reading the content. That distribution curve isn’t bell-shaped, though. The vast majority of readers skim content, and about 15 percent of people read content like this word for word. Still, 3:23 time on page signals to Google that this is quality content, and the algorithm has historically rewarded time on page.
- 13 percent of readers click through to another page on the client’s website. That means each month about 130 people progress down the client’s content funnel through this entry point.
Now, let’s figure out what all those readers do once they click beyond that managing general agent article.
User Behavior As They Go Deeper Into the Funnel
I’m going to have to offer rough numbers here rather than specifics. Why? For starters, Google Analytics isn’t the most accurate tool for measuring user conversions. Also, I’m not a CRO specialist. I don’t want to attempt to be precise about a process I don’t have great knowledge of.
That caveat aside, I found that roughly 1 to 2 percent of people who entered the client’s content funnel from that article ultimately end up on one of three key pages:
- The client’s Why Choose Us? page. Someone who makes it to this page is likely in the evaluation phase of the classic sales funnel and could be considered a lead.
- The client’s Contact Us page. Someone who makes it to this page could be demonstrating intent to speak with the company about the software.
- The client’s Membership Plans page. Someone who makes it to this page is likely either price shopping or signaling intent.
Users whose journeys conclude at any of those points are likely open to receiving a sales message. So, just from that perspective, we can talk about the managing general agent article as the opening of a funnel that regularly produces warm-ish leads. If the cost of producing that article was less than the lifetime value of the leads it produces, then the business case is clear.
But that’s a myopic way of assessing the value of good content.
What about all the people who read that initial article and then went on with their days? Or those who read a few more blog posts before turning their attention elsewhere?
There are tens of thousands of user journeys that aren’t accounted for if we just focus on measurable lead generation. Tens of thousands of people who navigated to and read (or skimmed) the client’s explanation of insurance industry esoterica. What is the business value of all those sessions?
There is an answer.
But to get there, we must first talk about the 2012 French presidential election.
The Branding Value of Good Content
In 2011, then-French president Nicolas Sarkozy began to mount a campaign for re-election. His first term in office saw some challenging moments for the country — the 2008 financial crisis, a terrorist attack in Toulouse months before the 2012 vote — but history was on his side. There hadn’t been a one-term French president in 30 years.
After the first round of voting, the race came down to the incumbent Sarkozy and François Hollande, a leader in the Socialist party. For that second and decisive round, Hollande employed a simple yet ambitious tactic: Get volunteers to knock on 5 million doors around France and speak with voters. Because Hollande had to appeal to voters on the left — traditionally, people who need a little more nudging than voters on the right — his team had to be thoughtful and persuasive in their conversations.
It took about 80,000 volunteers to pull this off, but in the end the Hollande campaign team was indeed able to knock on 5 million doors and have hundreds of thousands of conversations with French voters.
When Hollande unseated the incumbent by a relatively narrow margin — 51.6 percent to 48.4 percent — a lot of the credit went to those canvassers and the conversations they initiated with people.
“By far the most effective way to turn out voters is with high-quality, face-to-face conversations that urge them to vote,” political researchers David Broockman and Joshua Kalla wrote in 2014. Their research shows that campaign collateral like postcards, flyers and phone calls don’t really motivate voters. Postcards and phone calls have a negligible effect on voter turnout.
But five-minute in-person conversations? Those can swing elections.
There’s a mountain of research that shows how having a deep and authentic conversation with someone is one of the best ways to motivate them to do something, whether that something is to vote in an upcoming election or to consider doing business with you. At its best, content marketing is the act of hosting those deep, authentic conversations at scale.
Just as with canvassing, the results of that work won’t be immediately apparent. But reader by reader, door by door, conversation by conversation, you can influence markets and entire nations so long as people are willing to give you a few minutes of their attention.
Now, go back to the Google Analytics numbers for our 1500-word post on managing general agents. Look at that time-on-page number.
What do you imagine the business value of holding an interested reader’s attention for 3 minutes and 23 seconds is?
Images by: Peter Bernik/©123RF.com, Vadim Guzhva/©123RF.com
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