Don’t click back in anger

Analytics platforms give us any amount of data and information but leave out the biggest question of all – why did you click?

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How many people liked the last piece of content marketing you produced?

In this instance, I’m not talking about ‘likes’ gained on social media – nor am I referring to the increasingly spurious share metric discussed on these pages previously.

After circling the insight wagons a couple of times, the inevitable answer is that you can never, truly, know the answer to this indication of sentiment. And sometimes you can surmise that this doesn’t really matter.

Stirring the emotions

Provocative writing brings eyes to the screen.

This is hardly a secret.

It explains the eye-watering sums paid to Katie Hopkins and Piers Morgan for their wide-ranging missives. Yet few titles publishing this sort of content do so under the impression that the potential audience all agree with what is being written.

This lack of relevancy rarely matters on the B2C side of the equation. Secondary audiences for content are a happy by-product for strategies reliant on volume.

In fact, those relying on programmatic advertising to fund their content may be inadvertently scoring incremental revenue growth precisely because an unexpected audience is accessing their content on a surprising scale.

However, could there be hidden engagement ramifications to this sort of indiscriminate distribution approach?

Clicks at any cost

B2C-side, online advertisers ought to pay significant attention.

Imagine if they knew that their campaign, sold on the basis of one audience or demographic, was placed adjacent to content attracting a different person entirely – how would you expect to measure that difference?

If the logic of this supposed audience contortion sounds far-fetched, ask yourself how often you’ve visited a website to read a piece by a firebrand personality you can’t stand – if only to isolate the comments which best represent your view.

It’s a unique, albeit perverse, quirk of free online content. In other areas of media, this sort of content masochism is best avoided.

It is an example of why print maintains an isolated level of authenticity – few people will buy a magazine they hate to read purely what they don’t like.

This isn’t traditional clickbait as we currently understand it – there is rarely anything misleading or invasive about these articles, engagement rates won’t necessarily suffer either. But it represents a fresh challenge for measurement tools and analytics experts.

The problem with comments

Over the last half-decade a number of UK titles – apparently tired of the burden of consistent comment management and audit – have introduced a far more stringent posting policy for their online platforms. That means locking down and restricting pieces that might attract swathes of negative feedback or legal responsibility.

The impact – as the BBC is now learning as they grapple with their own comment policy – has been two-fold.

Other seemingly ‘safer’ threads have been hijacked by the would-be commenters bemoaning their lack of access to the piece they wanted to decimate, while the newly secure article would lose much of its traffic – and simultaneously significant sums of advertiser cash with it.

Constructing your audience

So how does this apply to B2B audiences? Well, as is often the way when it comes to understanding the two branches, the effect is less obvious but potentially far further reaching.

Earlier this year I gave a talk on this very subject – how do you carefully construct and maintain a B2B audience? What are the pitfalls of using volume as your major metric for success where a stakeholder expects year-on-year “improvement” but can’t explain what that looks like.

Where a potential user universe is small – less than 10,000, perhaps – the significance of less relevant traffic is severe. If you have a client with an audience based exclusively in the UK, for example, all traffic outside of that geo should, theoretically, be completely redundant.

Yet, in an age of templated social media strategy and a one-sized approach to distribution, reliably isolating a single country itself is a hard enough pursuit.

Alternatively, consider what happens if traffic – parameters unchecked – obviously shoots way above any reasonable or logical level for the perceived audience?

This explains, for example, why so many companies shy away from audience projects around SEO content for their B2B projects – one poor strategy decision can completely pollute the audience profile being cultivated onsite.

The pragmatic analytics professional needs to be able to see this picture as a whole. Simply not reporting on non-relevant regions is a starting point, but if you’re not hitting the right national profile with 20% of your traffic, what confidence can you have that the rest of your visitors are part of your niche demographic?

Conclusion

So what have we learned? The content cycle of production, distribution and measurement is a delicate ecosystem.

But there are a few key lessons:

– In B2B content, the only surefire win is provable relevance

– Stop measuring volume as a metric for success and abandon any race to the bottom

– Carefully evaluate where your traffic is coming from – if visitors are originating from unexpected sources, take steps to avoid them

– Try and build your own metric for user intent and sentiment – understanding why an audience is drawn to your content is your most significant asset

Cameron Sharpe