Up and to the right. That’s what a good outcome looks like in any form: share prices, annual profit margins, social followers, website traffic. My sense of dread when seeing our stats fall off a cliff last year is therefore understandable, despite knowing this was part of an intentional plan.
In reality, this decline in traffic was a good thing. It represented a sloughing off of distracting content; a refocus; a new beginning. The robust headline traffic stats had been masking the real numbers we should have been paying attention to all along.
Let’s back up a bit and explain ourselves. As part of our agency rebrand, we carried out an in-depth, data-led content review that revealed some harsh truths about our digital estate.
The content audit – carried out to identify which pages were most popular and relevant to our core audience – revealed that a single page was attracting over 20% of our traffic. “How to fix your iPhone screen” was a hugely popular resource for many people… yet had nothing to do with what we do or who we are. There were a small number of similar blog posts that were also very popular and represented the majority of our organic search traffic.
We can assume that this traffic was not only useless in terms of driving interest in our business, it was giving us a false picture of our popularity. By providing valuable resources for people who would never be interested in our product or our offering, we were building inefficiency into an otherwise productive inbound marketing process. We had to face facts:
“Not all traffic is good traffic.”
It was clear that we should remove this ‘noise’ in our system and really focus on developing useful content for existing and prospective clients. The second part of our content strategy helped with this.
Who are you talking to?
In order to write useful content, you really need to have your audience clearly in mind. Having written hundreds of articles over the years for search specialists, we had an innate understanding of this group. As our service offering had grown to encompass Digital PR, Content Marketing and Creative Production, however, we hadn’t stopped to think in detail about the people who go looking for resources related to these topics.
We remedied this with a series of workshops, interviews and questionnaires that helped us develop the following four personas:
A technically minded specialist, SEO Sam looks for in-depth solutions to intricate search-related problems.
He is motivated by obtaining a deep level of understanding within his area of expertise and is relied upon by colleagues to provide technical solutions and context. He looks for in-depth ‘how to’ resources that make him better at his job.
Mid-level Marketing Manager Mary successfully juggles a hugely varied workload.
She needs to maintain a broad understanding of all new marketing topics and techniques and looks for quick answers to solve general problems. She seeks out articles that give her immediate information on how to most effectively execute a broad marketing plan.
Dave oversees all digital output within his organisation and is leant on by peers, board members and direct reports for direction and guidance.
He enjoys reading strategic technical articles around the future of digital and is primarily focused on improving the digital capacity of his business and the digital capabilities of the workforce.
The overarching Communications and Marketing Director, Dina steers the strategic marketing direction of the business and brand.
She relies on her team to execute her plans and fill in any gaps in her knowledge, and looks for resources that can help her steer the brand in the right direction. She actively seeks out the opinions of industry influencers who help shape her frame of reference.
What has this got to do with traffic stats?
If we understand the people we want to reach with our content then whatever we produce will be better tailored to respond to their needs. This should help us develop a more highly engaged audience who derive real value from our content.
Armed with this insight, we looked at our success metrics and rewrote our content strategy from scratch. Rather than focusing on overarching audience growth, we started to obsess around engagement metrics. We started to produce content for multiple personas that allowed us to evidence our expertise across the entire digital marketing spectrum, which was a much better reflection of who we are as an agency. Our aim was to get more digital professionals reading more of our content for longer.
Six months after this change in strategy, we had made the following changes to our content:
- Technical search-related articles represented around 30% of our content production (rather than 90%)
- Content marketing and digital PR articles joined the technical SEO-focused pieces
- We produced two new guides aimed at ‘Marketing Mary’ – A Guide to Successfully Promoting Content to Publishers and Creative Ideation for Digital Marketers
- We introduced a Digital Leadership blog category with articles like this one, firmly aimed at a more strategic audience,
which had a huge impact on our stats. A comparison of the year-on-year analytics showed that despite overall traffic dipping by as much as 30%, with organic down by over 46%, the numbers that mattered were excellent:
- Average number of pages viewed per session were up 12%
- Session duration was up by over 66%
- Referral traffic was up by 24%
- Social traffic was up by 132%
We were also seeing diversification of engaged visitors. Whereas the vast majority of newsletter sign-ups had historically come from new organic visitors, the sources had broadened out to include sign-ups from referral, organic, direct, social, and email visitors.
On a superficial level, our website traffic took a major hit from changing our content strategy.
On a level that mattered, however, we had turned an important corner. We were seeing a higher volume of relevant traffic from a more engaged audience. That audience was also more varied, interested in a wider range of content and spending more time exploring. All of this has led to the ultimate business-critical conversion KPIs: more newsletter sign-ups, more enquiries and, ultimately, more sales qualified leads.
Our content strategy was actually a component part of a wider rebrand project we undertook last year, which you can read about here.