2016 Traffic Update: Content Marketing Works!
For small businesses, investing in content marketing is a judgement call. When we launched NewPath Consulting in 2010, we made a call to invest in ads to build awareness. This is sometimes called the “spray and pray” approach, where you’re trying to spray your message to as many people as possible, while you pray that some of them may eventually turn into customers.
In many ways, it’s easy to determine the ROI of buying ads. You spend a certain amount of money to get access to a certain amount of viewers. With content marketing, on the other hand, you’re won’t know upfront how many viewers you will get. Content marketing builds relationships with your target audience over a long period of time.
Content marketing relationships
Your target audience is also reading content on other websites - those of your partners, potential partners, and even your competitors. So part of your content marketing strategy must be to collaborate with these partners to co-create, share and promote content.
Building these relationships is really the most valuable way that a small business can build a community and stand out from the crowd. There are two key reasons for this.
First of all, when you have trusted partners that value you, and they share your content with their audience, that creates an implied endorsement that creates trust with potential customers.
As well, when you write content about your vendors and other partners, that becomes a new way for prospective customers to find you. When people search for information about those other companies, they may discover your content and find their their way to your website as a result.
Content marketing relationship example - NewPath Consulting and Formstack
You can see this in action in one of our most popular blog posts. Formstack is an online form builder and one of the preferred vendors we recommend to our customers. To explain why, we partnered with Formstack to present a case study of how of our clients used the application to generate substantial revenue and sustain their business.
The webinar was a huge success with more than 450 participants, and we created an additional post-event article featuring the questions and answers from the Formstack webinar. Since both NewPath and Formstack promoted the post on social media, we were both able to benefit from this mutual effort. A win-win situation like this is one of the most powerful strategies to building quality traffic to your services or products.
2016 content marketing results
Here are the actual results from our content marketing efforts last year. We’ll compare this to our earlier practice of buying ads. Breaking out the blog and website stats separately illustrates a much clearer picture of how the blog traffic leads to increased traffic on the rest of the website. (See Part I and Part II of our Google Analytics articles to learn how to do this for your own site.)
As we started blogging regularly and sent regular monthly email newsletters in 2016 our traffic jumped from the previous year (see below). We discovered that instead of investing in ads as we did in 2010, moving our efforts into content marketing yielded much better results. Not only did our blog traffic jump, but much more importantly that translated to the highest amount of traffic we had even compared to when we bought ads in 2010!
Essentially, investing roughly the same amount of money per year as we did for ads yielded more traffic, which was much better targeted to our audience. By investing in content marketing I mean quality writing, along with ensuring good channels for distribution with quality partners, such as the Formstack webinar recap we mentioned above.
Notice that almost all the metrics are performing better year over year. % of New Sessions is down, but in our case we want more return visitors - more traffic and more return visitors means people are checking us out more often.
When we looked more closely at the types of traffic, we discovered that the biggest jump in year-over-year traffic was from mobile viewers, versus those on a desktop computer or tablet. The 60%+ jump in mobile optimization is critical in today's world. We hope some of these visitors check us out on mobile and return on a desktop.
Social media amplifies the message
How did visitors find their way to our site in 2016, and how did that compare to the previous year? There was a big jump in social media traffic from our own social media channels or from our technology partners.
There is also a jump in direct traffic - people who went directly to the NewPath Consulting website on their own. This is a great sign that people are learning and remembering our business name and website link. And look at email year over year - regular monthly sends really establishes a pattern for our audiences and drives traffic reliably.
One constant snag is monitoring valid referral traffic. "Ghost" traffic coming from shady websites still continues to get through the Google Analytics filter. We are working hard to generate a lot more high-quality referral traffic from partner websites.
We have worked hard to become listed on partner directories in 2016 and will continue to do that in 2017. Take a look at the traffic patterns generated year over year, that has led directly to new customers!
Another way to measure our efforts is to look at how much traffic came from each social media platform. Here we see a big jump in Twitter referrals (marked by t.co), which is a direct result of using Hootsuite’s Bulk Composer to re-share our most popular posts on a regular basis. This handy tool helped us deliver an arsenal of quality social media-ready content that we knew was popular, based on the analytics of our content.
How will you invest your time and money in 2017?
For B2B small businesses, buying ads is an expensive proposition. Our experience shows that it’s best to spend money elsewhere, such as on professional writers and editors, and social media resources. Once your brand is established, then you might consider buying ads to further leverage your brand awareness. We believe service companies can build customers without having to invest in ads, particularly in super competitive market spaces.
Now that we’ve opened up our business and results to you, take a look at your own results. What do your Google Analytics tell you about your website traffic this year compared to last? How is content marketing working in your business? Do you buy ads? What ROI have you seen with those?
Please comment below or on our Facebook page to join the conversation.