"If you pay attention, your audience will tell you what kind of content they want and when. They vote with dollars spent, link clicks, video views and minutes spent on your site."
It’s the age-old question, at least in the digital marketing age: How much and what kind of content should we be producing?
Beyond simply "feeding the beast" of content marketing, how do you make efficient use of your content staff and budget, and maximize reach and engagement as digital channels seem to be multiplying?
"I don’t think we have found that magic formula yet," says Chad W. Wiebesick, vice president of integrated marketing and communications for the Washtenaw County Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Ann Arbor Area Convention & Visitors Bureau in Ypsilanti, Michigan. “In our view, the question isn’t ‘How much content should we create?’ it’s ‘How effective is our content?’”
I wish I could give you that magical recipe for effective content developed from my experience as manager of content and social media at Brand USA, the official destination marketing organization for the USA, but there simply isn’t one. Both the amount and types of content vary based on each organization’s needs, but these tips from experienced content marketers can help guide you in making the content you do choose to produce more effective.
This should be a no-brainer, but your content should relate to your organization’s overall goals and activities. Often marketing planning happens separate of content planning, and these two efforts get disjointed instead of reinforcing each other across channels.
Successful content teams meet weekly or monthly with marketing teams to plan stories that align with overall marketing goals and activities, as well as to integrate time-sensitive content opportunities.
Mo Sherifdeen, director of global integrated marketing and publishing for Travel Oregon in Portland, often focuses his team’s content around the organization’s two marketing pillars: outdoor recreation and cuisine, and plans six to eight months in advance to ensure their efforts align with the organization’s overall marketing strategy. Recently, his team has been busy supporting campaigns such as Oregon’sSeven Wonders and the newrobot fish campaign, as well as seasonal initiatives like Oregon Wine Month.
Seasonal and time-sensitive content allows brands to tap into trending topics and leverage those trends to improve performance across all channels, resulting in a higher return on content investment.
"We think of [content production] seasonally. Each spring we try to figure out what kind of content we need to create for summer travel, for example, and we ramp that seasonally based on that campaign and messaging," says Amber Kollman King, director of US marketing for the Colorado Tourism Office (CTO) in Denver.
This is especially important as travelers often come specifically to experience Colorado’s winter wonderland or magical summers. However, this doesn’t mean the CTO creates brand-new seasonal articles every year. Instead they focus on topics they know perform well, such as this story on Best Ski Resorts for Families in Colorado, and promote it when they know interest in family ski planning spikes. King and her team are constantly reviewing existing articles and looking for opportunities to create new content while at the same time updating essential articles, then promoting them on their communication channels as seasonally appropriate. This allows her team to manage the content budget and stretch their investment.
Creating content can be a labor-intensive process. Often content teams feel the pressure to be constantly creating content for all of their channels, but they might not have the staff or the budget to support that much production.
If you don’t have the resources to create and manage high-quality content nor the budget to distribute that content, then chances are you should scale back. Producing more content than you have the means to distribute could result in low viewership, and thus a low return on your content investment. As we’ve written previously, content marketing is useless without distribution. Determining the amount of content your team can handle will be a process that unfolds over time. You should periodically evaluate your performance and distribution channels and adjust from there.
Dave Santucci, vice president of marketing for the Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau in Tennessee, spends a good deal of his time optimizing the bureau’s content output. He has experimented with social post volume as well as topics to find the ideal cadence for their needs. "We create one article per week.** **The amount of content is driven by how much we communicate with our following. We need enough content for our website, email and social media to show that we have some original stuff, but we are not overproducing," says Santucci.
To ensure they are making the right amount of content for their staff and needs, he and his team measure year-over-year performance and evaluate such metrics as engagement, website traffic and conversions, which are measured in the form of email sign ups, Visitor Guide requests or clicks on their "Book Now" portal.
If you pay attention, your audience will tell you what kind of content they want and when. They vote with conversions, but also link clicks, scroll depth, video views and minutes spent on your site. Savvy marketing teams pull insights from Google Analytics, social media insights, visitor surveys and more. "We are always learning from the consumer about what content we need to be generating," CTO’s King says.
It’s important to know how to properly measure content marketing, but you can also ask more direct questions. Washtenaw County Convention and Visitors Bureau, Inc./Ann Arbor Area Convention & Visitors Bureau also has taken an audience-centric approach. The joint bureau conducted research on travel motivations to their destination, which lead to the development of four key personas. "Those four personas drive our content marketing strategy. We are always thinking about how can we create content that drives our business objectives and promotes our destination, partners and events," says Wiebesick.
In Oregon, Sherifdeen’s team leverages various data sources to determine content topics. Hikes with waterfalls and wildflowers, for example, have consistently performed well when looking at Travel Oregon’s metrics. As a result, the content team updated their article on Spring Waterfall Hikes to capitalize on this consumer insight. "We’re always looking at insights about how content is performing. Waterfalls and wildflower hike stories were based on this; also we source content from traveler questions via Ask Oregon and social insights. This is how stories such as Ghost Towns, Haunted Lighthouses and Top-10 Don’t Miss Spots on the Coast came to being," he says.
Content production obviously affects your website’s performance on search engines and can allow your customers to find you. While many factors are tied to a site’s performance in search, such as your domain, content quality, age and reputation of website, regularly updating your site content is also an important factor. Google currently scores websites on freshness. The SEO authority Moz goes into more detail in this article on how fresh content influences search rankings.
"Websites used to be more stagnant," King says, adding that her team constantly working on the quality of their content has increased its value from an SEO perspective. “Today, the content needs to be really dynamic.”
Many brands have picked up on this constant demand for freshness, and they too have seen improvement in SEO. "The more we produce, the more we get," Wiebesick says. “The more we pump out on our blog, the more Google juice we get. Google likes fresh content.”
Adding content to your website and updating articles helps indicate that your website and its content is current, and therefore a good resource on the topic the user is searching. While we could write dozens of articles on SEO [and we will...we’ve started with "SEO 101" for beginners], adding fresh content or updating your site adds up to more frequent indexing so the search engines have more up-to-date information on your website.
A general rule of thumb is to update content at least once a month, but this can vary with your organization’s needs and how it compares with other destinations and keywords in rank and authority. Make sure to chart your progress on search over time to see if producing more of the right kind of content improves your performance. This will help you determine how you can adapt to consumers’ mindset as they’re searching for information. Here at RootsRated Media, we use Moz’s paid plan to keep track of hundreds of keywords and their performance over time.
Remember that article about hidden gems that performed well two years ago? That piece of content is probably still relevant, so update it if necessary and share it again — and again. During my time as manager of content and social at Brand USA, some of the first articles we created on Route 66 and the Pacific Coast Highway road trips continued to outperform others even years later. As a result, we doubled down on road trips, and updated these articles regularly to add new information as it became available. Make sure to update those hardworking content pieces so they remain a current, helpful resource. Outdated content can cancel out any goodwill you have built with your audience, and turn new audience members away from the start.
Your site/social handle/email newsletter is not the only source of information out there. You’re not only competing for share of voice with other brands and publications, but also with your customers’ friends’ content.
How do you make your content stand out and motivate consumption? Travel Oregon has enjoyed great success telling the stories about Oregon that no one else is telling. Their content studio has been focusing on such themes as natural history, sustainability, diversity and wellness for their content pillars. Together, the topics support Travel Oregon’s overall values and separately, each pillar appeals to a specific audience.
"We create more than your typical tourism piece. I have been trying to push to include more natural history…as it has been performing really well." For the story Hidden Lives of Whales, for example, the team expanded on the idea of whale watching tours along the coast and focused more on the whales themselves.
You can get caught up on the hamster wheel of content marketing and just keep spinning. While we certainly advocate for a documented content strategy and a long-term plan, it’s also important to build benchmarks into your schedule, so you can pause and evaluate your efforts.
"We look at content types and what performs really well. We have noticed that specific content works really well," says Amy Brown, former marketing manager for travel and outdoor brand ExOfficio. They worked with RootsRated Media to create How to Blend in Like a Local While Traveling Abroad and this article didn’t just perform well, it also engendered a lot of chatter, which convinced Brown to share it again and create more articles in a similar vein.
At the Washtenaw County Convention and Visitors Bureau, Inc./Ann Arbor Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, Wiebesick and his team are always evaluating. "We have minimum requirements on how often we need to produce content based on our business objectives," he notes. “We revisit those numbers if we are falling behind on our target KPIs like driving the right kinds of website traffic and increasing time onsite, and reevaluate and make sure the content is worth the investment. Quality content is more important that quantity.”
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