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How to Measure the Success of Pillar Content (Reporting Examples & Tips)

How to Measure the Success of Pillar Content (Reporting Examples & Tips) Blog Feature

Liz Murphy

Director of Web & Interactive Content, Speaker, Host of 'Content Lab' Podcast

March 28th, 2019 min read

After, "What is pillar content?" and "Wait. Oh my God -- you really expect me to write all that?" the most common question I get about pillar content is, "How do I actually measure the success of my pillar?"

It's a loaded question because -- despite what I've heard others say -- there is no single HubSpot report that will do the trick. (In fact, there are ways in which I find HubSpot reporting options infuriatingly limiting, when it comes to pillar content, which I'll talk more about later.)

So, what I am going to share with you today are the different ways you can track how your pillar(s) perform, based on how we do it here at IMPACT. 

Before You Measure Anything, You Need to Ask Yourself 2 Questions

  • What goal(s) do you have for your piece of pillar content? While, for the most part, the keyword you're going after with a piece of pillar content will have high search volume, there may be cases where you are choosing to go after a keyword you believe will have high search volume in the future -- meaning, you're trying to own a keyword now. If that's the case, you probably shouldn't be hyper-focusing on traffic and expecting meteoric growth. Instead, you may want to zero-in on promotional strategies and beefing up your topic cluster.

  • Are you measuring the topic cluster or the pillar content alone? Remember, as I alluded to above, a content pillar is not meant to be a standalone work of art -- it should be the beating heart that lives at the center of a much larger, strategically researched content framework called a topic cluster

    topic-clusters-pillar-content
    That means you're going to want to measure the success of both the topic cluster and the pillar content individually, as the onus behind this strategy is to spark growth for all of your interconnected content.

    However, there will be some cases where you may be building your cluster out over time, instead of "going live" with all of your content assets ready for publication. (HubSpot has found the sweet spot for cluster size is in between eight and 22 pieces of connected cluster content.) In which case, you may be focusing more on the success of an individual pillar to start, rather than the overall growth of a cluster.

Traditional Pillar Content (& Topic Cluster) HubSpot Reporting

As a disclaimer, while I know there are many different marketing automation platforms out there, we use HubSpot for marketing. If you don't use HubSpot, I'm sure many of the principles behind the reporting tactics that follow below can be applied to your situation.

Unfortunately, however, I'm not able to provide guidance on platforms I don't use. 

OK, with that bit of housekeeping out of the way, let's dive in. 

Under Reports > Traffic Analytics > Topic Clusters, you are able to see a standard report for how all of your topic clusters are performing together, which you can then further segment to the individual topic cluster level:

pillar-content-reporting

In the animated example above, the green data represents traffic for all topic clusters together, and the other colors denote the traffic to different individual topic clusters. (You can also change the view above from sessions to other metrics, like conversion rates, etc.)

There are two key caveats to this report that you need to know:

  • This only reports against organically-sourced (probably grass-fed) traffic. There is no report that allows you to have a multisource overview of the traffic your topic clusters are generating -- something that you're probably used to seeing in other traffic reports on HubSpot. This is somewhat annoying.

  • But the thing that really grinds my gears about this report is you can't track total number of page views. It only tracks page sessions -- a single visit to your website from one visitor that may include numerous page views. 

What I'm Looking for in This Reporting View

Over time, you should see what I'm looking at above -- overall "hockey stick" (up and to the right!) growth with your topic clusters. 

I look at this report a lot over the first six months after I launch a new cluster. Assuming it's the usual keyword grab, I try to see how a new cluster tracks against those we've already published. If I see something "lagging behind," however that may be situationally defined, I know that's my signal to go back and evaluate the pillar individually, as well as the overall structure and scope of the cluster. 

Of course, I always need to maintain awareness around how much search volume a particular topic cluster was meant to generate -- some are naturally going to be higher performers than others, because of the search volume for the particular keyword it targets.

(Quite frankly, some of our most profitable content pillars don't target keywords with the highest volume, but those keywords bring in highly-qualified traffic. How do I know when a pillar is profitable? We'll get to that shortly.)

I also like to look at how all of our topic clusters are performing together -- again, I want them to continue to grow together, month-over-month. Typically, I use a rolling 30-day range in the view I showed above to track that performance, rather than the static month-over-month view, since the length of a month varies.

In this report, you can also track page views per session, if you scroll down below the chart -- by default, it'll be the number in the last column. I love this, because it shows me how sticky a particular pillar or cluster is.

Meaning, once they land on a single page, they stay on our site to explore other pages, rather than bouncing off.

We try to make them as sticky as possible by including a very visual CTA on related cluster content (blog articles, usually) that leads to a particular pillar, as well as eye-catching linked resources embedded within the pillars themselves

Screen Shot 2019-03-28 at 7.13.11 AM

For example, you can access our marketing interview questions pillar from a recent article I wrote about hiring a content manager -- which you need to do, by the way. 

Screen Shot 2019-03-28 at 7.13.55 AM

On our blogging tips guide, you'll find called out resources scattered throughout, to take you to relevant, more in-depth content about a particular related topic. 

Using the HubSpot Campaigns Tool to Track More Interesting Data

I want to thank myself from last fall November 2018 Liz Murphy was really stinking smart, and the most important data I've gotten is because of what I did before I left for Thanksgiving vacation.

I had the ridiculously smart idea to create a global HubSpot campaign that was attached to every single piece of pillar content I created

Not clusters, mind you -- just the pillars themselves. I wanted to see how influential these definitive guides were on their own.

Here is why I absolutely love what I did:

Screen Shot 2019-03-28 at 7.18.58 AM

I've blanked out a few of the numbers, because a gal's gotta have a little mystery about her -- know what I mean?

Since our sales team uses the HubSpot CRM to manage their sales pipeline, I am able to track how much money we've brought in for deals where a piece of pillar content was part of the equation. 

Meaning, I can say definitively that $195,448 in revenue was closed where a piece of pillar content was part of the equation since I created that campaign -- which is a powerful way to see the ROI of content. (I like content that makes money.)

Why Influenced Revenue Is the Real MVP in Pillar Reporting

In some cases, "influenced revenue" may simply mean someone looked at one or two pieces of pillar content before closing a deal with us.

But in a lot of cases, I found scenarios like the one below.

In the following example, we generated more than $10,000+ in revenue across two deals because a single contact spent a TON of time looking at and downloading multiple pillar guides:

Screen Shot 2019-03-28 at 7.30.06 AM

Screen Shot 2019-03-28 at 7.36.48 AM

Screen Shot 2019-03-28 at 7.30.55 AM

Screen Shot 2019-03-28 at 7.31.26 AM

Screen Shot 2019-03-28 at 7.31.53 AM

In total, this one person looked at (and, in some cases, downloaded) four different ungated pillars -- content style guide, brand messaging, growth-driven design, and keyword research.

(We give people the option to download a PDF version of every pillar we create for convenience, even though the entire guide is available to read without having to give us your email address.)

Undoubtedly, the pillars we created were a significant factor in this person's decision to work with us, which -- again -- I love, because I can say definitively that the amount of revenue associated with those deals ($10,000+) can be directly attributed to those efforts.

In another case, a single primary contact for a prospect viewed and downloaded two different pillars -- website redesign guide and the death of SEO -- less than a month before the company signed a $60,000 deal with IMPACT

Then, there was one instance where a single contact went back to the death of SEO pillar three times -- and nothing else -- over the course of a week before signing two different deals totaling in excess of $10,000.

And those are just three examples out of that $190,000+ number of influenced revenue. But had I not created this holistic view in HubSpot campaigns, I would have never known.

What's also crazy to think about is that this revenue number is probably much higher, since campaigns only track forward-looking metrics, from the date an asset is added to the campaign. So, if one of our older pillars was generating revenue for us before November of 2018 (when I created the campaign in HubSpot) -- which is extremely likely given that they are some of our most popular -- we can't see that. 

Please note that this level of reporting is only possible because we use the HubSpot CRM and HubSpot Marketing Hub. Having all of these different tools in one marketing automation ecosystem is why we can track the revenue our content generates. 

Also, Look at the Pillars Individually

We build all of our pillars as landing pages, rather than as pages on the HubSpot website builder side. That means we get fun reporting that looks like this, when you click on View Page Details for a given pillar:

Screen Shot 2019-03-28 at 10.02.32 AM

(As a reminder, all of our pillars are completely ungated. No one has to submit their email to read an entire content pillar. The downloadable option we provide is only meant to be helpful. So, every new lead conversion -- or reconversion of an existing lead -- we get is a bonus.)

This particular pillar is a workhorse that brings in steady organic and direct traffic, month-over-month. 

I spend a lot of time looking at this view for the first 90 days after a pillar launches, because this will tell me if something is broken at the core of my topic cluster. Depending on how quickly the great Google machine moves, it can sometimes take a couple of weeks for organic traffic to start ticking upward. 

If, however, I don't see that eventual pick-up of organic traffic, I know I've got a problem -- and that's something I've had to address. Often, all I need to do is tweak some of the on-page optimization -- playing with the title or the H1s, etc. If that doesn't work, then I take a look at the cluster and my linking strategy. 

Another specific metric I like to look at in this view is time spent on-page:

Screen Shot 2019-03-28 at 10.27.17 AM

I like to see this number go up over time (as shown above), because that means the content is valuable to folks who are visiting it. 

If this number is always really low -- less than a minute -- and you have a high bounce rate, you probably have content on your hands that does not address the needs or intent of the people who are searching for that term. 

The avoid that issue, here is my process for crafting the perfect individual pillar content strategy.

Finally, Don't Forget the "Soft" Victories

There are two other things I look for in pillar content to call it a success:

  • Someone from our sales team -- or multiple members from our sales team, ideally -- say that what we've created is an insanely valuable piece of sales enablement content they will start using immediately. 

  • Every IMPACTer is able to use the link to a content pillar they wrote as a way to connect with people they've met at events, speaking engagements, and so on. For example, IMPACT Client Success Specialist Myriah Anderson shared that -- after she participated in a SalesHacker webinar as a speaker -- she had an influx of connection requests and messages on LinkedIn. 

    Since we always put an author box on each pillar, like so...

    Screen Shot 2019-03-28 at 7.44.17 AM

    ...Myriah was able to send a link to her video for sales guide as a follow-up to those who connected with her. It appeared more personal and relevant because her name and delightful face were on it, and it was directly related to the topic she was speaking on for SalesHacker -- using video to create wins for your sales team. 

"Wait, What About the Actual Topic Cluster Reporting Options in the HubSpot SEO Tool?"

Yeah, about those... I uh... I don't really use them. I don't find them valuable.

To be fair, it does give you some interesting insights like number of inbound links:

Screen Shot 2019-03-28 at 9.07.33 AM

...but otherwise, eh? 

Again, this is where I really wish HubSpot had more robust reporting, because the best reports I've got that show how much money our content makes for the business -- which is kind of the point of this whole content marketing thing, right? -- is a random campaign report I made myself. 

Granted, I love that HubSpot allows me to "hack the system" in different ways to get the data I want. But overall, I find much of the de facto reporting for pillar content and topic clusters in HubSpot to be lacking. 

I still hate that there is no single view for me to see the number of organically-sourced page views our topic clusters bring in. You can get this number by going to each individual cluster in the SEO tool and calculating it.

But not only is that a tedious workaround (given the number of clusters we have), I shouldn't have to do that. 

Still, I'm able to track the organic traffic gains, as well as the bottom-line impact ($$$) our pillar content is having on the business -- that last part is a big deal to me considering how much effort goes into building all of them. 

However, what works for me may not work for you -- although I hope some of this guidance helps. To find the right path of measuring pillar content (and topic clusters), remember to start with your goals first.

And never rely on a single metric to tell you the whole story.

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