It's a simple question you should be able to answer. To understand the effectiveness of your inbound marketing efforts and campaigns in generating new sales leads, you need to be able to instantly compare marketing KPIs across all of your primary channels. What are you looking for? Both short-term results and long-term trends. Let's take a look at our data over the past two years and start to analyze what's working and what isn't.
In Chart #1, we are showing organic search traffic over time in green, with visit-to-lead conversion rate superimposed as a black line. There are some interesting trends. Overall, we have been increasing organic search traffic—a 400 percent increase from mid-2011 until early 2013. But search traffic has been declining ever since. One might normally assume that it's time to rethink our SEO strategy. But wait, there's more. Notice also that as search traffic increased in late 2012, conversion rates dropped or became steady at about 1 percent. But as traffic dropped early this year, conversion rates have been climbing again. What's going on?
In 2012, our strategy was to drive as much traffic and leads as possible by publishing very popular downloads and blogs (like social media cheatsheets), aimed at digital marketers in general. You can see that in the beginning of 2012, this strategy successfully increased both traffic and new leads in tandem. But toward the end of the year, conversion rates started to drop while traffic continued to increase. We think this happened because we had begun to saturate our target market (at the time). In other words, our content was still popular, but we weren't reaching new leads.
In 2013, we started to recognize that not only had we saturated our target market, but we were also not generating many qualified sales leads. We weren't reaching likely buyers for our services, but instead, people who simply wanted to learn more about inbound marketing best practices. We decided to change our content marketing strategy to focus more on customers and their pain points, now generating more ebooks aimed at the needs of mid-to-large size company marketing executives based on buyer persona analysis. This is a smaller market overall, but much more likely to yield new customers. As a result, our traffic has started to decrease, since we are now starting to lose the broader market. But conversion rates are increasing since our content is more targeted to specific buyers.
Back in 2012 we saw a substantial increase in referral traffic, as our popular content aimed at marketers in general got picked up by some of the more popular marketing content syndicators, like Business2Community and Social Media Today. Notice our lead conversion rates showed a negative correlation with increasing traffic over that period, dropping to a historic low at the beginning of this year. Why? Probably a saturation effect, not only in reaching our former target market, but also reaching a peak in their interest level, as many companies were now publishing similar content, and the syndication sites were becoming progressively choked with marketing "how-to" blogs and downloads.
Now, our revised content strategy appears to be turning this trend around, with renewed interest in our content, albeit with a smaller target market.
Facebook and Twitter have always been strong channels for us, generating anywhere from 20 to 30 percent of our website traffic and 10 to 20 percent of our leads. Why? Because we're active in these channels, posting frequently in our personal profiles and maintaining an ever-increasing following with our company pages. You can see a definite saturation trend toward the end of 2012 even though our company was growing and we were more active in social media than ever. Toward the end of the year, however, we started to drive many more leads from social media as we started actively promoting our content via Facebook promoted posts and other forms of social media advertising. Again, we began reaching a new set of personas with relevant content for their needs and seeking them out with targeted ads and promoted posts. This is where we want to be, generating a sustained increase in traffic and qualified leads from likely buyers instead of the general marketing audience.
We see similar results and trends from email marketing. Overall, there's a nice upward trend from 2011-2012, but conversion rates dropped off at the end of 2012. We were using email primarily to promote our top-funnel, general-market content to the masses, and the market started to become saturated late in the year. Now we are using email marketing for multiple purposes in a more targeted way:
- Top-funnel promotion of content aimed at our key buyer personas
- Lead nurturing content designed to move buyers down the sales funnel
- Industry-specific campaigns designed to capture new leads in desired verticals
- Personalized email designed to build stronger relationships and engage more buyers
As you can see, this new strategy of targeting content to likely buyers is really starting to pay off, and we will continue to follow these trends as they progress.
What's the Moral of the Story?
You can't afford to maintain a single strategy over time. Markets change. People change. You need to re-examine your assumptions and directions periodically based on results, learn from the data and be prepared to pivot in order to continuously improve. Inbound marketing is a dynamic strategy, and the real winners are ready to adapt as conditions change.
With over 30 years of business and marketing experience, John loves to blog about ideas and trends that challenge inbound marketers and sales and marketing executives. John has a unique way of blending truth with sarcasm and passion with wit. Connect with John via Twitter, LinkedIn or Google Plus.