Measuring Top-of-the-Funnel Content

Content that converts is easy to sell internally. But what about content that is bringing brand new people into the fold who may not be ready to buy?

, Measuring Top-of-the-Funnel Content


Many of us know that this aspect of reporting can be a lot tougher.

This week, Ruth Burr Reedy from UpBuild talks about how you can prove the ROI of awareness (or top-of-the-funnel) content.

, Measuring Top-of-the-Funnel Content

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • What top-of-the-funnel content is and why it’s useful
  • Common mistakes/misunderstandings about the ROI of TotF content
  • How to bring discussions back to focusing on the customer journey
  • How to make your goals/metrics more specific
  • How to set up a foundation for tracking these metrics

Related Sites/Links:


Amanda: On the show this week we have Ruth Burr Reedy, the VP of Strategy at UpBuild, which is an agency that specializes in optimizing the user journey, and she previously was the head of SEO and MAs. Welcome to the show, Ruth.

Ruth: Thanks for having me.

Amanda: Of course. I’m really looking forward to our conversation because we are going to talk about top of the funnel content, which personally is interesting to me because we do a lot of that over at Fractl, and I know a lot of people have different perceptions of it and especially when it comes down to what we’re going to talk about, which is measuring the impact of top of the funnel content. So I thought it made sense to start at the very beginning, which is how do you define top of the funnel content?

Ruth: Sure. So when we think about the sales funnel, getting to the very, very top is a challenge. The example that I like to use is if you are a company that sells shoes, you don’t need to do a ton of marketing around like here’s what a shoe is and why you should wear them. People know what shoes are at this point in humanity. So your marketing challenges as a shoe company are different but with a lot of companies, especially B2B companies, one of the things that you might actually be trying to do with your top of funnel marketing is saying like, Hey, this is a thing that even exists. This is a tool or a service that exists to solve a problem that you might have. So a lot of times when you’re thinking about top of funnel marketing in that sense, you can’t even say oh, we have blue widget solutions for all your blue widget needs. If somebody doesn’t know that they need a blue widget cause they don’t know what that is, they don’t know what that does. They just know that they have a problem. One of the common ways that you can use content to help drive traffic to a new business is by creating content around those problems. So when people are Googling, how do I X or how can I better do Y, or name of the problem, you’re creating content around that saying, here’s some things you can do to solve that problem and here’s a tool or a product or a service that exists that can help you solve that problem.

So, it’s really people who, and even way going back to our shoe company example, then it becomes more of a brand effort so people know what shoes are, but have they ever heard of your company? Once you’re sort of down further in the customer journey, people are already at least somewhat familiar with what your product is and what your company does. They may not know the specifics. They may not be ready to buy, but they at least know what it is. But that first time that somebody interacts with your brand, with your product, with your business, how does that go? What do you say to them? And how can you do things that can draw them back and have them come back. So the next time they come back they’re like, Oh, I remember these people from before. That’s kind of what I’m talking about when I’m talking about top of funnel marketing from a content perspective.

Amanda: Awesome. That was a great summary.

Ruth: Thank you.

Amanda: It speaks to why people call it awareness content as well, in addition to top of the funnel content. So in your experience, what do you think is the sentiment around creating top of the funnel content? So with other people that you’ve worked with, how are the people generally? Are they on board with doing it? Is there hesitation around it? What have you seen?

Ruth: What I find, and I’ve seen this over and over, is that people think that they want to drive awareness and that they’re ready to build awareness and build the brand, and so they’ll say yes, we’re going to spend this money and this time to really build awareness and get our brand out there and get it in front of people. And that’s our goal. And that’s great. And then you go out and you do that and you are driving that awareness and maybe you’ve got some metrics in place around that, like, Oh, we’re driving traffic to the site. Here’s some new people who came in and came back. Here are some places where our brand was shared in the media or online or on social. And so you feel like you’re doing your job. And then what happens is that same group that has been all gung-ho about the awareness building, they start to look at their P&L and then they’re talking to the money people and the money people are saying, okay, well what’s the return? We spent all this money, what did we get back for it? And that’s often the moment at which you see people start to really slash funding for awareness building because it can be harder to prove ROI. So then people are saying, oh well I noticed that these content pieces converted really well for us. So let’s do more of that. You know, as a marketer that can be really frustrating cause you’re like, yes, the reason that these pieces convert so well is that they’re targeting a more informed user.

They’re farther down the funnel, they’re farther down in the customer journey. It can be really difficult as a content marketer to say, yes these pieces converted, but part of the reason that they converted is because of these other pieces that we created earlier. When people are converting, it’s their second or their third touch point or interaction with the brand, so that gets all the credit. That gets into what we call last touch attribution, which even though we’ve known is not the whole picture of marketing metric for years and years and years and years and years now, people still tend to use and say, okay well this is what actually drove people to convert so this is what we should be focusing on. So that can be kind of a problem and frustrating from a content marketing perspective.

The other thing that I tend to see with awareness building and marketing that is designed to drive that awareness and that kind of top of funnel visitor is that you will get conversions off of it, but it’s a very, very different lead. Say you’ve got a lead generation model, I think this is where I really see this coming into play. You’re generating leads from content, from people who aren’t at all familiar with the brand, from people who are not ready to buy. They may have filled out your form for reasons of their own. Maybe they wanted a white paper or maybe they wanted to view a demo, but a top of funnel lead is not ready to buy. That doesn’t mean they’re not going to buy. But if you have a sales team who typically – and you being on the agency side I’m sure you’ve seen this – if you’re an agency you haven’t been brought on because everything’s going great and they’re getting plenty of leads. They brought you in because they want more leads. And what that means with a company that hasn’t gotten a lot of leads is that all of the leads that they have gotten are pretty far down in the funnel. They’re converting off of direct traffic. They’re converting off of branded search. These are people who have already heard of the business some other way and by the time they get to the website are ready to buy. You’re driving new people into the top of the funnel. Some of them are converting, but it’s a colder lead and it’s a lead whose life cycle is going to be a lot longer because you are getting to them earlier in their decision making process. If you say to a salesperson, oh, we’re going to get to people earlier in their decision making process, they’re like, that’s great. That’s what I want, but actually doing it, it’s a different cadence. It’s a different rhythm. It requires different sales activities. If the marketing team and the sales team are not on the same page about the ways in which those leads are going to be different and how they need to be handled differently, the sales team has to kind of come back and be like, these leads are terrible. Yes, we’re driving conversions, but the conversions aren’t worth anything, and again, you get this misperception that they’re not getting value from what you’re doing.

Amanda: That’s a great point. Yeah, it makes sense and I think especially for the … I want to go back to the first thing you said because I want to ask you how. We understand this, people who work in content understand what you’re saying, but when you’re having these conversations with people who don’t work in content, are a little more tangential, but are stakeholders in some way, when you’re talking about how top of the funnel content fits in, what is kind of the narrative you say about how it connects to everything else?.

Ruth: Well, a lot of it does come back to that customer journey and looking at how you’re qualifying leads. What are the problems that this product or service is designed to solve? I find that B2B companies especially can be, even though they know the answer, they can be really bad at saying what it is. But what does the product do? When you use the product, what does that do? So getting people to articulate here are the problems that this product is designed to solve. You can then take a look at their product pages and see we can’t on this one page that’s talking about the product talk about every possible way you could use it to solve your business problems, your business needs. We don’t have room for that on the page and that’s not what this page is for, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t create other pages that are specifically about here’s how you could use this tool to do this thing. Here’s how you can use this tool to do Y thing. So kind of mapping that out and even visually saying, okay, here’s a customer, they come here, they go here, then they go here. The more information that you can give them about how that’s going to look, how many touch points that’s going to take, the more they can kind of expect that.

I think the other thing that is really important upfront is to be very, very clear on goals and really on metrics. So people say, Oh yeah, we want to drive brand awareness, we want to drive whatever that is. Reach share of voice but as granularly as possible. What does that look like on the site? Do we just care about traffic? I would say that nobody just cares about traffic even if they think that they do, because I can direct traffic to your website all day. If you haven’t made any money, then who cares? But are we driving qualified traffic? What does that look like? Is our goal to drive people to the website and then have them click through into an internal page? Is our goal to drive people to the website and then have them return within 30 days or 60 days, or how many days that is? Is our goal to drive people to the website and then get them to give us their email so that we can email them? Whatever that is, making it as specific as possible.

A lot of times with content marketing, you can’t just say conversions because the customer journey might be long enough that an individual content piece might not be converting well, but by setting those other sort of micro metrics around saying, okay, here’s how we’re going to increase click through from organic search by 3% across all of our pages in the next 50 days, and by doing that, that’s going to map back to X amount of revenue down the road. Setting that out very clearly from the beginning and then every time you talk to the client, every time you talk about internally bringing it back to those metrics and saying, just reminding everybody, here’s what we’re doing, here’s why we’re doing it, here’s how we’re doing against those metrics and kind of help everybody kind of stay in that mindset of right now we’re not just caring about bottom line sales. We’re caring about hearts and minds. We’re caring about eyeballs. We’re caring about the brand and looking at metrics around that.

Amanda: Yeah, yeah. No, I love the fact that you’re using that as a touch point every time you have those conversations in the future. Remember, this is what we’re measuring it against and this is why it’s important. So going to actually tracking these types of things… before I ask that question, which is how do you make these connections between top of the funnel content to conversions, when you said setting these types of mental analytics goals like I want to drive this kind of traffic that will result in this conversion in this number of days, how do you recommend people set those kinds of goals?. What should they base on? If somebody is listening to this, and is like, okay, I want to do that, but I’m a little lost as to how to come up with such a concrete, specific objective. Where do you recommend they start?

Ruth: It depends on where you’re at and what you want to do. So if you are really just making a purely branded play then first of all, hopefully you are doing things beyond content marketing to promote your brand. But then you’re really looking at off page, how are people experiencing? Before they even get to our website, how are they experiencing the brand? So then you might be using a tool like BuzzSumo to look at things like social shares and mentions and things like that, when you might be looking at just straight up the first time users, people who are new to the site as far as we can tell with analytics, which is always a little dicey. We want new users. We don’t care as much about existing users. Right now for the purposes of this campaign, we are looking at first time users.

Maybe that’s something that you’re struggling with because you have a lot of traffic but it’s all returning users and you’re looking at a metric that you can affect with content that is currently not doing so well. So that’s why I mentioned organic click through rate, cause that’s often something that you’ll see. This website is ranking okay for a lot of terms but a lot of times people aren’t clicking. Why? Clearly from a search engine perspective, search engines understand that this website is about this topic, but you’re not creating the kind of topic that actually encourages people to click. So here’s how we’re going to test and how we’re going to do that, and here’s what the results that we might see. I hate to be like, it depends, but it really just depends on what you’re doing.

Amanda: No, I know. It’s a complex answer in marketing, but it’s because it’s true though. I appreciate you taking a stab at it at the general level.

Ruth: Well, thank you.

Amanda: So like I said, a lot of the focus of this episode is going to be your advice on taking the top of the funnel content that people are creating and being able to measure it for themselves. You just want to know what your initiatives are doing and making sure that you can optimize them, but then also if you need to be reporting on that some way, how can somebody take top of the funnel content and connect it to money?

Ruth: Yeah, absolutely. Well, the first thing that I would recommend doing is getting some kind of engagement metrics and measuring in place. So as content marketers, we always – and I say this as somebody who is only halftime a content marketer of any kind – but you create a piece of content. You see that somebody visited. You’re always like, but did they read it? Did they actually or did they just arrive on the page and then leave it open in a tab and close it and not read it? You can use Google tag manager for this figuring out what matters to you about a piece of content? Is it scroll down? Did somebody scroll down to at least 75% of the page? Did they take at least one kind of other action? Did they click on an internal link? Did they select a piece of content and copy it to their clipboard? Did they spend at least X amount of seconds on the page? Using Google tag manager there, are there a number of ways that you can do this? You can actually look for more than one of those things cause maybe just one isn’t enough. You know if somebody just spends time on page but doesn’t scroll down, that doesn’t mean anything.

If they scroll down and spend time, that usually means that they probably read it. Getting those like top line like are people actually reading this? Are they engaging with the content? Getting some kind of measurement in place for that is really important. Once you have that, you at least can say we are creating content that people want to read. We are providing something that some people want. It’s a great place to start to show that you’re not just throwing things into the void from there. From there, if you’re using Google analytics, one of the things I really recommend doing is taking a look at your campaign and session timeout limits, which a lot of people don’t change from the default. Typically Google analytics calls a session, which is from the time somebody enters your site to the time somebody leaves the site, that’s a session. Used to be called visits back in the day.

That usually times out at about 30 minutes. So if somebody has your website open in a tab for several days, that could, depending on how many times they open the tab count as multiple sessions, even though it’s just one. I think the maximum you can currently make a session is 60 minutes, but I usually recommend that people increase that time just because in the modern world people have sites open for longer. And I say that as somebody who is a huge tab hoarder and I know that as a marketer, but I have 17 tabs open right now.

And then the other thing that you’ll want to change is campaign timeout. So campaign timeout is what drives Google analytics’ assisted conversion data. So you can actually in Google analytics go in and see what are the other traffic sources that a given visitor visited before they converted. To do that, Google analytics uses cookies, so you’ll need to make sure you’ve got GDPR notifications set correctly, which if you’re using GA, you should already be doing. But you can set that campaign to timeout at up to two years. And like I said, I think the default is currently six months, so taking some time, when you’re coming into this project to say, okay, what is our current estimate of our customer life cycle? What data do we have right now on how long between the first time somebody reads a piece of content on this site to how long they convert, and sometimes that can be a couple of years depending on what kind of thing it is, what kind of product or service it is. Increasing that campaign timeout is going to give you more and better and longer lasting attribution modeling in Google analytics, and I think that that is especially important, if you are especially in a B2B kind of world. If you’re targeting bigger companies, if you’re higher up people in the company, maybe who you really want is CMOs of companies with at least a thousand employees. That person takes a long time to make a decision because they’ve got a lot of other people that they have to consult. They’ve got a lot of data that they need to look at. They’re also very busy. So making sure that you are measuring a long enough time frame so that you can come back and say, yeah, this, these conversions are happening now. But if you look at our assisted conversion data in GA, you can see that they’ve been visiting the site regularly for the last year and a half and that started with content.

Amanda: Oh, that’s a great breakdown. I appreciate you sharing that, and I think it also ties back to some of the things on previous episodes, so we recorded where content marketing being an investment and taking a long period of time. And once people at least have, they’ve gone over the hump of convincing whomever to invest in content marketing at all and we’ll give them several months or years they need to do it. I think this is an excellent way of keeping tabs on that progress so that people can be reporting and pointing to these metrics saying, look at these examples of people who converted and how many times they looked at the site or different pieces of content leading up to that. I think that’s a really helpful piece of all of this.

Ruth: I agree and I think that one of the reasons why being very specific and deliberate and educational and communicating a lot about these metrics is important is that what you want to avoid, especially as an agency, but even in house is you don’t want to get in a situation where you’re like, well we’re producing X number of pieces of content per month every month and we’re just churning them out and some of them are good and some of them are bad. getting away from that kind of quantity cause it’s easy for a decision maker to wrap their head around like I pay you X dollars per month, you produce Y amount of blog posts that that makes sense to me. But what you, what you get when, when you start doing that is you almost become like a content factory. Like you want to have a regular production cadence, but you also want to have the freedom to take some time and build some really great content and collect some data and create some beautiful visualizations and then after the content launches, promote it and share it online and talk to people about it and reach out to the press and try to get coverage and all of the things, the marketing part of content marketing that I think can get really lost in the weeds, not for marketers but for, the people who are paying for that service.

The more that you can bring it back to. It’s not about how much content we produced, it is about what content we produced and it’s about what that content did, how that maps back to the goals we all agreed on and how that’s going to inform what we did next can kind of help you break out of that sort of like churning content factory model, which I know is grinding down content marketers all over the world as we speak.

Amanda: Absolutely. I think you just …again, you’re very good at summarizing these things very quickly. I think that I should be taking a lot of notes because that’s exactly what it takes to create a piece of content, those things you just mentioned. Like people here, especially when they’re selling, like you’re saying like, okay, 30 blog posts a month or whatever and like I know that, I like what you’re saying. it’s not just, people aren’t just writing articles, rapid fire and they’re done. It’s, it’s this whole process from idea to the writing, the research, the design. Sometimes the development, the promotions, which is like at least half of the whole thing for a lot of the time. I think that gets lost in that kind of rhetoric around content. So I think that’s an excellent point.

Ruth: Well thank you. I think that like a lot you’re losing out on so much by not doing that because you can then create one piece of content and then have it be so much more evergreen and bringing things in for a long time and even surfacing back up and generating like a burst of, of new traffic and taking the time to market something well makes it so much more of a a valuable asset.

Amanda: Absolutely. So a question I like to ask -we’re nearing the end cause it went by very quickly – a question I ask at the end of every episode is what do you think is the biggest mistake people make when they are reporting on their work and the effectiveness of their work or, or pitching for a new project? Like what do you think is the mistake they make and those types of communications?

Speaker 3: I think the biggest thing is talking about what they care about instead of what the person that they talk to cares about. So if you have all of these graphs on your metrics, you understand why that’s important. But if you haven’t taken the time to show the person you’re reporting to why this, this is important, I’m not even going to listen, they’re not going to read your report. If your report super long and hard to read, they’re just not going to bother. You know in the busier a person is, the more true that becomes to taking the time at the beginning to really understand what does this person care about? How is what I do impacting what they care about? And then just telling them that. If you want to give them the big report and say here, peruse this at your leisure, maybe they will but they probably won’t. But the executive summary, it’s four bullet points. We’re measuring against these metrics because you want them for these reasons and we are doing this about it and this is how it’s going. End of conversation!

Amanda: You can always supply everything else as supplementary material, if they are interested, but providing those bullet points up front, being really straightforward. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And finally, I also like to ask, knowing the objective of this show is to help people measure their results and also communicate those results out, do you have any recommendations for who else should be a guest on the show in the future?

Ruth: Dana DiTomaso does amazing content marketing and she is just an analytics wizard. She is. We occasionally just get together and geek out about analytics and it’s a real good time. So I would definitely recommend anybody who wants to learn more about measurement of anything on the web, but especially content give Dana a look see.

Amanda: Excellent. Well thank you so much for being on the show, Ruth. It was a pleasure.

Ruth: Thanks for having me. I had a lot of fun.

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