Measuring content performance: can you have confidence in the numbers?

With recent revelations, we need to ask more questions about performance.

Do you trust your analytics and KPIs?

We all agree we should be able to trust the numbers given to us by either the agency we work with, and the platform on which our content and creatives run.

Lately, there have been revelations that cast a shadow on the numbers and results some agencies and platforms give out to their clients.

Just last week, Facebook revealed that one of its key metrics in video performance might have exaggerated results by 60 to 80%. Yes, you read that right, SIXTY to EIGHTY percent!

The metric impacted is the average time people spend watching video ads on on Facebook. This is often key in calculating ROI and performance for a video campaign. Facebook has since patched the calculation of the metric, but it raises the question as to how much we can trust analytics numbers.

This year was also the year where some media agencies came under the spotlight for overbilling clients for ads, or getting rebates they did not tell their clients about.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we should start having doubts whenever we see campaign or content performance results, but we should ask more questions.

We, Toast, as an agency, should ask more questions to the platforms that report to us, and you, as brands and marketers, should not hesitate to ask us more questions. 

We’ve always said that traditional media wasn’t as good as digital because it wasn’t measurable, well we should step up and make sure that digital is measured as precisely as we’ve been advocating for years.

I invite you to read a Wall Street Journal article on the situation with Facebook, Dentsu and others, as to how this is impacting the advertising industry, and reflect on how we can act so that it does not affect the digital content industry.

Monetizing content: how this personal blog generates 20M$ in revenue

The perfect example of the importance of having a voice and being authentic.

In 2010, Kyle Taylor didn’t have any money and worked many side jobs. He decided to blog about his personal finances, how he tried to save money and dig himself out of his financial situation.

Six years later, he has 42 employees and 20M$ in revenue from this same personal finance blog.

Simon Owens, a tech and media journalist, recently published a great, detailed article on how Taylor went from nothing to something by publishing content.

He talks about the importance of finding a voice, a key point how The Penny Hoarder, as the blog is called, really connected with his audience. As some of you know, I am a strong believer in writing in the “I” tense, being authentic, telling true, authentic stories.

The blog didn’t make money at first, Taylor says it took about two and a half years before it became a salary, but once it did, it all went uphill from there.

The post goes into great detail about how the company behind the blog was built, how it started monetizing content and how they now work with brands with native advertising.

Brands should more and more act as media, and The Penny Hoarder is a great business case that shows how one must be patient when bootstrapping a digital publication, stay true to its voice in the process, but also how once you have built a sustainable audience it gets easier to drive results and revenue.

Content marketing: objectives, tactics & reality

Have you ever wanted to know your audience even better?

Today, I’m doing something I haven’t done in the past years: ask you to tell me about yourself.

Every week, I send you (and over 2,000 other smart people like you) an article to read. I’ve been doing this for many years now.

This week I wanted to learn more about you, to learn how you apply content marketing techniques, which techniques you feel are the most efficient, etc.

The goal is to get to know you better, so that I can better tailor the email I send you every Monday morning. Although I receive tons of positive feedback, I know there is also always room for improvement.

So that’s one thing, but I also want to give back and share the insights we will gather through the answers we will receive, to paint a picture of the state of content marketing today.

I have created a simple survey, a set of questions it will not take you more than 5 minutes to answer. I would be extremely grateful if you could take the time to go through it.

I would love to tell you there’s a chance for you to win a great prize on the other end, that there’s 10,000$ in play, but there is not. I’m simply asking you, if you have the time, to answer a few questions to better serve you in the future. 🙂

The definition of content engagement

If you had to define what content engagement is, how would you do it? 

This is the question the Content Marketing Institute asked a roster of experts.

The answers were extremely varied, each bringing more depth to the definition, how to trigger engagement, and ways to measure it.

One of my favourite definitions, which actually opens the article they published, is directly aligned with Toast’s mantra of always making sure content has “utility and reach”. Tim Ash, SiteTuners’ CEO, simply said: 

«Engaging content simply means ‘useful to the visitor.’»

This is a definition that really sticks with our approach at Toast, but globally, each corporation, brand, media, will have its own version.


Because how engagement is seen and driven by content depends a lot on business objectives. One might want more time spent on-page, while someone else will focus on cookie acquisition, while a third will measure email sign-ups.

It all depends on your market, the customer journey and where that content you are producing fits in there.

One of the things we focus more and more with our content at Toast is the “next step”. What do we want people to do after seeing our content and interacting with it? Can it happen right away? And if not, how can we plant cues so that when the opportunity comes up they will be able to recall their interaction with us and act on it? Think of the situation where you have a long buying process, where you want people to remember you and your product as they get to the decision stage.

This is all part of making sure your content is engaging (so people will actually interact with it), but also memorable (so that people will act on it in the future).

Those are two distinct objectives in a content marketing strategy. I will invite you to read the CMI’s article, which gives you plenty of material to work with on the engagement stage. And to read more about memorable content, I wrote about it a couple weeks ago, you can always jump back to the blog on our website to read it again.

PepsiCo monetizing its own content

Transforming a cost center into a profit center.

Much like many other large brands and groups, PepsiCo launched its own internal content studio recently. Staffed by a 7-person team, it is able to pump out short and longer form content on a daily basis.

What seems to set this one apart is the strategy behind it.

Brad Jakeman, president of the Global Beverage Group at PepsiCo, has a bold vision in how PepsiCo brands should approach content production: making money from it, not spending it.

Yes, you read that right.

The idea is that if the branded content produced is valuable enough and of interest to a large enough audience, it is an asset that can be sold to media properties and publishers.

Then end goal is quite bold indeed: “My ultimate goal is for our billion-dollar brands to actually fund their own marketing, so that we leverage the equity of the brand to produce content which we then sell [and] which we can then put back into the marketing for those brands,” says Jakeman.

Pepsi, Gatorade, Doritos, what if all those brands created relevant content that you want to watch, and that you could watch on your usual media properties?

This is a 180 degree shift, where the people that bought media in the past are now in the market selling content.

Can your brand become a content seller? Can it become a content platform itself and sell content to others? Reach out to us if you would like to explore this further.

60% of The Atlantic’s ad revenue comes from branded content

Native advertising and branded content already showing strong growth in 2016.

In 2013, there was a spectacular failure of native advertising when The Atlantic published a sponsored story about the growth of the Church of Scientology. Readers didn’t know the content was sponsored (it had been formatted exactly like a journalistic article) and the publication had to quickly take it offline and issue a public apology.

The Atlantic, a 160 year-old publication, has come a long way from that blunder with over 60% of their ad revenue currently driven by native advertising and branded content in 2015, with an internal team of 32 staffers.

Overall, the numbers currently show a better ROI on branded content both for the advertiser and for the publisher. On average, audiences spend four to five minutes with sponsored content, which is a great measure of relevance and a testimonial of the interest level of the content that is produced by The Atlantic’s team, which is a win-win situation for all parties (publisher, advertiser and audience).

The ad formats they offer are varied, from infographics to video, and the sales team has been very selective with advertisers, which is very important in order to make sure the advertiser’s business objectives match the interests of the massive audience The Atlantic has built over time.

Branded content works when it is published where its tone and subject are aligned with the audience who will see it.

Today’s Digiday article I am sharing with you, Yuyu Chen discusses with Hayley Romer, senior vice president and publisher for The Atlantic about their view of the current state of native advertising and branded content.

Are you producing content so that it’s shared, or watched?

Content that people engage with is different from content that is read or watched.

Recently, analytics company Chartbeat asked an interesting question: Do we read what we share?

Apparently, not necessarily. It seems, according to two studies they analyzed, that content that people engage with the most is different from the type of content that people actually take the time to read.

Content that draws audience attention and retention is not necessarily what goes viral. This is important as these results are directly linked to the success, or not, of your content production. It all boils down to your initial strategic objective.

If your goal is to grow and acquire a new audience, go for types of content that people engage with. If your goal is to work on retention with an existing audience, go with content that people spend time with.

Of course this sounds very simple, and there aren’t any magic recipes. This is something you have to take into account not only when planning, but also when measuring.

The Chartbeat article focuses on reading-time and article-length, but this thinking can also be applied to video content.

I’ll let you read the article, but also feel free to click-through on the links within, they lead to the two referenced research articles.

Publish less content, drive more revenue

The New Yorker is publishing less content, yet it drives more revenue and traffic.

Publishers have a dilemma. Should we go with a paywall and drive revenue through subscriptions or forego the paywall and drive revenue from advertisers.

Some of them are doing well in their niche with paywalls (the Wall Street Journal for example), others not so much. Some believe access should be free and focus on advertising revenue (LaPresse+ is a good example).

The New Yorker did a test last year. They took down their paywall for 5 months last year. The goal was to get as many people as possible to discover their nonfiction content, and incite them to subscribe once the paywall came back.

“Good luck with that,” pretty much everyone said.

But here’s what editor Nicholas Thompson had to say about the exercise:

“It wasn’t a massive increase in readers between July and November. There was an increase, but there wasn’t a massive increase. What’s weird is we launched the paywall, and then there was a massive increase.”

A year later, numbers are still up.

Now how is that possible?

Quality over quantity.

What they realized lately is that the stories where they put the most effort, the ones they are most proud of, are the ones driving the most traffic.

Audiences are saturated with the offer in content these days. Your goal is not to publish so often that they might, someday, click on something you did. The goal is to publish quality content that will create loyalty with your audience.

We went from an age of “Share of voice” (mostly used in TV advertising talk) to “Share of heart.”

It’s not a question of who will shout the loudest, it’s a question of who will win your heart.

If your numbers rely too much on the amount of content assets you produce and not enough on the quality of those assets, your results will suffer in the end.

Keep that in mind. And read this great Poynter article about how The New Yorker sees this.

Content, community, commerce

What goes into building a brand content studio? Marriott knows.

Remember I told you about Marriott’s new content venture back in October? How they wanted to be the Red Bull of the hotel industry?

Well projects and announcements have started coming out, and it seems to look pretty decent.

Content, community, commerce.

These three C’s is how the tackle content strategy. It is at the core of the business strategy behind all the content they produce (and intend to produce). As David Beebee, who is heading the brand into new marketing terrain, says:

“It’s no longer about brand-first. It’s about giving consumers content that adds value to their lives, and in return adds value to us.”

They are producing for Snapchat, Medium, YouTube, long-form, short-form, they are basically testing the grounds to see what gets the best lift

And they are tapping into the existing creative community and seasoned producers as much as possible, through partnerships and deals.

Tessa Wegert has pulled together a really good article with details on current projects, how the studio is built and the overarching strategy. Once again a good read to start the week.

Discover more about Marriott’s studio (6-min read)

8 metrics that measure your content’s performance

Best practices in content performance measurement is something we need to revisit on a regular basis.

I’ve touched on this subject more than once here and the way I see it, it is something we need to touch upon on a regular basis.


Because I don’t think we’re there yet. The way to measure performance, to link it to business KPIs, there hasn’t been a clear way to include all the business units into one cohesive content-measurement-team.

I wanted to invite you to read Pawan Deshpande’s latest article, over at the Content Marketing Institute.

Deshpande has recently spent a lot of time on content performance measurement. He published an extensive eBook on the subject (linked in the article).

He presents an overview of his measurement framework in today’s article, where he outlines 8 types of possible content metrics:

  1. Consumption metrics
  2. Retention metrics
  3. Sharing metrics
  4. Engagement metrics
  5. Lead metrics
  6. Sales metrics
  7. Production metrics
  8. Cost metrics

The article explains how you can measure each of these, how they relate to one another and how start working on measuring your content efforts using this framework.

I strongly suggest you first read the article, and when ready, dive into the full eBook.