by Michael Bruh
CMOs everywhere are being pressed by their digital marketing teams to significantly increase budgets for content marketing. Like other digital phenomena (“The year of mobile,” “Social is everything”), content marketing is squarely front and center in corporate discussions. But unlike mobile and social media, there’s a wild card in the deck—courtesy of Google—with regard to content marketing.
This time last year, headlines abounded warning of the impending full implementation of Google Secure Search (GSS), which withholds from Web sites the “referrer data” (keywords) that customers use to find Web sites. Prior to GSS, a Web site owner could determine, for example, that more people found a site using the term “aquarium” as opposed to “fish tank.” With GSS, the Web site can still see that a visitor came from Google, but it doesn’t know which words were used to find the site.
Now GSS is fully implemented, with referrer data severely restricted unless marketers use Google’s paid search service, and the scary headlines are gone.
Google Secure Search Creates Challenges
But GSS continues to pose big challenges to implementing and measuring the effects of content marketing. This is not surprising, since SEO keywords have long been the shortest route connecting customer intent and commerce.
To find out just how widespread the impact of GSS is on content marketing, our company commissioned Forrester Research to survey over 100 U.S.-based marketing professionals who are decision makers or influencers about digital marketing budgets, strategy, and content marketing plans within their organizations. Here are three key findings from the survey:
• Content marketing is an important and growing priority, even though search engine encryption (via GSS) of keyword-level data diminishes one extremely valuable source of information about customer search intent.
• Nearly three-quarters of survey respondents said that keyword search data informs or significantly informs their content marketing strategy. Moreover, keywords also contribute to paid media, customer understanding, and measurement.
• To overcome the challenges of GSS and its resulting “keyword not provided” data, search marketers need to adopt multiple sources of data, analytics skills, expanded attribution models, and trusted agency partners.
Although content marketing might seem like a relatively new phenomenon, it has actually been around under one moniker or another for [pullquote cite=”Michael Bruh” type=”right”]Across the board, the survey shows that encryption of keyword-level search data will negatively affect all areas of content marketing. Sixty-six percent of respondents expect a somewhat or extremely negative impact on their understanding of customer intent.[/pullquote]decades. The Forrester survey shows that 38% of respondents have used content marketing for more than five years, while 31% have used it from three to five years. What are their goals? Driving sales is No. 1, as cited by 41% of respondents. This compares with just 17% who said their top goal is generating brand awareness.
As for the top challenges marketers face in creating and disseminating content, 59% of respondents pointed to limited budgets and resources.
The crux of the survey deals with the impact of GSS, and it’s not a pretty picture. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of survey respondents said that keyword search data informs or significantly informs their content marketing strategy. Keywords also have implications across a marketer’s broader digital efforts, with 59% using keyword data to inform paid media, 51% to understand customer intent, 49% to measure content influence and placement, and 48% to determine the type of content to create.
Encryption Of Keyword-Level Search Data Is Daunting
Across the board, the survey shows that encryption of keyword-level search data will negatively affect all areas of content marketing. Sixty-six percent of respondents expect a somewhat or extremely negative impact on their understanding of customer intent, while 62% indicated it will negatively impact their paid media efforts, such as paid search ad buys or retargeting programs.
Nonetheless, marketers have little choice but to continue their content marketing endeavors. Nearly a quarter (24%) of respondents plan to increase their investment in content marketing in 2014. To support future content marketing efforts, they will:
• Turn to Web analytics tools and agencies for support, marketers’ primary resources for content marketing.
• Increase their reliance on multiple data sources. Most marketers will turn to several sources to inform their content marketing efforts in the absence of keyword data. The most popular data source among respondents is Web analytics data (indicated by 76%). Sixty-seven percent of survey-takers will apply paid search data, and nearly half, 46%, will look at social network data, including likes, follows, and social sentiment.
In summary, brands can’t simply hit the pause button on content marketing due to the limitations imposed by GSS. Indeed, they intend to continue to invest not only in the resources required to create optimal content, but also to direct outlays toward better informing their efforts. In this regard, C-suite backing will be critical.
In a recent presentation during the annual Ad Week in Manhattan, the head of global brand marketing for General Electric, Linda Boff, said her company’s widespread content marketing storytelling efforts—buttressed by a willingness to experiment—have “tremendous backing from our CMO.” It would seem that the 100-plus-year-old conglomerate has deduced that if it does not expend sufficient resources to tell its own stories, its competitors would happily fill the gap.