Matt Barby, Global Head of Growth and SEO at HubSpot, talked to Birmingham based inbound marketing agency Tomorrow People about the role of data in content creation, the reasons why some SMEs are struggling to capitalise on it and what the future holds for data driven marketing and content creation.
1. Could you tell me a little about your role at HubSpot?
My role is Global Head of Growth and SEO at HubSpot. One side of this entails looking at anyway in which we can grow revenue; whether this is the development of new tools for top of the funnel traffic generation, through the repurposing of existing middle or bottom of the funnel content and whether that can be optimised to grow conversion rates. The second side of my role involves looking more closely at our organic search presence in particular how we can start dramatically growing the amount of traffic we generate from direct search.
2. What does this role look like on a daily basis in terms of how these metrics relate to content strategy?
I guess on a daily basis it is very fluid kind of, environment in which we work here. There isn’t necessarily a set structure which we follow each day but the majority of the time is spent working very closely with the content team and some of the international teams we have that focus on our localised presence around the world, I also work on the development of a strategy whether it is for organic search or a specific campaign we want to run and then executing it.
“You shouldn’t be doing anything when it comes to marketing unless you have a valid way of measuring the results”.
3. Could you explain how data is central to growth within organisations?
Over the past few years one of the things I’ve lived by is you shouldn’t be doing anything when it comes to marketing unless you have a valid way of measuring the results and determining in a quantitative, and in a certain way qualitative, manner that it [your marketing activity] is having a positive or negative impact.
On a micro level this includes things such as being able to attribute what type of traffic is coming through and delivering results in terms of things such a lead generation. What the value of those leads are and how that is impacting on your funnel. Now on a grander scale the tools that we use in house here at HubSpot and across many other campaigns look on a much finer level at content; understanding what is working well and the behaviour of visitors coming through to your website. Including looking at search and the kind of things people are looking for when they come to your site and then using that data intelligently to change and modify your approach in general.
4. How does this data analysis inform the type of content that you are creating?
On one side of things it is looking at things like topic generation - formed from metrics such as keyword research - looking for things that have the potential to generate large volumes of search as well as good quality leads.
The second side is looking at the type of content that is being produced. We recently did an audit at HubSpot where we broke down each blog post and looked at things such as growth, volumes of social shares and links. From this we looked at things such as how long, typically, are our best performing blog posts and what kind of topics are they talking about. We even looked at things such as the length of the titles of our most shared content (from our blog) on Twitter,and how did this social share equate to backlink data. All of these micro elements play a huge role in crafting a perfect template for the type of content we are looking to create.
5. On the back of this data analysis do you look to address your content strategy cyclically or when you notice a particular up or downtick in performance?
Where we want to be is real time analysis and we a pretty close right now, as close to real time as possible. This is achievable as we publish in excess of 250 blog posts per month so have a huge data sample that we can test, this combined with the very large volumes of traffic [to our site] make for a perfect testing environment. Businesses producing less content with less traffic should wait until there is a reasonable sample size, however you would want to be analysing this [data regarding the performance of your content] at the very least monthly, six months is too long a gap.
“Too much data can be a seriously bad thing for a company - nearly as bad as having no data”.
6. Do you feel data is being used correctly to define strategy or is it data for data’s sake?
This differs from industry to industry, however in my experience too much data can be a seriously bad thing for a company - nearly as bad as having no data. One of the reasons behind this is that if you are not actually using the right data to report on your business objectives then you are just overwhelming yourself with tonnes and tonnes of micro data.
For example most businesses don’t need to know what the optimum length of their blog posts titles are within every single post to get the most shares on Facebook for example - this might not be of interest to most companies. What you need to be saying to yourself is “what are our actual business objectives?”. “Do we want to generate x amount of revenue via the blog ?”, “do we want to grow our organic search by x amount?”, “do we want to bring in more leads from this specific segment of the market?”.
What you want to do is start with these questions rather than starting with data. Start at the bottom of the funnel and work your way up. What you want to be asking is these are our specific goals - how do we pull in data that helps us understand them. How do we pull in data that helps us measure not only the direct impact but the impact surrounding it. Most businesses are surrounding themselves with data whereas the smart businesses are using much smaller sets of data but are able to extract what they want from it.
“The industry is being led by the software but the actual skillsets of the people operating the software are far behind”.
7. Do you think data driven marketing across the B2B industry still has a long way to go?
I think it has a long way to go with the primary reason a lack of the analytical staff in house to interpret the data.
In most businesses, in most SMEs, you don’t typically have this, what you have is software to do a lot of the analytics for you, to break it down and simplify it. HubSpot is the perfect example of this, we cater to people who don’t necessarily have a huge amount of knowledge in analytics so we present them with the information they need to get results. The problem is people often go for really advanced complicated analytics platforms when actually a lot of the time it is far to complicated for them to make sense of. The industry is being led by the software but the actual skillsets of the people operating the software are far behind, for that reason I think that it [data analysis] has a long way to go. This comes in with the companies themselves and investing in the people with the skillsets and the analytical backgrounds.
8. Do you think the value of data is appreciated across marketing?
I think this is one thing that there is a lot of general consensus over. One of the things most managers struggle with with the C-Suite is ROI. Data is the key to demonstrate this. The problem is that the C-Suite in particular can be overloaded with data, what they need is not the data but the insights and the understanding from the data; those quick snapshots that say this happened and we achieved this because of this. Rather than we generated so many emails from this channel over x time - but while that is interesting what they [the C-Suite] are interested in is how that impacts retainers and revenue.
9. In the Tomorrow People/B2B Marketing report ‘Data: the key to content success’ only 13% of marketers rated the overall quality of data gathered about their campaigns as ‘very good’. What do you think are the reasons for such a low percentage of marketers rating their data in such a manner is it a lack of quality data or a lack of understanding?
I think there is a bit of both - more often than not the data isn’t there and in B2B the kinds of businesses that are able to get great data - those 13% - I would imagine are, either SaaS companies or deliver transactions online and can calculate sales figures in an easy and quick process. Whereas in certain industries, engineering for example, there are not simple sales processes - companies that manufacture building goods and target architects for example, their sales gestation period can be over years and project costs can be very different - so calculating order costs is very difficult, so at a granular level calculating metrics such as how much as an email address worth is close to impossible.
I think certain companies need to understand that certain metrics are impossible so that is where it can become more difficult, but a lot of businesses can relatively easily calculate sales data but the majority of time they are not doing this correctly or using the correct tools.
10. Could you expand on what you mean by not ‘using the correct tools’?
I’ve been surprised by businesses I’ve worked with in the past. Major global businesses that are floated on the stock market that are running things outside of any sort of software within a spreadsheet that is being updated by some of their team. It is crazy inefficient how people are recording data and the assumptions they are making. A classic example of this is speaking to field sales teams, the first thing I would say [to the sales team] is what does your typical customer, typical sales process look like and what is your average order size. I would be met with blank faces and a finger in the air estimate. There is too much gut feeling out there and when you are basing revenue growth etc on gut feeling it becomes dangerous.
11. How do you see data as the key to enhancing the customer experience?
Data is key to enhancing customer experience.
The way people are thinking about data when it comes to enhancing the customer experience is what works best for the company, in order to get results you need to turn this on its head and see what works best for the customer.
For example if a business is looking at what kind of mechanism works best in earning leads they might decide to display a pop-up on their site and split test between a pop-up that appears after five seconds and after 10 seconds. Say the five second pop-up generates 30% more leads then that is what they are looking at, what they are not looking at is what happens to other people visiting the site. Is it having a negative impact on the bounce rate, number of visitors or pages being visited, what experience are you offering returning visitors - are they seeing the same content over and over again? What impact is this having on your brand? An extra bursts of leads is very short term thinking, it should be led by looking at how we are improving the experience for the customer and then how it is impacting on the brand.
12. What do you see as the future of data driven content marketing?
It is difficult to say what will be the next trend will be. [There will] definitely be a new fad in using data as a conduit to display information, inforgraphics to interactive infographics, but what is now more important when it comes to data and content creation is less about how you can gather data and how you can display in some kind of funky looking way, it it is more about using data on your users to create a unique experience for individual users. Particularly giving someone who is visiting your site for the first time a completely different experience to someone who has visited before. Bringing people through to a similar piece of content but the way they are able to interact [with the content] or the way you are bringing them through the funnel is completely different based on the data you have on them. This is similar to Amazon and how they are completely focused on the individual experience, I see this moving out of ecommerce and into the content, business world.
Matthew Barby is the Global Head of Growth & SEO at HubSpot. He's an award-winning blogger and a lecturer for the Digital Marketing Institute. You can find out more information about him on his digital marketing blog or via Twitter.