Evaluating Your Content Vendor's Performance
December 12, 2019 | by Timothy Wier
You’ve hired a content vendor. They’ve started creating content on your behalf. Perhaps your audience is starting to engage with that content.
Things are off to a good start.
Or are they?
Answering that question isn’t always simple. And it’s certainly one that you can’t leave unanswered for three, six, or even twelve months.
If you don’t help make these expectations clear, both by evaluating your content vendor’s performance and offering them the feedback they need to make changes, a few problems will likely come up:
- They won’t learn about your business or what your audience is interested in if you don’t address misconceptions, take steps to educate them on your business, and offer feedback when they make mistakes.
- Small problems (like one bad piece of content) turn into big problems (like 20 bad pieces of content) when you don’t solve them early enough.
- Ultimately, not addressing issues ASAP will result in lost opportunity and revenue.
As someone who works on the vendor side, I can promise you that your vendor is constantly evaluating whether they should continue the relationship with you.
You should do the same.
In the end, it’s going to save you time, energy, and money to establish a process for evaluating your content vendor’s performance on a regular basis. Here are five questions to ask that should give you a clear idea of how they’re performing.
1. Are they giving you high-quality deliverables?
A relationship with a vendor is a relationship, yes. But it’s also a business transaction.
You’ve agreed to pay them for their services. You should expect that they deliver the deliverables on time.
But that’s the easy part.
The hard part is ensuring that the deliverables match the level of quality that you expect and need to generate a return on investment.
I’m not talking about production quality. That’s a given. What I’m talking about is the #1 metric of content quality: whether they’re offering a unique, helpful solution to a real-life customer problem.
That’s the most difficult thing for a third party to master, simply because they don’t know your business like you do.
And while there are steps you can take to deepen their knowledge of who you are and what you do, sometimes you can only do so much.
If you have to spend so much time editing that you might as well rewrite it, then the deliverable isn’t worth the investment and, thus, you should reconsider the relationship.
On the other hand, you may have a vendor who goes above and beyond:
- They leverage your subject matter expertise in the content through interviews and early-stage feedback
- They heavily research your industry
- They constantly look at what’s performing well and base their decisions on what your audience is actually interested in
If that’s the case, then you have what could be a great vendor. Continue evaluating them to ensure that the results you need follow from that strong foundation.
2. Is the content improving your audience growth KPIs?
When you invest in audience-focused content, the natural result should be a boost in your KPIs, particularly the ones surrounding audience growth.
A growing and engaged audience is an excellent sign that your content is:
- Hitting at the right topics
- Offering a helpful solution
- Building your authority in their eyes
Thus, your audience growth KPIs should be a good indicator of how effective your content vendor is executing on your behalf.
Thanks to Google Analytics and similar tools, plus all your social media data, tracking your audience growth should be a fairly easy exercise.
Here are some of the top KPIs to consider and the key questions they answer about your content vendor’s performance:
- Pageviews. Are they increasing the engagement of your current audience
- First-time vs. returning users. Are they growing your audience by bringing in new users?
- Bounce rate. Are they enticing people to view more content on your website?
- Exit rate. Are they sending people away from your site?
- Time on page. Are they engaging an audience who spends time reading or watching your content?
- Social media followers. How many people have decided they like your content enough to put it in their news feeds?
- Social media reach/impressions. How many people are your posts actually reaching?
- Social media engagement. What level of response is the content getting from your audience?
If your content vendor isn’t starting to grow your audience in the short term, odds are you’re not going to see much success in the long term.
3. Is there a correlative impact on revenue?
Return on investment is the North Star for startups and small businesses, especially in the early stages.
With limited funds and pressure to grow fast, every dollar you spend should generate some kind of return.
Given the arbitrary and skewed nature of many current revenue attribution models, a granular approach to assigning credit by channel or individual piece of content can result in unhelpful insights.
But that doesn’t mean that any attempt to understand revenue attribution is going to be a waste of time.
In general, you should be able to measure some kind of broad correlation between the amount that you spend on your content marketing efforts and a correlative increase in revenue from your marketing channels.
If that’s not there, then it’s a bad sign.
On the other hand, if you see an increase in traffic, lead quality, social media engagement, and general perception of your brand, measured either formally and informally, in addition to your revenue growth, then you’ve got a pretty strong case for the ROI-positive nature of your content.
4. Do they proactively come up with ideas?
A passive vendor won’t grow in their effectiveness.
The marketing world is constantly evolving. Tactics are shifting. Best practices are changing. As buyers change their behaviors, marketers have to adapt to them.
For example, just a few years ago, the common wisdom was to gate everything so you could gather email addresses. Now, as gated content declines, it isn’t the “be all end all” it once was.
The point here isn’t to make a prescription on gated vs. ungated content. The point is to say that the best practices of yesterday aren’t what works today. If your content vendor isn’t proactive in experimenting and trying new things, they’re not going to keep your brand relevant.
If they deliver the same thing month after month without any suggestions for how to change or improve – especially if it’s in the face of stagnant or declining metrics – you should consider that they may not be the best fit for you.
Your goal is to grow. A content vendor who shares the same goal – to help you grow your reach among your target audience and better connect them with the information they need – is going to be one you’ll want to stick with.
This requires innovation, creativity, and constant learning. That’s something that your content vendor absolutely needs if they’re going to succeed.
5. Do you like working with them?
This last tip probably isn’t on many lists like this one, simply because it’s not an objective metric. But sometimes, subjective experiences guide our decisions, especially when we’re talking about relationships with vendors.
Your content vendor will take a significant amount of your time and energy. For both your sanity and effectiveness in reaching your goals, you shouldn’t dread every conversation with them.
On the contrary, you should be excited to work and collaborate with them.
Not dealing with personal issues can lead to resentment and, ultimately, seep into how you approach their work. True objectivity is a myth. If you don’t get along with your vendor, it will impact how you approach and evaluate their work.
So make sure you address these issues and, if necessary, make a change.
By evaluating your content vendor’s performance throughout the relationship, you can address issues as they arise. If done well, and in a human way, it can result in a better, stronger relationship.
And that can only mean good things for your business.