Set Your Marketing Goals for Tomorrow, Not Today

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How many visitors to your content will be enough to provide return on investment for your marketing goals?

You’re probably asking, “Which goals?” “Who is visiting?” “Which content – the website in general, or the blog, or sales sheets, or something else?”

The answer to any one – or even all – of these follow up questions won’t give you enough information to answer my opening question. Even if I tell you, today, the right visitor is this, the right content is that, and our current goals are those, you still won’t know the exact, definitive answer.


Because understanding today is only a starting point. How much will it cost to get those visitors tomorrow? Will that cost increase or remain flat? Will next month’s visitors convert on the same content at the same rate?

We don’t know.

All we know is what we have today.

So we use that knowledge to answer the question of how much we will need. And, usually, the answer we come up with is “more.”

It will take more than we have today.

Let’s call this the Yahoo effect. Six years ago, “Yahoo Sites” was the second most visited web property, according to Comscore, with an audience of about 192 million unique visitors.  Marissa Mayer (then CEO of Yahoo), made what seemed like an intelligent content gamble at the time. Yahoo launched seven new digital magazines and paid heavy-hitter journalists like tech editor David Pogue and fashion stylist Joe Zee to run them.

In less than a year, Yahoo’s parenting magazine earned more than 17 million unique visitors per month. Five of the seven digital publications had more than 10 million unique visitors per month. By all accounts they were beautifully designed, and each had content studios that were pushing the envelope for monetizing content through native advertising or sponsored content.

But, a little more than two years after they launched, Yahoo pulled the plug on all seven.

Think about that for a moment. Pretend I magically came to your business and offered you a superstar editorial team, a beautifully designed content platform, the technology to run it, a team of people to monetize it, and 17 million unique visitors every month (to start). Could you make that work?

Well, yeah. I could too. So, what was the problem? 

Yahoo looked at where they were in the moment and decided the only answer was more.

When you start with more than 190 million unique visitors, a magazine launch that only attracts 10% of your existing traffic looks like an abject failure. And, in fact, by most accounts Yahoo’s advertising clients were cold on the concept of the magazines for this very reason. For a company used to blockbuster traffic, putting out projects that attracted art film-sized readership didn’t impress.

I see variants of this all the time in content marketing. A pet company I worked with received millions of monthly unique visitors to their ecommerce channel. But their content resource center never got more than 100,000 visitors per month, so they discontinued it. Their position: “It was too small to spend our resources on.”

A consumer tech company I’m working with created a lifestyle blog that’s getting 80,000 visitors a month, but only earns a few tens of subscribers and clicks to product pages during the same period. They wanted to focus on how to scale their SEO effort to get even more traffic to the blog. I challenged them to think instead about what to do with the 79,990 visitors they already get who aren’t doing anything other than reading the content.

When we set our goals in the context of where we are rather than where we want to go, we tend to belittle things that, in another context, would be a huge success.

Could Yahoo have built a smaller yet really valuable business from those magazines? Maybe. Could the pet company have transformed 100,000 visitors into marketing value? Almost assuredly. Can the consumer tech company do something with 80,000 monthly organic visitors?

They did.

They started focusing on understanding who they were attracting rather than trying to attract more. Then they discovered that giving those visitors something to subscribe to and polls and surveys to interact with helped the company build an audience that gave them the data they needed to make smarter paid-media spends.      

“More” isn’t always the answer to the question of how much we need.

It’s your story. Tell it well.


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