{PODCAST} In-Ear Insights: What Is Content Attribution?

In this episode, Katie and Chris tackle content attribution. What is content attribution, and how does it differ from normal marketing attribution? You’ll learn about two different ways to do content attribution and one way you can get set up and running right away.

Content attribution is the practice of determining which pieces of content are most effective at driving people down the customer journey. The biggest challenge with content attribution is that there are so many different data sources, it can be difficult to figure out which content is resonating. The best way to get started with content attribution is to use UTM tags to track which pieces of content are driving conversions.

Quick tips and takeaways:

1. Make sure you have good content by talking to your audience and understanding what they want.
2. Set up goals that align with your customer journey.
3. Use content attribution models to understand what content is resonating with your audience.


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{PODCAST} In-Ear Insights: What Is Content Attribution?

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Machine-Generated Transcript

What follows is an AI-generated transcript. The transcript may contain errors and is not a substitute for listening to the episode.

Christopher Penn 0:17

In this week’s In-Ear Insights, as it’s about to be content marketing world figured this week, we could talk about one of the missing pieces of content marketing, which is content attribution.

So content attribution will know what is content attribution.

Katie, when you hear that term, what does that mean to you?

Katie Robbert 0:36

Content attribution, in my world means what has the content done for my marketing to drive people into the funnel and down, you know, that customer journey? And so what I want to know with content attribution is what pieces are doing what things what content is slotting into different phases of the customer journey and helping people get what they need from us.

Christopher Penn 1:03

And in terms of ways of getting that, how have you managed thus far? Or how does the average marketer who maybe has Google Analytics, and they’re the social media posting tool of their choice? How do you see people getting their existing content attribution? How do you see people trying to solve for them? Um, if they are,

Katie Robbert 1:25

I think that they’re, they’re not.

I think that there’s a lot of confusion, still, you know, around easy ways to do attribution.

So we talk about, you know, attribution analysis.

And obviously, we use some machine learning to do it, because the out of the box attribution from Google Analytics is pretty good.

But it’s not wholly accurate.

And so if you are using Google Analytics, then there are some data driven models, some time decay models, those things are really good to tell you what brought people into your site.

But unfortunately, that’s kind of where things stop.

And so that gives you sort of two pieces of the puzzle.

It gives you awareness and it gives you purchase.

But it doesn’t give you that in between where you’re trying to nurture, and you’re trying to educate, and you’re trying to keep people engaged.

And I think that that’s the missing piece of content attribution, if you’re just using something out of the box, like Google Analytics, 4, your attribution.

So I think that’s the problem that a lot of marketers can’t solve for, they know what content brings people in, they know maybe what content converts, but they don’t know what’s in the middle.

Christopher Penn 2:41

I think the problem is actually even worse than that, because particularly for GA four, there really isn’t much in the way of content reporting, other than, you know, pages and screens, okay, which page has got the most traffic and stuff to it, but to your point, there really is other than looking at, like, what the landing page was that brought somebody into a website, there really isn’t a good built in way of reporting on that.

Now, you can do some of that reporting with the Explorer hub feature.

But even there, you’ve got some limitations.

You can also if you’re very good and diligent about using UTM tracking codes, you can use the UTM campaign and UTM content codes.

But again, even in GA four UTM content and keyword are not available in the attribution modeling.

So you really are kind of limited as to as to what you can and can’t do.

And to your point about the different attribution models.

The challenge with some of them is with most of them is that they really are optimized for acquisition, like what channel drove users whatever and not, they’re not focused on content, which I feel like is a pretty big miss.

And this is not just about Google, because every tool has this problem.

Given what’s happening with privacy legislation, and how restrictive it’s becoming, it seems like a big Miss to not have those tools for content.

Katie Robbert 4:10

No, and and I agree with that, especially where when you think about marketing, in general, digital marketing, it pretty much all starts with content without having some kind of content.

You don’t have marketing.

So if you’re just you know, putting up a post on social media, that’s content.

If you’re creating a video, that’s content, if you’re creating a podcast, that’s content.

And so without a great way to track how these things are happening, then what’s the point of doing it in the first place? So you know, and I think that that’s sort of part of the challenge as well is there’s a misunderstanding of what content actually is, and it’s pretty much everything you’re producing, that you were then pushing out on all of the digital channels.

And so it’s almost like if you take the word content out of the attribution analysis, it may be somehow becomes easier.

Because I think there’s this misunderstanding.

Like, if I’m just doing content attribution, that I must just want to know where in my journey the blog fits, or where in my journey, you know, the podcast fits, but it’s really everything that you’re doing is just another way of saying, digital marketing, because without that content, there is no marketing.

Christopher Penn 5:31


And that then brings up the biggest challenge in content attribution, which is you’ve got like 40 data sources, right? Because you’ll have your YouTube channel stats and your Libsyn stats for your podcast and the stats from Agorapulse for your social media stuff, and they’ve Google Analytics and this the content that lives on your site.

And therein lies, how do you even figure out like, what content even just by content repository, what content is resonating or not? It’s really, really challenging?

Katie Robbert 6:03

Well, I guess that’s sort of the question, Chris, and I know that you’re talking about this at Content Marketing World this week.

And so you know, we’re recording this on a Monday to produce on Wednesday, and you’re speaking what, Wednesday, Thursday, Thursday, you’ll be teaching people the basics of content attribution.

So what are some of the basics that our podcast listeners can take away from this conversation?

Christopher Penn 6:30

The starting point is UTM, tagging, using that UTM campaign tag for each individual piece of content, right? That is, if there was one thing you could do that required no extra lifting, that would be it.

Because in Google Analytics 4, you can run its attribution model, using campaign so if you’ve got your your content rigorously tagged, every link in your newsletter, is from just that issue for the newsletter for the UTM campaign.

When you post on social, it’s, you know, maybe it’s got the date, and the time and the piece of content stamped within the campaign deck, that with the built in tools is probably the easiest way to get a look at what content is performing well for nudging people towards conversion, assuming you have the rest of GA four set up correctly.

For if you have no other resources, no other skills, that’s where I would start.

Katie Robbert 7:23

Now, is it true that, so obviously, we associate UTM tags with Google Analytics, but a lot of other systems have adopted the use of using those UTM tags in a URL, so I know that you can bring them into, you know, probably Salesforce, you can bring them into Adobe analytics.

So I think maybe the other takeaway there is even if you’re not rigorously using Google Analytics, your UTM tags are still relevant for other systems.

And so regardless, that is the thing that you should be using

Christopher Penn 7:58


And then, if you were doing a good job with those campaign tags, then, for example, in your marketing automation software, or your sales CRM, ideally, you have a list of here are the different pieces of content that person has interacted with, right? So they came in through this UTM campaign for this webinar for this YouTube video for this white paper, etc.

And then, with some additional tools, you can build modeling based on that to say, like, yeah, these are the pieces of content that show up the most, and people who convert and don’t show up in the people who don’t convert.

Katie Robbert 8:35

Well, and when I hear that, that, to me says it’s an opportunity to make sure that the pieces of content that you’re serving people at the different stages of their journey, are the right kinds of messaging.

And so we’ve talked about sort of awareness content versus purchase content.

If p if you have a piece of content that are bringing people in for the first time, it should probably be introductory content, hey, we’re Trust Insights.

This is what we do.

These are the kinds of things we talk about.

These are the problems we solve.

These are our resources.

And so making sure that that content is available for people who want to learn about you and then come in, but then as people are coming in the door, don’t keep introducing yourself with those resources, like they’ve got it.

That’s why they’re there in the first place.

So that’s when you can dig deeper into the and here’s how we solve this problem.

And here’s the type of problem you might be facing.

Christopher Penn 9:30

And that brings up a really important point about your Google Analytics governance as well as you know all any other governance that uses UTM tagging, you need different conversions for different parts of the customer journey.

Right? You need an awareness conversion like a first user visit you need an engagement, conversion, like sign up for a newsletter or download a white paper.

You know, we all know that.

Just because somebody signs up for your newsletter does not mean they’re ready to buy right so a salesperson should not be ringing the your phone you know saying okay, you’re ready to buy our Our server plants like no, I just sign up for your newsletter, leave me alone.

And then obviously a contact or request a demo or something like that would be more of your consideration or pre purchase actions.

But you need those different conversion setup and in a tool like Google Analytics, because if you do your campaign tagging rigorously, then you can see the content that converts at each of those stages.

Without that, you’re just kind of hoping you’re just trying to infer content all the way to the end.

And to your point, you may be having different content will resonate at different points in the customer journey.

Katie Robbert 10:35

Well, and especially if your sales cycle is, you know, six months, 12 months, 18 months, you are completely going to lose track of what’s working within those 18 months, from the time of them first learning about you to the time of them actually doing something, you’re gonna have no idea because 18 months have gone by, and who knows what it was that brought them back in or kept them there.

Christopher Penn 11:03


And even that goes to additional governance issues.

Because again, if there’s if there are these really long sales cycles, then you need to have something that’s constantly refreshing the campaign codes, to keep bringing that person back in.

Otherwise, after a certain amount of time, depending on what you have set up in Google Analytics, that person would get treated as a new user as an example.

So you want to have those regular frequent pieces of content like a newsletter, one of the reasons that the and this has been something that I’ve done in my career for the last 15 years is have a weekly newsletter.

A monthly newsletter is just not enough to get somebody to keep them engaged, to keep presence of mind and to keep your analytic systems working, right.

Because if somebody opens up maybe every other newsletter from you, okay, great, they open to a month, so you’re still getting decent data.

If you send out a monthly newsletter, you’re sick, it could be 60 days between opens, right, depending on what your timeouts are for things like campaign codes and Google Analytics, you might be dropping that person and causing them to be treated like somebody brand new.

And if you send that quarterly, you’re your host.

Katie Robbert 12:16

Well, and so there’s the data side of it.

But there’s the human side of it, too, where if they’re not getting your newsletter more frequently, then they’re probably like me, who looked at their email inboxes want to go out, I remember signing up for this unsubscribe, what the hell is this, get out of here, delete it, Oh, this looks like spam.


Because the in frequency, it’s not a word, the lack of frequency from these caught these pieces of content, make me as the end user forget what the heck it even is.

And I’ve already lost interest.

And I don’t want to cluttering up.

Because it’s not something that is useful to me anymore.

And you’ve already lost me as a potential customer.

Christopher Penn 13:01


So you’ve got to have frequency to fuel content attribution.

That means social posts, email, newsletters, text messages, whatever, however you stay in touch with your customers.

And you also need to have a way of compiling all the data together.

So there’s two different types of content attribution models that you can run.

Once you get to the more sophisticated version, assuming that you’re you’ve gotten all you can out of Google Analytics, and you want to take it to the next level.

There’s a classification model, which is really best for on site content.

And basically, that looks at what are the pages that people visit, for sessions that convert versus the pages people don’t visit? For sessions that don’t convert, right? And you want to compare these two, essentially two types of visits? And say, okay, what are those pages that show up in converting sessions that don’t show up in non converting sessions and with a machine learning model of your choice to do that classification, you can then come up with a list that says, Here are the pages that show up the most in high converting sessions.

And that tells you your most valuable content on site.

Katie Robbert 14:15

You know, and I think to that, too, so we’re talking about you need to be creating content frequently.

And I can imagine, you know, ourselves included, a lot of marketers don’t well, I just don’t have the resources to create that much content.

That’s why recycling your content, or using something like the transmedia framework is insanely useful in this type of, you know, conversation, because basically, you’re creating a couple of different pieces of content, and then reusing it a bunch of different ways.

And so for example, you know, Chris, and I each write a piece for their newsletter every week.

And then what we’ve been doing for, I mean, over a year now is then taking those individual pieces of content from the newsletter and recycling them in two blog posts, you know, with a delay with a lag on our website.

So that’s two blog posts a week that we didn’t then also additionally have to write.

And we are theoretically hitting different audience members, because people who sign up for the newsletter are not necessarily the same as the people who come to our website and learn about us for the first time.

And we’re also getting that, you know, data from email marketing, and from organic search, we can also then take those, you know, blog posts and pieces of content, and turn them into, you know, social posts.

And so we’ve written something once.

And we now have three different ways to use it.

Christopher Penn 15:40


And every one of those things is an at bat.

So if we take, for example, with this podcast, we’re going to take a 62nd snippet, that’s going to go to Tiktok, that’s going to go to Instagram as a real, it’s going to go to Instagram as a story, it’s going to go to YouTube as a short.

And one of the things I’ve seen very successful content creators do is atomize, you know that that content just because they’re looking for the serendipity, like getting the person at the right moment in time, so that if somebody sees just the short of this video, they’re like, Oh, that was actually interesting.

Let me go ahead and click through and watch the whole video.

And we’ll go read the blog post and things like that.

And, you know, to your point, having content in multiple formats, text, video, and audio, not only is good for accessibility, but it’s also three chances to reach somebody instead of one on on any given piece of content.

So having, having that stuff out there creates more, I don’t like to liken it to having hooks in the water for fish, because it implies customers are just edible.

Christopher Penn 16:48

But the concept does hold.

Katie Robbert 16:51


And to your point, Chris, it’s more data points for your attribution model.

And what I know from working with you is that the more data that you have to feed into these models, the more accurate they become, the more detailed they become, therefore giving you better actions and insights for you to do something with your marketing.

And so if we have one piece of content, that becomes a podcast, you know, video on YouTube, but Instagram thing, we’re getting all of that data to bring in.

And that’s going to tell us, hey, keep doing this, do less of this, do more of this, because we have that information, all from one piece of content.

Christopher Penn 17:32


And the second model for content attribution, which is a lot more complex, is where you’re doing this for that data unification, where you’re taking, you’re clicking, clicking Export on Agorapulse, and getting your last 90 days worth of the performance on every single post on every single session OIC, you’re exporting your YouTube data, you’re exporting your podcast data, and so on and so forth.

And you end up with a spreadsheet that’s doing ginormous, from all of this stuff.

And then you have an objective of some kind, maybe it’s new users, maybe it is whatever the key objectives, the KPIs you identified at each stage of the customer journey.

And you run a really large regression analysis to say, okay, maybe new users is the thing of all this content, which variables alone or together, have the highest relationship to that outcome.

And then you look at that channel and the content on it and say, okay, okay, we now know that YouTube is the channel that is driving the most for this.

Let’s take a look at the content on YouTube to see what anyway, now you’ll take that YouTube content all every single post and run the exact same analysis against your KPI and see, okay, which pieces of content have the highest relationship to that? So it’s a multistage process to get to the content that’s resonating best.

And the challenge, therefore, besides the coding part, is then identify is that content resonance because of the content itself? Or was there something circumstantial that happened, that we just happen to be in the right place at the right time?

Katie Robbert 19:14

Yeah, and, you know, that’s where sort of going back to the basics of who is your audience? Where do they hang out? What do they want? What questions you answering for them? Because all of this, all of this discussion is all well and good.

But you, you can’t escape crappy content.

So if you’re not creating the right content in the first place, it doesn’t matter.

It’s like one of my coaches says, you know, you can’t out eat.

You can’t outwork out a bad diet.

And so working out all the time is great, but if you’re still going to McDonald’s three times a day, it doesn’t matter.

You’re just wasting your time and everybody else’s time.

And so it’s the same thing with the content if you don’t know who you’re targeting, if you don’t know what questions they have? And if you’re not answering those questions, this whole conversation becomes moot?

Christopher Penn 20:05

It does.

And that’s where doing some competitive analysis can help to understand what’s possible, right? So if you say you’re you’re selling, I don’t know, coffee beans, and you look at the content for all the different vendors out there.

And if you’re constantly benchmarking and running these analyses, you might find that Yeah, your content engagement rates, like 2%, but the leader in the field is getting 44% engagement on the content.

So now you have a bar, you have a ceiling, they say, okay, the leader in the field is getting 44%, we are far away from that.

So what are they doing with their content? That’s getting them that? Is it topical? Do they have a bigger audience or a better audience or something along those lines? Do they build a community, and there’s going to be some shadow issues that that are not going to be discernible, right? You obviously can’t see into a competitor’s Google Analytics, you probably can’t, or you maybe could join their slack group or their their discord community or whatever, but there’s going to always gonna be those things behind the scenes that you don’t have access to.

But the very least doing that benchmarking will let you know.

Okay, there’s no interest in our industry, you know, in publicly visible content at all.

So let’s just resume the golf courses, golf, playing and steak dinners, because that’s, that’s how this is gonna work.

Or you find out oh, there’s a leader in our space.

That is crushing it for content, let’s figure out what they’re doing and reverse engineer it, because we can optimize with our data.

But we’re, anytime you’re doing data optimization, you always run the risk of optimizing only for the data, you have that you know, and if you’re doing a bad job, you will optimize to continue doing a bad job.

Katie Robbert 21:42

Yeah, so it sounds like there’s a lot that goes into content attribution.

But at the end of the day, it really starts with having the right content, having the right governance, making sure you’re tagging things correctly, so that you’re setting yourself up for success.

So even if you’re using an out of the box analysis system, like Google Analytics, or if you’re doing something more sophisticated, having those foundational pieces first are the priority.

So have the content, tag it correctly, and then you can figure out what’s working.

You know, I think, Chris, one of the great pro tips that you just gave was making sure that you have goals set up that align with what your journey looks like.

So you have an awareness goal, you have an engagement goal, you have an consideration goal of purchase goal, because that’s going to be the thing that anchors each of these content pieces back to some form of reality of, okay, somebody signed up for my newsletter, why did they sign up for my newsletter? Oh, they saw this thing? Okay, this is my engagement content now.

Christopher Penn 22:46


And if you have subject matter expertise in what your audience wants, talk to your audience, right, there’s there still is no substitute for talking to people.

I was at a conference last week, and I was watching some content from that.

And as a marketer, I you know, I’m obviously the target audience, as well as, as somebody doing the analysis, there was a lot of stuff that made people go, Wow, you’re an idiot.

That was words, it just came out of your mouth, we’re just almost completely wrong.

And anytime I have that reaction, I know there’s a potential for some really good content, because if it annoys me, as, as a member of the target audience, there’s a chance that I can make a version of that says, Okay, here’s how to do it better than than what you were just sold.

Katie Robbert 23:36


And so I wholeheartedly agree with that there is no substitution for talking to people asking them what they want.

I mean, this is the, you know, the end of one conversation that we have all the time, don’t assume that you know, what people want, because you’re biased, and you’re just telling them what you think they want or what you actually want for yourself.

Ask people what they want, give them that, and you’ll find that your customer journey gets cleaned up.

People move through it, your data becomes cleaner.

And you know, it’s it’s it’s not rocket surgery, as they say.

Christopher Penn 24:12

Until it is until Any other final thoughts on content attribution before we head on out?

Katie Robbert 24:22

Get your data governance squared away.

First, make sure that you have a rigorous process for how you’re tagging your content.

Is this engagement content? What channel is this content on? Do not rely on these other systems to do the tagging for you? That is my number one.

I guess takeaway is take back control of what you have control over and that’s the tagging.

Christopher Penn 24:49

Exactly and as that applies to almost every analytic system out there.

If you’ve got comments or questions or you want to share your experiences with content attribution, pop on over to our free slack group go to trust insights.ai/analytics for marketers, where you and over 2600 other marketers are asking and answering each other’s questions every single day.

And wherever it is you listen to this show.

If there’s a place you’d rather get it, go to trust insights.ai/t AI podcast, where you can find us on pretty much every channel that supports podcasts.

Thanks for tuning in.

I will talk to you soon

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