There are a lot of theories out there about what makes content effective.
But one thing is clear:
You won’t know if your content is successful unless you measure it.
And while there is also some debate about which metrics you need to measure, it really depends on your specific business and goals.
With the help of some of my favorite WriterAccess freelancers, I’ve put together a guide to help you better understand what metrics you should be measuring, how and when you should go about measuring them, and what tools you can get started with.
And since metrics don’t do you much good on their own, I’ve also put together some tips for adjusting your content marketing strategy based on your performance.
Critical Content Metrics You Need to Measure
Not all metrics are created equal. Specific ways of looking at your results will give you insight into how you can improve.
The right metrics are going to tell you if your strategy is working. But the wrong metrics can offer useless information that may sound good but doesn’t mean much.
Focus on the content marketing metrics that will help you improve your content marketing strategy. I’ll walk you through a few below.
One of the most important things you want to track is spikes in website traffic. You need to map out when you publish and amplify content while tracking traffic numbers. Notice when certain spikes occur and try to determine if they are caused by events, ads, campaigns, published material, social posts, and more.
Check to see what traffic entry points are most prevalent during those spikes to see if your theories hold true. You can look at the unique visitors, page views, and time spent on page to try to determine which types of content are most helpful in the customer journey.
Let’s say you published a piece about your team on the same day a product page Pin on Pinterest just happened to pick up a lot of traction. Looking at the numbers of visitors landing on those two different pages (the blog article or the product page) is going to help you determine what was causing the spike.
You can also look at the time spent on a page. This number isn’t always an accurate representation (someone might Pin the content for later or might get distracted and leave it up in the browser for three hours even though they never read it). Still, it can help you look at which content pieces are seemingly able to generate more interest.
Social Sharing Metrics
When people share your content with their friends and family, this can significantly increase reach. You can easily see who is sharing your social posts, but you should also be tracking which pieces of content are being shared. On the website page or blog post, you should have buttons that encourage your visitors to share content. Most of the time, you will be able to see from here how often followers have shared a specific post on a social platform.
Then, head over to Google Analytics to look at how social is impacting your revenue. Choose Acquisition > Social > Overview and look at the conversions. This is the complete conversion rate for those who find your site through social media before making a purchase. This information helps you better understand just how far your reach is on social media.
SEO Effectiveness Metrics
If you want to improve your organic reach, you need to work on improving your ranking on the search engines. Watch the Organic Search numbers in Google Analytics to see if you are showing up for specific searches. PPC ads, direct links, and social shares are great, but you also want people to find you when they actively searching for solutions on search engines like Google.
According to HigherVisibility research:
- 67,000 Google searches happen every second.
- 95% of search engine users click on links within the first page of results.
- 70-80% of users ignore the ads to click on the top organic search results. (Note that 65% of all users intending to make a purchase click search ad results, so there is a time and place for PPC ads.)
Tracking organic search numbers helps you understand what you currently rank for when it comes to keywords and keyphrases. If you aren’t ranking for keywords that you’d like to rank for, this means that you may need to create additional content around these topics. If you are ranking for keywords that you don’t want to rank for, this may mean that you need to revisit your content strategy to focus on the types of topics and keywords that your ideal customers are actually searching for.
You should base your content marketing efforts on specific goals that line up with the company’s marketing goals and business objectives. Then, choose the metrics that help you measure the key performance indicators (KPIs) for your content marketing strategy.
Metrics surrounding lead generation might become an important focus if you want to increase your reach. Success in getting reviews or social mentions could be an important metric for a company that needs to build a better reputation. A metric like social engagement is helpful if you are focused on improving brand awareness and building customer relationships.
The metrics you choose will ultimately depend on your content strategy goals.
And if you don’t have these goals developed yet, I recommend you read our post on why and how to develop content strategy goals.
If you’re trying to convert your audience, then the type of traffic you bring to your website matters.
Either your sales funnel is drawing in new leads or leaking them out. At any entry point, the funnel should be pulling those leads toward the point of purchase. If you don’t create content that helps bring visitors closer to conversion, then they may wander off to find a competitor or different solution.
You can use Google Analytics to track goal actions and see what pages are visited before the visitor completes the goal action. So, if you want your visitors to make a purchase, then your thank you page is the goal. You can see if they are visiting pricing pages or certain informational pages before heading to that goal. You can set up these goal analytics to map how people are moving towards conversion. Looking at this journey will tell you if your funnel is working.
Look at the various segments of your audience to help better understand your lead generation efforts. What types of content are most appealing to the different audience segments? Which channels do they prefer? Which pieces of content bring the most qualified leads to your web page?
Use these metrics to tell you how your strategies are working:
- Email open rates can indicate whether or not your email marketing subject lines are attractive to your target audience.
- Click-through rates on opened emails or ads can tell you how appealing your content is or how attractive the offers are.
- Bounce rates let you know whether or not the content is engaging and useful for new users.
- Of course, purchase rates (especially for specific products sent to the targeted groups) will tell you the most about how effective your efforts were for a particular group.
When your content performance metrics suggest that a specific type of content or content topic resonates with your audience, try to replicate this success by using similar types of content in later campaigns. For content that does not seem to resonate with the intended audience, make adjustments to improve your content marketing program for these users.
Of course, revenue is the biggest concern for many businesses. It would be pretty hard to write about essential metrics and ignore sales. I mean, if you aren’t bringing in money, your company isn’t going to last long, right?
I should note that sales metrics aren’t your most important metrics.
Here’s what I mean… Let’s say you have a great month of sales, but every transaction leaves a sour taste in the customer’s mouth. Maybe your product failed, or your customer service wasn’t excellent.
But, you are so excited about your sales metrics pointing to “success,” you just keep on keeping on. You envision great things within the year at this rate! By ignoring other essential metrics, like social sharing metrics and lead metrics, you don’t even realize that customer satisfaction is a significant issue impacting your brand.
Within a few months, the damage is done, and you are fighting the uphill battle of managing and reversing a bad reputation. This is just one example that shows how sales metrics don’t necessarily give you an accurate picture of the environment surrounding your brand.
But, on the flip side, you could use a variety of metrics to increase word-of-mouth recommendations. You measure how your target audience is interacting with social shares and mentions. You encourage and include CTAs for happy customers to share their experiences.
At first, sales are still the same. But, you are tracking the number of Pins, shares, and new lead visits to the site. Sure enough, as the word gets out, your sales numbers ramp up within a few months. The effects weren’t immediate, but they came because of a strategy that held sales as the end goal, but not the only goal (and not the only mark of success). The users who saw the recommendations and good reviews turned to your brand when they needed your item or service, even if it was months after they saw the review.
Sales are what keep your company going, but the best metrics are focused on what keeps those sales coming in.
According to Invespcro research:
- It is 5-7x more expensive to attract a new lead than to keep an existing customer around for future sales.
- 44% of companies have a focus on acquisition while 18% focus on retention.
- 89% of companies recognize that customer experience is a critical factor in driving loyalty and retention
All of this points to the fact that while sales are important, it is within your company’s best interests to also look at retention rates, which are often tied to customer service, brand advocacy, and social proof efforts.
Content marketers need to keep their vision on a wide range of metrics that show the bigger picture of how their brand stacks up against the competition when it comes to lead generation and long-term relationship building. Then, use those metrics to adjust your content strategy for best results.
Strategies for Measuring Content Marketing Metrics
The challenge with measuring metrics is that there is a metric for every variable in the marketing equation. If you track everything every day, you might find yourself with little energy, less money, and more data than you can manage!
The trick is to build a strategy for measuring content that provides critical information in a timely manner, so you can make adjustments as your marketing cycle unfolds.
Let’s take a look at how to establish a workflow or system for regularly measuring metrics that isn’t overwhelming.
How Frequently Should You Evaluate Your Content Marketing?
Your measurement strategy should be built around tracking what is important to reach your company’s marketing goals.
If your organization needs a constant stream of lead generation, then your KPIs (key performance indicators) might focus on click-through, page views, unique visitors, and conversion rate.
For an organization that is more interested in building long-term brand awareness, your metrics might focus on backlinks, engagement metrics, SEO, and social shares.
As you prioritize from most important metric to those that are “nice to know,” you will find a measurement schedule emerging. Although a new content marketing campaign requires a higher degree of measurement, most content marketing efforts can be measured in a more staggered fashion.
A typical strategy for measuring content marketing metrics might look like this:
Metrics to Measure Daily
There typically aren’t any metrics that you need to measure daily. However, you may want to just make sure that your website is functioning properly (and doing its job) by checking landing page visitors and measuring average time spent on your site.
Metrics to Measure Weekly
Weekly measurement is important for a long-term content marketing strategy, as it can sometimes take some time to get the momentum rolling. If you offer an e-book, white paper, or case study, compare weekly results to make sure it maintains a strong appeal to your target market.
Here you might measure bounce rate on email messages, video engagement, or shares of your social media content. Your blog posts are another important part of your content marketing program, so you also check on backlinks and readership metrics regularly.
Metrics to Measure Monthly
Most marketers will at least measure metrics on a monthly basis. Here are some things you’ll want to keep an eye on:
- Look at your search engine rankings around keywords to see how you are showing up for the keywords and phrases you want to target.
- Keep a running total of cost per lead generated, so you can track whether costs are increasing or results are waning.
- Look at your social media channels to track metrics like followers, likes, shares, and comments to see how your leads and customers are engaging with you through these platforms.
- At the end of a campaign or sales cycle, perform an analysis of conversion rates, revenue, and return on investment metrics to measure content marketing success.
Key Considerations When Implementing and Evaluating A Content Marketing Campaign
Beyond goals and timeframes, other factors content marketers need to consider for their measurement strategy include:
- Benchmarks: Most goals cannot be achieved in one campaign. Set smaller benchmarks that can be measured along the way to show you are on the right path.
- Who is Tracking: One person or department within the organization should be designated as the key metrics measurer. They need access to great analytics tools to help perform their job. This shows the entire team that measurement is important, and ensures that it does not somehow “slip through the cracks.”
- Costs: Measurement does have costs associated with it in terms of people, time, and tools. Know how much you are investing, and make sure your budget is not out of balance.
- Sharing: Determine who receives the results of your metrics measurements. This could involve people on the content creation team so they know whether they are hitting the mark, as well as supervisors and stakeholders to help them understand your content marketing ROI.
- Actions: Measurement without action is meaningless. Share and discuss your results on a regular basis, agree on actions to take, and assign timetables for change. Let the measurement team know when a new content strategy will be implemented, so they can develop appropriate content performance measurement metrics.
What Factors Can Contribute To The Success Or Failure Of A Content Marketing Campaign?
According to the Content Marketing Institute, good content serves to attract the attention of your target audience and drive the desired action.
Factors that can lead to success or failure include:
- Knowing your audience.
- Generating internal team support for marketing goals.
- Addressing your audience’s needs, not yours.
- Creating content that is consistent across all channels, engaging and informative.
- Offering a positive customer experience from start to finish.
- Setting measurable goals.
- Establishing marketing metrics, then measure and communicate them.
Content that is creative and informative can really measure up.
Tools for Measuring Content Marketing Success
Now that you’ve got an idea about what you will measure and how you’ll go about measuring it, let’s talk tools.
1. Built-In Social Media Analytics
I like to start with the free stuff because… it’s free.
And a great reason to use the built-in social analytics is because it’s native to the platform it was created for. And these platforms really put some thought into these tools.
Ultimately, entities like LinkedIn and Twitter want you to succeed on their platform. Why? Because succeeding means you’re delivering a better experience to their users–your potential customers. And they’re going to let you know fast when your content marketing activities are falling flat on their faces.
Social networks are a great place to start because here is where potential customers will see your content before they realize your website exits. All of the big platforms offer some kind of analytics, including:
What They Measure
On social media, it’s important to distinguish between “vanity metrics,” which are very important to the average middle schooler, versus metrics that translate to business success.
Vanity metrics that typically don’t matter much include things like likes and low-quality shares, especially those from bots. Your number of followers can also sometimes be a misleading metric as not all of those followers may be engaged with your brand.
More meaningful things to measure through free social media performance tools include:
- Quality shares
- Repeat web page views
- Subscribers (YouTube)
- Reviews (Facebook)
- Click-through rate to your website
All of these metrics help you better understand how your audience is actually engaging with your brand and get a better idea of what types of content they enjoy.
2. Google Analytics
Google Analytics is another completely free content marketing analytics tool. You just need to add a tracking code to your website to start tracking important metrics.
Some of the most important for content marketing include:
- Repeat and unique visitors
- Average time spent on page
- Number of page views
- Bounce rate
- Traffic sources
- Location and demographics of visitors
You can also drill down to a specific page to see, for example, how many views a blog post is getting. How are people interacting with that page?
And you can see which pages are bringing the most people into your website and how they move through the site.
To get even more out of Google Analytics, set up sales funnels in the tool (still free) that demonstrate the most common paths you want customers to take. For example, landing page > free trial sign up page > confirmation page.
Track your conversion rate. And you can even add a monetary value to each conversion to represent its overall value. I’d also recommend that you take some of Google’s free Google Analytics courses for beginners and advanced users.
3. Google Webmaster Tools / Google Search Console
Google has created another free tool called Google Search Console, formerly Webmaster Tools. This tool is great for search engine optimization (SEO) and important for your content marketing.
In it, you’ll view and measure:
- Which keywords you appear for in the search results
- How many clicks you earn when you appear
- Number of quality backlinks
Also, use this tool to find pages that Google has delisted from its search results for duplicate content, not enough quality content on the page, etc. If you do want the page to show up in searches, you need to fix whatever is wrong with it.
Now, pages you care about ranking for have an actual shot.
Hootsuite has a free version, but you will get a lot more out of this tool if you use a paid option.
HootSuite is great for people who are sharing content on multiple social media platforms. When you link your social media accounts, it summarizes the data from each platform. Now, you can see it all in one place!
As an added bonus, you can also use this tool to schedule posts for multiple platforms at once. And track hashtags for the purpose of social listening to get ideas for your posts.
Plans start at $29/mo.
Google Analytics is great. But it has a major limitation. You can see which pages someone has viewed, but you can’t see how much of the page they viewed or what they interacted with.
HotJar allows you to actually sit back and watch how a person interacted with a specific page.
Did they spend some time hovering over an image? Did they skim or read? What caught their attention? When did they leave?
Was it something I said?
This provides incredible insight into how a specific piece of content is performing. And when you’re pressed for time, summarized heat maps show you where most visitors spend their time on the page to help you understand collective user behavior.
Plans start at just $89/mo.
SEMRush has been a well-respected tool among content marketers for some time. It allows you to see how the content of your competitors is performing. And when they have high-performing content, you can “reverse engineer” it to see things like:
- Number of backlinks
- Which websites link to the page
- Number of outgoing links and to whom
- Keywords it ranks for
- How the page uses keywords
- How many words
- How it performs
- Brand mentions
Measure these things on your competitor’s website to better understand what you need to do to compete. This tool also helps you track and measure your own content by the same measures for more consistency in your inbound marketing.
Plans start at $99.95/mo.
When BuzzSumo first came out, it was a lifesaver. For the first time, the repetitive, boring, and manual stuff that content marketers must do to understand content performance and improve it was automated and in one place.
On top of that, BuzzSumo really focuses on making it super simple for anyone to use. There is definitely some overlap with SEMRush and Hootsuite, but I like options. Don’t you?
Use BuzzSumo to:
- Quickly find the top posts on a specific topic so you can better understand what your audience is searching for and reading.
- Follow topics through social listening so you can quickly act upon trends in your industry.
- Track your mentions on social media and across the web.
Plans start at $99/mo.
There are a lot of great content measuring tools. I know I can’t include all of them. But to be thorough, I’ll share a few more you may want to check out:
- SEO SpyGlass (The suite has a comprehensive free version! Love it!)
What to Look for in Tools for Measuring Content Marketing
When it comes to content marketing tools, you have a lot of options. And using them all is probably not in your marketing budget. You can save a little bit by paying annually instead of monthly, and most of these paid tools will offer a free trial that allows you to use the tool to see if you like it.
Because there is overlap, look for products that offer a suite of tools you need. You’ll almost always save when you buy multiple tools from one company.
Consider your KPIs and what you currently want to measure. If you’re in the early stages, you may not have the bandwidth to measure everything. So find a tool that measures the content marketing metrics most important to you.
How to Adjust Your Content Marketing Strategy Based on Performance
Measuring content performance through metrics is important to understanding your successes. But, you can’t just stop with determining impact. The only way that you can drive top results is by making changes to your content marketing strategy based on what you learn from performance analytic reports.
Churning out content without a strategy isn’t helpful, but neither is churning out analytics reports without a strategy. The numbers need to mean something or you are no better off than you were before. Since we’ve looked at which metrics are important to measure, how to get accurate measurements, and what tools you can use, we should now look at how we can put those content marketing metrics to work for us.
The most important piece of advice I have for you here is: don’t fear failure. Be more afraid of not realizing you are failing than finding out things aren’t working and your strategy needs adjustment. How can you improve if you don’t know what needs improvement?
Here are some tips for how you can start to make actionable changes to your content marketing strategy based on what you learn from the marketing campaign metrics you track.
Watch for Activity Spikes
Start by watching for spikes of activity. When more people come in or you see certain days with higher purchase rates, look at what was happening with your content. Did you publish a new piece of content? Most companies tend to share their blog posts across their social media platforms, so a particularly interesting or helpful article may lead to a bigger influx of potential customers to your site.
Check out the website traffic on those days and determine which web pages were visited. Look at bounce rates and time spent on a given page to give you an idea of how your visitors responded to the content. High bounce rates may suggest that your site visitors left the page because it wasn’t helpful or wasn’t what they expected. When visitors go to other pages after landing on a certain page, this can help you get a better idea of how site visitors consume your content.
Over time, you may notice the topics, images, and titles that garner more attention and encourage increased sharing on social media. Once you’ve identified trends in the types of content, topics, and content formats that get the most attention from your target audience, you can start to recreate this success by adjusting your content creation strategy to include more content ideas that are similar to assets that have a history of high performance.
Identify Flat Content
Use your metrics from Google Analytics to determine what posts aren’t getting much attention at all. These are the posts that don’t cause spikes (or barely cause spikes) when you first publish them as well as blog posts that lose steam over time.
While looking at your metrics, identify the following:
Is the content wrong or irrelevant?
Some content is time-sensitive. It’s okay to have old blog posts about old events. Those are not evergreen posts, and the expectation is that they slowly grow dated. But if there is content that is wrong or unhelpful, you will want to make changes to get it right. As an authoritative source, you need to ensure your information is right and always high-quality.
Is the topic wrong?
Certain types of content may not resonate with your audience. Maybe the content is boring or just not addressing things your audience finds important. If you notice a pattern of posts with low engagement, you may need to change or remove them from your strategy. Watch your self-promotional posts closely because this is often a stumbling point for brands. Many companies want to promote their products to increase sales, but these posts often fall flat because they don’t offer true value to the audience.
Do you need better sharing options?
Are you making content share-worthy? And are you using all the content promotion channels at your disposal? If well-written posts that address your target audience’s pain points aren’t getting the traction they should, it could be because you are not getting these posts in front of the right people. Adding in the option to Tweet out a quote with a link or Pin a post for later can really help expand your reach. Check to see if your flatter posts are easy for readers to share. You may also want to add more promotion options into your content strategy.
Is the information outdated?
Content loses freshness over time. There are posts that will become outdated because of updates and changes within your industry. Certain tips and tricks should be very recently written. You might need to update your evergreen posts with the most recent stats, tips, and facts to keep them from fading into irrelevance.
Is the length wrong for your audience?
Google loves a long article. This can help your content rank better because it shows that you can offer a comprehensive look at the topic. Certain topics should be addressed in detail. But other topics may get more attention when they are short and to the point. Avoid fluff or any kind of filler—the word count bonus is never worth wasting your audience’s time.
Do you need to promote again?
If you published at a bad time or your promotion on social media platforms fell flat, then it may be the sharing and not the content itself that is the problem. Using your metrics for determining the best engagement times, work to promote your content again to see if your traffic increases.
You can absolutely rework old content to make it better! If you find out your content is falling flat, don’t toss out your work! Use the first published draft and work it into something better—adding more information and helpful tips. Updating old content like this should be on your content strategy calendar.
Build Content for People
Use your metrics to help you better understand your audience. Segment your lists, not just literally for email marketing, but mentally for your content assets as well. You need to know what kind of customers are reading this content and what interests them. Creating buyer personas is an effective tool to help keep you and your content team on the same page when it comes to creating new content for your target audience.
The more targeted your content is for its intended audience, the more likely your content will help drive lead generation efforts and boost conversion rates. Just remember to create content that is specific to the ideal audience during each step of the buyer’s journey. Not everyone is ready to buy, so you will also need to create content around the needs of customers at the top of the funnel, such as topics that address commonly asked questions or elaborate on specific customer pain points.
Don’t just craft content for better SEO and engagement, use your strategy to identify the content lacking in your repertoire. If you have a lot of content to support those just recognizing their pain (awareness stage) and you don’t have much for people who are ready to buy or those who are already loyal customers, then you should be committing to creating more content supporting those who are ready to purchase or who have already purchased.
Identify your segmented groups that aren’t responding. Turn your focus on creating content specifically for the groups that haven’t been as engaged or impacted as other groups. For instance, you might be great at converting local individuals but struggle with converting the professionals across the nation that would benefit from your product or service. Or, you might be good at converting those at the bottom of your sales funnel but struggle to consistently bring in new and qualified leads.
Your customers are going to tell you a lot through their communication. Whether they are responding to your company or talking to a friend, social listening can help you address the things important to them. Utilize metrics that define top spenders and loyal customers because not all social voices are the same when it comes to your business. There are all kinds of trolls on social media, but your target audience is the group you should be listening to and supporting. This will help you identify key content that you want to include in your content marketing strategy.
Identify Successful Content
Look at your customers who came in from a social media source before making a purchase. You can use this data to determine what style of content gets those conversions, which can help you make actionable changes to your content strategy moving forward. It will help you see which social media platforms are working best for your brand and where you should spend your time. Only compare your performance with similar competitors, since sharing and engagement can be different within different niches.
Watch your links here! As mentioned above, sometimes you will be able to see success while looking at website traffic spikes for specific landing pages. If all of your efforts are going to the same place, it can be a little hard to sort out what is really making the difference—especially if you are trying to determine the impact of different things (Pins, PPC ads, social posting times, etc.) with the same article. For example, if you have ten different social posts or PPC ads that all link back to your main website page, you will be able to determine which post or ad was best at bringing in the most clicks. Whereas if you were using many different posts tied to many different pages, it may be more difficult to determine what is working.
Even if post great content, your ability to get eyes on it might not be great. In order to improve your reach and brand awareness, you need to determine the best times and places to post in order to drive traffic back to your site. Work your strategy to identify and capitalize on those time slots and platforms. Certain topics, titles, and post intros are going to have an impact on how your content is received by platform users. Keep using engagement metrics and click-through rates to determine if your content is more successful than past content and then work to understand those differences.
You can also empower your employees, influencers, and customers to amplify the content you publish. This is going to require some strategic thinking and worthy pieces of content. Have content creators include CTAs to help increase the likelihood of sharing from engaged readers.
Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed by the number of metrics you could be measuring. As long as the metrics you choose to measure align with your content marketing goals and business objectives, then you’re on the right track.
And if you take one thing away from this post, let it be that measuring metrics is useless unless you are using what you learn to make adjustments to your content marketing strategy. It’s not enough to just know where you can improve. You’ve got to start taking the actions to make improvements if you want to move the needle for your business.
Sarah Jane Burt is Sr. Content Strategist at WriterAccess. For the past decade, she’s helped brands big and small, from tech giant IBM to the local plumber, tell their stories and create strategies for customer-driven content. When she’s not working on developing and implementing our content strategy, she’s writing blog posts that help demystify content marketing and strategy for entrepreneurs, small business owners, and enterprise content teams.