For content marketing to be successful, you need to have a content marketing strategy. From audience research and content scheduling to content repurposing – all those building blocks need to stack up perfectly.
Once you manage to get everything aligned, the results will show. But where will they show? Even though content marketing has been around for quite some time now, some businesses, especially the small ones, have trouble grasping that content marketing efforts rarely show as macro-conversions. Actually, in the end, they contribute significantly to that last step, but there are other equally important and more revealing metrics that are more useful when trying to figure out what content marketing is doing for our business.
This data will help to not only identify poor-performing content that can be improved, but also to find your best-performing content. Sometimes the content that you think is the best quality just doesn’t resonate with your audience. Data analytics can help you to find the perfect “recipe” for your content marketing, so you can rinse and repeat to ultimate content marketing success.
Therefore, before you decide on the metrics that you’re going to be tracking, every member of your marketing team (and your client, if you’re an agency) should know the objectives and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) of every content campaign.
What Are Your Objectives and KPIs for Content Marketing?
This is different from the bigger “Content Marketing ROI?” question.
This question is more around the operations of your content marketing program.
This question comes after you have built the business case, sold in the ROI and achieved the approval, and the funds, to build your content marketing program.
What Is Your Brand’s Higher Purpose?
I know this sounds like I am not answering the question, but stay with me here.
In order to understand how to set the objectives and KPIs for your content marketing, it is important to start with a solid understanding of why your business exists.
This premise is profoundly explained by Simon Sinek in his famous very popular Ted Talk: Start With Why – How Great Leaders Inspire Action. Simon explains that “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”
So your business needs to first understand why you do what you do – your higher purpose – before you can define your objectives and key performance indicators. There is a top-level objective that you need to define based on your business purpose and your marketing goals overall.
Share of Conversation
I have spoken about share of conversation a little bit before. Share of conversation starts with a fundamental belief that marketing is a conversation. Sure you can start one, but mainly it is about joining one. And ultimately, it is about leading one. Marketing is a conversation. This is partly why content marketing is an imperative.
And so the ultimate objective of content marketing is to increase your brand’s share of conversation.
But what is the topic of the conversation your brand should lead? Well that is answered once you understand your brands higher purpose.
Share of conversation is also an extremely customer-centric goal. It forces you to think bigger than your business and to focus on providing value to your target audience with content around your topic.
You can measure this by looking at “share of conversation” defined as the percentage of brand mentions around the topic you want your brand associated with. Begin by measuring how much share of that conversation (social + online) your business commands. Then seek to grow that share.
Once you have a fair idea of the “why” of your content marketing, let me tell you some metrics that any content marketer worth their salt should be monitoring closely:
Traffic is the lifeblood of online content. If nobody is landing on your website, it doesn’t matter how amazing your blog posts are – nobody will read them and so they won’t be doing you any good.
If you really want to strip it back to basics, traffic is one metric that you must measure. Of course, this traffic can be split up into different categories. In Google Analytics, the metrics you want to be looking at are:
- Users – the total number of unique visitors to your page
- Pageviews – the total number of times a page on your site has been viewed
- Unique pageviews – If a single user has viewed your page multiple times, these visits are combined into one pageview to calculate this metric.
You can use the raw data from these metrics to get a rough idea of the amount of traffic coming to individual pages on your site. You can also breakdown the data further to see where your traffic is coming from (both geographically and how they found your site online) and the type of device they used to view your site.
This information can be useful to know for your future content strategy. For example, if you target primarily US customers but you’re getting a significant amount of traffic from the UK, you can tailor future content to your UK visitors. Or if a large proportion of your traffic is coming from one of your social media channels, you can tailor your content based on your social media followers’ data.
So people are visiting your site and reading your blog – great. But what else are they doing when they’ve finished reading? Are they clicking your links and reading more? Are they signing up for your newsletter? Completing an e-commerce transaction?
For B2B brands, the ultimate conversion is leads or even direct sales. Because few buyers will move from not knowing who you are to buying directly from an amazing article. So B2B brands should track all the way down the buyer journey from lighter conversions like subscriptions or click-throughs to deeper conversions like offer registrations.
It’s up to you what counts as a conversion. In some cases, the goal of your content might be to make a physical sale, while in others it just might be to raise awareness of your brand and increase your authority. If this is the case you might want to focus more on metrics such as social shares and engagement.
However, if your blog is primarily a sales tool, you’re going to want to track how many sales it generates. You can do this after activating e-commerce in Google Analytics by viewing the page value of all your content under the behavior section.
This will give you the average revenue that each page has generated for you when users have gone directly to make a purchase or complete another goal that you’ve set.
Sometimes the amount of traffic your content gets is more a measure of how effective you are at getting people to click your links, rather than how good your content is.
To really find out if people are engaging with your content, you’ll need to track how long they’re spending on your site and how many pages they’re visiting in each session.
Obviously, the goal is to keep them on your site as long as possible so they can read more of your content (unless of course, you want to funnel them to a sales page as quickly as possible.)
You can see this information under Audience Overview in Google Analytics. Here, as well as seeing your total number of sessions and visitors, you can see the average number of pages per session, the average session duration, and your bounce rate.
For content that’s designed to be read, ideally, you want a high number of pages per session, long average session duration (depending on the length of your content) and a low bounce rate.
Another effective way to measure your content engagement is to see how well it’s performing on social media.
While there are various metrics you can track here, the most important is how many times your content has been shared on various social networks. A share shows that others are finding your content valuable.
This information isn’t available in Google Analytics but if you have social share buttons on each piece of content, they will show you how many times that content has been shared on each platform.
Buzzsumo is another tool for tracking social media shares and is an easy way to quickly identify the top performing content on your site.
You can also track the amount of traffic you’re getting from social platforms, which is another good way of measuring engagement. More clicks from social platforms mean that more people are sharing and interacting with your content. You can find this information under Acquisition > Social > Network Referrals in Google Analytics.
4. SEO Performance
Not all your traffic will come from social media, so it’s important that you’re getting plenty of visitors from search too. You can track the proportion of your site visits that come from search in Google Analytics, but this doesn’t give you much insight into whether your site is performing well in search engines or not.
Instead, you’ll need to measure your SEO performance. There are a few different metrics you can track here. SERP ranking is probably the most important one – this is the position of your page in the search engine results for a particular keyword phrase. Rankings aren’t static and do tend to fluctuate a little, but when you’re tracking your ranking over time you want to see it either static (if you’re already in a good spot) or improving, which shows you are gaining trust and authority.
You can use Google Search Console to identify the terms you’re ranking for and keep an eye on how your ranking changes over time.
Better SEO will lead to higher traffic numbers, more leads, and hopefully more sales and conversions.
Authority is not quite as easy to measure as most of the other metrics, but it’s still important to try to increase your authority over time.
High authority will not only improve your SEO, meaning you get more search traffic, but it will also help to build your brand, increase trust, and improve your conversion rate.
Moz has its own authority metrics that you can use as a rough guide for how Google might judge the authority of your page and site. These DA (domain authority) and PA (page authority) scores range from 1-100, with higher scores corresponding to greater authority.
There’s no definitive answer on what’s a “good” DA and PA to aim for – you basically just want a higher score than your competitors.
Types of Content Metrics
Metrics such as links to your content, mentions of your brand on social media and media coverage are all indications that your authority and brand presence is growing. While these specific scores can be a handy thing to keep track of, there are other impactful or campaign-specific ways of tracking your real-world authority.
If you’re aware of the important categories of metrics and their functions, using them as Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) can help you put in place a more effective tracking system that works for your business. Here are some of them:
- Page Views – great metric to gauge which piece of your content is interesting – hence becoming the type of content you should focus at.
- Unique Visitors – Unique visitors’ metric allows you to estimate the overall size of your audience, and how many of them are repeat visitors.
- Average Time on Page – Is your content interesting? If your Avg. Time on Page is relatively high, then you’re doing fine. But if your visitors are simply skimming through the content then it is not very engaging, and you should put some serious work into it.
- Behavior Flow – Diving into Google Analytics, behavior flow will help you understand how a user navigates through your website. The chart shows the visualisation of where a user lands on the site, navigates through various pages and exits. This can help you identify and optimize the drop off points for user retention.
- Inbound Links – The number of sites referring to your site will help you earn higher domain authority. Your goal is to assess the number of links earned for a particular content piece. Tools like SEMrush, Ahrefs, and Moz allow you to evaluate the number (and quality) of links which refer to your site and create more link building opportunities. Find out the page with the top links to create the similar pieces in future, improve rankings and search visibility.
- Bounce Rate – The bounce rate is the ratio of people who leave after visiting the first page they visit to those who go on to other parts of your site. In general, the lower bounce rate, the better. This means that users tend to spend more time on your site. Identify the content with a higher bounce rate, to repurpose or update the original one.
- Return Rate – Return rate allows you to see how many new vs. how many return visitors you’re getting. You will have a different approach to those two groups, but it is important to have a healthy mix.
- Pages Per Visit – How many people click on your page, exploring it before leaving? This metric shows you how engaging and valuable the bulk of your content is, and not just the piece that led the audience to your page.
- Follower count – Be on top of your social media and always know how large your social media following is. This metric allows you to follow your social media audience growth over time as well.
- Social media shares and likes – How is your content fairing on social media? Does any of it have any potential of going viral or are all your efforts falling on deaf ears and you’re not getting any likes or share? Find out by diligently tracking all shares, re-tweets, pins, and so on. There are plenty of tools you can use to setup sharing buttons, to help you know the number of shares of a content piece across social networks. Take your best-performing content to set benchmarks, to understand the audience expectations.
- Comments – Social media comments are a true measure of engagement. Keep track of them to know how people are responding to what you have to say and maybe get ideas for additional content that might get more traction.
- Time spent on content creation – Tracking the time to create compelling content will help you develop the further strategy. You can decide whether to hire freelance writers so that you can focus on other marketing activities or take content creation in-house with a team of writers. Finding out the time going in will come in handy to assess the efficiency of content creators.
- Performance over time – The article you published got over 100 shares during the first week. So after a month, how is it going? Is it still raking in some audience? Has your content been created for any event or specific purpose? Do you a drop in engagement or shares after a week? Identify the content to start out with maximizing the value for each of them.
- Emails Opened – When sending out email blasts and newsletters it is important to know how many of them actually reached your intended prospect. This metric gives you a lot of information about which type of content you should focus on and what times in the day work the best.
- Asset Downloads – Track form completions and gated content for a measurable ROI. Digging down every individual asset can help you determine how successful it was. Leverage marketing automation tools like Marketo to determine the impact made so as to adjust the marketing efforts.
- Email-subscriber churn rate – Email churn rate refers to the number of people who unsubscribe from the content you send over as emails. As you try to increase the numbers, watch out for every user who unsubscribes.
- Cost per content piece – Calculate the cost per piece by tracking the invoices sent by freelancers. For tracking the internal costs, you need, to sum up the salaries, benefits and other overhead costs which might get a little harder to analyze. If you are resource constrained, consider the pros and cons of outsourcing vs in-house content creation. Finding the cost per piece is useful to planning for allocating the future content budget.
- Distribution costs – Amplification of content is essential to ensure it reaches grabs more eyeballs. Keeping a track on this metric is essential to know about the expenses done on promoting it across networks like social media and ad networks.
- Leads Generated – How does content support lead generation through the funnel? De-coding this metric will help you attribute new leads to content pieces. Your marketing automation tool, combined with your CRM, will tell you how many new leads you’ve gained that touched base with a particular piece of content you’ve published and how they went on to interact with your brand, on which platforms.
- Lead Quality/Score – While you may feel lucky to generate leads with your content offering, you shouldn’t neglect the quality of leads. As a considerable time and investment is done in creating content, the quality of the lead is an important metric.
- Existing Leads Influenced – How many of the existing leads engaged with your content, and which content? This will help you understand how many times on average your leads need to touch base with you before converting.
- Funnel Conversion Rate – Of course, you want to know which content helps you push prospects further down your funnel, all the way down to the do phase.
- Pipeline Generated – Use the first touch attribution method to calculate the dollar value of every opportunity that you can pinpoint to a specific piece of content.
- Revenue Influenced – And at the end, you can see how much of your revenue comes from buyers that started their purchase path by coming into contact with your content, or have interacted with your content in any phase.
Of course, there are more metrics that you might find useful, depending on the type of the industry you’re in.
The Need for Balance
Understanding user behavior and actions isn’t an easy feat; there is no silver bullet. But with the actionable metrics, you’ll move in the right direction. Continuous adoption of metrics which serve the purpose of explaining why a content piece gets shared is required if a business wants to survive in a competitive world.
That said, it is important to keep in mind that it is easy to “game” these metrics if you only focus on one. Many publishers perform tricks to game their metrics. You can always buy reach. You can also drive up pageviews by adding page breaks to your content or creating slideshows with multiple pages and forcing your visitors to click through. Or you can force every visitor to some conversion action by over-promoting offers. Or you can refuse to allow links off your page even when citing some important research or other person’s idea.
But these approaches almost always come at the expense of the user experience and in the end dilute your brand value. I recommend looking at balancing the importance of every metric so that you are rewarding the right behavior. When you conduct tests of your content marketing designs, content types or topics, take a holistic look across all areas to ensure you aren’t sacrificing too much of the overall picture.