As marketers continue to get more comfortable with content marketing strategy and tactics, one question still plagues the industry: what's the best way to measure the effectiveness of your content?
We'll always have the old standby metrics – social shares, pageviews and the like. But do they really tell the whole story? Do these metrics help you understand how well your content resonates with audiences, converts lookers to buyers, and works toward the achievement of your business goals?
For that, we need content analytics.
Pawan Deshpande, CEO of Curata, recently undertook a project to gather content analytics tips and suggestions from some of the best and brightest in the content marketing biz. Marketers like Mike Volpe from HubSpot, strategist David Meerman Scott, Jason Miller of LinkedIn, Quick Sprout' Neil Patel, writer and editor Sherry Lamoreaux, myself and many others shared their best content analytics advice in The Comprehensive Guide to Content Marketing Analytics & Metrics.
Curata broke this expert advice out into several categories, covering the main content marketing challenges and goals for marketers:
- Content Marketing Framework
- Performance Metrics: Consumption, Retention, Sharing, Engagement, Lead Metrics and Sales Metrics
- Operational Metrics: Production, Cost and ROI
Jump right in and see what some of Curata's over 20 experts have to say about more effective content marketing measurement!
Content Marketing Framework Tips from Pawan Deshpande
Curata uses a 4-part content marketing framework based on content expert Jay Baer's field guide to four types of content marketing metrics. Deshpande illustrates this content framework with an inverted pyramid model:
These metrics help marketers answer their most pressing content strategy questions. However, Curata recommends digging a bit deeper and had suggested four additional types of metrics to track: Retention, Engagement, Production and Cost.
Their content measurement framework maps content marketing metrics out in the order they appear in the sales cycle and marketing funnel, like so:
Pretty awesome, right? This should give you a better idea of how to measure content across all channels.
An effective framework is an absolute must, but it's just the beginning. Let's see what the experts have to say about putting this into practice and using specific metrics to better your content strategy.
Sherry Lamoreaux, Robert Rose & More on Performance Metrics
Performance metrics encompass consumption, retention, sharing, engagement, lead generation and sales metrics.
As Deshpande notes, consumption metrics can be used to answer the following types of questions:
- Are people consuming my content?
- On what channels are they consuming my content?
- What are their content consumption behaviors and preferences?
For a site or blog, the most important consumption metrics are page views, unique visitors, and average time on page. Writer/editor Sherry Lamoreaux from Act-On shares her tips on metrics for site and blog measurement:
"I have different metrics for different channels. For the blog, I keep track of unique users and page views, and I’m more concerned about trend than absolute numbers. I like to track which posts and topics generate the most interest; we’re always interested in what people want to read. For our downloadable assets such as white papers and eBooks, particularly the high-value ones we gate, the numbers that really matter are conversions and closed sales. If an asset is working well, we’ll keep it gated. If it’s not generating results, we’ll un-gate it. We also track linking domains."
Rob Yoegel, VP of Marketing at Gaggle, shared his advice on measuring the performance of content assets, such as whitepapers and eBooks:
“The most success I’ve had is looking at conversion metrics (downloads/registrations) and website traffic (blog posts) from traffic sources. Either in aggregate (i.e., social vs. search. vs. direct) or by a specific website, campaign, etc. By analyzing the source of conversions/traffic, you can better understand what content resonates and what audiences are valuable to the business, assuming you can track them through to a sale.”
Barry Feldman, founder of Feldman Creative, explains how his email list conversions help him gauge on-site content performance:
“I’ve been operating with the mantra ‘the money is in the list’ for a year or more, so my top priority for measurement is the growth of my email list. Beneath each of my posts (and also in the blog page sidebars) are email opt-in forms. Now, I should say that many visitors are there to read my posts because they’re already on my email list; however, for a big picture metric of how my content performs both for “pull” and on-site, I look at my email list. I call an email opt-in a conversion.”
Retention metrics allow you to track how well you hold onto your audience after a visit. They can answer the following types of questions:
- How many people are coming back to consume other content?
- How often are they coming back to consume other content?
- How many people are subscribing to receive future content updates?
Robert Rose, chief strategist at CMI, explains the importance of mapping your buyer personas to your subscriber list, as well:
“Understanding how you are drawing in your different influencer and buyer personas toward a common content marketing mission is perhaps the most important first goal of any approach – and will give you a great early indicator of future success. So, mostly that looks like a registered or “known subscriber” metric – and also provides some indication of “quality of audience” as well.”
When it comes to social sharing, measuring your content shares gives you a great idea of how your content resonates with your audience. People tend to share content they find useful, educational and/or entertaining.
Here, you want to be able to track shares across all social networks. Chief Content Officer Heidi Cohen advises:
“Content marketing success metrics must be tracked back to your specific business goals. Each goal often requires a series of smaller steps and objectives that contribute to romancing your prospects into ultimately purchasing from your organization. Due to the complexity of today’s marketing and the number of potential buyer paths, don’t rush to attribute sales entirely to the last platform touched. Platforms such as social media may contribute to your results but not yield quantifiable contributions. Where appropriate, incorporate a call-to-action to aid tracking.”
Engagement metrics like session duration (dwell time), page depth and social chatter help you understand whether people find your content interesting and are inspired to interact with it (and you!).
These will vary according to your business goals. Social media expert Beth Kanter identified hers:
“The most important metric for me is the number of speaking engagements or training projects that I get hired to do, but leading up to that I have to look at how my content is engaging audiences and reach.”
While for Quick Sprout's Neil Patel:
“The one metric I really look at is comments per post. It tells me how engaged an audience is. No matter how much traffic you have, if you can’t cultivate an engaged audience you won’t be able to convert those visitors into customers.”
And for my part:
“One important new metric I started tracking recently for content marketing is reader feedback. For example, are you getting fan mail from people who are blown away by your content? Are your readers reaching out to you to connect on LinkedIn? How enthusiastically positive are your press pick-ups? There’s a lot of content out there and so it’s important that your content stand out from the rest – these types of reader sentiment metrics can give you an indication if you are succeeding or not.”
Lead metrics are critical in understanding your middle-of-the-funnel activities so you can correctly attribute leads to specific pieces of content.
HubSpot's founder and CTO Dharmesh Shah notes that his company has found content marketing a source of highly qualified, less expensive leads:
“The most important metric for us in measuring the success of our content efforts is number of qualified leads. We make considerable investment in content creation — particularly our blog, which represents a major component of our overall inbound marketing. The most important result of those efforts is qualified leads that we can then pass along to our sales team. We’ve found that the cost for leads generated through our content efforts are lower and the quality is generally higher than our paid channels, so we continue to increase our investments in this area.”
Arnie Kuenn from Vertical Measures and LinkedIn's Jason Miller each underscored the incredible importance of campaign tracking and lead measurement, for their parts:
“Without a doubt, the most important metric is lead conversions.”
“At the end of the day why are we doing this? The answer is for more leads. If the leads that are coming into your pipeline are more qualified based on the engagement with your content and are closer to buying, then your content strategy is working.”
Finally, Marcus Sheridan, founder of The Sales Lion, explains his preferred metric for measuring and analyzing his campaigns:
“For me, the most important metric is # of pages read per lead. Why? Quick answer:In 2012, my swimming pool company compared the leads on the site (both had filled out contact forms) that had bought a pool vs. the ones that ended up not buying. As we looked at the analytics comparing these 2 groups, we found that when leads viewed 30 or more pages of the website before our initial sales appointment they would buy 80% of the time, an astronomical number in the industry.I firmly believe every business has their own “content tipping point” when it comes to leads converting to customers, which is exactly why today I help all of my clients attempt to learn what their tipping point is and how they can help their leads reach said metric to dramatically impact the sales process.”
Sales metrics enable you to understand things like how much of your sales pipeline was influenced by consuming your content, as well as the actual dollar amount of revenue where consuming your content influenced the sale.
Online marketing strategist David Meerman Scott reminds us to keep the purpose of all of this content marketing measurement in perspective:
“How’s sales? Ultimately content marketing drives sales success.”
But can you actually attribute sales to individual pieces of content? HubSpot CMO Mike Volpe says absolutely, yes:
“Revenue. And anyone that says you can’t attribute new customers and revenue down to a single piece of content, like a blog article, is doing it wrong.”
Doug Kessler from Velocity agrees:
“Revenue has to be the mother of all metrics. It’s what we’re here for, right?”
Jeff Rohrs, VP of marketing insights with ExactTarget, adds:
“As with any marketing activity, the number one metric we should be paying attention to is how does it positively impact sales. Whether directly or by influence and loyalty, content marketers must deliver measurable value to the organization.”
Ian Cleary, founder of Razor Social, agrees with the importance of revenue as a metric, but adds a few others he likes to measure and track to give a better understanding of the bigger picture:
“My most important metric for my content marketing success is revenue generated. My path to revenue is driving relevant traffic to my site, building an email subscriber database and then converting the email subscribers. For example, I run webinars where I invite email subscribers and then make sales on the webinars. My other key metric is my email conversion rate and I measure my conversions rates from social media channels, social advertising, referrals, organic and direct traffic.”
And while revenue is the bottom line for many, TopRank Online Marketing CEO Lee Odden reminds marketers it's not always the be-all that ends all:
“While all marketing roads must eventually lead to revenue, the single most important metric for content marketing success is the one that measures the goal you’re after. It would be easy to say that goal is customer acquisition, sales, revenue or profit. But content marketing programs can deliver results on a variety of objectives that create value for a business. For example, using content marketing to grow thought leadership can increase unsolicited media inquiries. Coverage in industry publications citing your company’s expertise can affect both brand perception as well as sales.”
Ryan Skinner, Cyrus Shepard & Others Talk Operational Metrics in Content Marketing
Operational metrics are a whole other animal – aside from how well your content is received and its effectiveness, how effective is your organization at creating amazing content? We think less often of production and cost metrics, but they're absolutely crucial in helping you understand the greatest metric of all: ROI.
Christopher Stella, senior marketing director at Siegel + Gale, explains the importance of measuring employee participation in their content marketing efforts:
“One of the most critical metrics at this early stage of our content marketing program is employee participation. Because we are a professional services organization, content creation needs to be a team sport—our subject matter experts must publish their unique points of view to differentiate our brand in a competitive space.This year, approximately 40% of our employees have contributed original content to our blog, and many more have published articles. That number is growing. Seeing so many colleagues eagerly join our bench of content creators is both exciting from a cultural perspective, and critical to our firm’s success.”
Content marketing campaigns should be constantly improving as you hone your processes, as well. Ryan Skinner from Velocity Partners explains:
“Of one thing you can be certain in content marketing: Your first efforts will almost definitely be your worst. And your current efforts will be eclipsed by later efforts. Everyone improves. What sets great programs apart from mediocre ones: the rate of improvement.”
Deshpande shared his formula for calculating the ROI of your content marketing campaigns:
"Last up are my favorite class of metrics: the holy grail — ROI metrics. These combine different classes of the aforementioned metrics. The range of variations is broad, but here are a few that you may want to consider.
Return on Investment. For each piece of content x in Campaign C, take the $ amount of Revenue generated (a sales metric) by Content x and divide it by the ($ Production Cost for x + $ Distribution Cost for x) (a production metric). If the ratio is greater than 1, then your content was profitable from a sales perspective. You can similarly compute this for a single piece of content, or all your content marketing.
Alternatively, C can represent all content produced by a particular writer and the calculation will give you the ROI for that individual content contributor. If his or her ratio is less than 1, you may not want to have them on your team. Take that with a grain of salt though, since there are a lot of other variables that influence revenue."
Jim Lenskold, president of the Lenskold Group, points to another important metric for understanding ROI:
“Average Value per Customer. The power of content marketing goes far beyond generating leads. It is critical to measure the increase in the Average Value per Customer to reflect content marketing’s effectiveness in educating buyers and differentiating the brand in order to increase purchase volume and earn long-term loyalty. This additional profit margin generated helps to justify the ROI of higher-cost content that truly improves the quality of the lead and the customer relationship.”
Cyrus Shepard, Content Astronaut at Moz (see kids, you really can be anything you want to be when you grow up!), shared a metric they created internally to factor a number of metrics into one content success measurement. They call it 1Metric:
“Because it’s hard to choose a single measurement of content performance, we actually invented a score called 1Metric which combines several different factors into a single number. You can configure it different ways, but our 1Metric combines traffic, social shares and link data into an algorithmic score between 1-100. By focusing on a single number, we eliminate outliers and gain a much more clear picture of our content success metrics. We’re testing this internally and may release a public version soon. Here’s a screenshot:
The Comprehensive Guide to Content Marketing Analytics & Metrics
This was pretty huge, right? There's a ton of content marketing just in this post, but in the full Curata e-book you'll find formulas you can use to put a lot of this into action in your own business. Pawan Deshpande is an absolutely brilliant content marketer who believes in using data and technology to map out strategic content marketing campaigns, rather than "winging it" and hoping for the best.
Download the full Comprehensive Guide to Content Marketing Analytics & Metrics for access to all of his content marketing measurement insights, formulas and resources.