Let’s get this out of the way – I’m not about to dump 3,000 different content marketing metrics on you and then send you packing.
(Well…I will dump some. But it’s only 44, and only to make a point. And I’ll give you some other info before you go).
Measuring content marketing is hard.
And, unfortunately, the advice you find by Googling “content marketing metrics” isn’t usually that helpful.
A list of 23 numbers that show up in Google Analytics probably has some good info in it. Yeah, it’s often useful to look at organic traffic. And yeah, you can track conversions into leads and customers (to a degree).
But at the same time, that advice is noisy.
Anyone can put together a list of “content marketing metrics” just by scrolling through Google Analytics, social media, a CRM, and an email service provider.
This is the part where I dump a long list of content metrics to make my point. Here are 44 content marketing metrics that you can use to measure stuff:
(but OMG please don’t read the whole list)
- Traffic by source
- Total leads generated
- Number of qualified leads
- Leads (First touch attribution)
- Leads (last touch attribution)
- Leads (multi-touch attribution)
- Return on investment
- Unique pageviews
- Unique Visitors
- Average time on site
- Average session duration
- Number of comments
- Bounce rate
- Form completions
- Click-through rate
- Open rate
- Conversion rate
- Percentage of returning vs. new visitors
- Number of visits
- Days since last visit
- Pages per session
- Page depth
- Scroll depth
- Dwell time
- Unsubscribe rate
- Keyword rankings
- Number of keywords ranking on
- Branded search volume
- Backlinks or natural inbound links
- Paid search equivalent
- Domain Authority / Domain Rating / Domain Score
So you’re all set, right? Now you know how to measure content?
Of course not. Because it doesn’t matter how many things you can measure – the challenge is to measure what matters.
Here’s what this post covers:
- Why measuring content is dangerous, the importance of “feelings” in metrics, and why it might not make sense to measure your content at all
- The 4 reasons no one has really nailed down how to measure content
- How the “audience comparison” approach helps measure the unmeasurable
- A measurement model that’s “good enough” for most businesses
I can’t promise that you’ll come away from this knowing exactly how much money content makes you. The value (and measurement) of content depends on your business.
But I can show you how top content marketers approach measurement. And I can walk through the basic model that any business can use as a starting point.
Before you start – measuring content can be dangerous
A word of warning: content measurement can be dangerous.
Data-driven marketing is the latest trend, so, data = good, right?
Not always, for three reasons…
- Getting good data takes a ton of work. Getting insight from that data takes even more work! The time spent gathering data might be better spent in other places.
- No measurements perfectly describe reality – there are always important things that your data doesn’t tell you.
- Once you have a measurement, it changes how you act. It’s easy to get tunnel vision and only focus on that measurement.
I was once doing a website redesign project for a client, and they wanted an A/B test to compare the conversion rate of the old page with the new one.
I will forever love the person in the room who asked this question: “If the new page loses, will we go back to the old one?”
The answer was no.
So my advice? Don’t run the test. Sure, look at the analytics afterwards and do a best-guess of the results – but if you aren’t going to make decisions based on the data, it’s not worth the effort to collect it.
There’s an opportunity cost to going all-in on data.
“What gets measured gets managed” is a famous quote from Peter Drucker, and speaks to the importance of measuring things – stuff gets done when you have a number that holds people accountable.
An excellent Harvard Business Review article points out the problem:
“Peter Drucker was right when he wrote: ‘What gets measured gets managed.’ But why is this so often taken to a false corollary like ‘What can’t be measured isn’t worth managing?’”
If you get too focused on measuring, with perfect exactness, every aspect of your content performance, you risk optimizing the wrong thing.
Is it more important to optimize the % of time that someone sees your product while reading a blog post – or would you be better served just by sending more traffic to your website?
You have a lot of options when it comes to measuring your content. So ask – what kind of behavior is this metric incentivizing?
- If you track leads from content, you’ll incentivize creating a ton of lead magnets and forms – because that will show the fastest uptick in the short term
- If you track traffic, you’re incentivizing a lot of top-of-funnel content – whether or not that content generates leads
- If you track number of articles published, that’s what you incentivize – even if the articles themselves suck
No single metric is going to completely capture the value of your content – but it might get treated like it does.
What you reward will change how your team works – in ways you might not have intended. (Source, InfoSurv)
Two adages from the world of social science and economics put a nice little cherry on top of this discussion of the dangers of data:
- Campbell’s Law: “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.”
- Goodhart’s Law: “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.”
The very act of measuring something changes how people act. When you measure, people begin to change how they do things so that the measurements look good.
And if you turn a measure into a target or a goal, you can wind up incentivizing the exact wrong behaviors. (Like when the British government tried to wipe out cobras in India – I won’t spoil it, because the cobra effect is a great read).
Numbers and data can hide important information. It’s important to use them as a guide – but it’s just as important to remember what they don’t tell you.
Google Analytics can’t tell you how people feel
“A blog doesn’t grow (or decline) because of raw emotion, but success (or failure) cannot be measured without a holistic set of data points. Google Analytics does not, for example, tell you how people feel about your content and your brand – and that is far more important than page views and bounce rates.” – Jimmy Daly, How Google Analytics Kills Great Blogs
Imagine two articles that both get 10,000 views every month. They generate the same number of leads and conversions.
But one of them is fascinating. It’s the kind of thing that people remember. It’s a post that people love and come back to long after it was first published.
Here’s one example:
People come back to this post again and again and again, because it’s interesting and has long-term value. (You can read it here)
The question is: “would you know?”
Would you know how your content makes people feel? Would you realize that it actually makes them remember you? Where would that show up in your metrics?
As Jimmy Daly wrote in his piece on Google Analytics and feelings, Google Analytics can’t tell you how people feel.
But how people feel is important. He cites the work of economist George Katona – who showed that how people feel can literally predict economic recessions.
It’s this kind of research that leads marketers like Jay Acunzo to create metrics like “Unsolicited Response Rate” (URR).
Unsolicited Response Rate is essentially “how many people go out of their way to say that they liked your content.” It doesn’t have a very “data-y” feel to it, and most marketing executives will probably not be fans.
But there’s a sense in which this is a powerful metric – people don’t often go out of their way to give compliments like this. If someone does it for your content, you’re probably doing something right.
If you have a high URR, you’re probably making good content. (Source, Jay Acunzo)
Content marketing isn’t at the point where it can measure how people feel about your content. Or, at least, I’m not aware of anyone doing it successfully.
(In theory, it should be possible – the rise of chatbots and on-site surveys might give you the ability to ask questions about how people feel. Stay tuned in years to come!)
Let’s move on to how people are measuring content marketing. But first, I’ll leave you with one last quote – from world health professor Hans Rosling, writing in his book Factfulness.
“I don’t love numbers. I am a huge, huge fan of data, but I don’t love it. It has its limits. I love data only when it helps me to understand the reality behind the numbers, i.e., people’s lives. In my research, I have needed the data to test my hypotheses, but the hypotheses themselves often emerged from talking to, listening to, and observing people.”
Keep this in mind when you work on your content marketing metrics.
Here’s why no one has figured out how to measure content (yet)
There are 4 big reasons:
- Focus on direct attribution (i.e. person reads content, then becomes customer)
- Metrics that make sense depend on how you’re using content
- There’s a lot of noise. The most visible metrics aren’t the most important metrics.
- Measurement skills and content creation skills don’t usually overlap
In a digital age, it’s possible to track a lot of things that used to be untrackable.
Unfortunately, that also leads to people thinking that everything can be tracked.
And to too many people using “direct attribution” models that essentially try to answer the question “how much money did this blog post make us.”
(Note that there’s nothing inherently wrong with this model, and the guys at Grow and Convert are smart. This makes sense for a lot of businesses – it’s only a problem when it gets used in a business where it doesn’t make sense).
Customers = Traffic x % of traffic that turns to leads x % of leads that turn to customers. (Source, Grow and Convert)
Even though direct attribution can be useful (and at the very least, can sometimes justify the expense of content marketing), it doesn’t make sense for all businesses.
Because the buying process isn’t always this linear.
A slide from ActiveCampaign’s founder and CEO, presented at the ActiveCampaign conference
For a lot of businesses, the direct attribution of content drastically underestimates the value of content. It doesn’t account for things like…
- How content helps turn leads → customers (even if the leads didn’t come from content)
- Brand awareness created by spreading your content
- How sales teams use content to close deals
- Customer retention and upsells that are influenced by content
- Content that people remember and come back to – that builds trust long before the person is ready to buy
The metrics that make sense for you depend on how you’re using content.
“Did this blog post make money” is a great question if you don’t have a sales team and most of your leads come from blogging.
On the other hand “can our sales team close deals more efficiently when armed with content” might be a more relevant question for your business (if you have a sales team).
The key is to answer the right question for your business. And that question isn’t always “did this blog post make money.”
“How are people who consume our content different from people who don’t consume our content?”
“Say you vis