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)

  1. Traffic
  2. Traffic by source
  3. Total leads generated
  4. Number of qualified leads
  5. Leads (First touch attribution)
  6. Leads (last touch attribution)
  7. Leads (multi-touch attribution)
  8. Sales
  9. Revenue
  10. Return on investment
  11. Pageviews
  12. Unique pageviews
  13. Users
  14. Unique Visitors
  15. Average time on site
  16. Average session duration
  17. Number of comments
  18. Bounce rate
  19. Form completions
  20. Click-through rate
  21. Open rate
  22. Conversion rate
  23. Views
  24. Impressions
  25. Percentage of returning vs. new visitors
  26. Number of visits
  27. Days since last visit
  28. Pages per session
  29. Page depth
  30. Scroll depth
  31. Dwell time
  32. Followers
  33. Shares
  34. Subscribers
  35. Unsubscribe rate
  36. Retweets
  37. Likes
  38. Mentions
  39. Keyword rankings
  40. Number of keywords ranking on
  41. Branded search volume
  42. Backlinks or natural inbound links
  43. Paid search equivalent
  44. 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…

  1. 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.
  2. No measurements perfectly describe reality – there are always important things that your data doesn’t tell you.
  3. 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.
Incentives change behavior

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:

example of evergreen content

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.

feelings predict the economy

The black line is consumer sentiment. Notice how it drops just before major drops in GDP. Feelings predict the economy. (Source, Investing.com via Animalz)

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.

unsolicited response rate

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 h