Content marketing spans everything from gaining brand awareness to offering opportunities to connect with prospects, from guiding leads to the point of purchase to post-purchase engagement and brand advocacy.
Tracking the actual impact of individual content pieces, however, isn’t nearly as cut-and-dry as the benefits they produce. Because content can serve so many purposes within an organization, there’s a huge number of key performance indicators (KPIs) that could be measured – so many, in fact, that it can be difficult for companies to decide which content marketing metrics actually matter.
Content marketers can find themselves in analysis paralysis, a rabbit hole of trying to measure every little thing, and reporting on metrics that actually have no impact on revenue. If you’re struggling with which KPIs matter to you, you’re not alone.
So I want to make it easy for you. I’m going to cut to the chase and make content KPIs as accessible as possible through my framework for selecting the top four minimum viable product (MVP) metrics for your company’s campaigns.
3 Considerations for Content Marketing Measurement
Before we dive into content marketing KPIs, it’s worth acknowledging that content measurement won’t look the same from one piece to the next, one organization to the next, or even one company campaign to the next.
That’s because there are a number of different variables that must be considered when identifying the KPIs that matter most.
Dive Deeper: How to Actually Track Your Content Marketing Success
Why Do Content Marketing KPIs Differ from Business to Business?
Is your business a B2B company? A media publisher? A B2C e-commerce shop? Each business has their own content marketing goals, customer lifecycle, time-to-purchase, and more. So the content marketing goals of a clothing boutique — purchases via Instagram posts, for instance — totally differ from those of an enterprise SaaS company.
- At a B2B company, the goal of content is typically to turn prospects into leads, and then guide them as efficiently as possible through the sales funnel, up to the point of conversion (whether that be a purchase or a free trial). Content can also play a role in post-purchase activation and customer retention, especially in the case of SaaS companies.
- For most media publishers, engagement is key. When the goal is to engage advertisers, content metrics such as average time spent on each page, average number of pages visited per visit and bounce rate become more important than more sales-driven KPIs.
- B2C content, on the other hand, can play a role in everything from encouraging repeat website visitors to luring back those who have abandoned shopping carts with helpful, interesting resources. Because B2C content often aims to convey more personality than B2B content, social shares may be of greater interest to marketers than they would be in a B2B environment.
None of these rules are hard and fast. Just because you’re a B2B company, for example, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care about time on page or social shares.
However, being effective at measuring content performance means picking and choosing the KPIs that matter most to your business and revenue goals.
It’s impractical to measure everything (except maybe at the largest of enterprise organizations), which is why you need to allocate your analytics resources to the highest-priority metrics — the ones that actually matter.
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Which Content Marketing Metrics Matter for Each Stage of the Customer Journey?
Finding the right content marketing KPIs means looking at funnel stage as well. For instance, is your content intended to:
- Build brand awareness by drawing in a wide audience of new prospects? If so, you may want to focus your measurement efforts on metrics such as referral visits and top-level content consumption KPIs.
- Engage interested prospects and move them down the funnel? Middle-of-funnel content should be tied to more action-oriented metrics, such as case study requests, lead magnet downloads or content upgrade form completions.
- Actually close the deal? I’ll be upfront with you. Attributing revenue to content is hard. A Demand Gen report found that “47% of buyers viewed 3-5 pieces of content before engaging with a sales rep.” If a sale results after a lead has viewed one of these pieces of content, how should you weight the relative impact of each – let alone consider other touches that may have impacted the deal (such as calls, emails or social messages)?
In an article for the Content Marketing Institute, Pawan Deshpande illustrates how content can factor into a larger buying process:
Following Deshpande’s illustration, the challenge of attribution is clear.
How much credit should the e-book be given? What impact did the email newsletter have, relative to the trade show or webinar? In fact, there are a number of different content attribution models available, depending on how granular you want to get with your analysis. Commonly used models include:
- First touch attribution, which gives sole credit for a sale to the first piece of content a customer engaged with.
- Last touch attribution, which reverses this model and provides full credit to the final piece of content in the sales process.
- Multi-touch attribution, which offers a number of different formulas for weighing multiple pieces of content within a single buyer journey.
Here’s what some of these multi-touch attribution models look like in practice:
How complex you want to get with attribution metrics depends not just on the other lenses described here, but on the overall level of sophistication of your content marketing program.
Don’t worry if you aren’t ready to take on multi-touch attribution. Start where you can and expand your program as your comfort level with these models improves. Remember, this article is all about getting away from metrics overwhelm!
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How Different Content Formats Influence Specific Marketing Goals
Finally, the type (or types) of content you produce influence the KPIs you choose to monitor. As an example, consider one company that focuses on business blogging versus another that invests in their YouTube channel.
The video producer may not be interested in average time on page in the same way that the blogger might be; instead, number of views, average view length, and YouTube subscribers are more useful insight.
There’s nothing “wrong” with any of these metrics, but it should be clear how different content approaches call for different KPIs.
The 4 Most Important Content Metrics
If all the detail above left you feeling more overwhelmed than when you started this article, stick with me. In this section, we’re going to take all that background information and put it into a framework that can be applied to any business model and any content type.
As you plan which content KPIs you’ll track, make sure that you have at least one metric from each of the following four categories:
1) Your Content Engagement Metric
Engagement metrics should help you determine whether or not visitors to your website are engaging with content in the way you expected. For instance:
If you published a blog post, how many people are landing on the page?
Keep in mind that your blog post traffic is cumulative. If only a few people land on the post in the first day, that’s fine. Measure it in a month, three months, etc.
We use Google Analytics to drill down by Top Pages and Source/Medium.
And we drill down into the Top Acquisition Channels:
You can also go to Acquisitions and search channel by channel:
If you produced a video, how many views does it receive?
We use YouTube analytics to measure views and subscribers. It’s a robust tool, and they add new features all the time.
Views matter, but so do the subscribers you get from each video (the conversion metric, which we’ll discuss in the next chapter).
We also measure watch time over our entire channel — this is an important KPI to determine quality and stickiness of our videos, as well as how the YouTube algorithm will reward us.
If you’re thinking of content in terms of social media posts, then how many likes, comments or shares does each platform receive?
You can measure this per platform or through a tool like SproutSocial to give you an overall view of your social performance.
You may need to choose a separate engagement metric for each type of content you produce. And although I recommend starting with one if you’re new to content measurement, you can choose several if your analytics skills are more advanced.
In the case of blog posts, for example, you might also want to measure engagement in terms of scroll depth or average time on page. After all, simply monitoring the number of views doesn’t get you the full picture of your engagement if people are clicking away before they actually consume your content.
2) A Content Conversion Metric
The next question to answer with your chosen content KPIs is: are my content consumers taking the action I want them to take? For example, if you’ve published a gated lead magnet, are visitors downloading it? You can measure this in a Google Analytics Goal, or wherever you add email subscribers once they’ve downloaded that lead magnet.
If social shares are your top priority, are visitors passing your pieces on to others through the networks? Google Analytics is your best bet if you want to measure social traffic to your site:
If you send regular emails or a nurture sequence, what open and CTR rates are you getting? Measure this in your email automation tool.
Not all content is explicitly conversion-driven. However, even top-of-funnel content pieces that seem to exist purely for awareness- and engagement-building likely involve some type of “ask.” For instance, if you’ve asked visitors to leave comments on your blog posts as your only conversion activity, are they actually doing so? You won’t know until you measure this as a KPI.
3) A Content Outcomes Metric
Next up, look at what results the conversion actions you chose in the previous section are producing for your business. Again, the level of specificity with which you measure outcomes can be hugely variable.
But some outcomes metrics you could monitor include:
- The number of keywords for which you have top 10 organic search visibility (we measure this in tools like SEMRush or Ahrefs; we don’t need to measure each keyword’s growth, but we do look at overall movement):
- New prospects entering your sales funnel through your content
- The number of prospects and leads at each stage of your funnel who entered through content
- The number of email subscribers added to your list through content
- Revenue produced from those engaged with one or more pieces of content
- Revenue produced from re-engaged customers who were targeted with content
You’ll need a CRM, marketing automation system or sales funnel analytics tool to help with most of these metrics, as you’ll need to be able to tie content engagement to individual customers.
If you don’t have this kind of technology in place, you can always just measure gross revenue. It’s not the most sophisticated measurement of content success, but at the end of the day, investing in content – or any other marketing strategy – should cause your revenue to go up.
4) Your Content Spend
Last up, keep track of what you spend on your content creation efforts. In some cases, this may take the form of direct expenses, such as fees paid to content creators or the subscription costs of content creation tools.
Don’t forget about your less-obvious overhead expenses in your calculations. For example, if you’ve spent a few hundred dollars to have a freelance writer produce a blog post for you, but you also spend an hour of your time editing their work, you need to take the cost of your time into consideration when calculating spend.
The purpose here is two-fold:
- As you’re investing in content, it’s important to keep a close eye on your spend. Your options for producing content are virtually unlimited. If you aren’t conscious of your costs, it’s easy to exceed your budget without even realizing it.
- Knowing your costs is a necessary part of calculating the return on investment (ROI) of your content.
OptinMonster defines return on investment for content marketing as follows:
Basically, content marketing ROI tells you how well your content is performing, relative to what you’re putting into the process.
To calculate ROI, you’ll need an outcomes metric that’s expressed as a single number (you can’t, for example, generate ROI off the number of different prospects and leads at each funnel stage). Once you’ve set this calculation up, however, monitor it over time. By paying regular attention to this key figure, you’ll be able to iterate your content marketing activities towards those that are producing the highest value for your investment.
Starting a Content Marketing Analytics Program
There are a million different ways to think about content marketing metrics and KPIs, so if my approach here doesn’t resonate with you, there are plenty of other models you can try.
What’s most important is that you begin. Don’t get stuck in spreadsheet mode, falling victim to analysis paralysis. Find a few numbers you can track that give you some insight into the overall health of your content marketing program and start measuring them. With time and continued investment in your analytics knowledge, you’ll be able to leverage your chosen KPIs to build a stronger, more cost effective content marketing program.