5 Essential Metrics For Content Marketing Performance [Guide]
Ever since the invention of the printing press, people have been using content to help their businesses. Benjamin Franklin published an annual almanac between 1732 to 1758 to win customers for his printing business, which included content such as poems, sayings, and astrological information. John Deere’s The Furrow magazine helped farmers (as well as his own business) become more profitable, and is still popular after 126 years.1
History is packed with examples like these. When a business produces valuable content for its target audience and markets it effectively, it receives more income from customers, and becomes more valuable itself. When done correctly, content marketing is a powerful marketing technique that can vastly increase your bottom line (and by sharing the content on your socials, you're helping to combat the spread of fake news on social media).
But as with most marketing techniques, it can be difficult to measure the performance of your content marketing strategy. Are you producing content that is valuable to your users, and is it turning into value for your business? Which pieces of content are thudding into the bullseye, and which are whistling into the abyss? Which of your writers are superstars, and which of them need a little coaching?
In this article, we’ll teach you how to measure your content marketing performance the right way, so that you can ignore the vanity metrics, and focus on the metrics that measure business growth.
Why measure content marketing performance?
Before we dive in, we should clarify what we mean by “content marketing.” When we talk about content marketing, we’re covering the full range of methods that fall under the term, which includes anything with content as its primary component. This includes blogs/articles, eBooks, white papers, videos, infographics, social posts, EDMs, webinars, podcasts, and more.
Essentially, you need to measure your content marketing efforts for the same reason you need to measure anything else your business does: return on investment. The majority of what your business does should help to turn a profit, and if it doesn’t, it should be scrapped or changed. Producing good content can be expensive, which makes measuring your content marketing performance an invaluable way to identify what you’re doing right and wrong, so that you can change your approach where necessary, and increase the ROI of your content program.
Your content program should also have unique goals of its own. These can include generating leads for your business, selling more products, enhancing your brand’s image, helping the local community, producing resources that are useful for in-house training, and any other goals that have a positive impact on your company. Every goal will be measured by a particular metric (or group of metrics), and in this article, we’ll be covering the most common.
The most important content marketing metrics
These are the key metrics that provide the most insight into your content marketing performance. They should also be measured on a monthly basis, and compared to monthly and annual trends.
Impressions tell us the number of times your content listing has appeared in Google’s search results. This doesn’t always mean that the user has seen your content listing in Google (or that they’ve even scrolled into its view), just that it has appeared for them as part of their search.
Impressions allow us to determine how many people our content is reaching. They’re a lead metric that describes our potential (read more about lead metrics on our SEO metrics article), and whether we are likely to achieve our goals. Without impressions, your content can’t be found by prospects, and they can’t generate clicks, likes, comments, or fulfill important goals. Impressions are the gateway to every other important metric.
If impressions are trending upwards for your content collection, your content marketing strategy is likely to be working, and is a prediction for future success. But you’ll need to get more granular for a thorough understanding of what’s happening, analysing impressions for your content’s categories, as well as individual articles. If a single content category only has a couple of articles but is taking the lion’s share of impressions, would it be valuable to refocus your content efforts on it? Why do a handful of articles make up 50% of your impressions? What is it about those particular articles that makes them so accessible?
As you start to analyse impressions more deeply, you will discover which pieces of content are most accessible to your audience, and which of them are most likely to be read and engaged with, allowing you to make changes to your content strategy.
Impressions for keywords can be viewed in Google Search Console, which are labelled as “queries.”
Impressions in Google Search Console
Once your content has impressions and is being found in Google, the next important thing to measure is clicks. Clicks are the number of the times that your content has been accessed from Google’s search results. They’re a lag metric (read more about lag metrics on our SEO metrics article) that reveal what’s happened in the past, allowing you to make more accurate predictions for the future.
Clicks are influenced by the following:
- The content page’s ranking/position in the search results
- How relevant the content is to the user’s search
- How relevant the content’s title is to the user’s search
- How enticing the page title is (does it persuade the user to click?)
As with impressions, measuring clicks for your entire content collection can give you an idea of how you’re progressing, but to get valuable information, you’ll need to delve into content categories and individual content to better understand where you’re succeeding or failing.
Click-through rate is also an important metric to consider when analysing clicks, and is calculated by dividing impressions by clicks to provide a percentage. For example, if an article has 100 impressions and 3 clicks, the click through rate is 3%. This is decent for an article that sits in position five or lower in the search results, but terrible for an article that sits in the number one spot, which should be getting around 30% of the clicks. If certain articles have a low CTR but a good ranking, your article title may be unclear, irrelevant, or even a little boring, and you should focus on improving it.
As with impressions, clicks are available through Google Search Console. They can also be analysed in greater detail using Google Analytics.
Clicks in Google Search Console
3. Social engagement
Social media is a powerful way to promote your content, whether through posts from your company page, or as part of a paid advert. It includes a number of metrics that are worth measuring, including impressions, likes, shares, comments, and click-through rates. Certain types of content are better suited to certain social platforms (e.g. personal stories on Facebook, business-related content on LinkedIn, etc.), so be sure to keep an eye on this when you’re analysing your metrics. Try not to get too caught up with your social stats either—social media is a tool for helping to achieve your primary business goals, nothing more. If you’ve gotten 500 likes on a Facebook post, but not a single person clicked on the link included, you probably haven’t gained much value.
If you have content that performs well organically, there’s a greater chance of it performing well as a paid social media advert, which can bring traffic to your website and provide an excellent return on investment. You can do a low-budget test first to see how it performs, and increase your spending if successful.
Tools like Buzzsumo allow you to analyse social engagement across the various platforms, giving you an idea of how well your content has resonated with users. It also helps to reveal which social channels your content performs best on, allowing you to change your focus if needed.
4. Organic keyword rankings
To understand how our content is performing, we need to measure organic keywords. These are usually defined by the keywords we target for each piece of content, which includes a primary keyword, and a secondary keyword. By tracking the rankings of your keywords over time, you can get valuable insights such as the following:
- Whether your content is relevant to the keywords being searched
- Whether your content is comprehensive enough and useful enough to rank
- Whether your content is optimised properly for their target keywords
- Which content categories are ranking well
- Whether you’re targeting keywords that are too difficult (high search volume, high difficulty rating in a tool such as Semrush) for your site’s authority
Organic keyword rankings
It’s also important to note that when you start targeting and optimising for a new keyword, it can take between four to six months before you begin ranking in Google’s top three SERPs (search engine results pages). Patience is key.
5. Goal conversions
Goal conversions are our final important metric to measure for content marketing performance. They’re a lag metric that allow you to measure the success of each individual piece of content. Typical goals include:
- Downloading resources such as eBooks (and collecting their emails)
- Subscription to the company’s eNews
- Clicking into a desirable transactional page from the content
As with the other metrics, you’ll probably find that some pieces of content nudge users towards goals better than others, and it’s worth taking the time to think about why. If you’ve written an exhaustive eBook on a topic that hasn’t been covered elsewhere, and it’s advertised on a related blog that the reader enjoys, there’s a much better chance of them downloading it. On the other hand, if you’ve added a call-to-action on an infographic that encourages the user to sign up for a free trial of your software, and the infographic is dull and unoriginal, you probably won’t get many sign ups. Goal conversions allow you to scrutinise the following factors, and make improvements where necessary:
- The relevance and usefulness of your content
- Your value proposition—is it attractive?
- How well your call-to-action has been designed—is it highly-visible and clickable?
- The beauty of your website (well-designed websites tend to convert better).
Goal conversions can be measured through Google Analytics, as well as CRM tools such as HubSpot. These powerful tools also allow you to measure assisted goal conversions, which allow you to track other important actions such as clicks and page visits before the final goal is completed.
Goal conversions in Google Analytics
If your goal conversions are trending downwards, their influential factors are addressed in a design approach called conversion-centred design, which uses design and content techniques to improve goal conversions. By better understanding this approach and adopting some of its principles, you can improve goal conversions across your entire content collection.
Other metrics to consider
The metrics above are ideal for analysing your content’s performance, and should be your main focus each month. But the following metrics can help to build a clearer overall picture and make your decisions more effective, so are worth examining from time to time.
Email remains one of the most effective ways to reach your target audience, and is a vital component of a successful content marketing program. With a good understanding of email marketing principles and a willing list of subscribers, you have a better chance of achieving the goals for your content, as well as the goals for your overarching content strategy.
Email marketing metrics that are worth examining include:
- Open rates—the number of people who have opened the email, based on a percentage. This is a measurement of how useful the content is for your subscribers, and how enticing the email subject is.
- CTR—every email should have a primary call-to-action, and your click-through-rate measures its success. A high CTR can mean that the text you’ve used is spot-on, as well as being of interest to the user.
- Conversion rate—the number of people who clicked on your CTA, and then completed a goal on your website (such as downloading an eBook).
Inbound links (backlinks)
Inbound links are links from other websites to your own. Google still uses them as part of its ranking algorithm—the more links you have from authoritative websites, the more likely the content is to be valuable. For this reason, some content marketing programs include a backlink-building component, which involves reaching out to authoritative websites and asking to write guest posts, in order to get a link back to your website.
If you have an outreach program for building backlinks to your website, measuring the number and quality of inbound links is obviously a valuable exercise, because it’s a direct measurement of your performance.
How to measure content marketing performance—summary
Being bombarded with metrics from various tools can feel overwhelming, and makes it harder to measure the performance of your content marketing program. But by focusing on the metrics that actually matter to your bottom line—impressions, clicks, comments, organic keyword rankings, and goal conversions—you can measure your content more effectively, and make better strategic decisions. Combine this with useful social, email, and inbound link metrics, and you’ll have a vivid understanding of how your content strategy is performing, and how to make it more effective. This will allow you to continue producing high-quality, profit-turning content.
Want to know more about measuring your digital marketing performance? Check out our comprehensive guide to Every Digital Marketing Metric You Need for your business.