By The Book: Measuring the Effectiveness of Your Content Marketing

As a business owner who is considering ramping up their content marketing efforts, you’ll likely find yourself asking one nagging question: How do I measure the effectiveness of our content marketing efforts and how do I know which content is producing the best results?

It’s by no means an easy question to answer. In fact, if you Google “how to measure content marketing ROI” you’ll have somewhere around 2 million search results to filter through. After reviewing the first 10 results, you’ll come to the conclusion that nobody really has a perfect answer.

Worse yet, some of the answers you’ll find online are so complicated that you’ll spend more time analyzing data than producing content. You’ll find it easy to get caught up in the numbers and never get any real work done.

We know content marketing works. There are too many great examples of companies who have built their business on the back of great content. Companies like HelpScout and WPCurve are two great examples. Neil Patel wrote an article over on QuickSprout where he makes it very clear that he’s used content marketing to build both Kissmetrics and Crazy Egg into seven-figure annual businesses.

As much as it would be nice to rely on the experiences of others, it’s still important to have a general idea of what kind of results your content is producing. There are many types of content, and you should always be striving to produce more of the stuff that works well and less of what doesn’t.

While there is no definitive answer when it comes to the best way to track results, I think we can both agree that it’s important to start somewhere. But where?

The Reality of Content Marketing

The reality of content marketing is that it takes time to work — just like every other form of marketing. If you can’t commit to a period of at least 3-6 months, you’re are considerably less likely to generate long-term, positive results.

It’s no different than any other form of marketing or advertising — consistency rules the roost. If you were to spend your time attending live events and networking with potential customers, building those relationships takes time and effort. You’re unlikely to land a new client following an initial introduction.

If you commit to the process of content marketing — just like the process of building a strong relationship — you’ll have created a long-term asset that produces results for years to come.

Deciding What to Measure

The first step towards measuring the effectiveness of your content marketing is deciding what to measure. The sky’s the limit here, so it’s important to narrow down your key performance indicators (KPI) to the absolute bare minimum. Trying to track too many things at once usually results in tracking nothing at all. If you keep things simple, you’re more likely to stay the course.

Jay Baer from Convince & Convert recently published a post that that discusses the four types of content metrics that matter. For anyone who is looking for a way to measure the effectiveness of their content marketing efforts, this is a great place to start.

To summarize, Jay looks at four main categories of metrics:

Consumption Metrics

By far the most popular form of data to track, consumption metrics give you an indication of how popular your content really is. How many eyeballs ended up on your content and how long did they stick around for?

Most people turn to Google Analytics when trying to figure out this information. Some examples of metrics you should consider tracking are organic traffic and page views. With consistent content creation, you should see an increase in both of these, keeping in mind one caveat:

While consumption metrics are “good to know”, they can also be considered vanity metrics — not unlike window shoppers in a fine boutique. They love to stop by and look around, but the reality is, they have no intention of making a purchase. With consumption metrics, unless you taken the time to establish a relationship between consumption, leads, and sales, there is little value to be had.

Sharing Metrics

Not unlike consumption metrics, sharing metrics might be able to tell you how willing people are to share your content, but unless that translates into something more valuable, we’ve really only doubled up on our consumption analysis.

One thing sharing metrics can indicate is your ability to write headlines or posts that trigger people’s emotions. If you’re able to do that consistently, then you’ve already won half the battle. All that’s left is figuring out how to use those emotions to trigger the actions you want visitors to take.

Even if you don’t have the time to analyze the results of your content marketing, it’s still important to begin tracking the data right from day one.

One important thing you’ll want to consider: When it comes to managing your different social channels, make sure you’re using UTM parameters. UTMs or Urchin Tracking Modules allow you to attribute and track the source of traffic. For example, if you’re distributing links to a recent post via your favorite social channels, you could track each individual source, campaign, content and more in GA by using a unique URL. That way, when you refer to your analytics, you’ll be able to determine the source of your traffic.

Even if you’re not planning to measure anything right away, it’s a good idea to implement proper tracking so that when you’re ready, the data will be available. This is a rule that applies to all forms of analytics — start tracking today, even if you don’t need to use data until sometime in the distant future.

Lead Generation MetricsUntitled

As soon as you start talking about lead generation, you’re getting to the good stuff. This is where content marketing has an opportunity to prove its worth and where you should be spending extra time and effort to track your results.

Generating leads can mean visitors filling out a contact form or opting into an email list. Both of these things can be tracked via Google Analytics — one way would be to use event tracking. For example, you could categorize your posts and trigger a GA event for the submission form on all posts in a specific category. A metric that we track here at Audience Ops is email list growth. Compare list growth when you’re publishing 2 posts per month versus 4 posts per month — which one produces better results?

Sales Metrics

Sales metrics are typically the last metric to begin registering, simply because it takes more time for visitors to progress to this phase of their journey. Sales can also be one of the most challenging metrics to attribute a specific piece of content to.

Although some platforms allow for the ability to track your buyer’s journey all the way to the point of purchase, it can still be tough to say with 100% certainty which piece of content was responsible for “closing the sale”.

This happened to me personally last week. After researching a SaaS product, looking at some competitors, and reading a few blog posts, I had made a decision on which service I would use. But I didn’t actually complete a purchase until several days later. To make tracking even more challenging, I inadvertently used multiple devices.

Despite the challenges faced when attempting to attribute sales to a specific piece of content, it’s still important to track your overall sales in relation to content, consumption, sharing, and leads.

Measure What Matters

The most important thing to remember is that you are better off measuring a few important metrics than dozens of unimportant ones. Getting started is more important than having a perfect system of measurement in place, because you can always make adjustments down the road.

Identify a handful of important goals and the metrics that contribute towards their achievement. Then, start creating content and tracking the results. Make adjustments where required and don’t be afraid to experiment.