By Jodi Harris published June 15, 2012

How to Measure the Success of Content Marketing

Ask content marketers to discuss the benefits of their trade and you will, no doubt, be regaled with facts, statistics, and examples that clearly demonstrate how successful a discipline it can be. But ask him or her to quantify that success with a number, and the answers aren’t always as cut and dried.

Sustainable success rarely comes overnight, regardless of your marketing technique of choice. More likely, any gains will be the result of a slow, steady climb in the influence, visibility, credibility, and desirability of your business — benefits that content marketing is proven in its ability to establish and grow. But try telling that to an executive who urgently needs to justify a content budget with calculations that show a definitive financial impact.

When confronted with the need to answer the big, scary client question, “How will I know if it’s working?” the experts who work with CMI Consulting have a few measurement tips to share, and some suggestions on how to manage client expectations when it comes to content marketing metrics.

First, go to bat knowing what your business objectives are. If your content then ladders up to them, you can measure its impact where the client or executives need to see impact. Retweets, “likes” and comments don’t matter to business objectives. Sales, revenue and costs do. Design your content to affect those and you’ll keep the executives and clients happy.

- Jason Falls (@JasonFalls)


First off, engaging customer advocacy around a brand is a long-term initiative, so this has to be stated up front. But audiences speak with their time, so ensure that you report on follower numbers, unique visitors, and anecdotal kudos for reaching out. Put those up against sales lift after three or four quarters to demonstrate performance (taking into account the dozens and dozens of other elements that drive brand performance during the same time, of course).

- Tom Gierasimczuk (@gierasimczuk)


I often tell clients, “Have the capability to measure everything — and then don’t.” You’ve got to create a great atmosphere of measuring what’s right, rather than measuring what you can. Measurement for so long has been about a “proof” that something works, rather than providing an insight into how to improve a process. This is why I sometimes refer to analytics as WMDs — or Weapons of Mass Delusion. We can become so myopic about making sure that the graph is always going up and to the right that we become fearful about trying anything new. So, building an atmosphere of delivering the RIGHT analytics to the RIGHT manager at the RIGHT time becomes key. Reports of “likes,” and “followers,” and ”page views,” and other “engagement” metrics are not only not critical to the C-Suite, they are pointless. If we’re approaching our analytics and measurement programs with the right mindset — and using them as ways to improve our process to reach our ultimate goal — then we will have alleviated much of that concern to begin with.- Robert Rose (@Robert_Rose)


I don’t take on clients unless they’re willing to use better analytic tools than Google Analytics. Something like a HubSpot or another platform is a must for me and, I think, any content marketer. I once wrote an article entitled: My Blog Made 2 Million Dollars in Sales. How’s that for ROI? When people read that, they were shocked at just how much ROI could actually be measured with the right tools. And frankly, this is a huge problem we’ve all got to fix — it’s time to measure ROI!!

- Marcus Sheridan (@TheSalesLion)


I start by reminding people that, realistically, there have never been effective ways of measuring most traditional advertising and marketing except at the end of the fiscal year, when you could tell whether you made a profit or not. Only then you could surmise that something must have worked in your communications strategy.

Comparatively, we’re presented with a veritable cornucopia of ways to measure success through content marketing.

The most important thing is to identify from the outset of the content marketing initiatives what will be the metric sought for each content asset or approach utilized. Every metric — from video views, to emails opened, to tweets retweeted, to wall posts shared and, yes, to products and services sold — can then be woven together into a narrative of how well the initiative is (or is not) working.

- Russell Sparkman (@fusionspark)


 

There is no magic silver bullet. You have to remember that this is marketing and it is organic — it takes time. The thing to remember is that traditional advertising dies on the vine and it is very hard to measure. Content marketing is totally measurable, but it takes time to get real data. I tell all of my clients that unless they are willing to launch a program for at least 6 months, there is no reason to do anything. We need time to gather data!

- Michael Weiss (@mikepweiss)


Content marketing success takes time. Just because you develop a couple of really great articles or blog posts or videos doesn’t mean you’ll convert a lead to a sales opportunity tomorrow. Give it enough time to make a difference. For example, if your sales cycle is typically 9 months, deploying a content marketing pilot across one quarter will not demonstrate the results the program can achieve. Content marketing is not a campaign with a start and stop date.

But you also need to look at what you measure. Clicks and opens are fine, but they are not the true measure for content marketing success. Content marketers must look past initial response to measure sustained levels of engagement and impact to length of sales cycle. Ultimately, contribution to downstream revenues must be quantifiable in relation to content marketing strategy. And that takes time and commitment.

Figure out how to measure incremental success that shows content marketing is headed in the right direction toward that ultimate goal.

- Ardath Albee (@ardath421)


There are four types of content marketing metrics: consumption, sharing, leads, and sales. Most marketers overvalue the first two (blog page views and retweets, for example) and undervalue the last two (email subscriptions from people who first read the blog and, ultimately, sales from among that group). If you focus your metrics on behavior, rather than on data aggregation, you’ll be measuring points of greater business value.

- Jay Baer (@jaybaer)


I’d say that it isn’t about measuring, because you can only measure so much. But, it is more about setting realistic expectations. Every client expects their video to go “viral,” and they think that means millions of views. You have to show them that perhaps a few thousand views is realistically the highest that can be hoped for. This takes a level of trust between the client and the person telling them, but it is crucial.

- C.C. Chapman (@cc_chapman)


Measurement is absolutely critical to the success of a content marketing program, and the biggest mistake I see is not agreeing up front on what the initial key performance indicators (KPIs) will be, why they are important to the business, and how we will track and grow them. Many novice content marketers focus on less meaningful leading indicators (page views, followers, etc.) and lament client and C-Suite focus on actual revenue. Getting to that revenue number may be challenging, and it may not be immediate, but in most cases it’s going to be necessary in order to continue to justify the investment. So make sure to set up your measurement out of the gates with those systems in place — sourcing leads, tracking conversions, etc. — to ensure you can demonstrate the ultimate ROI.

- Will Davis (@willdavis)


As these experts assert, having a clear vision of your business objectives, knowing the right focal points, and being prepared with transparent communication strategies will give you an advantage when talking to clients about the value of content marketing. But I’m sure there are plenty of other metrics lessons you can learn from others who are exploring the content landscape. What advice have you followed when it comes to quantifying the benefits of content marketing? We’d love to see you share your thoughts in the comments.

Want more guidance for meeting your content marketing challenges? Our CMI Consultants would be happy to help. You can also learn more on measuring content marketing success if you attend Content Marketing World on September 4 – 6 in Columbus, Ohio, where you can listen to and meet many of our consultants. 

Author: Jodi Harris

Jodi Harris is the Director of Editorial Content & Curation at Content Marketing Institute. She also develops and manages strategic content projects through her consulting practice, Jodi Harris Content Consulting. Jodi has developed and managed print and digital content projects for marketing, entertainment, automotive, health care, and biotech publishers, as well as for entertainment industry and media brands. You can follow her on Twitter at @Joderama.

Other posts by Jodi Harris

  • http://humanwebsite.com.my/ Kent

    For  Marcus Sheridan, why you think Google Analytics is not a good measurement tool?

    • http://twitter.com/TheSalesLion Marcus Sheridan

      Hi Kent, there is certainly nothing bad or wrong with GA, but you have to look at it like this:

      GA measure traffic patterns and trends, but it doesn’t measure NAMES of people.

      Something like HubSpot can tell you  about your lead, let’s call him Mr. Jones, and the fact that he has been on your site 5 times, looked at 33 pages, spent 76 total minutes on those pages, etc.

      That’s powerful stuff, but it’s only powerful because you now have traffic to go along with a real person/name.

      Make sense?

  • http://www.BlogAid.net MaAnna

    Jodi, thank you for this collection of tips and opinions. I really enjoyed that the focus is on measuring what counts and contributes to the bottom line. You can have all of th page views and followers in the world, but if no one is taking action, then you’re just running a really informative charity. And, without measuring, you’re doing it blindly.

  • Jodi Harris

    Well said, MaAnna!

  • http://twitter.com/chadstory Chad Story

    A great discussion on the merits of measuring content success. This was a hot topic at Confab2012. My POV the metrics we use to measure success need to be rethought…stop thinking short term and focus on things like the lifetime value of acquiring one new customer. I wrote a post on it, if any one is interested. http://www.ariad.ca/2012/05/17/whats-your-content-worth-confab-day-2/