By Michele Linn published July 18, 2014

Effective Content Marketing: 5 Steps to Track Your Efforts

ballcap official-measuring progressOne popular definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results. The definition of content marketing insanity? Creating content, just throwing it out there and hoping for good results… and then repeating the process, ad infinitum.

To break this crazy cycle, you should periodically be taking a critical look at your content marketing to understand what’s working and what isn’t — even if this means you have less time to publish new content.

In this eighth and final installment of our “Back to Basics” series, we’ll walk you through one process you can use to understand how well your content efforts are working and continually refine your content marketing program for greater success.

The difference between KPIs and content effectiveness

In last week’s post, Cathy McPhillips provided details — and a template — for tracking your key performance indicators (KPIs). These are the high-level metrics you and your management team have selected as the most critical measurements of your content marketing program’s performance — such as the number of email subscribers you have earned, registration forms that have been completed, sales increases, etc. (see the aforementioned post for a chart of possible metrics).

While understanding and presenting high-level KPIs is important for the entire team and management, this will only offer so much insight. These metrics are key and they tell you how you are doing, but they rarely provide the insights into what is working and what you need to adjust. You need to dig deeper and look at each piece of content to see how it is performing so you can make continual improvements.

A 5-step approach

There is no one right way to figure out the effectiveness of your content marketing; but below is one approach you can use. It requires you to track every piece of content you create in a spreadsheet, like the one I’ve created here (you can also download a copy of this template so you can customize it for your needs).

CMI spreadsheet example

Click to download the full spreadsheet.

1. Audit all of the content you have by platform: Start by documenting all the content you publish on every platform you use, and arrange it by title. You’ll also need to decide from what date you want to start tracking your content — it can be from the past or you can start today and track everything moving forward. If you are just getting started and want to refine the process as you go, it’s best to start small. For instance, you may want to see what blog posts are performing best and then move on to other platforms.

2. Decide what other information you want to collect from each post: In addition to the title of the post, consider what else will give you the most essential insights.

For instance:

  • Do you have a multi-author blog? If so, track the authors of each post.
  • Do you hire freelancers? If so, you may want to understand how their posts perform compared to the ones written in-house.
  • Do you create content in multiple types/formats, such as blog posts, videos, and podcasts? If you want to be able to get insight into how various formats are working, add columns to denote the format of each piece of content.
  • Do you categorize your posts by key topic area? I highly recommend having key categories for your posts and tracking those in your spreadsheet. This way, you can see what topics your audience seems to be the most interested in.
  • Are you trying to refine your mix of evergreen and real-time content? Or “brick” vs. “feather” content? If so, have a column that denotes the longevity of a piece so you can see if your “meatier” content is indeed performing better.

As you can see, there are many things you could track. What’s important is deciding if and how you will use each piece of data you’ve tracked in your performance evaluations.

3. Figure out the key metrics per post: Looking back at your KPIs, which metrics will give you the most insight as to whether or not your content is helping you reach those business goals? For instance, if one of your KPIs is email subscribers, you should track how many people subscribed after reading each post. Note that while social shares are easy to collect (and something you can do if it’s helpful for management) I would recommend looking at additional data points in addition to social statistics.

4. Calculate a baseline for each metric: It is helpful to understand your averages, such as how many tweets your average post receives, or what your average number of email subscribers is per post? You can take simple averages of the data you collect and then figure out which posts are performing above (or below) average. I like to highlight each metric with green (above average), yellow (average) and red (below average) so I can visually see how each post fares in relation to others. It is also interesting to track averages on a monthly basis to see if content is performing better or worse in relation to other months.

5. Update your tracking document on a regular basis: Decide when you want to update your spreadsheet. When getting started, I recommend updating your spreadsheet on a monthly basis. If you look at metrics too often, your performance may look weak for newer pieces of content that have had less time to gain solid ground. But, you also want to look at the data frequently enough to improve future content.

In addition to tracking content performance, check out some other ways to figure out what topics and formats may work best for your audience.

The point we made last week bears repeating: Measurement can be as simple or as complicated as you make it. Don’t measure simply for the sake of measuring. And, especially when getting started, don’t measure too much. If you aren’t certain what you should be measuring, ask yourself these two questions:

  • Do these metrics support my key goals?
  • Will I take action on these metrics (i.e., will they provide me insight into how I can improve my program)?

Unless you can answer “yes” to the questions above, you likely don’t need to be collecting the data — at least at first.

Updating the team on content performance

While I am a fan of giving everyone on your team access to data, chances are you’ll soon have more data that most people want to wade through. As such, remember that you want to present insights on content performance on a regular basis (again, I would start with monthly if you are not sure where to begin).

Instead of presenting all data at once, try collating the high-level findings and sharing these as a summary of insights you have learned and are considering changing.

For instance:

  • What is the top-performing content this month?
  • If you have a multi-author blog, which authors were top performers?
  • What formats are resonating with your audience? If something is not, should you change the way you present it? Place it on a different channel? Place less emphasis on that format?
  • What topics are resonating with your audience?

As another suggestion, you may also want to consider what metrics your management wants to see if you are in the early stages of getting buy-in. But, remember you need your management team to understand that the most important metrics are the two types above.

An example from CMI

The way we track and measure the effectiveness of our enterprise content is an evolving process that we plan to continually refine. However, we are very systematic with how we evaluate the performance of our blog posts. For each post, we track the following details:

  • Author
  • Number of tweets
  • LinkedIn shares
  • Facebook “likes”
  • Conversions to email subscribers
  • Page views
  • The format (e.g., whether it’s a podcast, an article from CCO, a contributed post, etc.)
  • Topic category/categories for each post

The key metric we track is conversion to email subscribers, but we also collect information on social sharing because it helps us see what topics are getting the most traction from our audience on a given channel. We also do this to see if there is a correlation between high social shares and email subscribers. (For the most part, this hasn’t been the case; in fact, we’ve found that traffic to the post has a higher correlation).

In addition to understanding what topics and content formats are performing, there are other things I do with the insights I track:

  • I consider how I can repurpose top-performing pieces into other formats, like SlideShare, to extend its value.
  • I keep a list of top-performing, evergreen content pieces and curate those in other ways. For instance, we occasionally collect the best advice from older posts and include them in updated posts on the same topic (as we did in this example and this one).
  • Our marketing director, Cathy McPhillips, also promotes older, well-performing  posts by sharing them on Facebook or Twitter.
  • I like to reach out to the authors whose posts have performed well each month to let them know and invite them to contribute another article.
  • I look for posts that have the highest percentage of email conversions — i.e., the traffic in relation to email conversions for each page — and then re-market pages with lower traffic and higher email conversions.

In summary, remember that what you track and how you collect the data can evolve over time. But, it’s critical to get a system in place and get in the practice of measuring everything you are doing.

What tips do you have that help you measure your content effectiveness?

Want more insight on how to track and improve the performance of your content marketing efforts? Learn from the experts at Content Marketing World 2014, September 8–11, 2014. Register today!

Cover image by Peter Griffin, via Publicdomainpictures.net

Author: Michele Linn

Michele is the Content Development Director of the Content Marketing Institute and a B2B content marketing consultant who has a passion for helping companies use content to connect with their ideal buyers. You can follow her on Twitter at @michelelinn or read more of her posts on Savvy B2B Marketing.

Other posts by Michele Linn

  • Lance Pincock

    Michele,

    Thanks for this post. I’ve been a long time lurker here on CMI and this post finally got me to comment.

    I agree that the details you track for your articles here at CMI are a great way to gauge effectiveness, but I’m wondering why you don’t track comments as well. I’m not saying you should either way, but I’d like to get your reasoning behind not tracking them as a form of effectiveness.

    • http://www.contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Michele Linn

      Hi Lance,
      So glad you took the time to comment! Truth be told, I actually do track the number of comments, but I don’t find myself taking action on what I learn, so I didn’t include that metric in this post. I haven’t found that the. number of comments is an indicator of conversion in the case of CMI (although it could be for other organizations). As this is a multi-author blog, the number of comments can sometimes have more to do with if the author addresses all comments.

  • http://bit.ly/1wzPiO3 Jacob Masteron

    Very informative article! Definately bookmarking this for further evaluation..

    I started blogging around six months ago, I started a blog in the “cooking” niche because it is my passion and I wanted to document my results as a culinary student. I was suprised actually at the potential for profit, once I learned a little more about marketing and such. My first three months were definately a struggle, and it was hard to keep motivated. Luckily I stumbled upon a “blogging success blueprint” so to speak, and ever since then I’ve been averaging $200+ per day!

    here is the blueprint, if anybody is interested: http://bit.ly/1wzPiO3

    Content is key! This article will definately benefit me on my blogging journey! Thanks again.

  • Jitendra Padmashali

    Good one, I really like this post for write any effective content for site. I’ll say that again for emphasis: You’re creating content that your customer needs and wants.

  • Anna Stevens

    Great article, thank you, Michele! One tool you may mention is for those who have LinkedIn Publishing Rights to possibly write a LinkedIn article and link back to their blog content within that article. If the LinkedIn post is great and gets picked up to be featured in a channel, BINGO :-)