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Nail Your Content Performance With This Measurement Starter Kit

Editor’s note: If you don’t evaluate its effectiveness, how do you know your content’s value? That’s why we’ve updated this guide to help you measure your content marketing program.

No matter how creative, memorable, or popular your content is, every asset will be judged by the impact it makes on your business’s bottom line.

While it’s tempting to think about measurement only when all other tasks are complete, you should recognize how critical it is to inform every phase of your content marketing approach. That is why it’s a good idea to establish sound measurement practices from the start of every program, enabling you to continually track, analyze, and optimize your content’s performance.

Of course, just because something is a best practice doesn’t mean it’s easy (or possible) to achieve in a real-world setting. Fear not. Even if you’ve been creating and distributing content a while, it’s never too late to implement better measurement techniques to identify what’s working, discover areas for improvement, and determine where to scale back to concentrate on more impactful efforts.

It’s never too late to implement better #contentmarketing measurement techniques, says @joderama. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

3 components of the measurement equation

The three main components to measure, evaluate, and optimize the performance of your content marketing initiatives include:

  1. Deciding what to track
  2. Tracking, measuring, and managing the data
  3. Turning information into actionable insights

Deciding what to track

Though you can measure just about anything these days, that doesn’t mean you should. Metrics can quickly become all-consuming and confusing – especially if you gauge performance against too many goals. To optimize the time you spend on metrics, start with a few measurement fundamentals, such as:

  • Outlining your organization’s definition of content marketing success so everybody on your team understands what their efforts are meant to achieve
  • Identifying your top performance priorities – based on the content marketing goals that are most important to your business – and the various metrics you can track to measure for them (more details on this can be found below)
  • Establishing performance benchmarks for content in your industry to enable easier analysis and comparisons to be made across all your efforts
  • Calculating the baseline costs involved in executing on your content plan to effectively gauge content marketing ROI down the line (more on this below)

Once you master the basics and your program grows more sophisticated, expand your focus to incorporate additional data points – and more advanced analytics techniques – into your measurement efforts.

Inventory and audit your existing assets

If you’ve begun to publish valuable content, the first steps to a formal measurement plan are to identify, qualify, and categorize your existing assets. After all, you can’t measure or set performance benchmarks if you don’t know what content you have.

First steps to a formal measurement plan: identify, qualify, & categorize your existing assets. @joderama Click To Tweet

First, create a content inventory – a quantitative list of the assets published across content types, channels, and distribution formats. From there, you may want to conduct a basic content audit – a qualitative evaluation of your inventoried content – to assess your existing content against your customer needs and your strategic objectives.

Not only can these processes help you understand your content’s strengths, weaknesses, and overall strategic alignment, they can reveal any gaps that might exist in your coverage as well as areas where your content needs an update – all of which could stop visitors from converting.

Measure for priority goals

You (and your stakeholders) likely expect the content program to pay off in multiple ways. But chances are your business equates success with one goal above all others. For example, are you looking for:

  • Website traffic growth?
  • An increase in the number of qualified leads entering the sales pipeline?
  • A greater share of voice among your competitors?
  • Gains in brand awareness or positive brand perception among potential customers?

Knowing where your company’s priorities lie is essential to determine which goals to measure for. You also need to know which metrics to track as evidence of your content’s impact. To give you a sense of the valuable metrics to gauge performance against the most common content marketing goals, CMI’s Vice President of Marketing Cathy McPhillips created this helpful chart:

Another way to approach performance data tracking is to consider the most common key performance indicators (KPIs) for each type of content (e.g., email newsletters, blog/website articles, social media posts, videos). This list outlines some of the most informative data points for analyzing the performance of different types of content:

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If you’d like additional guidance on what metrics to track for content marketing formats or goals, check out these top resources:

Listen and learn

While it’s important to gather quantitative data to validate your content’s value, you can also gauge your content’s impact by listening to the conversations around your brand – including social media conversations. This direct, unsolicited feedback can be invaluable to understanding whether your content is reaching the right audiences, how well it’s being received, and what you can do to increase the value of your publishing efforts.

Listen to conversations around your brand to gauge #content impact, advises @joderama. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

content review template, like the sample below, can track relevant social media conversations and document any analysis you extract from your listening activities.

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Keep tabs on your competition

Your content doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Every new asset should draw away attention from something else your audience pays attention to. A competitive content marketing analysis of your industry peers can give you a fuller picture of where your audience’s needs are being met and where opportunities exist to steal mindshare from those competing sources.

Tracking, measuring, and managing your data

Content marketing measurement isn’t a one-time effort. And, like any process, having the right tools, techniques, and templates can be invaluable in organizing the data, identifying key opportunities, making meaningful changes, and reporting results to your stakeholders.

Establish a manageable measurement process

Decide how frequently you’ll collect your data. Do it too often and you might not allow enough time for meaningful patterns to appear; but if you wait too long, you run the risk of overlooking problems that could keep your content from reaching its goals.

If you collect data too often, you might not allow enough time for meaningful patterns to appear. @joderama Click To Tweet

For example, we recommend tracking performance on a monthly basis to start, then adjusting your timeline as necessary. While many content tools – including enterprise content management systems and marketing automation solutions – offer this functionality, you also can use a simple spreadsheet (like the sample template shown below) to manually aggregate all your data into a performance dashboard. It gives an at-a-glance view of your content assets’ performance against your goals.

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Tap into Google’s most powerful insights

While you can use the performance data available through Google Analytics in myriad ways, four reports are critical for content marketing measurement. Here’s a brief list of what they are and how to find them:

  • Traffic reports tell you which pages are getting the most traffic on your website. By default, they also display useful metrics, such as time on site and bounce rate. To find this report, go to Behavior > Site Content > All Pages.
  • Navigation Summary shows how visitors got to the page and where they clicked once they arrived. In the Traffic report, click on any page. At the top, click the option for Navigation Summary.
  • Traffic from organic search report provides deeper insights on the intent that led a searcher to your content. Go to Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels to see the list of all channels driving traffic to your web pages. Next, select Organic Search and then click on Landing Page (under Primary Dimension) to view this data.
  • Conversions data takes a little extra legwork to calculate using Google Analytics; but it’s worth doing. Conversions are the ultimate indicator of content marketing success. For full details on how to configure your account to collect this info, we recommend viewing Andy Crestodina’s How to Set Up Google Analytics video (below):

Organize your information for easy reporting

Once you have your performance data on hand, keep your team members, executive management, and other content stakeholders regularly informed about the program’s progress. Here is a checklist for creating a simple editorial status report to share regularly key analytics and insights.

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Turning information into actionable insights

Having the right data at your fingertips won’t do any good if you don’t understand what the stats are telling you to do. Following proven best practices for analyzing your results and turning those insights into action help you spend less time staring at abstract data and more time addressing the meaningful opportunities they reveal.

Establish a scoring system

The standards for a piece of content to be a “success” can vary widely from project to project and purpose to purpose, as well as by organizational goals and processes. This can make it challenging for content marketers to definitively know whether an existing asset is performing to expectations.

It can be helpful to use a consistent methodology or content scoring system to enable your content team to make apples-to-apples qualitative assessments. One method is to assign a standardized numeric value to each of your KPIs. This gives a high-level overview of the relative benefits each content effort brings (or is likely to bring) to your business. You can use it to make prioritization decisions that will maximize the value of your content resources.

Translate knowledge gained into ROI achieved

When all is said and done, content should benefit the enterprise – not just the content department.

When all is said and done, #content should benefit the enterprise – not just the content department. @joderama Click To Tweet

Of course, proof of business benefit isn’t a constant across all organizations – it ultimately depends on the goals you are trying to achieve. Furthermore, determinations of “success” for content marketing goals can also be defined in a variety of ways. Learning how to define and present proof of content ROI in a way that resonates with your organization’s stakeholders is, perhaps, the best starting point for your calculations.

In his post on proving content’s success, Robert Rose outlines four common ways your businesses might define the value of cultivating an engaged, subscribed audience through your content marketing efforts:

  • Competency value: Your subscribed audiences enable your business to create smarter, more cost-effective business strategies.
  • Campaign value: Your content efforts help your traditional marketing and advertising initiatives work more efficiently.
  • Customer value: Your content helps your business create more informed, satisfied, or loyal customers.
  • Cash value: You are able to generate increased revenue through your content program or reduce your overall marketing costs, compared to other marketing tactics.

With defined priorities, gather the baseline data and use an established formula to calculate value. Here are a few of our top resources that can help you find the formula you need – and walk you through the process for getting it all to add up:

One last thing

Once you’ve worked through all the steps of planning, building, executing, and evaluating your content marketing program, there’s one last thing you need to do: Go back to the beginning. No, you don’t need to redo all the work, but periodically revisit the strategic choices and adjust based on the lessons learned throughout the process. Only by treating content marketing as a cyclical and ever-evolving process can you truly keep your program running at peak performance over the long term. 

Only by treating content marketing as evolving can you keep it running at peak performance, says @jdoerama Click To Tweet

A successfully ongoing content marketing program also requires your skills to grow as new trends, tips, and tools arise. Continue that education and subscribe to the weekday e-newsletter. 

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute