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How to Measure Content Marketing: The (Updated) Essential Guide

Updated April 1, 2021

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.

It’s tempting to think about measurement only when all other tasks are complete. But content performance insights should 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 for 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.

3 content measurement components

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. Finding actionable insights

How to decide which content metrics to track

You can measure just about anything these days, but that doesn’t mean you should. Metrics can quickly become all-consuming and confusing – especially if you gauge performance against too many goals.

Start with a few measurement fundamentals:

  • Outline your organization’s definition of content marketing success so everybody on your team understands what their efforts are meant to achieve
  • Identify 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)
  • Establish performance benchmarks for content in your industry to enable easier analysis and comparisons to be made across all your efforts
  • Calculate the baseline costs involved in executing 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 existing assets

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

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 your 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:

  • Growing your subscribed audience?
  • An increase in the number of qualified leads entering the sales pipeline?
  • More, faster, or less expensive conversions?
  • Gains in customer loyalty or reductions in customer support costs?

Knowing where your company’s priorities lie is essential for determining 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 some 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, and videos). This list outlines some of the most informative data points for analyzing the performance of different types of content:

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.

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

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How to track, measure, and manage 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 to collect data. If you do it too often, 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.

Try tracking performance monthly 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 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.

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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Turn 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 will 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.

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 can 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 you do need to revisit your strategic choices periodically and adjust based on lessons you learn during the measurement 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. 

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute