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A Simple Plan for Measuring the Marketing Effectiveness of Content

measuring-content-kpiEditor’s note: A new version of this post is now available. 

What does it mean that your content marketing is “working?” In general, this means that it’s supporting your marketing and business goals.

In the seventh installment of our “Back to Basics” series, we explain how you can track your content marketing program and, more importantly, how to communicate this to your team and management.

How to track basic KPIs

When putting your measurement program in place, start by deciding on how frequently you’ll collect your data. A good schedule to start with is measuring marketing effectiveness on a monthly basis — we’ve found that this has worked well for CMI (though we may watch some metrics weekly just to make sure monthly goals stay on track — especially for metrics we can modify quickly). Then, you will want to create a spreadsheet that documents and tracks the following:

  1. Your marketing goals. If you have several, it may help to put them in order of priority. (By this point, you should have agreed on goals with your management team; but if you haven’t, now is the time to get on the same page.)
  2. The key performance indicators (KPIs) you’ll use to measure marketing effectiveness of your content.
  3. Your plan for gathering this performance information.
  4. Who will be responsible for collecting and reporting this data.

Here is a simple spreadsheet you can use based on our experience at CMI. If your metrics spreadsheet is something that you plan to share with others across your enterprise (which we highly recommend), consider using Google spreadsheets or another shared platform so everyone can view and make changes, when necessary.

Click to Enlarge
Click to Enlarge

Though everything in the above list is important, I can’t stress enough that everyone who is working on content marketing needs to know what the core KPIs are for measuring the marketing effectiveness of your content. Whether or not they are directly involved with your content analytics, it’s critical that content creators understand how their work impacts overarching company goals.

Here are some examples of KPIs you may want to track:


Getting started

Measurement can be as simple or as complicated as you make it. Don’t measure simply for the sake of having some numbers to present to your upper management. If you aren’t certain what you should be measuring, ask yourself these two questions:

  • Do these metrics support my key goals?
  • Can 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. This post from Andy Crestodina outlines some critical data points you can collect and immediately put to good use: 3 Content Optimization Questions That Google Analytics Can Answer.

An example from CMI

At CMI, one of our primary goals is getting new email subscribers, as this goal is a key to our business model. We track how many subscribers we have, but we also delve into data such as:

  • Where subscribers are coming from (e.g., SlideShare, our blog, webinars, etc.)
  • What topic brought them to CMI (e.g., content curation, content marketing strategy, visual content, workflow, etc.)
  • Opt-out percentages by month and opt-out sources

Some tips from our experience:

  • Make measurement a priority. Our measurement processes are constantly evolving, and it definitely takes time to track, analyze, and report on performance. But over the years we have realized how essential this cycle of measurement and optimization is to being successful with content marketing on an ongoing basis.
  • Track conversions. While some vanity metrics (e.g., Twitter followers, website traffic) are easy to track, they are rarely that insightful independent of other data. We do track our social growth, which allows us to look at trending and anecdotal information on where we are getting the most shares and social conversation. However, we have found it’s more important to track conversions to email and topics of interest. This helps us adjust our content marketing plan accordingly so that we have confidence that we are delivering on our readers interests and expectations — efforts which certainly help our own bottom line.
  • Collect actionable metrics. Only collect data you want to use and have the ability to take action on. For example, in January 2013, we created a KPI document that allowed us to watch growth month-to-month in areas such as our email program, website, and social channels. After a year of looking at these KPIs, the CMI team reevaluated these metrics and made one significant change: We are now only tracking our most actionable metrics, such as email subscribers, email engagement rate, time on site, and event registrations.
  • Talk to and learn from industry peers. Early in our efforts to measure the performance of our content, we had beenlooking at SlideShare subscriber growth each month — the only SlideShare metric we were collecting. But we found that this didn’t take into account everything that CMI was doing on SlideShare each month, nor the number of presentation downloads (and thus new leads) we received through our efforts on the platform. Now, we not only collect SlideShare subscriber numbers, but also presentation uploads by month and subscriber downloads by month. This has helped us determine the optimal number of presentations we should be delivering each month, which types (long-form vs. short) of presentations our audience prefers, and whether what we publish on SlideShare should be open or gated. Another example would be our email subscriptions: At one point we were tracking email opt-ins by source, but we weren’t doing anything with that information. We had no focused efforts to look at email deliverability, opt outs, and completed profiles — three areas where we would be well positioned to take immediate action. This has helped the CMI team fine-tune our processes, improve our email effectiveness and keep our goals top of mind.
  • Be ready to adapt. What you track over time will likely shift, so evaluate your list of metrics quarterly, bi-annually, or annually to make sure you’re capturing the data that will best address your key questions. We review our metrics on a quarterly basis to make sure they continue to align with CMI missions and goals as they evolve along with our industry.
  • Automate data collection. Think about how you can automate data collection with reports. With our team’s help, we’ve been able to automate dashboards within Google Analytics, Salesforce, and our marketing automation system. We can look at these dashboards each week, and then have a simple way each month to update our KPI document. However, if automated data collection isn’t an option, consider additional resources and team members you can tap into if you need help evaluating your content performance. Since many team members touch our marketing processes at various points, assigning oversight responsibilities for each KPI has improved ownership and accountability.
  • Take time for analysis. It’s not enough to just collect data and add it to a spreadsheet. The data needs to be analyzed so that you understand where the opportunities for improvement lie — and what the best path may be for achieving those improvements. For example, if data shows that our blog posts on content marketing strategy all have high numbers of Facebook shares, LinkedIn posts, and tweets, proper analysis of these data points can help show us the best ways to leverage these high-performing topics across our other content platforms.

I can’t stress enough how critical it is to measure the results of your content marketing activities so you can continually learn what your audience likes and use that information to continually improve. The result? Happier prospects, happier customers, and happier management.

What analytics tips and tools do you have that helps you track and measure your content performance?

Measurement is one of the five core elements for running successful, scalable content marketing operations. Read our 2016 Content Marketing Framework: 5 Building Blocks for Profitable, Scalable Operations for an overview of the full strategic blueprint. 

Cover image by Peter Griffin, via