All content is not created equal. So why are so many of today’s digital marketers still measuring it like it is?
The answer is simple: Many marketers aren’t sure how to measure their content marketing strategies correctly. As more and more technologies and tools flood the digital landscape, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to decide how to track success.
“I think you can get to a point of infinite complexity, but the level (of measurement) that works for most people is to split things up into three categories: awareness, engagement, and conversion,” says Allen Gannett, CEO at TrackMaven, a tool that specializes in social content measurement. “I like making the model that simple. You can get more and more perfect, but you don’t really get that much more benefit.”
I like that approach. A sound content marketing strategy needs to align with your business goals, regardless of where you’re operating within the funnel. Without identifying the proper marketing KPIs, any content strategy is doomed.
“Generally, on data, there’s two ways you can use it — you can prove, and you can improve,” says Allen. “You can use it to say, ‘Look, this worked, I’m smart’ – or you can use it to get smarter. A lot of people focus too much on using it to show that they’re smart.”
Noted. So let’s find ways to make ourselves smarter.
Six Key Tools for Measuring Your Content’s Success
Let’s start with one of the most low-effort, high-impact measurement solutions: Urchin Tracking Modules, or UTMs, which help you identify site visitors and better understand what kind of behaviors lead to conversions.
It’s fairly simple — you “tag” certain links you put in social posts, email newsletters, etc. to better identify from where people access your site. Once you’ve chosen your UTM generator (there are many free online options) to create your UTM-tagged URL, use that outputted URL as the destination as a hyperlink in your content.
With minimal setup, you can tie UTMs directly to an analytics platform (like Google Analytics) for insights on what kind of traffic your newly-tagged URL is receiving. The parameters you tagged in your URL (like “medium,” for example) should populate as filters in your analytics tool.
So, if you click here, you’ll see a newsletter sign up page with a UTM code attached.
Now, here is the corresponding Google Analytics display, tracking that code:
This screenshot shows a real-time report of how it looks on our end when you clicked that UTM-coded link. It’s a simple but powerful way to see how people are actually engaging with your content distribution channels.
With your new UTM codes identifying traffic in-roads to your site, the next step is to see how those visitors behave when they get there.
I frequently see brands produce content on social channels and measure success from likes and shares rather than looking at how people actually interacted with the content itself. I think we can fix that.
Like Allen said earlier in this blog — measure your content marketing KPIs along the sales funnel. Impressions and reach (whether on social or other digital platforms) become awareness-level metrics; shares and comments align better to engagement.
But there’s still a gap in behavioral data between a Facebook comment and an e-commerce purchase. On-site metrics — like time on site and exit path — are the engagement-stage extensions that bridge that gap. These metrics often show you the behaviors that indicate when a target is about to become a conversion.
There are hundreds of on-site KPIs you could consider for your goals, but here are some of my favorites to keep an eye on:
- Bounce rate (page and site)
- Time on page/site
- User flow/exit path
Plenty of marketers are already leaning on those KPIs for their site as a whole. But the real idea here is to track web visitors from a digital amplification point like social (via UTM tag), then catalogue that group’s on-site behavior. From there, you can tie the user flow to on-site purchases or form submissions, and your pipeline from social post to conversion is fully functional. Much better than likes and shares.
Additional ways to measure on-site behavior:
- For long-scroll content pieces, add moments of clickable interactivity (such as an element that opens up an image overlay — like this), and attach a Google Analytics event code that tells you how many times it’s been triggered. You’ll be able to roughly tell how many people scrolled down that far in your story; a great way to gauge reader engagement.
- Take a look at a click map plugin, usually accessible through the backend of your site, that can show you areas on a page that attract the most clicks. Info like that helps you take the guesswork out of CTA-placement.
(By the way: Click that click-map link I included above and look at the URL it sends you to. It’s UTM tagged. Nice job, Hotjar!)
Most advanced measurement models that run through a platform like Google Analytics are focused on the end conversion. But if you have more awareness-based business goals, measuring a content program’s success takes some outside-the-box thinking.
I like digital listening tools, which use keyword analysis across digital channels to track how often people are talking about your brand and how they feel about you.
With platforms like NetBase or Simply Measured, you can easily establish a benchmark for how often your brand is mentioned across the web — and with what kind of sentiment — for routine tracking. Over time, you can look for spikes in mention volume or passion intensity to see the impact your content is having.
This is especially good for awareness-stage content. A social media user doesn’t have to include your brand’s handle or hashtag for the best digital listening tools to know someone mentioned you. If your content creates a 300 percent lift in positive social mention volume over the course a month, that’s a big deal. And a tool like Google Analytics can’t provide you with that kind of data.
Organic Keyword Rankings
The construction of something like a digital whitepaper — or even a long blog like this — can be expensive and time-consuming. But once centerpiece content is published, many marketers slip into a “set it and forget it” mentality, allowing a flagship piece to collect dust and get buried.
But tracking a page’s organic keyword rankings — and the search traffic that page draws as a result — helps prove a piece’s value long after publication. It’s also an excellent way to support an awareness-based content campaign. If your marketing objective is site traffic, showing a blog or whitepaper’s gradual rise up the search engine rankings is a clear way to prove success: The higher the page ranks, the more people find that page, and the more traffic that page generates.
So what does this look like in practice? It helps to start with a list of keywords you want your blog to rank for. A few terms we charted out for this article:
Now that this article is live, we’ll be regularly measuring how it’s ranking for all those key terms. As long as it keeps moving up the ladder, we’ve met our KPI.
You don’t have to be an SEO expert to follow this model — you just need the right tool to help you do it. There are tons of these on the market — like Ahrefs, SEMRush, and Moz — but Google Search Console works perfectly well.
User ID and Identification
What if your business goals are more granular, and you’re operating purely in the conversion phase of the funnel? You need the right marketing metrics to tell that story. For many small companies, that means user identification.
Nearly every major digital amplification platform — Facebook, LinkedIn, Google, etc. — has something called a pixel code that you can put onto your site. Once you’ve done so, those platforms will start storing pools of people who have visited your domain (usually by placing a browser cookie), whom you can then retarget with specific in-platform messaging. With this kind of data, you’ve already won half the battle — you won’t know your target’s name and address, but your pixel-providing platform will.
Now you need to serve those targets specialized content that will earn a newsletter signup or form submission, which provides you the coveted email addresses and phone numbers. That’s exactly how you should measure your content strategy: Is the content I’m using for retargeting earning consumer data? If not, it might be time for new content.
Sophisticated (and expensive) platforms like Adobe Experience Manager can provide even more clarity to your targets and consumers — but that’s a conversation for another day.
Facebook Brand Lift Study
Now let’s flip the script — what if you have broad marketing goals, like brand awareness or lift? If you have the money (these frequently cost nearly $200,000), Facebook’s brand lift studies could be a fit.
Designed to test broad consumer mindsets, Facebook lift studies serve your content to the desired audience in-platform, then follow up later with a few questions to gauge their feelings about your content and brand. That’s a pretty direct line to measurement — if your Facebook audience didn’t remember or didn’t like the content, it’s back to the drawing board for your creative team.
But Really, the Most Important Number …
… is the one that best aligns to your business goals. Measurement, to Allen’s point, can be as complicated as you want. But it doesn’t have to be difficult. Any content strategy will only be successful if it was concepted with concrete business goals in mind, which can be a simple process. Allen says the same thing.
“People either say, ‘OK, this stuff is so complex, so complicated, that we don’t track it all,’ or they take the other approach, and they build the most precise measurement thing of all time — where you’re literally spending all of your time building this overly-perfect measurement widget,” Allen says. “You become an analytics company instead of a whatever-you-are company.”
Sound familiar? If so, it’s time to get you back to being the company you want to be — and let us handle the marketing KPIs for you. That’s the company we want to be.