Content and SEO are equally as important… But which do you start with? We asked 60+ experts to share the strategy they prioritize—and why.
Content Marketing | Jun 25
Elise Dopson on May 7, 2019 (last modified on April 8, 2021) • 25 minute read
It’s notoriously difficult to track the success of a content marketing strategy.
Content marketing is viewed as a long-term strategy; it’s uncommon for a person to land on your blog post and purchase your product immediately.
Why? Because content builds trust over a period of time. You’ll need to educate leads with several pieces of content (at least five if you’re B2B) before they even think of buying your product or service.
Tracking these 19 KPIs can help you determine whether you’re on the right track.
Want to know the most important marketing KPIs to track across all functions (i.e. content, SEO, email, social, etc.)? Check out the definitive list of marketing KPIs all marketers should be tracking according to 400+ marketing professionals.
Before we dive into the metrics you need to track, Andy Crestodina of Orbit Media argues that “the difficult to find metrics are the most important.”
“This is what most people don’t realize about content metrics: The most visible the metric, the less important it is to the bottom line. And the less visible/easy to find, the more important it is.”
Crestodina puts this into practice:
“But marketers tend to overvalue those easy to find metrics,” Crestodina continues. “And they spend too much time reporting on them, rather than doing real analysis, making decisions and taking action.”
So, what metrics should you be tracking? The ones that actually make a difference to your bottom line?
We asked 56 experts exactly that. Here’s what they said.
“All marketers should be tracking website traffic,” writes Katie Weedman of THAT Agency. “It’s the foundation of content marketing success, as without traffic there’s no revenue.”
“This is a very important metric to track because it is necessary to know how many users are visiting your website and what posts are attracting them,” Andrew Ruditser of MAXBURST, Inc explains.
Ruditser continues: “Knowing what type of content on your website is generating the most views can help you build more traffic to your other posts. If certain content is gaining more views than others, then you know what kind of content you must continue to post rather than sharing content that is not gaining as much. If you continue to post content that you know is attracting viewers, then your traffic will increase.”
However, Whetstone Education‘s Sam Olmsted thinks “it’s important to filter for organic traffic when viewing this metric or else data can be skewed by paid advertisements or social media promotion.”
That’s why Uku Inbound‘s Emma-Jane Shaw also advises looking at the sources driving the most traffic. Ask yourself: “What channel is generating the most traffic for this particular piece? In knowing this you’re able to effectively assess which channels should perhaps require greater strategic focus for your content marketing efforts.”
We’ve mentioned that our experts measure pageviews to determine how effective their content is. But Bredin‘s Ami Albernaz recommends looking at time on page because it “gives a sense of how engaging and worthwhile people see a piece of content.”
As Ryan Gillespie of Blue Fountain Media explains, “pageviews are important because it shows people are interested in what you have to say about a particular topic, [but] time on site is a great metric to gauge how strong your content really is – and how well it delivers the information someone is seeking.”
This can give a quick overview of the success of your content, as Oksana Chyketa of Albacross writes: “The longer the time spent on a page, the more likely it is that the reader is truly consuming your work.”
Kevin Williams of SurgeStream adds that you should measure time on page because “bounce rates only tell you so much.”
“Many times users will spend a large amount of time on just one page of your website and will leave, which means the bounce rate is very high. This high bounce rate doesn’t take into account that they might have spent 5 to 10 minutes reading your content, which can include other stats such as they signed up for a newsletter, and then they left your website,” Williams explains.
Focusing on (and improving) this metric could also help your blog’s SEO strategy, because dwell time–the time a user spends on your site before returning to their SERPS–is set to become a ranking factor.
“Dwell time isn’t an official Google ranking factor; however, more and more evidence is accumulating regarding its positive effects on search rankings and search listings visibility,” Ron Maoz of Clever Accounts Ltd explains.
*Editors’ note: Track your dwell time, and view the impact on your rankings, by customizing our Google Analytics SEO Dashboard.
“If you’re seeing higher time on page stats, they are […] engaging with your content,” explains LeadCrunch‘s Emma Valentiner. “If it’s low, it could indicate a technical issue like a slow page load time – or it could be that you’re not writing compelling top of the page content that encourage them to keep scrolling. Maybe your keyword targeting is off, and people who visit the page via organic search aren’t seeing the information they expected to find.”
So, what should you be aiming for? It’s not as clear-cut as you think, as Mackenzie Deater of HA Digital Marketing explains: “It’s tough to catch people’s attention these days for anything longer than a few minutes, and it’s good to remember that the time-on-page metric is an average of all the people visiting that particular page.”
Deater thinks “a good benchmark to shoot for would be anything over about a minute and 30 seconds. If you have a number of pages with more than 3-5 minutes, then you’re really doing something right.”
Kaleidico‘s Bill Rice tends to look “for a time on site approaching 10 minutes (and a secondary factor of approximately 2 or more pages/session) […] because they tend to consistently correlate to goal conversions (i.e., form fills and phone calls) across our clients.”
But Cassandra Jowett of PathFactory thinks you should compare the “average time spent consuming the content vs. how long it should take to consume the content,” because “once you get a volume of content, it becomes difficult to understand what’s working and what’s not.”
The results of this comparison allow “you to make decisions about which formats, topics, lengths, and channels are most engaging for your audience so you can optimize future content creation and delivery,” Jowett claims.
Sammy Tatla of Raconteur Agency follows the same process: “It takes around seven minutes to read an 1,800-word blog post. So, if that’s what you’re measuring you know an average time on page of three and a half minutes means people typically make it about half way through.”
However, Tatla thinks that “you should never look at a single metric in isolation. If you think people make it halfway through a piece of content on average, you may then want to look at the page’s scroll depth stats to confirm that theory.”
“If your content includes links to make purchases, it’s important to track the click-through-rate on these pages,” explains Alice Stevens of BestCompany.com.
“If you notice that some content has a higher click-through-rate than others, analyze that content to see what makes it perform better and apply these principles across your content.”
The team at Ninja Outreach managed to increase organic traffic by 40% after adding internal links.
Even if you’re not hitting that goal just yet, every little helps–as Figmmints‘ Ben Demers explains: “The more customers click through your funnel, the greater the chance of engagement and follow-up!”
But Andrew McBurney of McBurney Marketing Optimization thinks “when it comes to content marketing, scroll depth percentage (in Google Analytics) of on-site content is the most important metric.”
McBurney continues: “Understanding where people are getting to in the piece of content allows us to optimize for ideal outcomes, such as link clicks to sales pages or onto a mailing list. By seeing that most people reach 40% of the page, we can ensure our main call to action is around the mark, as opposed to 70% down the page.”
“When it comes to any content strategy, the key is to provide value and relevancy, with a priority on user experience,” says Obaid Khan of Pantheon Digital.
That’s why Khan recommends focusing on bounce rate–because the metric “can significantly help you in determining how well, or poorly, [your] audience is interacting with or reacting to the content you publish.”
The bounce rate of your website is the “percentage of visitors to your website who leave within a few seconds of arriving,” Tala Kattan of Sandstorm Digital explains.
Your results indicate the success people are having on your website, as Kattan continues: “A high bounce rate might point to slow loading times, excessive on-site advertising, poor navigation or content that is not related to what they were expecting.”
Charlie Worrall of Imaginaire Digital agrees, and thinks “you’ll be able to see whether or not people are actually reading the entirety of your content or just leaving because they can’t find the parts that they want to read.”
Faizan Ali of WPBeginner puts that into practice: “If people land on your epic blog post and leave within a few seconds, you’ve got a problem. But if your analytics data shows they are reading to the end, and even checking out other content or subscribing to your newsletter, then you know that content is successful.”
So, what makes a good bounce rate? Research by ConversionXL found blog posts tend to have a bounce rate ranging between 70-90%, compared to just 4-06-% for content-based sites:
However, Charlie Worrall also uses another metric to understand the bounce rate across their website: “The use of the ‘bounce rate’ metric is supported by the ‘average time on page’ because you can see how much time a user is spending on each page if they spend 5 minutes reading a 15-minute blog post you know that it’s likely they’ve read the information they need instead of not finding it.”
Another marketer who takes a broader view of bounce rate is Fundera‘s Lizzie Dunn: “For instance, bounce rate is typically higher on mobile devices because users typically have highly specific search needs.”
“A bounce rate of 50% is considered average, and it’s a good idea to segment your bounce rate data by factors such as medium (email, social, direct), location, device, and new vs. returning visitors. This will give you better insight into which channels are performing well and which channels need more improvement,” Dunn explains.
Nate Masterson of Maple Holistics agrees: “The best way to get a solid reading of your bounce rate is to break it down and segment it with different metrics, including by device and landing page.”
Summarizing, Andrew McLoughlin of Colibri Digital Marketing says: “If visitors aren’t sticking around to engage with your content, then you know you have a problem that needs your attention.”
Editor’s note: Want to get notified when important KPIs trend up or down? Get Databox alerts for your KPIs now.
Jared Carrizales’ team at Heroic Search use comments to determine success because “unlike social shares, or even links, comments require real commitment and effort by a reader. The reader has to stop, think, type, and in most cases even reply to other’s comments on their original one.”
“Leaving a comment not only helps publicly show the strength of the site’s community, but also breathes new life into the page with each one added. Each new comment is a direct reflection of how engaging the article itself originally proved to be, and on the best examples, can go for years.”
When we. asked Ollie Smith for Energy Seek‘s most important content marketing metric, their answer was simple: “Post engagement is a metric that should be closely monitored.”
Smith continues: “Valuable content will have a higher engagement rate – your audience are more likely to leave post comments when they have found content to be helpful.”
So, how do you measure the engagement your content is generating? Our experts think it falls within social shares.
“Social media engagement can easily be seen as a “vanity metric” and its ROI hard to track,” writes Solodev‘s Shelby Rogers. “Unless your business is 100% based on a social platform, it probably won’t swing your bottom line too much.”
However, Rogers argues that social shares “expose your brand and connects you with customers. It’s word-of-mouth marketing for the modern age.”
“Having high levels of engagement shows that your content resonates with people. That means your messaging broke through the noise of infinite scrolling and posts, caught a user’s attention enough for them to like, and made an impact enough for them to comment on your content,” Rogers writes.
Mike Lewis of Active Web Group agrees, and thinks social shares “in the form of shares or retweets [can] tell you:
According to Lewis, these metrics “can provide insight has to which topics are most favored, which can help you create more useful content in the future.”
*Editor’s note: Use our Overarching Social Media Analytics dashboard to view the number of visitors from social media, along with your organic reach from each platform:
To determine how successful your content is, Joe Robison of Green Flag Digital thinks you should measure “the number of other websites link to your published content within 30 days of launching.”
“This is a proxy metric for the quality of your content, and important to track in addition to the standard social shares and analytics traffic,” Robison explains.
Why? Because “backlinks drive both referral traffic and show Google your new content is trustworthy, contributing to your overall rankings.”
Stephen Jeske, who uses the pillar and cluster strategy, think it’s “important to understand how my clusters are performing.”
That’s why the MarketMuse team think “organic traffic is not the best measurement since content further down the funnel will naturally get less traffic, even though it’s extremely valuable.”
Organic ranking positions, on the other hand, is something Jeske uses to evaluate the success of their content clusters: “Of course, a cluster of pages can’t rank, but you can look at the individual page rankings in the context of the cluster. That can reveal a lot about what is or is not working within that group.”
Stan Tan of Selby’s thinks “the end goal [of content marketing] is building a brand so you don’t have to rely on spending money on TV ads, Facebook ads or other forms of advertisements.”
This brand-building helps to acquire market share–especially if you’re communicating values through your content, as 64% of consumers cite shared values as the primary reason they have a relationship with a brand.
Tan uses Nike as an example: “They do spend on advertisements but they can stop advertising and the company will do well too. [Plus,] once a customer is loyal to the Nike brand, Nike can slowly increase their prices and he/she would still buy a pair of Nike.”
Content marketing has been proven to generate three times as many leads as paid search.
Check whether your strategy is meeting those expectations by following Alex Thackray of LeadFreak‘s advice: “Content marketing should report on new leads generated.”
However, Thackray’s team don’t have a target number of leads to achieve each month. Their team has the philosophy that “a month on month improvement is far more valuable to us and relative to a business than a random number.”
Yaniv Masjedi’s team at Nextiva follow the same approach–only they class “leads” as email opt-ins: “Generating traffic is a solid first step, at the top of the sales funnel. However, I believe that opt-ins in the form of email addresses and phone numbers is a critical threshold the marketing team needs to cross to fulfill its duties.”
Masjedi says: “With contact information in hand, the marketing team can pass on a real lead to the sales team to follow up on.”
Casie Ost of Beacons Point agrees: “You can bring new eyes to your website, but the only way to get ROI from your efforts, is to turn them into paying customers. Therefore, if you focus on tracking metrics of your qualified leads, whether it be a MQL or SQL, those are the key metrics client’s will really want to see.”
“These metrics not only help you prove the content you are creating appropriately resonates with your personas but also shows your agency’s value as a whole (tracking cost per leads, etc.),” Ost concludes.
While you can use this metric to determine the overall success of your content marketing strategy, Anne Fairfield-Sonn of CiBO Technologies thinks you should go a step further and determine which channel generates the most leads.
“The content should be promoted through multiple channels (ex. social, email, advertising) to discover where it has the highest impact,” Fairfield-Sonn explains. Then, “when the leads come through, it’s essential to classify which piece of content is resonating or not resonating most with the persona you are targeting.”
…But how do you accurately track how many leads your content is generating?
Iva Divic shares the strategy they use at StoryChief: “One way to track qualified leads is to have a lead capture form included with your content. Another way to see whether they’re interested is to check if they are visiting important pages on your website, like pricing page or resources page.”
James Pollard of The Advisor Coach thinks “one of the most important content marketing metrics marketers should be tracking is conversion rate.”
Pollard thinks “for most content marketers, this will be opt-ins to an email list,” but the conversions you’re measuring could be anything from opt-ins and social media shares to form submissions and purchases.
Regardless of what you’re defining a conversion as, Miva‘s Luke Wester says: “This is the primary metric used to evaluate the performance of your content marketing initiatives. It helps answer the question, “is the campaign effective or not?”
Don’t limit yourself to measuring conversions from content marketing through Google Analytics.
Dan Moyle’s team at Impulse Creative use several techniques to “track how many quality sales conversations the content leads to”–ranging from SQLs, meetings set, [or] opportunities teed up.”
Daniel Lynch of Empathy First Media argues that conversion rate is the most important content marketing metric. Why? Because “at the end of the day, you can make yourself sleep good at night by focusing on vanity metrics, but if no one is converting through the pipeline, then you will dry up and your business will never grow.”
Here’s Alison Schroeder of Leighton Interactive summarizing: “So much strategy and emphasis gets placed on getting in front of people – impressions, clicks, views, you name it. But if you’re not in front of the right people, it doesn’t matter. The proof is in your conversions.”
The bad part about using “conversions” as a content marketing metric?
It’s not clear-cut when you’re using Google Analytics; there’s no column for conversions in the content report.
However, SiteVisibility‘s Dave Gregory uses page value: “The average value for a page that a user visited before completing a goal or transaction (or both). This is especially useful for top and middle of the funnel content that can otherwise be tricky to prove value for.”
Gregory’s team prefer this metric because “while all of the other metrics are very useful to getting into the nitty gritty, page value scores can be used to show a client quickly and effectively when content we create and/or improve is leading to an increase in performance.”
Chris Hornak of Blog Hands also uses goal values “to track if the content is leading to conversions,” and recommends “not just applying a value to form submissions but a small value to product and service page views.”
“Implementing this value will allow you to see what content is at least creating interest in your product or services,” Hornak continues.
To summarize, WebMechanix‘s Chris Mechanic recommends using this metric because “you can get a sense of the true value of any individual page or post. [But] in order to have a page value populate, you need to have values tied to specific goals and events.”
Are you planning to use this technique? Beware that “values are shown as a monetary figure but don’t get hung up on a monetary value. Just so long as the relative values make sense, the actual numbers you use don’t matter.”
Are you trying to convert blog traffic into subscribers?
Ivan LaBianca of The Seventh Sense thinks it’s important to track how many blog visitors are turning into subscribers because “the conversion rate on your newsletter or blog CTA is a useful indicator of how exciting people find your content.”
It makes sense. As LaBianca explains: “No matter how good your CTA’s design is, it won’t work very well if people didn’t find their landing page engaging to start. It’s a user’s previous experience with your content that drives them to convert on generic CTA’s like newsletter/blog updates.”
Did you know that over half (53%) of marketers write content to attract new visitors?
Taura Wolfe of The Wolfe Agency thinks “60% of content should be written to attract new visitors. There is no growth in business without building a larger base of clientele. However, 40% of content should be directed at keeping your current leads interested and involved in your brand.”
If you’re one of the 47% who aim to nurture or educate leads with your content, Pinja Virtanen of Advance B2B thinks you should keep a close eye on your customer lifetime value (CLV.)
“It’s the only metric that reflects how well content marketing is working for the business in the long run,” Virtanen explains. “If we only measured ROI from the first transaction, we could end up chasing quick-wins that only look good on paper but fail to drive sustainable growth.”
Needless to say, that’s not what we’re aiming for.
Ryan Underwood of Your Parking Space agrees with the minority of marketers who create content to educate leads: “New visitors are good to acquire, but returning customers are your bread-and-butter.”
“You can look back at returning visitors to gauge what content is keeping them involved,” Underwood continues.
“To see your Customer Retention (CR) metric rise, stay consistently engaged with your audience; that means, answering comments, asking for future blog ideas, and accepting guest contributions. Whilst the amount of customers you are retaining depends on what your content is about and how you see the blog scaling, a consistently increasing CR is a good sign.”
Codal‘s Clare Bittourna agrees, and thinks “customer retention is an extremely useful metric for monitoring the overall performance of your eCommerce site, and even quantifying customer loyalty.”
Bittourna adds that this metrics is “easy to calculate”–simply calculate “the percentage of customers kept relative to the amount you had at the start of that time period.”
“Attribution is something that often gets overlooked with content marketing,” writes Ampjar‘s Quincy Smith.
“Oftentimes, a piece of content is just the first touch a user has with your site and depending on how you’ve got your funnel setup they might then see a Facebook Ad, Google Ad, email, etc – but it’s important to track where they first learned about you and where content falls into your user acquisition cycle.”
This method of tracking touch points is referred to as first-touch attribution–something used by over 30% of marketers:
Smith’s team put this into practice by using “custom dimensions (you can also use content grouping) in Google Analytics to categorize our content, we can then see what type of content drives the most leads, pages per session, etc, but most importantly we can see where it comes in the conversion process.”
“For example, say an organic user lands on your site via a list post like “Best Ways to Use Analytics to Drive Sales” and then leaves. The user then sees a Facebook ad for your guide “Analytics Tool A vs Analytics Tool B” and comes back to your site and signs up for a trial.”
“Without attribution, that conversion is credited to the 2nd piece “Tool A vs Tool B”. With attribution, you know that user first found you via the “Best Ways” post, then saw the ad, and then converted.”
Smith says: “You can use this data to create more content and refine your retargeting, but without it you’re just guessing as to what content is performing for you.”
LyntonWeb‘s Jennifer Lux takes this a step further, and thinks you should look at content attribution in comparison to customer acquisition.
(In a nutshell, it’s asking which exact piece of content resulted in a sale.)
“If you build a multi-touch attribution model that measures what percent of customers visited blogs or read offers along their path to purchase, you’ll have a better understanding of how content marketing effects the bottom line,” Lux continues.
“This closed-loop, custom reporting not only measures the return on your content budget but should yield more informed, educated, and successful clients long-term.”
*Editor’s note: Do you use HubSpot to manage sales? Grab our HubSpot Marketing and CRM dashboard to track customer acquisition as leads pass through the sales pipeline.
Edward Dennis of Core dna thinks the cost of acquiring new customers (CAC) is “the ONLY metric that matters.”
Why? Because “traffic increase is nice, but you need to know what percentage of that traffic converts to leads/sales (by post and acquisition source) and how much those leads cost to acquire.”
Westphal continues: “If you’re just getting started, start with last touch attribution. This means, in a single web session, they land via a blog post, and immediately take your product/blog post CTA.”
However, Westphal reminds you that “this model [will] produce a lower limit. Meaning, you can say to your boss, “Our content is producing at least this many leads.”
Often, the most important marketing metrics is the return on your investment. Are you making enough revenue to cover the cost of your content marketing strategy?
Zamir Javer of Jumpfactor explains how “this can be done by looking at your total cost of content marketing and identifying the revenue generated from these efforts. The formula would be (Revenue Growth – Content Marketing Cost) / Content Marketing Cost.”
If the figure you get is positive, you’re generating more cash than you’re spending. But if you fall below zero, you’ll need to tweak your content campaigns–either by reducing budget or changing strategy–to get you back in the black.
Editor’s note: Need a quick performance update on your most important content marketing KPIs? Set Databox Scorecards and receive automated updates on your KPIs every day, week or month through Slack, email, or mobile push notification.
Julia Gomez’s team at Dear Content “produce content to spur our readers to take action at some point, be it sharing the article, signing up for a service, downloading our latest e-book, etc.”
Gomez thinks “it’s nice if other KPIs are met along the way. But at the end of the day, the most important question that should be asked is: Have I met the objective of the piece, or not?”
It’s clear that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to measuring content marketing success.
Mark Whitlock, Marketing Manager at Golden Spiral, agrees: “You could have a stellar stat, but if it’s not supporting your strategy, then it’s not going to get you where you want to go.”
Instead, Whitlock advises to “track what you’re really good at. If you’re a great video producer, but not as strong on social, focus on video. Your best content production is what’s going to matter in the long run, because that’s what your audience will intuit about what you’re best at, and they will follow.”
“And don’t worry if your content doesn’t generate the results you want initially – at least by tracking you’re finding out what doesn’t work, learning about your audience, and can use this knowledge next time around,” ceo.digital‘s Steven Kent concludes.
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