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Case Study | Apr 1
Jessica Greene on March 12, 2019 (last modified on July 19, 2019) • 15 minute read
The answer to the first question is one only you (or your boss, team, business, or clients) can provide. And the answer to the second question depends entirely on your answer to the first.
Measuring content success isn’t a straightforward process. To evaluate your content, you have to define goals, set KPIs for those goals, and then measure and track your KPIs.
And it may not be enough to just set goals and KPIs for your entire content marketing program. In fact, many of the respondents to our most recent survey set goals and track KPIs for each piece of content they create, and 37% say they monitor the success of their content every week with another 26% saying they monitor content success every day.
To learn more about the processes, metrics, and tools required to evaluate content success, we picked the brains of 24 content marketers who take a scientific approach to the task. Here’s what we learned.
*Editor’s note: Easily track and visualize which sources, referrers, and social referrers are driving traffic to your content (and more) with this free Google Analytics dashboard.
“In order to effectively measure the success of your content marketing efforts, you have to consider the origin of the content itself,” says Bill Ferris of Decor Interiors.
“Before we develop any piece of content, there is considerable research into relevant high-traffic or branded keywords, questions posed about those keywords, and competitive content that performs well against them.”
“Once the article is crafted, formatted, and published, you still have to promote it. You can include links in social media posts, forum comments, guest posts, etc. Additionally, you can email industry authorities and influencers to highlight the value of the content with the hope of a future mention in their online publications.”
“Only after you’ve done these things can you really start to monitor your article’s performance.”
The first step in measuring content success is to set goals, either for an individual piece of content, a specific content campaign, or your overall content marketing program.
“In order to measure the success of your content, you need to know your goals,” says Resolute PR’s Natalie Cagle. “A lot of marketers lose sight of business goals when they get into the research, planning, and production phases.”
Ollie Roddy of Catalyst Marketing agrees: “A piece of content’s success depends on what its aim is.”
“If you’re writing a series of pieces to rank better for a certain keyword, the obvious way to track success is to measure your position in Google. But if you’re writing content to create a new sales funnel, you’d want to measure your conversion rates.”
“The tracking of a campaign all depends on your goals as a team and a business.”
Once you have a goal in mind, you need to determine what key performance indicators (KPIs) you’ll use to track progress toward your goals.
For example, if your goal is to increase engagement, your KPIs might focus on metrics like time on page and bounce rate. If your goal is to increase organic traffic, you may want to focus on metrics like number of inbound links and improved search rankings.
“Different goals require different KPIs to measure your content’s effectiveness,” Natalie Cagle says. “However, with almost any goal, you can measure KPIs from user behavior, social media engagement, and SEO impact.”
Once you have goals and KPIs, you need to decide how you’ll measure your KPIs and track your progress toward goals. Our respondents use multiple tools to measure their KPIs, with Google Analytics, Google Search Console, and SEMrush being the most popular:
We’ll get into how our respondents use these tools and what specific metrics they measure for different KPIs and goals in the next section.
“We do a weekly review to see if the content we created performed how we expected it to perform,” says Wordable’s David Khim. “We look to see if any changes are correlated to our activities.”
“For example, say we published an article a couple of weeks ago, and then we noticed some traffic growth. But in our review, we saw that the traffic growth didn’t come from that article; it came from a more recent article.
“We can then dig into why a newer article brought in more traffic and why the old post isn’t generating the traffic we expected.”
Monitoring your KPIs over time is a great way to gather new insights into which tactics are working—and which aren’t driving the results you need to hit your goals.
Once you’ve decided what goals to pursue, how do you determine the best KPIs for your goals, and how should you track those KPIs to measure progress toward hitting your goals?
Our respondents offered lots of tips, tools, and tactics to consider.
“Conversions are what every marketer wants to generate at the end of the day,” Bill Ferris says, “but the real measure of success for content is organic traffic.”
“I track long-term organic traffic trends for key pieces of content to identify seasonal patterns or other drops that might need attention. This macro view also helps guide future content development,” Ferris says.
“I track organic clicks through Google Search Console and check them every week for the pages I’m focusing on,” says BestCompany’s Alice Stevens. “I look for overall traffic growth, drops, and spikes. Analyzing the differences helps me identify what pages to target or what keywords I should prioritize.”
Fundera’s Maddie Shepherd argues that “percentage growth of weekly traffic is the ultimate metric for measuring the success of content. Percentage growth creates an even playing field for all articles, even those targeting lower-volume keywords.”
And if you use topic clusters, David Khim recommends “reviewing your organic traffic in Google Analytics to see which cluster of blog posts is seeing the most growth.”
“Our goal is growing organic traffic,” David Khim says, “but instead of just looking at traffic growth as a whole, we keep an eye on two things: organic traffic growth specifically for the blog posts we wrote to target specific keywords, and our rankings for those specific keywords.”
“To track our rankings, we set up an automated report in AccuRanker that keeps us updated if we have any ranking movements week-to-week for specific keywords.”
But if you don’t want to subscribe to a tool to monitor your rankings, you can always check them manually. “I check rankings in an incognito window using keywords I’ve targeted on specific pages to see if they are increasing in rank,” Alice Stevens says.
While you’re checking manually, Bill Ferris also recommends looking to see if you’ve earned any featured snippets. “If you get a featured snippet, it will generate far more attention than a normal top listing since it’s larger and can include images.”
And in addition to looking at clicks and rankings, Glacier Wellness’ Samuel Mayers recommends measuring impressions.
“One of the most underrated KPIs is total impressions, which can be accessed via Google Search Console.”
“While it may seem less critical than other factors, this metric effectively includes countless factors, making it a comprehensive KPI. A webpage’s impressions measure how many times users saw a link to the page in search results.”
“This can put an entire SEO campaign into perspective, and it provides more context for metrics like average click-through rate.”
*Editor’s note: You can recreate these reports from Google Search Console in Databox and create beautiful, real-time visualizations of impressions, click-through rate by page, and much more, with this free dashboard.
“Traffic can offer you insight into the popularity of your content now,” says Clutch’s Riley Panko. “But to truly understand the staying power of your content—especially if you publish content with SEO in mind—you should be measuring how many websites link to your content.”
“Links give your content the chance to rise higher in search engines, giving you more and more traffic over time instead of short bursts of popularity immediately after publishing.”
Panko recommends using Ahrefs’ Backlink Checker and Google Search Console’s links report to track inbound links to your content.
Bill Ferris is also a fan of Ahrefs and uses it for checking backlinks and much more.
“Once a piece of content has been out there for a while and Google has had a chance to index the initial backlinks, I enter the article’s URL into Content Explorer and look at a wide variety of KPIs.”
“I pay attention to URL rating, referring domains, dofollow backlinks, organic keywords, organic traffic, and traffic value. I also dig a little deeper to track any movement of high-volume keyword rankings, as well as competitive pages and gaps in our content.”
“Another important factor to consider when analyzing your content’s effectiveness is the level of engagement it has,” Alice Stevens says. “If your content has a high level of engagement, it’s a good sign because it means that your content is attracting people and they’re seeing value in your site.”
“A complete content marketing system will have several pieces of content that span the entirety of a customer’s journey,” says Autumn Sullivan of Big Sea Co. “Focusing on the intent of the content helps me define the KPIs.”
“I don’t expect awareness-stage blog posts to convert, so I don’t track conversions as a KPI for those. Instead, I’ll focus on engagement metrics like traffic to the page, time spent on page, scroll depth on the page, and audience.”
“If you’re measuring how well your blog content is resonating with your audience,” says PrimePay’s Sean McCaffrey, “you can set up a custom report in Google Analytics that is filtered to show only the metrics for a specific blog post.
“Then, you can customize which metrics you want to see in your report: sessions, page views, average time on page, bounce rate, and goal completions.”
“If your content is getting a high number of views, users are spending a few minutes on average on the page, and they’re filling out a form after reading your post, chances are your content is working pretty well,” McCaffrey says.
Audi Westmont’s Laura Gonzalez agrees: “The average time that visitors spend on your webpage suggests how effective your content is. If visitors are on your page for a while, that means that they’re spending a good amount of time reading your content.”
“But if visitors are not spending enough time on your page, it might mean your content is not fulfilling their needs,” Gonzales says.
Smallpdf’s Hung Nguyen also recommends measuring your bounce rate. “A low bounce rate suggests that your content creates enough value for users to stay on your site.”
You can find all of these metrics for each piece of content on your site in Google Analytics (Behavior > Site Content > All Pages).
And if you’re trying to measure engagement with your content on social, Bill Ferris recommends “paying close attention to the number of likes, shares, saves, and clicks.”
“As more people click through to the content,” Ferris says, “look for deeper engagement in the form of comments or questions. Most of the time the submissions are spam, but real readers offer a great opportunity to demonstrate your authority and industry interest.”
“For me, the most important measure of content success is how many conversions it brings and how much each conversion costs,” says Beetroot‘s Tetiana Vasylenko. “But by conversions, I don’t necessarily mean purchases. These could be micro-conversions, like visits to a product or contact page, subscribing to a newsletter, etc.”
Survicate’s Kasia Kowalska agrees: “Content marketing must serve a purpose. For us, that purpose is lead generation and, ultimately, customer acquisition.”
To measure how many leads and conversions your content is generating, Nisarg Mehta and Rajat Chauhan of Techtic Solutions Inc. recommend tracking lead-gen form completions, email newsletter signups, completed purchases, and content downloads.
BestCompany’s Alice Stevens says “it’s very important to monitor click-through rates on conversion-focused links. The higher the click-through rate, the better your content is at helping consumers make a purchasing decision.”
Setting up goals in Google Analytics makes it easy to track clicks from content to conversion-focused pages and see which pieces of content generate the most revenue. Grow and Convert has a great tutorial for how to set this up.
Or James Pollard of The Advisor Coach offers another solution: “Once it’s published, use unique tracking links so you can see which pieces of content are achieving your goals.”
“For example, you can include a unique tracking link to a sales page on each piece of your content. From there, you can see which piece of content delivers the most sales.”
If your goal is to drive traffic to your website from social media, you’ll need to measure social referral traffic. Our respondents offered a few tips for tracking social referrals.
“You can determine how many users were reached from a campaign or single posting using Facebook and Instagram insights,” says Mackenzie Thompson of National Health Care Provider Solutions. “Then, cross-reference those numbers with Google Analytics to measure content success.”
But Brittany Hardy of Empty Desk Solutions says it’s important to look beyond just referral traffic itself. “If we link to our content on social, we can see reach statistics on the posts, but more importantly, the number of clicks and actions taken once that person has landed on our website.”
“Using the analytics tool in Facebook Business Manager, you can create an Event Source Group that combines your Facebook page with the Facebook pixel that’s on your website. This allows you to track the user journey from when they engage with your post right through to when they sign up as a lead or make a purchase on your website.”
“Once this is set up, you can then create funnels and see what has the largest influence on getting leads or making a sale. For example, if you notice that engagement results in leads, you can run top-of-the-funnel ads optimized for engagement.”
“Always keep in mind that for high-ticket items or for B2B, it might take weeks or even months for content to result in a sale,” Fairbrother says.
*Editor’s note: Track and visualize traffic from social media, as well as the percentage of new users your content generates from social media, and much more with this free social media dashboard.
“To measure the success of my content, I initially look at the number of page views and clicks it’s getting,” says Best Company’s Alayna Pehrson. “Additionally, I try to keep an eye on impressions and click-through rate.”
“Next, I draw my attention to bounce rate, the organic rank of the page, the page’s main audience demographics, and the amount of activity that piece of content is generating on social media.”
Like Pehrson, you’re likely going to have multiple goals and KPIs for your content. And if you’re setting goals for each piece of content you produce, you may even have multiple, different goals for multiple, different pieces of content.
When you have multiple KPIs and goals for various content assets, measuring those goals gets trickier—unless you have the right tool.
While the majority of marketers use between three and five tools to measure the performance of their content, some marketers use as many as 10 different tools:
But managing so many tools—retrieving data from them, analyzing that data, and building reports—adds a tremendous amount of overhead to your workload.
Instead, many marketers take advantage of tools and platforms that aggregate content and marketing analytics.
“Having a great platform where you can combine all content in one place to help you evaluate effectiveness is key,” says 4Cite’s Wendy Troncone. “HubSpot is one of these great platforms because it helps you determine the interactivity of your content by giving you the clicks and interactions of each post and email open.”
And Oxygen’s Laurent Ross recommends using Databox with HubSpot: “Through a combination of tracking links built in HubSpot and utilizing Databox to create content-performance dashboards, we are able to give our team and our clients full (and live) visibility of the performance of our content.”
“Measuring content success takes time and patience,” Alayna Pehrson says. “I learned early on that you can’t just write a piece of content and expect it to have overwhelmingly positive results within five minutes.”
“In the end, I mark a piece of content as successful when it generates a large number of clicks, page views, and impressions and provides truly helpful and insightful information.”
Growth Hackers’ Jonathan Aufray agrees: “Once you publish content, wait a few days before measuring its success. And to measure its success, you need to compare your new piece to older pieces of content you created.”
“Let’s say your new blog post gets 1,000 views and helped you generate 50 leads. But your last post only had 500 views and generated 10 leads. By doing the comparison, you know your new article is a success.”
“The objective is always to keep improving and creating more and more successful content.”
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