What is Content Marketing and How to Measure It Effectively

Content marketing, creating and distributing non-branded, high-value content with the intent of driving long-term customer engagement, has become a lynchpin of marketing departments across all industries.

It’s important to remember, however, that just creating content isn’t content marketing.

The pieces used in this type of marketing are brand-free and focused on customers.

They should also be highly integrated into your existing marketing agenda, particularly when it comes to tracking their performance.

Content Marketing is Not About You

As content marketers strive to create engaging content that provides value by educating and/or entertaining our readers while still increasing web traffic and leads. This last piece of the puzzle can create temptations to slip into a sales mode, but we need to avoid this temptation.

For effective content marketing, your content should not be:

  • A sales pitch
  • An advertisement
  • A self-promotion
  • Purely SEO driven

In short, don’t make your content about your brand. Be selfless and provide legitimate value to your readers. Step outside your content, put yourself in a potential consumer’s shoes, and objectively ask yourself if you would enjoy it. If not, you may need to go back to the drawing board.

Your content should focus on solving your customers’ problems. Offer a solution that helps your readers make better decisions, but spare them a sales pitch.

Once you’ve got the content down, it’s time to figure out how to track its performance.

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for Content Marketing

The KPIs you choose for your content marketing initiatives should be measuring your content’s performance across the entire sales funnel. This chart from Curata does a good job illustrating common KPIs, where they fall in the process, and how to track them:

content marketing kpis


(note: this is an excerpt from the longer chart; we’ve chosen to focus on the most commonly used content marketing KPIs here)

KPIs for Consumption of Content

These metrics track whether or not people are seeing and reading your content. They cover not only your website, but also your efforts on social media.

  • Metric: Pageviews. Measured With: Google Analytics

The number of pageviews that a piece of content gets is a good preliminary indicator of its popularity. If you have a few pieces that are particularly popular, investigate their content, layout, and promotional tactics carefully so you can replicate them.

  • Metric: Unique Visitors. Measured With: Google Analytics

This metric doesn’t count repeat visitors to your content. Instead it lets you know how many individuals have come to consume it, giving you a better idea of how many people you’re actually reaching.

  • Metric: Asset Downloads/Form Completions. Measured With: Google Analytics

Use goal tracking in your analytics to determine how often visitors are downloading your content, such as ebooks or white papers, and filling out forms to subscribe for email updates. These are the most common ways we can continue to engage readers over the long term, so make sure you can track these KPIs very accurately.

  • Metric: Social Media Link Clickthroughs. Measured With: Bit.ly or similar service

Using a link shortener like bit.ly or Hootsuite will let you track how many people on the various social networks are clicking on links to your content. Keep in mind that this metric may be less an indication of the strength of your content and more a reflection on your social media marketing strategy; make sure to test changes in each area to determine where the real opportunities for improvement are.

KPIs for Measuring Retention

Once you’ve got people viewing your content, you need to measure how well you’re holding their interest. That’s where these retention performance indicators come in.

  • Metric: Pages per Visit. Measured With: Google Analytics

If visitors are exploring multiple pages on your site with each visit, it’s a good indicator that you’re retaining their interest. If there is poor performance here, take a hard look at both your content and your website’s layout, as either may be the culprit.

  • Metric: Bounce Rate. Measured With: Google Analytics

A bounce is when a user lands on your site but then “bounces” off right away. It means that they were not sufficiently enticed by your content to stay, so a low bounce rate is an important KPI for retention. A 50% bounce rate is average for most sites; if your content is getting a bounce rate above 60%, it’s time to start making changes.

  • Metric: Percentage of Returning Visitors. Measured With: Google Analytics

This is the flip side of the unique visitors KPI that we track to measure consumption. It determines what percentage of your site’s visitors have been there before; if they come back multiple times it means your content has done a great job retaining their interest.

  • Metric: Social Media Followers. Measured With: Various Social Networks

By becoming a Facebook fan, following you on Twitter or Pinterest, or joining your Google+ circles, readers are agreeing to get future notices from you about content. This is a great retention KPI, and one that’s easy to track.

KPIs for Measuring Sharing

When users share your content they are affirming its value not only to themselves but to their social network. This is a huge step toward content marketing success, so make sure you’re paying close attention to these metrics.

  • Metric: Social Media Link Shares. Measure With: SharedCount or other services

Note the difference between this KPI and the ones below (retweets, repins, likes). This is spontaneous sharing of links from your site. There are a lot of services out there that will help you track how often a particular URL gets shared; SharedCount is a good one to start with, and it’s free for up to 10,000 daily queries.

  • Metric: Retweets, Likes, Repins, etc. Measure With: Social Networks or other services

Not quite as strong of a vote of confidence as a spontaneous link share, these types of engagements are nonetheless a crucial part of content marketing and social media marketing. You can pull these numbers from each social network in turn, or use a service like SharedCount to help simplify the process.

  • Metric: Inbound links. Measure With: Moz

Moz’s Open Site Explorer will show you the total number of backlinks to your site, which will give you a good idea how your content is being distributed outside of social networks. You need to pay to get the full picture, but the basic number (and whether it increases over time) will be a good place to start.

Use Successful Content to Drive Future Strategies

Tracking all these KPIs should allow you to get a very accurate picture of which types of content are meeting your content marketing goals, and which are falling short.

Once you know that, you can begin to edit your less successful pieces so they are more inline with those that are driving traffic and engagement, and use what’s working as a model for future content.

Finally, as you grow in content marketing sophistication, you can expand your KPIs to incorporate a customer’s complete life cycle by tracking your content’s impact on the marketing and sales pipelines.

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Andrea Fryrear
About the Author:

Andrea Fryrear

Andrea loves to dissect marketing buzzwords and fads looking for the pearls of wisdom at their cores. Her favorite topic is agile marketing, which she believes holds the key to a more fulfilling (and less stressful) marketing career for individuals and a more powerful marketing department for business. When not scrutinizing the latest agile methodologies, Andrea can be found on the volleyball court, at the park with her two delightful kids, or baking “calorie-free” cookies. Connect with her on Twitter @AndreaFryrear, or on LinkedIn.

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