Every good content marketing strategy has goals. But without metrics you can’t be sure you’re meeting those goals, and it’s impossible to know how to improve your content marketing. Use metrics or key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure your ROI and other indicia of success and you’ll be way ahead of most of your peers.
Why do I say that? For starters, only 8 percent of marketers say they are “very successful” when it comes to tracking their content’s ROI. Fully 49 percent of marketers are stuck with only the most basic metrics, using not much more than clicks and downloads to track their content marketing success. And 17 percent of marketers don’t use metrics at all.
Your metrics or KPIs are the numerical version of the goals you want your content to achieve. You want to tie your goals to numbers so that you can evaluate your progress in an unbiased way. This also highlights opportunities for improvement gives you data upon which you can base strategic decisions.
Here is the big list of content marketing metrics, and how and when to use them. I’ve also referenced some tools throughout the post so you can see how they work.
Content consumption metrics
People love to consume valuable, useful content. If you can create that kind of content, it is going to get consumed. It will also add to your influence, not to mention your leads. Here are the most useful metrics to measure your content consumption success.
Everyone should be tracking page views, which just tells you how many times a site or a specific piece of content has been viewed. Track overall page views using the default view in Google Analytics (GA), Audience Overview. You can see how many views each piece of content has gotten within a time period you choose, and you should look at this metric once a month to make sure you’re achieving some growth.
You should also take a comparative look at page views. In some cases it makes sense to compare last month and this month. In some cases you’ll experience seasonal or occasion-based changes from month to month; when this happens, don’t compare apples and oranges by comparing December and January. Instead, compare the month to the same month in previous years.
Next, look at which pieces of content are the most successful. Do this by tracking page views in GA: click on “Behavior” and then “Site Content,” and finally “All Pages.” Don’t include your newest posts in this analysis unless they’ve had ample time to get established. Are your posts getting more views as time passes? If so, your audience is growing.
It’s important to track traffic to landing pages in particular because those are the places where your visitors can do one of the things you want them to do. For example, your goals may include getting new email newsletter signups, buying your products, and downloading a free guide. How many of your website visitors are getting to those places?
Next, find out which external sites are bringing visitors to your landing pages. The external sites that give you the most useful traffic—not just the numbers, but visitors who are taking important actions on the site—are worth your marketing time.
Now, find out which internal pages are getting people to those landing pages. Your strongest pieces will be driving this kind of traffic, so see which pieces are getting this done.
You’ve already checked your page views, but now you need to refine that information based on unique visitors.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with repeat visitors! But you do need to know if your audience is really growing or if you’re having some stagnation in this area, so check unique visitors.
Just like it sounds, unique visitors tells you how many different individuals visited your site. It’s not foolproof, in that the same visitor can get to your site on more than one device, but it’s still a useful metric. Find unique visitors from your “main audience overview” page. As always you should be aiming for growth, so look for at least 10 to 15 percent increases in this number.
If you produce useful “how to” guides as part of your content strategy you’ll want to track how many downloads you’re getting, not just how many people get to that landing page with the download on it. Do this by setting up an event using GA.
You can also track these kinds of downloads using HubSpot, Act-On, Eloqua, Marketo, or Pardot, one of the marketing automation platforms. These can’t help you track downloads that arise directly from search results, but they’re a good place to start.
Emails opened is a critically important sign of content consumption. High open rates signal a better chance of long term growth; lots of automatic deletes tell you that your best audience, those who have subscribed because they love your content, are getting bored with what you’re sending them.
Unlike many metrics, you’re not looking for huge jumps here. You’re watching for drops. If your open rate drops, take action stat. If there was a problem with one email in particular, that’s not fatal—just fix it. If you’re getting an overall drop over time, your email strategy is in trouble. Constant Contact, Eloqua, Marketo, and MailChimp all track open rates and clicks (see the next heading, “Email links clicked”).
Email links clicked
Move from email open rates to email links clicked. Most email providers that marketers use will show you this right next to your open rate. If you have a low click rate or yours is dropping, you know your email audience is finding less value in what you’re sending out. This is an area to work on improving right away.
Pages per visit
This consumption metric has to do with what visitors do when they get to your site. Now, sheer number of pages visited per session doesn’t tell you everything; you have to think about the numbers and place them in context.
If you have a low number of pages per visit, there might be more than one reason. It may indicate that no one is liking what they find so they’re not bothering to navigate around. But they also might like what they’re seeing and be falling victim to your bad internal linking problem. Eliminate this possibility right from the start by creating a strong, fluid internal link structure.
There is one other reason you might get low number of pages per visit: long form content. You know I produce long form content and I feel that it’s very useful. But even if you produce longer posts, visitors who love your content usually hit more than one page per visit—especially if your internal links are good, because a long post gives you lots of great chances to link to something else on your site.
Check how long visitors are looking at your long form content, too (more about this below). Work on improving both the pages per visit and time spent numbers over time. You shouldn’t be seeing sudden drops. If you are, look at the recent content that appears to be causing the problem.
Conversion metrics are all about people taking actions that you want them to take based on your content. This goes deeper than sheer number of visitors; we’re talking about how effective your content is at prompting actions.
Which conversion metrics matter the most to any given business can vary. Just make sure your conversion metrics, like the others, are tied to your specific sales funnel goals. This is the only way to be sure that your content marketing strategy is financially sound.
Opt-in percentage and new subscribers
When you convert a blog visitor into a regular reader and email subscriber, your blog is working for you. Email subscribers receive new content that you produce and are ideally situated to take other desirable actions on your site. They can also be powerful sources of referrals and new leads.
Finding out your subscription rate is another use for the “event” function in GA. You can also use other types of goals depending on your configuration.
Social media follower growth
Because new social media follows are a sort of conversion, I’m placing this here rather than under “Engagement Metrics” although of course these are closely related. There are lots of tools you can use for this purpose like Buffer or FollowerWonk.
At some point you’ll need to know how your visitors and subscribers turn into paying customers. Track this using “ecommerce tracking” in GA; this will show you which of your channels are churning the most income.
If you are a running a lead generation website, you will need to determine the value of a lead. Do this by looking at your close rate and average customer value.
As you watch your lead forms, take note of not only your completed forms, but also your volume of organic leads. This just means you should watch the sources of your leads. You can use a multi channel attribution modeling program to figure out which leads are coming right from your best content. Google Attribution 360 and Convertro are examples of this kind of tool.
Call-to-action click-through rate
If you’re experiencing a lower conversion rate than you want, you need to know what the weak link is: is it your content or your sales techniques like your calls-to-action? Watch your call-to-action click-through rate to make this distinction.
Part of your content marketing strategy includes creating multiple pieces of content that can allow your site to be found; the more useful content you have, the better you’ll be ranking for your keywords. Test how effective your content marketing strategy is by assessing your keyword rankings. A successful strategy will cause a steady increase in keyword rank.
You should also be monitoring your number of leads per keyword. Obviously you’ll be getting the most leads from keywords you emphasize on landing pages. If you’re not seeing this connection you need to work on your landing page content to ensure you get the most bang from each keyword.
Keep track of your customers and leads. In your database, make sure you keep a record of which pieces of content each person consumed. This in turn will allow you to assign value to your content over time. If certain pieces of content are reliably turning leads into customers, that has value and you should be aware of it.
A good way to do this is to use the funnel visualization report in GA. This shows you which steps any given visitor took towards whatever goal you’re measuring. It can also show you your weak points in the sales funnel, the places where visitors are most likely to drop out. Those weak points are excellent places to use good content and minimize losses. You can also use a CRM tool like Full Circle Insights or Salesforce for this.
Reduced time to purchase
Ideally your content can say enough about your product or service to make conversions easier and faster. It’s not always simple to say definitively how long your buying cycle is, but one way to test this is to measure the time between signing up or opting in to the email list and purchasing. If your content is reducing this time, it’s succeeding.
Next step: retention metrics. These can show you exactly how valuable your content is because retention is a proxy for how much your users want more of your content.
Your email provider’s report will show you how many unsubscribes you’re getting. Everyone gets some, but a big spike in unsubscribes signals to you that you have a content problem.
By “bounce” I mean that someone visits your page but doesn’t click on anything. They bounce right back off the page again. Find this in GA under “Audience Overview.” GA tracks bounce rate page by page, so watch for specific pages or groups of pages with high bounce rates so you can target your fixes.
If your bounce rate is high, there are three possibilities. The first is that people find what they’re looking for instantly upon visiting your site. If that’s what it is, no problem.
The other two possibilities signal problems for you to fix. One is that your site isn’t offering anything for visitors to do or interact with; they didn’t see anything worth clicking on when they got there. If this happens look to your internal linking structure to lower this rate.
The final possibility is that visitors just can’t find what they came to your site to get. It means you have serious technical or structural issues to address.
Obviously, you want visitors to your page to come back again and again. Make sure they are by checking two things: the number of returning visitors and the ratio of returning visitors to new visitors. You can find these numbers in GA under “audience,” and then “behavior,” and then “new vs. returning.”
Returning visitors are your loyal brand enthusiasts. You want both your return rate and the ratio to be high.
Time spent on site
Ideally your visitors will find your site so appealing that they stick around awhile. Time spent on site is a great sign of engagement with content. Hubspot tells us that more than half of all website visitors spend less than 15 seconds in a stop. How long it takes to generate a lead varies, but 15 seconds is pretty short.
Watch time spent for two reasons. First, you want your time spent to rise so you can get more leads. Second, you need to be sure that time spent is connected to more leads and conversions. If your visitors are staying longer and you’re still not getting the conversions you want, it may be your sales pitch and call-to-action that are hurting your progress, not your content.
To see time spent, go to “behavior” and then “site content” in GA. You’ll see session duration numbers for each page in the landing pages subsection, and you can use this information to decide which are your best performing landing pages.
It’s not always easy to tie engagement to financial goals. But measuring engagement is crucial to your content marketing strategy because lots of useful, interesting content signals even better paid products to many consumers. These indicia of engagement are important for most site owners to track.
Social media shares or likes
Each time a follower likes or shares your content, they’re branding it with their own personal seal of approval. They’re saying to everyone they know, “Hey, this is something I like enough to be fine with everyone seeing my name on it.” You will want the number of shares you get on content to grow over time. A precipitous drop might mean one less popular piece, but make sure it’s not part of a trend.
Measure your total number of social shares, and how many shares each piece received. You can do this with a social share checker or the native analytics for your platforms, or with a tool like Buffer or Buzzsumo. You can also use the “content grouping” function in GA to see which types of content get more engagement.
You should also watch for the number of visitors to your site that come via social media. This kind of information helps you refine and improve your content marketing strategy. And don’t forget: no one shares content unless it’s easy. If your numbers are low here, make sure you’re placing your social media buttons in an obvious place.
Number of comments
Comments are very important because they’re more than just a like. Commenters are taking the time and initiative to engage. Each comment is also an opportunity for a dialogue as you respond to comments. Track how many comments each piece of content gets, and focus on actionable comments that add value or present you with additional opportunities.
This is similar to pages per visit in the content consumption section, but it differs in one important way. Pages per session is an average number that tells you more generally about quantity consumed. Page depth is a precise number; it shows you how many people visited different numbers of pages during visits. In other words, it shows you how many of your visitors are serious fans, checking out everything you have to offer on a certain topic.
Check this by looking at “page depth” in GA. You find this under “audience,” and then “behavior,” and then “engagement.” If none of your visitors look at more than two pages, you’re lacking some hardcore fans.
Natural inbound links
This is a great sign of engagement. No amount of studied link-building can eclipse the traffic-boosting power of natural inbound links, especially from influencers in your industry. When someone creates this kind of link to your content, they’re showing their entire audience something they found truly valuable.
As you analyze your inbound links, count the number of influencers that are linking to your content. This is important to know in its own right, but it also provides you with a list of new opportunities for guest blogging, cross-posting, and more. Build your relationships with influencers who like your content.
Hopefully you have enough visitors that spontaneously email direct links to your content that this is hard to track. Use a “send to a friend” button or embedded links in your newsletter to get some sense of this kind of content sharing.
By audience contribution I mean online reviews and testimonials. These are a little meatier than standard social media comments, and are closely connected to your financial goals. This kind of social proof is an invaluable addition to your content and you should be tracking it.
Promotion of content is expensive; make sure your promotion is worth the cost. Track this using promotional metrics like these.
Email outreach is part of most content marketing strategies. Track how well your emails are doing by comparing the number of emails you sent, how long it took to send them, and the conversion rate of the emails. Conversion rate depends on your goal; maybe you wanted visitors to click through to your site, or to share content socially. Whatever the goal, track it, and find out which of your email tactics are working.
Cost and return of ads
If you’re paying to promote content, you’ll want to stop unless it’s getting you what you need. Compare your per conversion cost and the per conversion revenue. If you’re paying more than you’re getting back, improve your return by split testing and optimizing the campaign. If it still isn’t making you anything, drop it and try something else.
Internal content creation metrics
These metrics help you assess the cost of your content marketing, and the value you’re getting from it.
Content cost effectiveness
How much does your content marketing strategy cost compared to the value of leads generated? Just as you’d calculate your ROI on other outlays, you should know how cost-effective your content marketing is. I brought up assigning value to your content over time above under “sales metrics.” It is a good idea to compare these assigned values against proportion of content marketing budget.
Cost to create content
This is just the simple cost of the content creation itself. Factor in your own time, even if someone else produces the content, because you have administrative costs to account for here.
Content ready to be published
How much great content do you have waiting in your queue? A robust, productive content marketing strategy has more content ready, waiting to be published. Keep track of this simple metric and if you’re hurting for content, take action.
Average time to finish
This is another way to get at engagement, but it is focused squarely on individual pieces of content. Average time to finish is found in GA under “average event value” within the “content bottom” action. It will show you a time for a piece of content expressed in seconds. How many seconds are you getting from each view, and how does this compare to the time you put into the content’s creation?
Ideally you’ll invest a reasonable amount in your content and it will last forever—but if you don’t measure this, you can’t be sure your content is even living out a normal lifespan. One way to predict the longevity of a piece of content is using your Bitly analytics. On average a Bitly link peaks when it has received around half of its lifetime clicks. This should give you a place to start in terms of longevity.
You can also look at conversions coming through a specific piece of content to assess if it still has life left in it.
Smart use of metrics is essential to successful content marketing. Using data you can test and improve your content over time, and always be working to make your strategy stronger. The most sustainable, profitable businesses rely on metrics, because these tools help them to get better and better. Tracking KPIs that are closely related to your business goals saves you time and money and helps you knock it out of the park with your content every time.