Content Analytics: What’s Reasonable and When

By May 31, 2021

If you’ve ever played a sport, you know the key to getting better is never listening to constructive feedback and simply trusting your own gut on improvements you need to make.

Kidding. If you’ve ever played a sport, you know that previous statement is a bunch of baloney.

Professional and amateur athletes spend a lot of time in the video room to explore past performance. Sometimes they spend more time watching and reviewing film than practicing. There’s an obvious reason for this: You can learn a lot from poring over replays of how you performed. The diligence pays off when you double down on the good habits and drift away from the bad ones.

Similarly, content marketers need to have a reflex for analytics. While it remains true that content is king, measuring success should have its own keys to the kingdom. By learning how your content is performing, you’re giving yourself the chance to replicate more of what’s working and less of what’s not.

But what’s most important? Know what you’re looking for.


You’LL need a North Star

You can’t grade your progress if you don’t know where you’re ultimately headed. This applies to anything, really. It’s why going to the grocery store without a shopping list often leads to a lot more junk food and a little less of the healthy stuff.

Having that destination in mind is critical for content marketing, too. Understanding how your content should perform at different stages of its life cycle allows you to make informed decisions on where to go next.

That part is obvious to most marketers. Looking at analytics is a tale as old as time.

But despite the obvious benefits, only 32% of brands regularly check their content analytics. It’s a massive opportunity brands should take advantage of.

So where do you start? First, know where to look:

  • There’s web analytics. Understanding how your audience gets to and ultimately works through your website is paramount. What pages are getting people to stick around? What are the demographics of users on certain pages? You can use Google Analytics because it’s free. Or any of the Google Analytics alternatives that do similar things—HubSpot, Mixpanel, and Matomo are among the leaders. 
  • There’s social analytics. If you’re using Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, or Facebook (or even TikTok for marketing), they all come with free built-in analytics tools for brands to keep track of what’s working and what’s not. When is the best time to post? What are some of the more popular posts this past month? Use the data to fine-tune the messaging you share across social channels. And if you want some more firepower, explore the options that social media analytics tools like HubSpot, Hootsuite, and Sprout Social can give you.
  • There’s SEO analytics. Great, so you’ve got an editorial calendar and you’re starting to create regular content for your website. Are people able to find your content if they’re searching for a topic online? Do search engines like Google even see it? SEO tools like Ubersuggest, Ahrefs, and Semrush have tiered pricing options that give you valuable insights into search rankings, keyword trends, and backlinks. 
  • There’s paid analytics. Whether you’re wading into the kiddie pool with paid search and social or you’re an Olympic-level diver, it’s important to see where your marketing spend is going. Are we driving leads through this paid campaign? Can we optimize a certain ad set and drop another? Use free tools like Google AdWords or Bing Ads to see where your paid organic search spend is going. And for social, use the analytics tools the channel already gives you.

By knowing what to look for, content marketers can set realistic and achievable goals for their efforts.

And then comes the dirty work.


Focus on what matters

Not all metrics are created equal. For content marketers, it may be tempting to slice and dice all the available data to make your reports say a lot. But focusing on what matters is a better use of your time. (And it makes your reports way more interesting.)

There are four key areas where you’ll typically need to think about content analytics and key performance indicators (KPIs).

First, there’s production. This is where you think about the nuts and bolts of content creation. Often, this includes actually counting the assets your team is producing and measuring it against what’s possible. By making improvements to the production engine, you’ll see less time spent on the things that don’t matter. In other words, you look at the yield to improve the yield.

Some content production KPIs to think about include:

  • Content by type (number of webinars, blog posts, and other assets being created)
  • Content by category (number of assets related to important themes or categories in your industry)
  • Content by persona (number of assets that target each of your unique buyer personas)
  • Author output (number of assets each author is producing)

Second, there’s engagement. In digital marketing, showing up online is half the battle. Getting people to actually do something with your content is the other half. Split this into web engagement and social engagement to get a bigger picture into how valuable your audience believes your content is. Some engagement KPIs to think about include:

  • Social shares (how many times does your audience share your content across social channels?)
  • Comments (how many comments and discussions are happening on your posts?)
  • Page views (the number of times people visit the page)
  • Backlinks (how many other authoritative websites are linking to your content?)

Third, there’s performance. This looks at individual content assets to see how effective they are at hitting goals. Whether the goal is to increase time on the site, drive leads, or drive sales, scoring your content helps understand what’s getting you the biggest return on your investment. Was all the effort we put into that e-book worth it? Is the podcast a good use of our time?

There’s no one-size-fits-all rule for scoring, but you can start by sorting scores based on:

  • Category (are certain categories or themes driving the best results?)
  • Author (are certain content creators yielding the best results?)
  • Conversions (are certain assets or campaigns driving the most conversions?)

Most important, anchor to the metrics that matter most. And then get into the habit of tracking and reporting on these KPIs.

It also doesn’t hurt to snoop a little.


Is the grass greener on the other side?

A not-so-obvious reason athletes review video: nonconscious behavioral mimicry. That’s fancy talk for “seeing something enough that you naturally start doing it yourself.” This holds true for content marketing, too.

The great thing about digital content is that data is everywhere. Not just data around your own organization’s content efforts. You can also learn about the content performance of competitors in your industry—if you know where to look.

Use tools like Ahrefs, Semrush, and SpyFu to explore search engine rankings of your competitors. See what keywords they’re ranking for to find gaps in your own content strategy. Check out the search ads they’re pushing live and search terms they’re doubling down on.

Keeping your ear to the ground on what your competitors are producing can help validate your own efforts. Or it can help you pivot as necessary. Is a competitor thinking about an audience segment you’ve missed? Is your competitor writing a lot of content about an important news event? These are content opportunities.


But most important ...

Here’s something you won’t hear every day: Stop thinking about ROI.

In marketing circles, that sentiment is not only unheard of—it’s practically blasphemy. According to HubSpot, over 75% of marketers today report on how their campaigns are directly influencing revenue. That’s a good thing. But too much of anything is a bad thing.

Effectiveness expert (yes, that’s a thing) Peter Field and his collaborator Les Binet, head of effectiveness at a global communications firm, believe that an unhealthy obsession with ROI derails long-term growth for businesses. What makes it unhealthy? Equating ROI with purely lower costs.

Pinching pennies, they argue, leads organizations to focus on short-term, overly tactical initiatives that look great on paper but ultimately aren’t scalable and don’t drive long-term success. That’s because true ROI ought to measure all the good things that should coincide with efficient spending: production, engagement, and performance KPIs.

In thinking about ROI, content marketers should consider the life cycle of content. Did that new white paper drive sales? Probably not—at least not right away. But over time, it might.

  • Early on, focus on engagement. When launching a new content campaign into the digital universe, it’s tempting to fast-forward to see how many sales it’s driving. Instead, focus first on how the content is actually being received by your audience. Are people reading it? Are they sharing it? Is this content influencing new interactions or behaviors? 
  • Then, things might blur. Depending on the campaign you’re running, the next phase in the waiting game may happen a few weeks or months later. But at this point, your content should have seen some sort of engagement. You’re ready to think deeper about production and performance KPIs. Is this piece something you can reproduce? Can you do it again but more efficiently?
  • Finally, it’s about dollars and cents. Once your content assets have had a chance to stick and have been fed through the right kinds of distribution channels, it’s time to zoom out. How has this content influenced business results? Did we set the right expectations for this digital campaign?

Marketers must evaluate the whole life cycle of their content to really appreciate the fruits of their labor. Otherwise, you run the risk of focusing on the wrong things at the wrong times. And nobody wants that.


Here’s how you start

Measuring the success of your content is every bit as important as creating the content in the first place. Without goals to aim for, even the best content marketing is ultimately rudderless. There’s data around content performance and competition that allows today’s marketers to always think smarter about what they’re creating and how they’re reflecting business objectives.

Sometimes brands need support wading through the data and making sense of their content marketing ROI. Knowing what you’re looking for can mean everything. As you start thinking about your content strategy, keep your North Star in mind. It’ll help you stay on top in today’s digital world.