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 marketing ROI keeps us getting paid, measuring success and acting on the data can take time. By learning how to measure your content performance, 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 marketers, too. Understanding how your published content should perform at different stages of its life cycle allows you to make informed business 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 your business should take advantage of.
So where do you start? First, know where to look.
There’s web analytics.
Understanding how users get to and ultimately work through your website is paramount. What pages are getting people to stick around? What are the demographics of users on certain pages?
To access these insights, you can use Google Analytics because it’s free, or a paid tool like HubSpot, Mixpanel, or Matomo. These platforms give you the information at both the macro and micro-levels, allowing you to recalibrate your content strategy as needed.
There’s social analytics.
Maybe you're already using LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, or even TikTok for marketing. Good. They all come with built-in content analytics tools for brands to keep track of what’s working and what’s not. When is the best time to post? What's driving the most traffic to your website?
Use the data to fine-tune the messaging you share across social media platforms. And if you want some more firepower, explore the options that supplementary social media analytics tools like Later, Hootsuite, and Sprout Social can give you.
There’s SEO analytics.
Great, so you’ve got an editorial calendar and you’re starting to regularly create content for your website. That's half the battle. Are people able to find our content if they’re searching for a topic online? Do search engines like Google even see it?
Level up on search engine optimization with content analytics tools like Ubersuggest, Ahrefs, and Semrush. A modern holistic content strategy takes into account search rankings, keyword trends, and backlinks. These platforms help.
There’s paid analytics.
Whether you’re wading into the kiddie pool with paid media or you’re an Olympic-level diver well-versed in programmatic advertising, it’s important to see where your marketing spend is going. Are we driving leads through these marketing campaigns? 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. For paid social, use propriety analytics tools your social platforms already give you. For programmatic advertising, platforms like StackAdapt separate the signal from the noise so you know how segments and ad creative are stacking up.
Gather competitive intelligence
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 analytics, too.
The great thing about digital content is that data is everywhere. Not just the historical 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.
You can use content analytics software like Ahrefs, Semrush, and SpyFu to explore the search engine rankings of your competitors. See their keyword performance and snoop on their rankings 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 give you the insight to 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.
Simply put, without the insights your analytics provide, you’re keeping your content strategy in the dark. By knowing what to look for, content marketers can set realistic and achievable goals for their efforts.
And then comes the dirty work.
How to set up content analytics
If your team isn’t already measuring content analytics, it might feel daunting to get started. Though it requires a fair bit of leg work to get everything up and running, the actionable insights you'll gain are game-changers. Here’s what you need to know to get started.
Avoid vanity metrics, but celebrate the wins.
While it may be exciting to see the uptick in LinkedIn followers after you posted that snazzy data visualization, you may want to keep the champagne on ice until you've seen the rest of the metrics. Are people engaging with the actual content? Are people curious enough to click through to your website?
Encourage your team by celebrating the wins—but especially the wins that matter. Whether it's audience growth or deeper engagement, know what really matters to your business.
Leading and lagging indicators matter... to an extent.
Lagging indicators measure outputs. These could include "number of deals won" or "revenue generated in Q2." They're often synonymous with business goals and are difficult to influence because actions have already taken place to net those results.
On the other hand, leading indicators signal future events. These could include "number of leads created" or "win rate." They're often considered the marketing levers you can pull to drive impact business results.
If you’re too focused on lagging metrics, you may miss leading indicators and early stage insights. Like alternate high-value keywords used to find your content or the abnormally-longer-than-average time-on-page—two influencing factors that can inform how you optimize or plan a new piece of content.
On the flip side, if you’re reading too much into leading indicators, you run the risk of over-optimizing and not tracking content performance appropriately.
Not all KPIs are created equal.
As long as the key performance indicators you choose to track help you show clear progress or room for optimization, that’s what matters. Tracking relevant KPIs will not only give you a clear picture of your success at the end of the quarter or year, but it'll also help avoid getting bogged down in overly granular data details that don’t really tell the story of your success.
Set up (the right) measurement and reporting tools.
You could go out and spend a good chunk of your budget on an analytics dashboard that has all the bells, whistles, and granular user behavior data you could ever want, but it might be more than your team really needs. Instead, find solutions that can aggregate data and translate it into compelling, easy-to-read dashboards.
We get it. Ferraris are fun. Flashy content analytics software may be fun, but they could make finding the right data for your business more complicated than it needs to be.
Get with the (marketing automation) program.
A solid marketing automation program helps:
- Keep campaigns running smoothly
- Make lead nurturing more sophisticated
- Keep your to-do list a little clearer
- Give you another layer of rich data and insights about the performance of your content
And that's only a fraction of the benefits. When your marketing automations are live, you're giving your content the power to do more.
Send the content in a newsletter? Check.
Share it with different segments so they're uniquely compelled to click and read? Check.
Marketing automation platforms like HubSpot and Marketo help you drill down into the content and channels driving leads, conversions, and a host of other marketing stuff you'll want to know. You can use this information to implement timely optimizations and inform future content strategies.
Create a content calendar for the whole funnel.
Forget apples. It's really three square meals a day that keeps the doctor away. Your content program will feel undernourished if you aren't planning for all stages of your marketing and sales funnels.
If you only have content for the acquisition phase, new audience members may feel like you’re shouting at them to “just freaking convert already!” A content calendar solely composed of top-of-funnel pieces doesn’t give you much fodder for acquisition and nurture campaigns, making lead generation especially difficult. Give your audience a balanced diet of Funnel-O’s with content that can effectively carry them downstream.
Focus on what matters
Not all content analytics are created equal. 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 KPIs.
First, there’s content 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 and resources spent on the things that don’t matter. In other words, you look at the yield to improve the yield.
Some examples of content production KPIs include:
- Content by type. The number of webinars, blog posts, and other assets being created.
- Content by category. The number of assets related to important themes or categories in your industry.
- Content by persona. The number of assets that target each of your unique buyer personas.
- Author output. The 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 of how valuable your audience believes your content is.
Some examples of engagement KPIs include:
- Social shares. How often your audience shares 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, content performance metrics help you 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 performance, 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 importantly, anchor to the specific content analytics that matter most. And then get into the habit of tracking and reporting on these KPIs.
Content marketing ROI is the least of your problems
Here’s something you won’t hear every day: Stop thinking about ROI. We know it sounds blasphemous, but hear us out.
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 companies 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 and increase revenue? 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.
And for any additional superpowers, learn about fractional content marketing.