– 10 min read
The content marketing metrics that matter — according to experts
Imagine you work for your city’s parks and recreation department as a gardener. You get the green light to spruce up a neglected public space, so you spend a week planting flowers, herbs, and veggies. Everything is beautiful and thriving — until you walk by a few months later and see an excavator digging up the last of the cucumbers and snapdragons to make way for a parking garage.
That’s kind of what being a siloed content marketer can feel like. When content teams are disconnected from the rest of the business, it’s tough to know whether your work is useful or useless in the eyes of leadership. The key is to show the value of your work. To do that, you must measure what matters.
Here, we’ll share advice from a number of content experts so you know which metrics to pay attention to and which to ignore. Getting clear on this reporting will free you up to focus on empowering your team to create truly valuable content — and it might even help you increase your budget.
Start with pageviews
“Pageviews aren’t a vanity metric,” says Mark Rogers, director of strategy at Animalz. “Looking at pageviews is important because they set the foundation for everything that happens next.”
Ryan Law, VP of content at Animalz, agrees that traffic, which you can measure with pageviews, is a must-track. “We can’t escape the fact that more traffic means more people finding and interacting with you,” explains Ryan. More traffic creates the possibility for more sales and revenue.
“Pageviews aren’t a vanity metric.”
Start by tracking the number of pageviews, and compare different pages to see which pieces of content are the most popular. In your analysis, Ryan recommends looking for month-over-month growth — for a small blog, try to beat 6% monthly growth — and examine outliers. Look at what content performed exceptionally well or fell flat. Outliers indicate what to avoid and what to do more of.
Of course, pageviews don’t tell you much about audience engagement. So, monitor pageviews, but think about what happens after that. Do most people leave your website? Do they sign up for a free trial? Think about your goals. For example, if it’s lead generation, you might start with pageviews and then analyze newsletter signups.
Brand awareness metrics
First, find out if brand awareness is actually your goal. Your executive team might say they want to “increase brand awareness” when what they really care about is increasing sales. Figure that out before you get to work.
Andrew Butler, content marketing specialist at Parse.ly, lists three KPIs for brand awareness:
- Website traffic
- Social visibility
If you’re trying to boost brand awareness, it makes sense that your expected outcome would be lots of pageviews. “In that case, your metrics might be pageviews, pageview by source, and social engagement,” says Mark.
Increasing pageviews suggests more people are discovering your brand. Looking at pageviews by source gives you more information — you discover where the traffic is coming from. Then you can start optimizing successful channels. For example, if a lot of your traffic comes from Twitter, you know that’s somewhere your target audience hangs out.
Links to your content on another site mean someone found your content useful or interesting enough to share it. Backlinks are great for boosting brand awareness because, as Ryan points out, “every share introduces your company to a new audience.”
Convictional‘s content lead, Nikhil Venkatesa, agrees that the number of organic backlinks you generate is a great factor to measure: “It takes time, but high-quality content can earn backlinks naturally — especially with strong distribution.”
To calculate your social media engagement rate, use this formula from Keyhole:
A high-followers-to-low-engagement ratio isn’t good. It suggests your content is low quality or your followers aren’t in your target audience.
It seems counterintuitive, but a low number of followers is fine — as long as your engagement rate is high. Think about what you can create that’ll spark conversations with your target audience. Then measure your success by tracking your engagement rate.
Lead generation metrics
To directly measure how content leads to income, track conversion rates or revenue generated (do this by looking at annual or monthly recurring revenue). According to a Databox study, this is the most popular metric to watch.
You’ll also want to track things that show someone is on the path to making a purchase. This is also a way to identify any resistance points in the customer journey. Track the next page they view on your site — for example, clicks from your content page to your pricing page.
“Content marketing should act as a sieve.”
Matthew Speiser, content marketing manager at AngelList, sets up goals in Google Tag Manager “that count when a high-value action is taken.” Doing this helps connect your content to your business goals.
Another metric to look at is Lead Qualification Rate, the number of people interested in your content who end up becoming a sales prospect. “Content marketing should act as a sieve,” says Nichole Elizabeth DeMeré, a B2B SaaS consultant.
Aim to nurture qualified leads by creating content that’s useful and interesting to your target audience. The right kind of content will naturally “turn off” people your products aren’t designed for. That’ll increase your Qualification Rate.
Brand trust metrics
We asked the experts if it’s possible to measure brand trust. The consensus view: you can estimate it.
If people spend time looking at your content, engaging with it, and coming back to it, that could mean they trust you. But take these signs with a pinch of salt.
Mark Rogers recommends looking at this question from the opposite direction: how would someone behave if they didn’t trust you? They might leave your site and never come back.
To that end, it’s useful to track when people are doing something more than just reading a post. We can use some basic psychology to guess what this means:
- Pages per session, time on page, and scroll tracking: they’re spending time exploring your content
- Repeat visitors: they’re coming back for more
- Form fills or signups: they’re trusting you with their information
- Social media engagement and backlinks: they’re telling people about you
Social media metrics are also a way of assessing the impact of word-of-mouth. Referrals are important for spreading brand awareness by using the trust of existing customers, so it’s useful to measure this.
Add qualitative detail to your data by getting direct feedback. Use on-page feedback pop-ups that ask questions like “Was this article useful?” Edd Wilson, head of SEO strategy at Impression, says for sites that have a big library of content, “gathering user feedback is a must.”
You could also conduct a brand survey. Ask people how they feel about your content and which pieces they remember.
Common questions guided by irrelevant metrics
Metrics that don’t tell you something about how your content is influencing your business goals are a distraction. Ignore ‘em.
“Your goal shouldn’t be to track as much data as possible, but home in on the few key pieces of data that correlate to how content is driving outcomes,” says Matthew Speiser.
But the problem is that even if you already know the important metrics for your goals, you might still get asked to report on things that don’t matter. Here are some off-target questions execs might ask — and how to respond.
Why aren’t we ranking number one for this keyword?
Don’t look at keyword ranking as an end in itself; it’s only relevant if it links to your goal. Say it with me: SEO is a tool, not a goal.
Many companies waste time because they focus on volume rather than strategy. Mark says what you should do instead is “have a clear understanding of your goal, and make sure it ties back to your business.”
- Example goal 1: Become an authority on a topic that links to your core product
- Your tool: Ranking for certain keywords
Here, SEO matters.
- Example goal 2: Increase qualified lead generations to get more conversions
- Your tool: Drive more newsletter signups
In this case, your keyword ranking is irrelevant.
Every product should have a go-to-market strategy. Your content is an essential part of that strategy. When Eight Sleep launched a new “smart” mattress, their goal was to get customers interested enough in the new mattress to buy it. They created content centered around use cases. They highlighted, for example, that customers could use the mattress to start their coffee machines in the morning. Their content got customers excited and engaged on social media, which led to a successful launch.
It’s better to publish less frequently, but with content that’s more thoughtful and has a clear objective. AngelList spent six months launching their Venture Education Center — and they spent four months of that time strategizing. Now it’s responsible for a third of all search impressions for their site.
If you’re struggling with your content, think about narrowing your focus.
Shouldn’t our Domain Rating be higher?
Having a high Domain Rating or Domain Authority doesn’t mean your content will rank highly. Working on developing topical authority is more important.
Moz and Ahrefs created Domain Authority and Domain Rating. They can estimate how Google ranks content, but they’re not an accurate predictor of how content will perform in search.
With the right strategic approach, it’s possible to rank highly without good domain rating or authority. To compete, you’ll have to produce really useful, high-quality content. If you can create something that’s much better than the existing content for that topic, you’ll be able to rank even if your domain rating is low.
Website “authority” metrics assume it’s not possible for new sites to rank highly. Nikhil explains a way around this is to create “opinionated, in-depth, story-driven writing.” Convictional — a relatively new brand — got their net 30 terms piece to rank on page one for several tough keywords with this approach.
Can’t we increase clicks?
Sure. But if you’re trying to entice people to buy from you, clicks are less useful than conversations.
It’s relatively easy to increase clicks, and you could employ many hacks to do this. The thing is, clickbait won’t impact your business goals. “Going viral doesn’t matter. Reaching your audience matters,” says Henneke Duistermaat, founder of Enchanting Marketing.
What’s more, chasing clicks stops you from creating content that engages your target audience. “Content is about a lot more than bringing people in — it’s about keeping them there,” says Emma Williams, digital marketing manager at Edge of the Web.
Here’s a more valuable metric: look at where people take action to engage with you. You want to know if they’re commenting on your posts or signing up for your newsletter. Henneke advises focusing on the quality of your traffic: “Get people on your email list. And engage in real conversations.”
Your content data tells a story — use it
If you’re involved in content production, you know you have to report to bosses and stakeholders to justify your paycheck. For most creative folks, this is a painfully boring part of the job.
Something that might make reporting less painful: think of it as telling a story — and ideally that story leaves your audience wanting more. Using the metrics we’ve outlined here will make it easier for you to show how your content is impacting business goals. Then you can use your reporting as an education process. Teach the person you’re reporting to about the metrics you’ve chosen to focus on and why. That’ll create a positive feedback loop. They’ll see the benefit of what you do and support you in delivering even more great content.