01 Aug 2017

How Can You Measure the Successes and Failures of Content?

Vertical Measures’ Founder and CEO, Arnie Kuenn, has been going around the world speaking at digital marketing conferences for years. In the past, he would start his workshops by asking his audience a simple question: “How many of you have heard of, or know what content marketing is?” – Less than 50% of the crowd would comfortably raise their hand.

Fast-forward to today, and it’s a different story. We have more team members traveling around the country to speak, and more of our audience understands the basics of content marketing and the true value of it. We may get a lot of people to raise their hands for that question now, but when we follow it up with, “How many of you believe you’re doing content marketing correctly?” – the hands drop back down.

How-Can-You-Measure-The-Successes-and-Failures-of-Content-Arnie
Photo credit: ContentMarketingConference.com
As quickly as the #digitalmarketing landscape changes, the importance of quality #content has remained consistent. Click To Tweet

It’s clear that although many marketers get the general concepts of content marketing, they’re still trying to figure out how to fine-tune their strategies to generate the biggest ROI for their business. And that isn’t for a lack of effort. You may have spent countless hours fretting over your content, wondering why it didn’t generate the results you were anticipating. Or, you’ve been studying a fruitful piece of content and wishing you could figure out how to duplicate its achievements.

To start tracking the success of content (and guide future efforts) you need a content marketing strategy with specific objectives. By implementing these objectives or goals, you’ll be able to determine what makes great content within your industry. Your team can then make the necessary adjustments along the way to improve an effective formula.

How to Surpass Established Goals with Great Content

Let’s highlight some broad content goals that should be used as a starting point for any business. Successful content should:

  • Improve your brand awareness
  • Attract more traffic to your site
  • Generate new customer leads and/or sales
  • Develop your online reputation
  • Boost Audience Engagement
  • Encourage natural links and optimize search engine ranking
  • Benefit your competitive advantage

Moving forward, when you produce any single content piece, it should accomplish one or more of these goals, and your entire content portfolio should accomplish all of them.

Every #digitalmarketing goal you create should, in some way, lead to your overall business purpose. Click To Tweet

Getting Started: What Metrics Help Measure Your Content?

With any digital marketing strategy, accurately measuring and tracking efforts against targets and goals is essential when proving a return on investment (ROI). When specific goals are set in place, the measurement of different metrics will be easier to track – making your strategy more effective.

To begin, establish baseline-metrics that can be used as a starting point to measure future content against. If you’ve been creating content and implementing SEO best practices for 6 months, can you give an accurate update on the effect of that work? Did the positive effects and increase in leads or revenue outweigh the cost?

Most analytics tools will allow you to view historical data, so you shouldn’t feel the need to download every piece of data available to you right now. Instead, record some general metrics that will reflect larger trends. Here are some examples of those metrics:

  • Average monthly organic traffic
  • Average monthly non-organic traffic (filter by channel)
  • Average number of monthly leads (filter by channel)
  • Total number of keywords ranking in the top 100 positions

After 6 months, you can compare your current numbers to those initial metrics and see what improved and what didn’t. For example, if you noticed that your traffic substantially increased, but leads did not, you may realize that your site isn’t as good as converting users as you had previously thought. That may be a good enough reason to slow down content production and focus on conversion rate optimization (CRO) to take full advantage of your additional traffic.

It's hard to know how much your site has improved when you don't know where you started. Click To Tweet

Using Google Analytics to Measure Content Performance

Although there are many different tools available to measure the value of your content, most website owners utilize Google Analytics to effectively measure their content’s success. This tool offers a huge amount of useful data, but it can be difficult to choose which metrics to track. We’ll cover the basics, and explain why these metrics are important benchmarks to gauge content success.

How to Measure Traffic Volume and Time on Page

Every company wants more traffic to their site, but traffic alone is not a great indicator of content marketing success. If it’s coupled with other metrics, however, it can be particularly insightful.

Every company wants their content (or brand) to show up in the search results. The problem is that they limit the measurable objectives for their content by focusing on traffic alone. Getting a lot of traffic doesn’t mean obtaining leads or loyal customers. Yes, you want users to visit your site, but there is much more to be measured that can improve your digital marketing strategy.

In order to use Traffic Volume as a way to measure content success, be sure to compare pages of similar content, as all website pages are not created equal. For example, the home page of most websites will probably be one of the most visited pages on the site — but this isn’t always due to the content found there; basic SEO and promotional strategies can usually be credited with high traffic to the homepage.

Another metric to consider is the Time on Page. When the average time on a specific page is much higher than your site-wide average, it suggests that the page is grabbing and keeping visitors’ attention more than other pages, indicating that the content is worth analyzing for additional insights.

This can tell you a lot about what type of topics your followers are interested in, or what type of content they might be searching for. That information can be extremely valuable in the future when producing new quality content for your audience. Take this knowledge and use it to create content that will establish your brand as a thought leader in the industry. Build trust and turn that into prospective leads and new customers.

Measuring Referral Traffic to Your Website

So, what’s referral traffic and how is it different from “regular” traffic?

Referral traffic is a bit more specific; this metric shows the visits to your website or content that originally came from an outside source. In other words, if a visitor clicks on a link from Facebook or Twitter and it leads to your website, that is considered a referral traffic or a referred visit.

Measuring referral traffic in Google Analytics can be done by selecting it as a Traffic Source:

How-Can-You-Measure-The-Successes-and-Failures-of-Content-Referral-Traffic
Click to view larger image

With any digital marketing strategy, you should have content promotion and/or amplification in place to get that awesome content in front of your targeted audience.

If it’s valuable, people will share, like, or tweet your content on their own. As you create better content, it gets shared more often and will likely result in more referral traffic.

Referral traffic can be a sign of promotional and distributional effectiveness because it highlights which sites are referring the most traffic and the time of which the traffic was referred. Use this information to drill down on which distribution or social network channels you use to promote the content.

How to Measure Your Content Downloads

A frequent exercise in content marketing is to create downloadable content, such as eBooks, whitepapers, mobile apps, or even PDF’s. A great idea is to keep these downloadable content pieces behind a gated link — meaning visitors must fill out a contact form in to gain access to the desired content.

Gated content is any media that’s placed behind a lead capture form. In other words, a user must provide personal information in order to access the content — typically an email address, phone number, or answer to a low-friction question.

For example, Vertical Measures uses a “gate” or lead capture form in front of several content marketing resources:

What-Is-A-Link-Asset-Resources
Resource examples from Vertical Measures

You’ll notice that the majority of this content is 10x, premium content that provides direct value depending on our audience’s needs. Along with providing a resource for them, gated content allows us to gather qualified leads by asking for more information about our readers – whether that’s an email address, your name, title, company, email phone number, etc.

Other times, visitors may not provide any additional information but still be required to download the content (e.g. large PDF documents, extensive resource pages, or even longer videos).

Gated Content Examples

  • Contests
  • Templates or Tools
  • Checklists
  • eBooks
  • Guides
  • White Papers
  • Webinars
  • Training Videos

Non-Gated Content Examples

  • Articles / Blog Posts
  • Curated Content
  • Infographics
  • Lists
  • Visuals (images, GIFs, memes)
  • Press Releases
  • Testimonials
  • Snippets from 10x Content or Hubs

If you’re not gating the content, but want to track the times the content has been downloaded, you’ll need to set up Event Tracking in Google Analytics. Once event tracking is set up, establish an event goal to track specific downloaded content pieces.

When setting up your event goal in Google Analytics, you must set conditions for the goal and then specify a category, action, label, and value. In the case of measuring downloads, the event will be the act of downloading the content piece.

How-Can-You-Measure-The-Successes-and-Failures-of-Content-Downloads
Click to view larger image

After the event goal is set up, you’ll be able to find the number of people who are downloading your content, without requiring any additional contact information from your visitors. This data can be used in conjunction with other metrics (like page views and time on page) to measure the success of your content.

How to Define Your Content’s Success

At the beginning steps of any digital marketing strategy, it’s vital to have a defined stance on what success looks like for you and your business. Success in digital marketing will always be goal-oriented. As stated earlier, you need to establish clear, measurable objectives and use various analytics to compare production vs. objective.

  • Define what success means for your content and how you will measure it.
  • Establish a timetable for measuring and using web analytics to gather data on the activity on your site.
  • Use analytic data to adapt future content for optimal performance.

Every goal should include measurable milestones so that you can clearly see whether or not you’ve been successful in your content marketing efforts. This allows you to further articulate your goals so that they are clearly established; make them as specific as possible.

If your goal is to increase traffic to the site, you could specifically set the benchmark: “Show a 20% increase in organic traffic to our blog in 12 months.” Or if generating more leads is your goal, a benchmark might be: “Increase conversion rates for downloadable content by 15% in 6 months.”

This precise goal identifies what area of your site you’ll focus on, provides a firm definition of the traffic increase you’re looking to achieve, and it establishes a deadline at which you will measure to determine the content’s success.

Whatever your goals may be – from measuring overall traffic and time-on-page to conversions, referral traffic and more – Google Analytics provides a robust amount of information that can be used to measure content marketing success. And obviously, tracking your conversion goals will be the most important metric as that shows how much of that traffic or downloads lead to a sale.

Measurement gives you the ability to identify strong (and weak) #content, make changes, & measure the effect. Click To Tweet

Through this measurement, you can focus on the kinds of content that have generally worked for you and your competitors. With these analytics, you can adapt your digital marketing strategy toward success and not waste time producing content that doesn’t have a chance.

Wrapping Up: Our Measurement Process

Vertical Measures’ content marketing measurement service can help sort through the robust amount of information in Google Analytics to find the most insightful and useful data that can generate the biggest content marketing ROI. Our team will:

  • Determine business goals: You know your business better than anyone else and we want to tap into that knowledge. We’ll work with you and your team to determine the right metrics and goals that will help your business grow.
  • Establish baseline metrics: To measure improvement, we must know where you’re starting from. By establishing baseline metrics, we can establish key performance indicators (KPIs) that prove the value of your digital marketing efforts.
  • Dashboard setup: Google Analytics is complex, and we don’t want you spending hours in the platform grasping for the story behind your data. That’s why we set up simple, personalized content measurement dashboards with the metrics that matter most to you.
  • Monthly reports: While our content analytics dashboards are providing a high­ level overview of what happened, you also want the actual insights to know why that happened and what you can do to improve and build on your success. These insights come in the form of monthly reports.
Content Marketing Strategy Template

13-Page Strategy Template

Download our content marketing strategy template to use with your team during your next marketing brainstorming session.

Get the Template Now