10 Content Marketing Metrics, and the Sophisticated Marketers Who Swear by Them

April 4, 2016

Likes. Shares. Smiley-face emoji.

It’s great when our content earns any of these accolades. But as sophisticated content marketers, we know that good vibes don’t pay the bills. We need to analyze metrics across the upper and lower funnel to gain a holistic understanding of how content leads to a conversion.

We know content marketing works. With the right data, we can prove it. Read on for 10 content marketing metrics that can help you demonstrate the value of your work, and give you the vital intel you need to keep improving.

Upper Funnel Metrics

1. Traffic by Channel

Increased traffic to your website is one of the most basic ways to measure the impact of your content. But for next-level analysis, overall traffic statistics are less useful than traffic segregated by channel. In other words, knowing you have traffic is good, but knowing where it comes from is better.

The Marketer: Andy Crestodina, Co-Founder & Strategic Director, Orbit Media Studios

Andy Says: “[I recommend] Total traffic, but a layer deeper: traffic from each channel. It’s there you can look at the three main channels: search, social, and e-mail.

The best metric for search is total visitors coming from organic. But you also need to be looking at the total number of non-branded key phrases Google is sending your highest value traffic.

For social, look at metrics like follower growth and total shares to understand if people are really engaged with your brand. Vanity metrics often have a bad reputation, but if you’re watching social traffic you’ll want to understand the quality of traffic and follower growth specific to each network.

For e-mail, you’ll need to understand your rate of subscriber growth and how consistently you’re getting traction from that: activity like open rates.”

2. Bounce Rate

Though there are differing definitions of what constitutes a bounce, at a basic level it means someone visits your web site and leaves with minimal interaction. A high bounce rate could mean your content isn’t connecting with your audience.

The Marketer: Michael Peggs, Founder, Marccx Media

Michael Says: “Having an unnaturally high bounce rate is going to make it that much harder to convert your audience, which will then cause a reduction in customer retention. Use your bounce rate metrics to find the flaws in your website. Figure out how to improve engagement in these weaker areas. Keep in mind, the longer someone spends on your site, the more likely they are to be converted.”

3. Average Session Duration

How compelling is your content after the headline? Average session duration can show whether people who start reading a post become invested in finishing it. Since your expertly-crafted CTA is waiting at the end, it’s good to know how long people are willing to spend with your content.

The Marketer: Alex Boyer, Community Manager & Content Ninja, Duct Tape Marketing

Alex Says: “The best way to tell if your readers are looking at your posts and reading them is by analyzing Average Session Duration. Avg. Session Duration is a metric describing how long an average person spends on your site during a single session. This value should increase with better content as more people spend more time reading a whole post and hopefully moving to another.”

4. Natural Inbound Links

Linkbuilding (when done ethically) is a solid part of SEO strategy. The links that you earn rather than build, however, are a good indicator of how valuable your community feels your content is.

The Marketer: Bill Faeth, CEO, Inbound Marketing Agents

Bill Says: Build inbound links the right way, which is writing smart content full of great data and ideas. The Google algorithm is a well-kept secret, but quality inbound links probably matter about 70% more than on-page SEO strategy.”

5. Thought Leadership

You won’t find a “thought leadership” chart in Google Analytics. It’s not something that can be measured on a single variable, but your brand’s reputation as a thought leader is critical to the success of your content.

The Marketer: Brian Honigman, CEO, Content Marketing and Social Media Consultant, Honigman Media

Brian Says: “Take a step back and monitor whether press mentions of your content and business increases overtime, if other thought leaders reference your content, if the media is requesting your input on certain subjects, other experts wish to contribute to your content or if requests for your leadership to speak an industry events are increasing overtime. This is a strong metric to consider because it is often difficult to quantify, but certainly defines the success or failure of your content marketing strategy.”

Lower Funnel Metrics

6. Return Readers

Perched right in the middle of the funnel, straddling upper and lower, are the people who see your content, stick around to read it, and come back for more. These visitors can become subscribers (more on that in the next point) with the right kind of nurturing.

The Marketer: Celine Roque, Blogger & Contributor, Contently

Celine Says: “Getting your target readers to check out your content once isn’t enough; that’s a one night stand, not a relationship. The long-term strategy is to keep them coming back and turn engaged readers into loyal readers. This is where the “returning readers” metric comes in. How many of your readers come back? More importantly, how do they behave differently from your single-visit readers? Unlike visitors or pageviews, which often reflect a disproportionate amount of new visitors, looking at the amount of returning readers and their behavior can help you focus on how to acquire and retain them. This retention is crucial.”

7. Subscribers over Time

Converting return readers into subscribers is a vital part of a strategic content marketing plan. Subscribers have opted in to your content, giving you express permission to continue to engage.

The Marketer: Joe Pulizzi, Founder, Content Marketing Institute

Joe Says: “As with a subscription to Netflix or (in days past) a newspaper, your goal is to deliver such amazing value through content that your audience is willing to give some piece of personal information up as a value exchange (email address, home address, etc.). The only difference in your situation from the Netflix example is that you are giving your content away for free, so you can monetize that relationship at a later point.”

8. Lead Generation

Now we’re deep into the lower funnel, where readers become leads, and leads become customers. Your content marketing strategy has been leading up to this conversion, so of course it makes sense to understand exactly how your content contributes to lead gen.

The Marketer: Jay Baer, President & Social Media and Content Marketing Strategist, Convince & Convert

Jay Says: “[Lead Generation] is where we start determining whether the content marketing effort is making financial sense. If you have an online lead form on your site, you can measure this by determining how many people went to the lead form immediately after consuming your content. You can also set a browser cookie and track when someone fills out that lead form after viewing your content, even if there is a 30 or 60-day interval between those events. If your leads are handled via phone, you can install a simple script that shows a different (trackable) phone number when people have first watched a video, downloaded a presentation, etc.”

9. Marketing Influenced Funnel

Most marketers keep close track of the marketing sourced funnel, and for good reason: It directly demonstrates your campaigns’ effectiveness. The marketing influenced funnel, however, is just as strong an indicator of sales enablement, and is one that marketers frequently overlook.

The Marketer: Nick Panayi, Head of Digital Marketing & Global Brand, CSC

Nick Says: “[A] critical metric to track is the marketing influenced funnel. There are companies the sales team are already engaged with but there are always individuals from those companies engaging with your marketing campaigns.

Even though you can’t claim marketing as the source of the lead in those cases, it’s important to track what individuals within that account you’ve influenced, and through which campaigns. The marketing influenced pipeline is important for not only credibility to sales but also because it identifies what marketing activities complement sales engagement.”

10. Sales Conversions

Ultimately, the goal of content marketing is to compel sales conversions and drive revenue. So it’s important to correctly attribute the role of our content in the sales process. Proper tracking of lead capture to conversion can help you prove ROI and determine which types of content are most effective.

The Marketer: Arnie Kuenn, CEO, Vertical Measures  

Arnie Says: “Review close rates. I don’t just mean conversion rates on your site, but actual sales-close rates as reported in your CRM system. Sales conversion rates are an excellent tool for proving content marketing ROI, affirming whether or not your prospects are turning into paying customers…Ensure your system can track what path a visitor took to fill out a lead form, and transfer that data to your CRM system or sales software. Over time, this should help you to see what type of content consumption is important to that final sale. ”

To learn more about choosing the right metrics for smarter marketing, download The Sophisticated Marketer’s Crash Course in Metrics & Analytics.

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