The effectiveness of your content marketing campaign depends on hundreds of factors—your audience, your tone, your level of detail, your competition, your promotion methods—the list goes on. So how can you tell if you’re doing the right things? How do you know you’re measuring the right metrics when you measure your content marketing? And if you’re doing the wrong things, how can you tell what you’re doing wrong, and how to fix it?
Use these 50 metrics to measure the success of your campaign:
1. Organic search traffic.
First, we have organic search traffic. As you can see in the below illustration, there are actually four main segments of traffic we’re going to be looking at, and each one of them is significant to your content campaign in some way. You can find this data in Google Analytics under the Acquisition tab (I’ll be drawing on Google Analytics often throughout this article).
As you may know, content plays a heavy role in how your site ranks in search engines; producing more valuable content will help boost your domain authority, which is a measure of how likely your site is to rank highly in search engines, and producing targeted content helps you rank for specific keywords.
The combination of these effects will lead you to higher organic search traffic, which is a measure of the number of people who found your site through search. If your content is successful in boosting your search rankings, this number should rise over time.
2. Referral traffic.
The next segment of traffic to focus on is referral traffic, which is mainly used for your off-site content efforts. In your guest posting and off-site content efforts, you’ll be publishing content on various outside sources. In the body of your posts or in your author bio, you’ll have links pointing to your site.
Referral traffic is a measure of the number of people who clicked on these links, and the breakdown here can tell you exactly which traffic came from which sources. You can use it to partially evaluate the strength of your off-site content efforts.
3. Social traffic.
The third segment to look at is social traffic. You can use this as a way to gauge two portions of your content marketing campaign; first, you can directly evaluate how effective your in-platform content is. For example, if you don’t see much overall traffic, it could be an indication that you aren’t posting enough, or that the posts you are making are unappealing.
Second, you can determine how effective your syndicated content is at attracting traffic to your site. If it’s poor, it means you need to pick better topics or write more attention-grabbing headlines.
4. Direct traffic.
Direct traffic is comprised of several different potential sources (excerpt below is from AudienceBloom.com):
- Typing in your website address in the URL bar
- Clicking a link from an email
- Clicking a link from a chat software
- Clicking a link from a shortened URL (such as bit.ly)
- Clicking a link from a mobile social media app such as Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn (phone apps usually don’t pass referrer information).
- Clicking a link from a secure site (https) that leads to a non-secure site (http). Watch out for this, because some major publications, such as Entrepreneur.com, use https. So, if your site isn’t secure (http), then any referral traffic you get from it will actually show up in the “direct traffic” bucket in Google Analytics.
- Organic search (some of it, anyway). A study by Groupon found that up to 60% of traffic being reported as “direct” was actually organic search traffic. It’s not yet known why some organic search traffic is dumped into the wrong bucket, but it’s worth knowing about.
Direct traffic isn’t as directly related to your content efforts as the other three segments of traffic are. However, it can be a good indicator of your brand awareness over time. Don’t expect this one to grow as quickly or as steadily as your other segments.
5. New visitors.
For almost any traffic-based report in Google Analytics, you can filter or segment visitors based on whether they’re new or returning. As you’ll see, both are important to understand what role your content plays in attracting and retaining interested visitors on your site. New visitors are a good measure for things like social traffic and referral traffic, where you’re trying to gain exposure in new circles. If you aren’t seeing your “new” visitors rise, it could mean you aren’t doing enough outreach to tap into new audiences.
6. Returning visitors.
Returning visitors are also useful. You should see increases in returning visitors in all areas, but they are especially important when it comes to direct traffic—it often means these people are interested enough in your brand to visit you without being prompted, which in turn means your content made a significant impression on them. You should also look for returning visitors in specific segments of your referral audience, such as email-based referrals, where returns are an indication of persistent interest.
7. Behavior flow.
The behavior flow chart in Google Analytics is one of my favorite tools for understanding traffic patterns, and though it appears a bit confusing at first, it’s relatively easy to understand. Found under the Behavior tab, the behavior flow is a visualization of the average user’s path throughout your site. On the far left side of the chart, you’ll see a list of “entry” pages, where your users are most likely to enter your site.
Oftentimes, this is a home page or a strong blog post. Then, you’ll see which pages users tend to click on next and how many users drop off. The chart continues for several click-throughs, helping you understand where users navigate throughout your site. It can help you identify how effective you are at keeping users on-site, and what drop off points can be corrected to improve user retention.
8. User demographics.
In the Audience -> Demographics section, you’ll have the opportunity to get a glimpse of your users’ ages, genders, ages, and other information. This information can help you understand how effective you are at targeting your preferred audience. If you see strange demographics here, you may want to reevaluate how appropriate your content is for your target audience.
9. User location.
You’ll also want to take a look at the geographic locations of your users. Do they tend to be concentrated in one spot? If so, it could be an indication that your campaign is leaning in one direction, such as by favoring one publisher or syndication channel too heavily. On the other hand, if you find you’re especially popular with one geographic segment, you can adjust your strategy to further target that segment.
10. Search rankings (by keyword).
I’ve already talked about how to use organic traffic to get a ballpark idea of how effective your content is in helping you procure higher search rankings, but it’s also valuable to go straight to the source and measure your search rankings directly.
Hopefully, you have at least a handful of keywords you’re targeting in your campaign (if not, see this guide on keyword research). Though Google won’t provide you this information directly, there are dozens of tools online (like SERPs, AgencyAnalytics, and AuthorityLabs) that can help you find and track your search rankings over time. Obviously, the goal here is to check your progress and make adjustments based on how quickly or slowly you’re rising.
(Image source: AuthorityLabs)
11. Domain authority.
While we’re on the topic of search engine optimization (SEO), let’s talk about domain authority (DA). Domain authority is a measure of the quantity and quality of inbound links your site has, and it correlates closely with search engine rankings. Check your domain authority regularly to see if your content is doing its job of earning you inbound links to boost your DA score—if it isn’t, your content may not be high-quality enough to attract inbound links. You can check your domain authority and page authority (which I’ll cover next) using Open Site Explorer.
(Image source: Open Site Explorer)
12. Page authority.
Page authority functions mostly the same way domain authority does, except on an individual page level rather than applying to the entire website. Individual pages can have a higher or lower authority than your domain based on their inbound links and your internal navigation structure. Therefore, if you have one standout blog post you’re trying actively to promote, or a page of evergreen content that’s especially high quality, you can use page authority to check and see how it’s likely to perform from a search engine ranking perspective.
13. Spam score.
Your spam score is a metric invented by the search experts at Moz to help you gauge your risk of earning a penalty. Pragmatically, it functions as the opposite of domain authority. While DA helps you understand the relative trustworthiness of your site and content, your spam score can tell you whether your content is putting you at risk of a penalty. For example, if you notice your spam score rising, you can run an audit to see if any duplicate content, poorly written content, or thin content is causing an issue for you, and take proactive action to protect yourself.
14. Links earned (per piece).
One of the most important roles content plays in bringing traffic to your site is earning inbound links from other websites. The more links you earn, and the better those links are, the higher your DA will rise, and the higher your website will rank for search terms related to your brand. Moz’s Open Site Explorer is a fantastic, free tool for evaluating your link profile, which you can refer to for this and the next few metrics. Here, your goal will be to evaluate the number of links you’ve earned per piece, as a measure of how effective your individual pieces are at earning links. When you find a top performer, you can work to replicate that success in future pieces.
(Image Source: Open Site Explorer)
15. Links built (manually).
You’ll also want to take a gander at the number of links you’ve built manually, such as through guest posts. As I mentioned, your off-site content strategy plays a pivotal role in the overall value of your content marketing campaign, but it’s about more than just referral traffic.
Any links you embed in your content will pass authority to your site, so see how many links you’ve been able to build and how authoritative those links are. This is your chance to gauge the pace of your off-site growth efforts. Keep track of each link you manually build in your outreach efforts, perhaps in a spreadsheet, so you can gauge the list’s growth over time.
16. Total inbound links.
Next, you’ll want to measure your total number of inbound links, and compare the number of links you’ve earned against the number of links you’ve built. To see the links that point to your site, you can use Moz’s Open Site Explorer, Ahrefs, Majestic, or Google Search Console.
Is there one side of the equation you’re struggling with? If so, you may need to spend more effort optimizing that portion of your content marketing strategy. Have you seen explosive growth in one area? If so, what can you learn from that? What type of content is responsible for that surge, and can you take those principles and apply them elsewhere in your strategy?
17. Link profile breakdown.
Remember that not all links are good and that the sheer quantity of links pointing to your site isn’t what’s responsible for calculating your domain authority. If you have links built on questionable sources, or if you built them with poorly-written content or spammy anchor text, they could make you vulnerable to a Google penalty.
Take the time to look closely at all the links you’ve built, scanning for any weak points you can eliminate to increase the average quality of your links. If you notice any questionable links, make a request to their respective webmasters that those links be removed.
18. Page popularity.
If you have a ton of blog posts, how can you tell which ones were most effective at bringing traffic in? Take a look at the user behavior report in Google Analytics (Behavior/Site Content/All Pages), to see exactly which pages of your site are most popular in terms of traffic.
You can even break this down by traffic source to see how visitors arrive at each of your blog posts. To do this, take a look at the user behavior report in Google Analytics (Behavior/Site Content/All Pages), then click the URL of the page you want to learn more about. Next, click the “Source” option next to “Primary Dimension.”
You’ll likely find that a couple of your blog posts stand out more than the rest—what qualities did these have that made them such standout rock stars? And what about the blog posts at the bottom of the popularity list? What made them so ineffective?
19. Bounce rate.
The bounce rate, which is displayed in Behavior/Site Content/All Pages, is the percentage of people who leave a page after visiting it as the first page in their session. For example, if 100 people visit one of your blog posts (from any source) and 30 of them leave your site after seeing that page while 70 of them venture onto other pages on your site, you’ll have a 30 percent bounce rate. It’s generally a good practice to keep your bounce rate as low as possible because that means users are staying on your site longer, but a high bounce rate doesn’t necessarily mean your content isn’t high-quality. You can also look at this metric for individual posts, to see if some are better at keeping users around than others.
20. Exit rate.
The exit rate, which is also displayed in Behavior/Site Content/All Pages, is the percentage of all people who end their session by leaving a particular page. But wait, isn’t that the same thing as a bounce rate? Not exactly—as Google explains, exit rates refer to users of all sessions, while bounce rates are specific to users who only viewed that page in their session.
Simply put, if a user visits two or more pages of your website, then they will not count toward any bounce rate. If a user visits only one page of your site before leaving it, they count as a bounce. Still, exit rates serve a similar purpose; you can use them to gauge how effective your content is at keeping users around, except this time, you’ll have a broader perspective.
21. Time spent on page.
For almost any traffic-related report, you’ll see “average time spent on page” listed. This, as the name implies, indicates how long a person spent on a given page of your site, and it’s incredibly useful in indirectly measuring your audience’s engagement with your content.
You can look at each individual blog post you’ve published and compare their time spent on page metrics—which ones seem to keep users around the longest? Are there any that seem to bore or disinterest your readers?
22. Session duration.
Along similar lines, take a look at the average session duration for your blog readers. Are your users sticking around for multiple pages? Are they spending more than a few minutes on your site? If most people seem to bail in the first five minutes, your content doesn’t do enough job of keeping your users interested, or “hooking” them on your brand.
23. Social followers (for each social media platform).
Social media followers are what some marketers call “vanity metrics.” As the terminology implies, vanity metrics are measurements that seem attractive on the surface, but don’t tell you much about what’s really going on. For example, you might grow from 1,000 followers to 2,000 followers, but if none of those new thousand followers are interested in your brand or engaging with your content, they aren’t worth much.
The new number is attractive, but it doesn’t correspond to value. Keep this in mind when measuring your social followers; however, seeing a steady increase in your number of followers is a sure sign that you’re moving in the right direction. Take the pulse here, but don’t get sucked in.
Again, the “likes” on each of your posts can be a deceptive metric. On the surface, it seems like a valuable marker; after all, a person wouldn’t like a post unless they were somehow affected by it. A post that generates 100 likes is probably more effective than one that generates 20 likes.
Still, this doesn’t tell you how many people actually read your post, or what they did after reading it. Likes are a valuable metric to help you understand how it affects your social media audiences for different platforms, but don’t let it be the defining factor for whether or not your content can be considered “successful.”
If you aren’t getting many likes, consider your headlines, how your topics appeal to your demographics, and how original your material is.
25. Shares (from the blog).
There are two different types of “shares” in the realm of content marketing. The first is a more direct type of share, defining how many users shared a blog post from your blog to social media channels.
Though debated, there’s some evidence to suggest that this type of social sharing counts as a “social signal” that could factor into how that page ranks in Google search results, making this type of social share even more valuable than just an indication that your blog was appealing enough for your demographics to share. (Just make sure you have share buttons for all your posts first). I use and recommend Social Warfare.
26. Shares (on social media channels).
The second type of social share is a measure of how many people viewed your article on social media and shared it further to their respective audience. This type of share is easier to do, since it only takes one click and can be executed by anyone who comes across it in a newsfeed.
In fact, this is the type of sharing that enables content to go viral due to its simplicity and rapid scalability. Take a look at how fast and how far your content travels once it gets to your social media profiles; it can help you gauge your content’s overall appeal.
27. Social reach.
Next, you can take a look at your overall reach on social media to see which platforms give you the greatest visibility for your content. There are a few ways to look at this, with the most effective being a platform-specific breakdown under the Acquisition tab of Google Analytics (Acquisition/All Traffic/Channels/Social). The key here is to compare each platform against each other and determine what the best use of your social media time and budget is.
28. Comments (on blog).
Comments are a fantastic indication of your content’s ability to move an audience. You might attract agreements, disagreements, additions, anecdotes, or simple compliments—but whatever you attract, you’ve done it because your content was strong enough to evoke thought and feeling.
On the surface, you can use comments to help steer the direction of your campaign, reading the thoughts and feelings of your audience. But on a meta level, you can use the number of comments each of your articles attracts to roughly gauge which ones are worthiest of interaction. This isn’t the best or only way to gauge overall quality, but it comes close.
29. Comments (on social).
Blog comments are important, but don’t forget that you can also attract and evaluate comments that are made on social media platforms. Generally, you’ll see more comments here than on your blog, and you’ll get them from a wider range of users, so pay close attention and evaluate your individual articles’ engagement accordingly.
30. Actions taken.
Some of your content should be interactive, especially as competition increases for traditional, cut-and-dry types of content. Interactivity draws readers in, forcing them to get better acquainted with your brand and giving them a more memorable experience—but only if the interactivity actually works.
You’ll need to measure whether your interactive components actually work. For example, measuring how often someone completes one of your online quizzes or makes use of that calculator you embedded in a recent post.
31. Money spent on content.
The effectiveness of a content campaign isn’t all about how much traffic or revenue you’re driving with it, though I wouldn’t fault you for thinking that. Most people forget that it’s also important to remember how much you’re spending on a campaign in the first place.
Are you contracting with an agency? Hiring contractors? Paying for full-time employees and subscription services like analytics software? Keep a running total of how much you’re actually paying—it will come in handy when we calculate ROI at the end of this article.
32. Time spent on content.
Money isn’t the only thing you’re spending on content. You’re also spending time—from both you and your employees. How much time does it take you to strategize every week? How much time do you spend per post? Even an effective post can be a downside for your content campaign if it takes you too much time to complete and publish it. This is a good time to check your efficiency as a team.
33. Landing page views.
Chances are, you have at least one landing page as part of your content strategy—you’re either driving traffic there from some of your content posts, or you’re using the landing page to promote your content.
Either way, it’s important to see how many views you’re getting, and from where. These are sometimes hosted separately from your main domain, so don’t neglect it when checking traffic.
Impressions can be measured in a number of contexts. For example, you can gauge approximately how many impressions you’re getting from your keyword rankings in search engines using keyword data. Most social media platforms will show you how many users you “reached” with a post.
You can even gauge how many impressions you’ve gotten on some external publishers. These are a good measure of how much initial reach your posts have gotten, but there’s another crucial ingredient to this equation.
35. Click-through rates.
Impressions are nice, but they’re best viewed in the context of your click-through rates. For example, if you have a high number of impressions but a low number of click-throughs, it means your content is suitably visible, but your headlines and copy aren’t compelling enough to encourage users to actually visit your site.
On the other hand, if you have a high click-through rate, but a low or dropping number of impressions, it may be time to readdress your visibility strategy with that particular channel.
36. Content performance over time.
Your new piece of content got 200 shares on Facebook during its first week of publication. But how is it faring now that a month has passed? The bulk of your content strategy should revolve around “evergreen” content, which isn’t specific to any season, event, or time of year.
In these cases, you should be able to earn residual traffic and engagement. You’ll always see a drop after initial publication, but how big is that drop? What can you do to earn more ongoing attention for your older posts? It’s a good way to maximize the value for each of your articles.
37. Email open rates.
Email is probably a component of your content marketing strategy. If it isn’t, it should be, considering it’s practically free and can greatly increase the visibility and engagement rates of your content. However, emails are only effective if they’re being opened, so monitor the open rates of your email effectively.
If you’re not seeing good open rates, it means you need better subject lines or offers for your customers. A platform like MailChimp gives you these metrics, as well as some of the other email-related metrics to come.
38. Email click-through rates.
If people are opening your emails, but aren’t clicking through, it means the content within those emails isn’t engaging enough to warrant a click. If you’re using emails as newsletters or content recaps, that means there’s a problem with your blog articles you’ll need to address. This is an important metric specifically because your email subscribers are readers who already have a vested interest in your brand.
39. Subscriber rate.
Pay attention to your subscriber rate, too. If you notice an increase in subscribers over time, it means your content is doing a good job of retaining the readers you have and attracting new people to become regular readers. If you see it plateau or drop off, however, you can tell something is wrong.
(Image Source: LaunchBit)
40. Subscriber churn.
Subscriber churn refers to the number of people who unsubscribe from your email newsletters. Hopefully, you’re attracting all your subscribers organically (i.e., you would never buy an email list), so that means every unsubscriber changed their mind from liking your content to disliking your content. Pay attention to this metric. Why would they do this? What changed in your content?
41. Publisher success rate.
Some bigger publishers will offer all their guest bloggers advanced analytics on how their pieces are performing. If you have access to this data, take advantage of it. What kinds of impressions, views, and engagement rates are you getting? How is your content stacking up to the competition? What other articles are successful on this platform? There’s much to learn from even the basics here.
42. Brand visibility.
Brand visibility is notoriously difficult to measure, but one way is through the number of people searching for your brand’s name in Google. You can find this metric in Google Search Console; just go to Search Traffic/Search Analytics, then check the “queries” section below. If this number is increasing over time, it means more people are searching for your brand name, and that means they’re hearing about your brand; it’s becoming more visible.
43. Total growth (year over year).
It’s tempting to measure your progress constantly—even week to week—but seasonal fluctuations can have a big impact on those numbers. Instead, try to compare your metrics in a much broader time frame, such as year over year. It will give you a better perspective about how you’re improving over time.
44. Conversion rates.
All of the metrics we’ve explored so far can help you tell how effective your content marketing campaign is, but we haven’t delved much into how valuable your campaign is. You’re spending real money and/or time on your campaign, with cash or through paid employees, so you need to make sure your efforts are returning you a sufficient amount of new revenue.
The first step toward achieving that measurement is looking at conversions—how many people are buying your products, filling out your forms, or otherwise being patrons of your business. You can measure these by setting up Goals in Google Analytics, assigning a value to them (which Google will walk you through) and measuring them regularly. If you have a low conversion rate, your calls-to-action (CTAs) may not be in order, or your content might not do a good enough job of selling your company to new visitors.
45. Conversion rates from organic search.
You should also look at conversion rates as they specifically apply to organic traffic—where the majority of your content-driven traffic is coming from. To find this report, go to Acquisition/All Traffic/Channels/Organic Search, then select “Landing Page” next to “Primary Dimension.” This will show you conversion rates for each individual page on your site that has had at least one visitor from organic search.
If you’re seeing a lower organic conversion rate than conversion rates in your other segments, it could mean you aren’t targeting the right keywords or the right audience with your content.
You should also take a look at the conversion rates for other segments of your traffic, such as referral and social sources—are you getting more there? Why is that—how are you presenting your content differently?
46. Lead quality.
While it’s tempting to use your content to generate as many leads as possible, you shouldn’t neglect the fact that lead quality matters just as much as lead quantity. Work with your sales reps to establish an objective system for measuring lead quality, such as gauging interest level and previous knowledge.
Then, calculate the average lead quality you’re getting through the conversions you’ve gained in your content marketing campaign. If your lead quality is low, it means you aren’t targeting the right people, and you need to reevaluate your content topics and campaign direction.
47. Close ratio.
You should also take a look at your close ratio. If you can, compare your online lead close ratio to any other channels you might be using—is it higher or lower? If it’s lower than you expect, it may be an indication of poor lead quality. In any case, you’ll need to know your close ratio so you can accurately calculate the value of an online conversion; once you know the average value of a customer, and the average number of customers resulting from your conversions, you can start calculating ROI.
48. Source-based ROI.
Try calculating your ROI from various external sources. Take a look at individual referral sources (external publishers), and how much traffic each refers to your site, as well as how many conversions you’re getting from each stream. Now that you know the value of a conversion, you can calculate about how much revenue each source brings to your site.
You can do the same for each of your social media platforms, and even your organic traffic streams. Compare these figures to how much time you spend executing this segment of your strategy, then cut out the dead weight so you can favor your heavy hitters.
49. Keyword-based ROI.
Next up, take a look at how much value your individual keywords and topics are bringing your site. This one is a little trickier to calculate, since Google Analytics won’t provide you with inbound traffic information from each keyword.
However, you can find which keywords are driving organic search traffic through Google Search Console (Search Traffic/Search Analytics). Which keywords are driving the most traffic? Which ones are driving the least? Compare this information with what you know about your keyword rankings (see #10) to discover low-hanging fruit keyword opportunities, and strategically reallocate efforts toward specific keywords.
50. Total ROI.
Finally, you’ll want to calculate the ROI of all your efforts, combined. How much time and money are you spending on your content marketing campaign? If you’re contracting with an agency, this is easier, but otherwise, you’ll have to make a projection based on your team’s salaries and time spent on content.
Then, compare that value to all the value your content campaign has brought you—conversions from all corners of traffic. Are your efforts paying off? If not, you’ll need to look at your other metrics to see where you can improve, and if so, discover your best qualities so you can enhance them even further. For an overview on how to measure the ROI of your marketing campaigns, see The Keys to the Kingdom: Make Your Marketing Team More Data-Centric.
There’s something important to remember about measuring and analyzing content marketing metrics; simply measuring and understanding them isn’t enough to make a meaningful difference. If you want your efforts to mean something, your analysis has to lead to action.
Every time you gain an insight—about an effective tactic or an ineffective channel—make sure it leads to some meaningful change or direction for your campaign. Do that, while measuring consistently, and eventually you’ll build a powerhouse content strategy that nets you the highest possible ROI.
This article was previously published on our blog on October 18, 2016, it was written by Jayson DeMers from Forbes and legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.