Content marketing continues to grow in popularity, year over year. Just one look at search trends over the past five years shows how persistent its growth has been:
However, this has also brought measurement challenges. We are now in the era of performance content marketing. Simply showing pageviews and likes as program results won’t secure next year’s budget. CMOs want to see impact on a business level.
But the truth is, content marketing measurement is challenging, even for sophisticated marketers.
User journeys are often long, meandering, and difficult to stitch together into a single story. And because they usually involve multiple interactions through ungated content, attribution can seem like a distant dream. In fact, just moving away from surface metrics – like pageviews – is often difficult for content marketing teams lacking analytics resources.
Why Pageviews and Engagement Aren’t Enough
As the content marketing space matured, content-focused analytics platforms (such as NewsCred’s) became available. They created a shift in the way marketers analyzed their programs. These analytics tools provided data beyond pageviews, offering more content-specific analytics, such as how engaging the content was, which topics resonated most, and how many articles readers completed. This helped marketers make more informed decisions on their strategies.
But, as we see with many of our clients, even proving that content is engaging is no longer enough to build a sustainable program and secure marketing budgets. In this new era where proving business impact is a necessity, marketers need corresponding metrics.
In this article, we’re going to talk about how this new view fits into your content marketing program, how it affects your decision making, and how to implement it into your own program.
Before going straight the to finish line, it helps to understand how content marketing metrics can be categorized. Broadly speaking, there are three different types of metrics in our world:
- Behavioral Actions
Quantitative vs. Qualitative Metrics
Before software platforms were providing bespoke content analytics, marketers had to rely on the standard site analytics available: pageviews, bounce rate, time on site, and the like. These are still certainly valuable metrics in marketing programs, but they are only one view in the entire journey:
They provide valuable quantitative metrics that indicate a healthy content hub, but they miss out on the qualitative view.
Knowing that you drove 10,000 visitors to your content is a great start, but to really celebrate this metric, you’ll also want to know:
- Were the 10,000 visitors made up of the right people?
- Did my content actually resonate with this audience?
These are examples of qualitative questions for content marketing. The first can be tricky to answer, but careful targeting and the ability to view demographic data in your analytics can provide a strong indicator of the answer. The second question, however, is more challenging.
The solution has often been to look one layer deeper in the analytics, to the behavior metrics. Things like session duration, and pages per visit all begin to paint a more qualitative view of how good the audience experience was.
Depending on the source of these metrics, there are often severe caveats to this data because of how platforms like Google Analytics are set up. So, content marketing platforms found a niche by building engagement metrics, like average attention time and engagement rate, that looked only at content and scored the behavior in line with that type of site visit.
And this leads us to today, where many marketers have begun to get more confident. They now have a view into what content works, and what doesn’t, and it helps to build a strategy with metrics that are qualitative and content-focused. But this view is still missing a crucial step in content marketing success.
Behavioral Metrics for Content That Drives Action
Content marketing should engage, educate, or entertain, but more importantly, should elicit action. This is what separates content marketing from content publishing.
The goal is not to be good at content, but to be good at business using content. If your content marketing works, it should affect your audience enough to prompt a business-specific behavior. These behavioral actions are the conversions that we need to track in order to see that our content has moved a reader beyond just engagement.
It’s worth noting, before going further, that many content marketing programs are not focused on direct to revenue outcomes. When brand equity, brand affinity, or brand perception is a key play, marketers can often become comfortable with engagement metrics. But this is still missing out on a critical view of the content.
Many desired conversions can be as high-value as lead generation, product purchases, or requests for information. But they can also come in the form of engagement micro-conversions – sharing content, engaging with additional content, exploring your site deeper. What matters is that there are always things you want your reader to do, even if only to continue reading.
This is what shifts content marketing measurement from engagement to action. Both are necessary, as one shapes the type of content you create, while the other makes sure you have built the right experiences around that content that drives the type of action you want.
How Actions Shape Content Strategy
Let’s look at NewsCred’s Insights hub to show how measuring actions can help inform your content strategy:
Above is a view of NewsCred’s new Actions analytics view, where we track behavioral actions that users are taking on content. For NewsCred, we track new sign-ups to the newsletter, new user sign-ups to Insights, and even logins to the platform. These are behaviors that are valuable to NewsCred as they result in lead generation, which accounts for 40 percent of company revenue.
However, just seeing how many actions users take doesn’t inform strategy. What we need is a granular view of the data to show how each piece of content impacts the program.
This view, of Opt In Monster Sign-ups, looks at which content is driving sign-ups to the Insights newsletter – which is our most effective way to capture new visitors, bring them into our database, and start building relationships with them. From this table, we can see which stories and topics are most effective top-of-funnel pieces for capturing the attention of new visitors. In addition, we can see how effective a post from back in 2014 is performing, indicating that evergreen content can be strong performers over time.
But to get the full journey view, we need to see bottom-of-funnel actions too.
The table below is a view of the Insights New User Sign-ups broken out by content piece. When someone signs up to Insights, they become a scoreable lead.
As expected, many higher-value and gated content pieces, such as our whitepapers and content series, are driving higher-value actions like lead generation. This content drives the lower funnel actions, and has a clear place in email marketing and retargeting,
If you don’t currently have access to a content marketing analytics platform, you can get valuable insights from your site analytics, too. While not content-centric, you can set up similar goals and micro-conversions and view the conversion rates of channels, pages, and audiences that lead towards the conversions you’re looking for. For a detailed walkthrough on this, check out our post on “The Complete Guide to Setting up Your Content Hub to Measure Conversions.”
Creating Content for Buyer Journey Stages
When we can see content based on the types of actions they deliver, it helps to build a far more business-specific view. Without this view, we would only be looking at content based on what is driving the most engagement, and this misses out on where in the buyer journey this engagement takes place.
By adding a layer that shows what types of behavior takes place alongside this engagement helps in two critical ways:
- Placing content at the right stage in the buyer journey: Getting the right content into the right channels can dramatically alter the desired outcomes. Knowing that content drives leads at a lower funnel stage gives powerful insight into where this content should be promoted. Channels such as email nurturing, and retargeting can be very powerful places to place this lower funnel content. However, placing this same content at the top-of-funnel through social channels could have a much less impactful outcome.
- Creating enough content for each stage: When you can break out content by the actions it drives effectively, it allows the content editors to be sure that they are producing the right volume of content for each of these stages. Without this view, editors run the risk of underproducing content for each stage.
Content marketing has enjoyed a lot of evolution in the past few years. We’ve already moved from the purely quantitative to the qualitative metrics. But as the pressure to show business impact increases, we need to add a new layer. By looking at a content marketing program with an additional view of action analytics, we begin to see content by where it sits in the buyer journey, and also where the gaps lie.
To drive towards ROI, content marketers need to think not only about what type of content their audiences want to engage with, but what types of actions they are looking to drive with the content. Leveraging new content analytics tools helps to add this content-centric layer, but the writing is on the wall – content needs to drive action, and being able to show that in the data is a critical next step in content marketing evolution.
Liam Moroney is NewsCred’s Director of Analytics.