Content marketing – the method of publishing relevant and valuable content to your target audience in order to drive profitable action (definition courtesy of CMI) – is a relatively recent and highly successful inbound marketing approach. A comprehensive and industry standard 2012 study by HubSpot demonstrated the powerful results of well-executed content for businesses: increased web traffic and most importantly, increased leads. We know content marketing works.
The decision to invest in content comes with the expectation to see results across the digital marketing performance sphere: traffic, leads, and sales.
The decision to invest in content comes with the expectation to see results across the digital marketing performance sphere: traffic, leads, and sales. A comprehensive analytics platform and a core belief in measurement is a must for content marketers who want to see results and continually optimize content performance. But analytics can be overwhelming. How do we focus on data that really matters, i.e. the metrics that offer actionable intelligence about our content production efforts?
While there are numerous complex metrics that will help refine your content strategy and site performance, there are five main website KPIs with ten corresponding metrics that should serve as the foundation of any content measurement program:
These critical yet simple metrics will help you analyze your audience, identify content successes and areas of improvement, and most importantly, provide guidance on how to prioritize your content marketing optimization efforts.
KPI #1: Traffic Volume
Corresponding metrics: Visits by traffic channel and source
Monitoring and understanding where your website’s traffic comes from helps you track your content reach. By measuring traffic volume by both channel and the specific source, you can determine how accessible and relevant your content is across different distribution dimensions.
Here are the most important (and common) traffic channels and example sources:
Most content strategies identify key channels to target, such as content produced to grow organic traffic, or email lead nurture campaigns that should drive contacts back to the website for predefined conversion. Note: Google Analytics breaks out social media traffic into its own channel but some analytics platforms count this type of traffic under the referral channel. Both are correct, as social media is a type of referral traffic. Google Analytics simply saves you a filtering step.
For example, if you increase your production of content with a core focus on SEO best practices, your organic search traffic should rise. Track this metric month over month to gain an understanding of your search growth rate.
After about three months of data you should be able to project your site and organic traffic for the next month.
After about three months of data you should be able to project your site and organic traffic for the next month. Sharp declines can alert you to potential issues – which may be as simple as broken or duplicate title tags to more serious concerns such as penalties or algorithm changes.
KPI #2: Engagement
Corresponding metrics: Pages viewed per session, Bounce rate, and Average time on page
Engagement can be measured across multiple analytics dimensions but the easiest one to review is by traffic channel. Measuring engagement by traffic channel and source helps you identify the quality of traffic and the type of visitors that show the most potential to convert.
To determine if content performs at its most basic level – providing value and encouraging people to explore your website and offered services or products – you have to measure how well content anchors your audience to your website.
In the above Google Analytics screen shot, you can see that email marketing performs the best from an engagement KPI perspective with the lowest bounce rate, highest average pages per visit per session, and the longest session duration of over two minutes. Organic search also performs well. Paid search is the least engaged source of traffic. If these were your metrics, they would allow you to take the first step towards a deeper understanding of why your audience is reacting the way they do to your website and content.
Data should always be your starting point to identify areas of opportunity, hypothesize new tactics of optimization, and set measurable goals.
With this data you can set individual performance objectives – such as increasing the pages per visit for organic visits to 3 pages per session or increasing the amount of traffic from email marketing campaigns given the high engagement rate of the audience. Data should always be your starting point to identify areas of opportunity, hypothesize new tactics of optimization, and set measurable goals.
KPI #3: Popular and Problematic Onsite Content
Corresponding metrics: Top folders, Top landing pages, Top exit pages
Knowing where to find your strongest and weakest performing content can be a goldmine of data for content marketers. Top folders – called “Content Drilldown” in Google Analytics, showcases how well content performs at the folder level. This is critical for two main reasons: it helps you identify site organization issues and key metrics related to specific content sections of your website, like your blog.
Knowing where to find your strongest and weakest performing content can be a goldmine of data for content marketers.
Simply by clicking on each each of these initial folders you can move deeper into the file pathway to determine if there are perhaps a few pieces of content – like specific web pages or blog articles – that are popular with your audience.
It’s important to recognize that your most popular content should align with your content marketing and business goals. If you’re effectively creating blog content or educational resources, this content should be attracting and engaging your audience
Top landing pages
Landing pages represent the first page your visitors “land on” when they come to your website. This can be your home page, a highly optimized and well-ranking blog article, or even your “About Us” page. Landing pages can be filtered numerous ways to gather more data, but the starting point with this metric is to identify which landing pages draw the most amount of visitors and to then review those pages with their corresponding engagement data.
Your top landing pages should be optimized to keep the majority of these visitors on your site and ideally, completing a desired action – like a lead generation form or a purchase. For example, if your top-landing page is a blog article from 2010 that brings in 10,000 visits a month; this page represents a significant opportunity. Begin with your top page to see how you can move those visitors through the conversion funnel site and ultimately, become a new lead or customer.
Top exit pages
Exit pages are where your audience leaves your website. You want to monitor this section to identify where you lose your audience and to ensure that content that is intended to keep visitors on the site isn’t inadvertently pushing them away. Exit pages also help you find areas that require content improvement – like an FAQ section that isn’t answering your audience’s questions.
KPI #4: Content Effectiveness
Corresponding metrics: Goal and Event Completions
Great, someone came to your site and you now know – thanks to the above metrics – he or she spent 10 minutes across 5 different pages in your resources section. Now what? Goal completions show you how effective your site is at converting people to take the actions you want. Goals can even be filtered to identify your most effective marketing channels and the specific web pages that helped them convert. Event tracking helps you understand what actions people are taking on specific pages of your site and can also be filtered by traffic channel and source.
Goal and event completions should be programmed to make it easy to identify key actions your audience takes on your site.
Some common goal completions to track:
- Lead generation forms
- Email newsletter signups
- Pages viewed or session duration
- Completed purchases
Some common content events to track:
- Content downloads like free guides
- Video views and plays
- Social media button shares and clicks
- Image gallery clicks
KPI #5: Resolving Audience Needs
Key metric: Onsite search queries
Every site should have a custom search engine installed on their site and then linked to your analytics platform. Google gives you the tools to set this must-have feature up, and for $100 a year you can completely eliminate ads and Google branding.
The most powerful asset of this tool is once it’s connected to your analytics program you can begin to track search queries and the pages visited as a result. This not only helps with content creation, but you can also identify any user experience (UX) issues.
Measurement can feel like a maze of numbers and metrics. With these five core KPIs and 10 corresponding content marketing metrics, you will have a great foundation to measure how well your content resonates with your audience and quickly identify areas to optimize. If you let the data inform your content marketing efforts, you will be smarter about the content you produce and find the most effective channels to distribute to your audience.