Studies on content marketing have consistently reported two findings: Marketers today are producing more content than ever before, but they have not figured out how to measure their content’s impact.

While ROI is the measurement standard most often discussed, there is another set of three letters worthy of investigation: KPIs. Key performance indicators are metrics used to determine how a business is performing against its business goals and objectives.

The difference between ROI and KPIs is this: ROI is a C-level bottom-line measurement that tells you if your actions are reaching your revenue goals; KPIs tell you if your individual tactics are hitting their goals and, thus, contributing to your bottom-line ROI goals. Individual KPIs can be adjusted and tweaked to improve results, helping your content marketing program leverage a culture of continual learning and improvement.

3 Simple Steps for Setting Up KPIs

One of the biggest challenges in tracking KPI metrics is deciding which indicators to track. There are dozens of KPIs for every potential category of content marketing measurement, such as lead generation, social sharing, content consumption, retention and sales.

An article on Docurated’s blog speaks to the vast number of KPIs worth measuring. The company asked 71 content marketing and analytic professionals: “Which KPI or key metric in content analytics should businesses/marketers focus on as the single best indicator of a successful content marketing campaign?” Docurated got 71 different answers.

Owing to the vast number of KPI options, how should you begin the process of tracking KPIs? Here is a three-step process.

1. Determine Your Business Goals

To find meaningful KPIs, start by translating business goals and content objectives into measurable outcomes. Examples of outcomes are customer experience improvements, educational boosts and revenue generation.

  • Customer Experience Goals. Are you focused on boosting lead generation, nurturing leads toward sales and strengthening customer loyalty? These are all goals related to improving your customer experience—from converting visitors to moving prospects through the sales funnel to delivering a consistently positive emotional experience.
  • Educational Goals. Are you focused on raising brand awareness, expanding thought leadership or boosting brand sentiment? These are all goals related to educating the marketplace about your company, its expertise and its products and services.
  • Revenue Generation Goals. Are you focused on building sales conversions and delivering satisfying customer service? These are all goals related to increasing the number of customers and delivering quality assistance and advice to people who buy and use your products and services.

2. Target Your Content Objections

Once you’ve identified your business goals, the next step is to identify meaningful objectives within those goals. Here are some examples.

Customer Experience Goals. Examples of metrics focused on this goal include:

  • Total Leads—Leads attributed to a particular source over a certain time period.
  • Email Conversion Rate—Indicator of content that persuades an audience to opt-in to an email list.
  • Time to Conversion—The time it takes a visitor to complete an outcome on a website, such as subscribe.
  • Return Visitor Rate—How often people revisit a site.

Educational Goals. Examples of metrics focused on this goal include:

  • Content Engagement—How effective a piece of content is at engaging the audience.
  • Website Visits—Total visits to a site originating from a particular source over a certain time period.
  • Share of Voice—How many social media mentions a brand is receiving in relation to its competition.
  • Brand Engagement—Level of interest in the brand across multiple social and digital platforms.

Revenue Generation Goals. Examples of metrics focused on this goal include:

  • Customer Retention Rate—How good your content is in retaining customers.
  • Customer Lifetime Value—The revenue a customer will generate for a business in their lifetime.
  • Customer Satisfaction—How products and services meet or surpass customer expectations.

3. Choose Your KPIs

If you’re still having trouble choosing meaningful KPIs, consider starting with the three leading KPIs content marketers are using, according to Ascend2 and its partners in the 2016 State of Content Marketing report: conversion rate (50 percent), quality of leads (45 percent) and website traffic (42 percent). Let’s take a look at the value of these popular metrics.

Conversion Rate (Visitors Taking Action)

For many content marketers, this is the Holy Grail of all KPIs. This measurement reflects the percentage of visitors to your site who take a specific action based on your content—such as signing up for your newsletter, downloading a white paper, or contacting you for more information.

This key performance metric is derived from calculating all of the visitors to your site who took action versus the total number of visitors. Average conversion rates vary considerably based on industry, but they often hover around 2 to 3 percent.

Inc. contributing editor, Jeff Haden, calls conversion “Desired Action Percentages.” He believes this KPI is one of two metrics that businesses need to measure, along with visitor engagement. Factors that influence conversion include how well your marketing and SEO result in newly targeted visitors. Other factors are what drove visitors to your site and how many offers you have on a single page.

Haden says that conversion, like any other metric, is best analyzed over time and through iteration. The more you know about the factors that influence conversion, the easier it will be to make changes that positively impact your content’s performance.

Quality of Leads (Authenticity Counts)

Say you just ran a social media campaign that generated more leads than you had imagined. Would this be cause for a celebration? Maybe not. First, you have to look at the quality of the leads because not all leads are created equal.

According to a study by Salesforce and Facebook, quality of leads is the No. 2 challenge global marketers face. After all, if you generate a lot of downloads from people or machines that have zero chance of becoming customers, what did you really accomplish?

For example, if a form on your site is completed in 5 seconds or less, bots are likely being employed and the lead is sketchy at best. Meanwhile, some leads are just lookie-loos who will never purchase anything. That’s why the online lead generation company, Ifficient, advocates a three-part crawl-walk-run approach to lead generation.

  1. At the basic level, content marketers should measure mostly lead consumption items, like downloads, page views, site stickiness (repeat visits), and accumulated SEO strength of the site or page.
  2. At the intermediate level, they should start to look at total leads generated and conversion rates.
  3. At the advanced level, marketers need to measure lead quality by looking at factors such as lead authenticity, lead duration (how long it took to fill out the form), and lead age (how long between submission of the form and receipt of an auto-responder email confirmation).

Website Traffic (Counting Visitors)

Your website is a key part of your marketing funnel—especially for top-funnel content. It shows your audience the value your company offers them, and then leads them through the rest of the marketing funnel. Of course, you have to get them to your site first.

The purpose of your content marketing as a whole, naturally, is to drive greater organic traffic to your company’s website. If your content is as helpful as you think it is and if you have optimized the website efficiently for SEO, you should be attracting regular traffic. The number of visits along with the user engagement generated is a KPI you absolutely should measure each month, according to Digital Doughnut.

Since your blog is the driver of your content marketing strategy, it stands to reason that its performance must steadily improve. Digital Doughnut offered several factors related to website traffic worth measuring on a regular basis:

  • Number of total visitors in a given time period
  • Number of new and returning visitors
  • Time spent on your site
  • Number of visits per visitor

Today, many content marketing departments are content production machines. But is all of the content being produced delivering on its intended purpose? KPIs are a perfect way to find out. That’s why clear business goals, content objectives and KPIs should become important features of all content marketing programs.

The KPIs mentioned above are just a fraction of the types of performance metrics marketers can employ to measure and improve their content marketing programs. Choose the KPIs that have the most meaning for your brand and goals, measure them and make changes to boost results—including to your bottom-line ROI.

For more help choosing content marketing KPIs, check out our free KPI checklist here.