There are two kinds of metrics in content marketing: process metrics and outcomes metrics. While both are important, they differ greatly in how they are important. Let’s take a look at each, their importance, and how they work together.

Process Metrics
If you did “man on the street” interviews, the top answer you’d get when you asked people to “name a content marketing metric worth tracking” would likely be “web traffic.” (Assuming we don’t count blank stares as responses…)

Web traffic is an example of a process metric in that it tracks how our audience is interacting with our content. In addition to website traffic, process metrics include things like

  • Page views
  • Site visitors
  • Email subscribers
  • Likes
  • Follows
  • Shares

These process metrics are the measurements nearly all of us think of first. In part, this is because they’re incredibly easy to track and though they can still require some interpretation, they are pretty direct.

Process metrics form the foundation of our content marketing work, helping guide our decisions on content, content format, channels, publication schedules, etc.

But they are not the ultimate measure of our efforts. To gain an understanding of how productive our work is, we need to pay attention to outcomes metrics.

Outcomes Metrics
Outcomes metrics are less widely discussed by marketers in the trenches, which is odd given that the folks who set budgets for (and who hire and fire) in-the-trenches marketers care about little else. That is, the folks whose titles begin with C – as in CEO, CFO, CMO – typically have responsibility for profit and loss or revenue and expenses, not likes and follows.

This places their focus on content marketing’s impact on lead generation, revenue, or in some cases, cost reductions. (Depending on your marketing’s focus.)

As obvious as their importance is, outcomes metrics are less widely discussed because they tend to be a bit messier. Except in the case of direct e-Commerce, it can be difficult to draw a direct line from a piece of content directly to a qualified lead or a revenue increase.

For example, you may write a blog post that generates great interest, including interest from Business X. But Business X, despite loving the piece and discovering that your service fills a need they have exactly, doesn’t have budget remaining, so they must table any idea of engaging you.

Six months later, a new budget cycle begins and Business X goes to your home page, finds your phone number and calls for more information. It’s the blog piece that generated the demand, but only the most sophisticated of marketing systems would be able to capture that information.

Accounting for this takes work, discipline, and a willingness to deal in trends and estimates rather than the absolute numbers that tend to come attached to process metrics. Marketing automation tools, CRM systems, and well-disciplined sales teams can all help narrow the gap between reality and what your metrics measure.

How The Two Kinds of Metrics Work Together
If you haven’t thought about your metrics this way before, you’ve probably focused more on process metrics. Which means you might now, having seen the light, be ready to throw process metrics out entirely and focus solely on outcomes.

Not so fast. Process metrics are still important because they provide more immediate feedback on our work. They are the numbers on the gauges and dials that tell us we’re headed in the right direction. They inform our decisions about the content we create and how we promote it.

Process metrics can also provide windows into the discrepancy between the real world and captured data. The behavior of Business X above is a good example: process metrics will have told us that the blog post that attracted Business X saw a big increase in traffic and engagement compared to other recent posts. Not only does this give us a sense of its value in terms of outcomes, but we can also use that information to adjust the content we focus on for various audience segments.

Over the course of time, we see the results of these decisions play out as we track both process and outcomes data. Ultimately, content marketing (and content marketing budgets) can only be justified based on outcomes. But process is an important part of being able to repeat your successes, avoid repeating your mistakes, and build a system that is consistently effective.