I’m worried about the future of Content Marketing.

According to the 2016 Content Marketing Benchmark Study, only 30% of surveyed marketers consider their programs effective, down from 38% the year prior. Organizations are spending more of their marketing budgets on content marketing but aren’t proving its value.

While some may claim technical inefficiencies or lack of resources as the cause, I have a different perspective: content marketers are choosing the wrong Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Often times, marketers get caught up in the latest buzzwords, like content attribution and CRO (conversion rate optimization), and choose unobtainable KPIs that lead teams into measurement paralysis, causing their program to stagnate.

To choose the right KPIs, marketers must first take a reality check and answer one important question:

How advanced is my content marketing program?
Understanding a program’s maturity stage helps break down the complexities of a content marketing program and pinpoint achievable growth goals for the next year. Choosing the one or two KPIs that focus a team on building the skills, processes, and learnings required to reach those growth goals effectively will help lay a solid foundation to scale efficiently in the future.

Content Marketing Maturity Levels
The simplest maturity models breakdown content marketing into three stages:

  • Emerging Organizations have sporadic success running effective content marketing campaigns but have yet to gain organizational support to deliver consistent results.
  • Experienced Organizations are publishing content towards one strategic plan consistently and effectively but lack the tools to understand how the content drives overall business goals.
  • Optimized Organizations typically have invested in more sophisticated tools and have transitioned to a data-driven program that is a core component of the company’s overall marketing strategy.

Over the next few weeks I will dive deeper into each maturity level and outline strategies in choosing the right KPIs for each stage. Up first: emerging content marketing organizations.

Emerging Content Marketing Organizations
An emerging content marketing organization has gotten their program off the ground, but is struggling to get full buy-in from the rest of the organization and secure the resources and technology needed to really advance their program. The key to selling the value of a content marketing program in an organization and set it up for future success is to choose KPIs which meet the following criteria:

  1. Easy to measure with existing analytics tools
  2. Comparable to other marketing programs within the organization (and will likely outperform)
  3. Provide insights to hone a brand voice and prioritize content themes

Two classic KPIs that meet these objectives are content views and engagement.

KPI 1: Views – Do you grab your audience’s attention?
Mobile and social have shifted the power of content curation from publishers into the hands of the consumer. Audiences now have more control as to how, when and what content they consume. They can bookmark, auto-curate news feeds, fast forward through commercials and prioritize emails making it even harder for even a good marketer to get noticed.

When it comes to content, just because it’s published, it doesn’t mean anyone will read it. Emerging content organizations should first focus on capturing their audience’s attention and driving traffic to view their content. They can experiment with different content distribution channels and learn how to promote content on each channel effectively.

Masters of this stage:

  • Report click-through rates and CPC benchmarks
  • Document keywords and content themes that drive views and interest
  • Re-purpose content for each distribution channel

KPI 2: Viewing time and shares- Does your content delight your audience?
The problem with many content marketing teams is how they interpret a consumer’s interest in a piece of content. Teams that simply use likes, comments and CPCs can promote and focus on the wrong content. Let’s take an example. Imagine having two articles published on the same network and their performance data is as follows:

Content Marketing Measurement KPI Lenati

Focusing just on CPC or likes, one might spend more money promoting Article 1. But looking at how viewers actually engaged with the content, Article 2 was more aligned with viewer’s interest and even resulted in 3X the number of shares. While Article 1 likely had a catchy headline, Article 2 provides value and will likely help foster deeper relationships with the viewer.

Masters of this stage can:

  • Predict potential shares based on content topic and projected reach
  • Report average and high-performing content consumption times by content type and theme
  • List key publication syndicates and draft content briefs to target each one

By focusing on content views, shares, and viewing time, emerging content marketing organizations can understand what content themes, types, and distribution channels drive more traffic and better engagement. They can hone their voice and content style to ensure consistency when they ramp up content production. And finally, they can begin collecting audience profile information that will give them a running start creating audience personas, a key focus of the next maturity stage: Experienced Content Marketing Organizations.

In part two of this three-part series, we will explore KPI examples and content marketing objectives for Experienced Content Marketing Organizations. Until then, take the content marketing organization assessment to access a work plan designed for your organization.

Originally published on Lenati.com