Savvy content marketers pay close attention to analytics and measure much of what they do. They want to know, for example, how many page views they’ve generated, what the open and click through rates of their most recent newsletter were, and often most important of all, how many prospects they’ve converted into leads. That’s all well and good, but if you reread that last sentence closely you’ll see that it reveals a fundamental limitation. Here’s a hint: look at what tense we’ve used to construct the sentence.

The reality is that today’s analytics often offer only a rearview mirror’s look at how your content performed in the past.

Make no mistake, there’s certainly tremendous value in looking back at past performance data across a number of metrics, including but not limited to:

  • Sessions
  • New vs. returning users
  • Page views
  • Time on page
  • Traffic sources
  • Bounce rate
  • Social impressions
  • Conversion rates

Tracking and analyzing metrics like these is an important exercise that content marketers should do regularly. Getting into the discipline of doing so is helpful not only to facilitate reporting and demonstrate your ROI, but also to inform your strategy. By reviewing performance metrics over time, you can identify trends, pinpoint specific tactics that do and don’t work, and ultimately form hypotheses about what you could do differently to get a better result.

Of course, even with the most rigorous tracking and analysis — the kind performed on a weekly, if not daily basis — content marketers can do little more than make informed guesses about what to do next. While content marketers who are rigorous about analytics are better off than those who pay little or no attention, there are still significant limitations in terms of what they can divine about the future by looking into the past.

Are you ready for a forward-facing future?

New technologies are emerging that will pave the way for what we believe will become the Holy Grail of content marketing: predictive analytics. In the not-too-distant future, analytics tools will make valuable recommendations to help inform their users’ strategies and will be formulated by analyzing vast quantities of data around a variety of points, including:

  • Audience sentiment and preferences
  • Language quality
  • Tone of voice
  • Hot topics
  • Keywords
  • Distribution channels
  • Conversion rate effectiveness

The best tools will cull all of the available data (both from your own program and from others similar to it) and generate intelligence and recommendations. Companies will then be able to consider these insights when deciding what kinds of content to create, which topics to cover, how best to create that content in a way that’s going to resonate with their audience, and how to ensure that content reaches the right targets.

This may sound like science fiction to anyone more concerned with the power of words than the power of data analysis, but it is coming. If you want to be ready, there are a few things you should start doing now:

  • Determine what metrics matter most to you. There are new tools emerging all of the time that offer insights into different aspects of your content marketing, not all of which may be relevant to you. It’s easy to get lost in the weeds, so hone in on the handful of metrics that are most relevant to meeting your goals, and any additional supporting metrics to help inform the strategy you’ll need to reach those goals. Anything beyond that is just a distraction.
  • Begin tracking those metrics. If you’re not already tracking the metrics that matter to you, it’s time to start. And if you are, depending on how long ago you started, you may need to go back and gather additional historical data. Ideally, you’ll want to have a deep well of performance data that you can use as a benchmark for future comparisons.
  • Identify what tools already offer certain predictive capabilities. My company’s Acrolinx software, for example, evaluates your content giving its language a score to indicate how successful it predicts it will be with your target audience.

There is truth in the old adage that “knowledge is power.” For the next generation of content marketers, that knowledge will stem from predictive analytics that will help them decide how to craft and deliver better content. The result will be more effective content marketing that’s able to anticipate people’s needs rather than just react to them.