16th October 2017
The basics of content performance
Learn the essentials around measuring content performance and how to truly understand reader behaviour.
Content success - The need to set useful KPIs
Where to start
Measuring the performance of content marketing today is becoming increasingly difficult as the complexity of the discipline itself continues to evolve, throwing ever more tentacles across increasingly different channels. And with so many methods and analytic tools out there it can be damn tricky to get a ‘real’ grasp on how you are doing.
One thing is for sure though, there is no single metric out there with which to measure the success of your content. And so it will be imperative to identify which specific metrics (KPIs - key performance indicators) are relevant to your organisation's content strategy.
Choosing the right KPIs
There are a wide variety of KPIs you could use to measure content performance, some more abstract than others, and just like the type of content your create, these can be influenced by which stage in the buying cycle your audience is:
In addition to the metrics mentioned in the following diagrams (courtesy of Chelsea Blacker from Blueglass), it is also critical to measure actual reader engagement with your content. You need to understand how your audiences interact with your assets and what pushes them to diver deeper into specific pieces.
The more you understand about your readers' behaviour, the easier it'll be to refine your content marketing strategy to match or exceed their expectations.
After all, there's no need to spend time creating content if you know that no one is going to read it, so don't waste your valuable marketing resources.
Historical performance / content audit
A good starting point is to determine how your content efforts have historically performed – do not worry if not particularly granular; this will still give you a useful window into what has worked and what hasn't.
Armed with this insight you will have a base starting point from which to devise your own tailor made KPIs designed specifically for your content strategy.
Next will be crucial to understand your organisation’s current business objectives. Ultimately a key success benchmark for nearly all businesses is undoubtedly profit (note profit and not revenue). And ideally profit will be valuable profit derived from happy new customers, happy retained customers, happy returning customers. You get the drift … happy customers equals sustainable profit margins.
Aligning your business’ overall objectives with your marketing strategy and subsequently your content strategy will provide cohesion. And a clear route to the summit you want to reach.
"Measure what is measurable and make measurable what is not so." - Gallileo
Whether for email campaigns, social media campaigns, website performance, thought leadership campaigns, blog posts etc. there are numerous methodologies that exist for collating information regarding content performance.
From open rate to click through, bounce rates, shares, comments, call to action responses, lead generation. Data from all these touch points can be valuable in informing the success (or lack it) of your content efforts.
Key will be how to gather all this data and analyse effectively so that you can learn from and improve. Importantly it will be crucial to be both honest and effective in your analysis. Data for data's sake, or manipulating findings to superficially achieve goals will be short sighted and ultimately damaging.
"If you torture the data long enough, it will confess to anything."- Ronald Coase
But it will be equally essential to take on board that intangible success factor. Where you just know that your content is working hard; it's building relationships, resonating with your audience, providing value, keeping them engaged and bringing them back. But you can't coherently explain why.
According to the Content Marketing Institute, the top three B2B goals of content marketing are:
- Lead generation (85%)
- Sales (84%)
- Lead nurturing (78%)
There is a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ to this kind of success that is nigh on impossible to measure. The following video from Gary Vaynerchuk grasps this so perfectly.
"It makes no difference whatsoever what MY most important content marketing metric is—the real question is: what metric, what key performance indicator is most important to your business? No two marketers’ objectives are exactly alike. What matters is aligning against business goals, not all the abstract things you can measure.” Rebecca Lieb
Analysing content performance - How to get started
Knowing what's important
And so, onto the dilemma of how and what to measure. Once you have some understanding of current content performance and the clear objectives of your business laid out in aligned strategies, you need to make a decision on where to start with metric specifics.
In some ways this is a little like asking what your favourite meal is. You think the answer is going to be easy and before you know it 'roast turkey' pops out of your mouth only to be replaced by 'thai curry' in a nano second (feel free to superimpose any tasty dish of your choice here).
In reality your answer will be dependent on factors such as time of day, season, mood, occasion, how hungry you are etc. And so it is with choosing metrics. It's important to understand their context and their relevance to overall business goals. And in the same way you are unlikely to list every meal going not every metric going is going to fit the bill either.
"Over half of both B2B and B2C marketers are not sure what a successful content program looks like." B2C Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends 2016
What you ultimately decide upon will need to align with your strategy but the following provide a solid starting point:
1 - Initial engagement
This would obviously encompass initial open and click through rates if you share your content via email. These tend to be largely vanity metrics and don't really say that much ... but hey, it's always nice to know.
It's worth taking note of which channels receive the most traffic, when and how frequently. Most importantly look at what kind of initial impact your content is having ... how many people say spend at least 15 seconds with a piece of content. This will tell you whether or not your content is grabbing immediate attention.
2 - Average read time
The average amount of time each of your readers spend engaged with your content whether reading, clicking on rich media contained within, engaged with interactive elements of your content etc.
Obtain as much granular information as you can. Find a platform that can tell you how long your audience spent on each page and what individual elements they shared (quotes, videos, survey responses). Determining exactly how your readers engage will be crucial in informing future content creation.
3 - Average completion
How many people stay to the end? This will inform you as to whether or not your content is of value to your reader.
Given that 80% of readers never reach the end of a piece of content this will indicate whether or not yours is a cut above the rest. If you lose people early on it may be that you need to address not just the body of content itself but headings, imagery, interactive elements and whether or not your overall message is upfront – crucial in obtaining buy in to the rest of the piece.
4 - Average stories per reader
Are the same readers coming back for more? If so you are doing something right! This will indicate that you are delivering consistent and valuable content. These people have a need to read. Bravo!
If someone can be bothered to amplify your content to others then this is a sure sign they rate it. Unless of course it’s in a derogatory fashion – but a damning quip will normally be in accompaniment so pretty easy to determine.
Look at what channels are receiving the most shares, how often, from whom and importantly which content is being shared the most.
"A useful metric is both accurate (in that it measures what it says it measures) and aligned with your goals. Don't measure anything unless the data helps you make a better decision or change your actions." Seth Godin
6 - Call to Action response
If readers are prepared to fill out a lead generation box/form then you’ve hit bulls eye. They are significantly interested to learn more about your product/service/any further content you produce. You have more than gained their interest. It suggests they feel your business could solve a problem for them. And this is exactly what you wanted to achieve.
Only 30% of leading marketers feel they are effective at measuring content marketing's impact on the bottom of the funnel (Curata)
Lead generation goes directly to filling your organisation's sales funnel. From here you'll be able to monitor the conversion process. It may be that more than one piece of content feeds in to this which needs to be taken into account. Perhaps it was a specific campaign or just more generally across the mix.
Ultimately though this is a hard and fast way to see where content marketing efforts have directly pushed potential revenue into the business. Over to the Sales guys to weave their magic. But don't forget content efforts don't stop at this point. Potential customers will still need to be educated, will still need to be fed with relevant information in relation to which point they are at in the customer journey.
“Page views and bounce rates are KPIs. At the end, we want to measure our users. That's what great marketers do." Adam Singer, Mozcon
7 - Direct feedback
Nothing could be more immediately revealing. Don't be scared to get right to the nub and ask for audience feedback.
If you don't ask you don't get! Obviously don't bombard with questions too frequently but creating an opportunity for open comment or by occasionally asking questions, say perhaps via a poll, will provide invaluable insight. Furthermore get other teams in your organisation involved in eliciting feedback with regard content. Both Sales and Customer Management are perfectly placed to do this.
How to get your data
And then the technical stuff. Once you know what metrics you are looking at. You need to be able to gather them all. Finding tools to help will make the job so much easier, results more cohesive and more granular.
Make it easy on yourself - go research and find a platform that can give you both an overall birds eye view but also dig down into the nitty gritty. There are some pretty clever resources out there at your disposal.
Google Analytics has been a stalwart for many years now but it isn't everything. You want to make it as easy as possible to see how your content is performing and finding a content platform that has a strong in-built analytics package will save both time and provide greater clarity.
It is very difficult (if not impossible) to find an analytics tool that will enable you to accurately measure all of your content performance, so shop around and combine valuable data from various sources into usable dashboards. How and where you publish your content will also dictate which tools to use: for example you can't measure video performance the same way you'd measure a blog post or an interactive story.
“How quickly is your content accelerating the funnel or shortening the buying cycle? If your leads are coming in by way of your content and they are much closer to purchasing your product, that’s a clear sign of success.” - Jason Miller
In summary - The ABC of 123
- Look at how your content has performed historically
- Understand the business objectives of your organisation
- Make sure that both marketing and content strategies are aligned with these
- Determine your KPIs
- Determine specifics of how you will measure
- Research tools to help with measurement
- Know what success looks like
- Know exactly what data is relevant and more importantly how to use insight to improve
- Refine your content marketing strategy using actual insights
“There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” Peter F. Drucker