Maybe you’ve heard of content marketing? It would be pretty crazy if you hadn’t, considering 90% of organizations use it as part of their marketing strategy. It’s especially important when it comes to B2B, with 52% of B2B buyers stating they are more likely to buy from a company after reading its content.

But how do you know if your content is good? Or perhaps a better question would be, how do you know your content is doing the job it’s supposed to?

And that’s where the marketers’ old frenemy, KPIs (key performance indicators), come into play.

Because you need to measure the success of your content, both on a macro-scale, such as your entire content strategy, and on a micro-level, looking at individual pieces of content.

Why is it important on a macro-scale? Well, 77% of the most successful companies have mature, sophisticated content marketing strategies, which they've developed through constant measuring and testing.

Why is it important on a micro-level? On average it takes 3 hours and 55 minutes to produce a decent blog post (with the more time spent, the stronger results), which is a pretty long time to spend working on something that might be going in the wrong direction.

Without measuring your content’s success on these scales, you won’t be able to see what’s working, what doesn’t, and where you should be spending your resources.

In this article, we’re going to outline some of the main KPIs for written content, why they’re important, and what they can tell you about your content strategy.

But first…

Before you can start measuring the success of your content via KPIs, you need to have access to information about it. While social media and email marketing platforms make it quite easy to view the stats around those channels, it might take a little bit extra leg work to get access to similar statistics for content.

The majority of your content will be hosted on your own company’s website. You’ll need access to some kind of analytics tools for that site since the majority of websites don’t show the stats on any given page (some might show how often an article has been read, downloaded or have a comments section which could show engagement, but the majority won’t). Most content will be added to a website through a content management system (CMS), and many CMSs will have the kind of analytics you need built-in. However, for those that don’t, you’ll need some kind of site analytics connected to your website.

Google Analytics can serve this role, but there are several other services that can do just as well. They’re relatively easy to set up if you’re doing this from scratch, otherwise, it’s likely your company already has it set up, so just make sure you can access the relevant data.

Quick note: make sure that you’re not tracking interactions from the IP addresses of your team, otherwise it could skew your results. You only want to be tracking the behavior of potential leads, actual leads, and customers.

Now that you know where you can get your data to build KPIs around, let’s take a look at the different KPIs you can use for content marketing.

Page visits

Starting at the top: how much traffic is your content actually generating?

This measurement is often broken down between overall page visits and unique page visits. It can be worthwhile to track both. Unique page visits are a good way of tracking your SEO and content distribution strategies, as it tells you how many people are actually finding your content, while overall page visits can be a useful point of comparison. If you’re getting lots of repeat visitors to a piece of content it could be a good sign that piece of content has piqued certain people’s interests.

However, neither measurement should be the main KPI to build a content strategy around. As we said above, it can be an effective means of measuring your SEO or content distribution strategies. Those are both very important to content strategies, but it doesn’t tell you very much about the effectiveness of… well the content of your content.

Time on page

This KPI works better than page visits when it comes to determining how much of your content is actually being read. There are a few things to note with this potential KPI.

Firstly, how much time is good and how little is bad? It really depends on the piece of content. A piece that you envision as needing to be read end-to-end (e.g. a blog article about how you developed a new feature) will need a different metric than one that’s broken up into clear separate categories (e.g. an industry report might have sections that are only relevant to certain people).

Either way, you should rarely put too much trust in those “x-minute read” estimates many CMSs add automatically as a gauge for the optimal time-on-page scale for your KPIs. It can be useful to keep track of which estimates are generating the most traffic.

Secondly, just because someone is spending a while reading your piece, it doesn’t tell you much in the grand scope of your content strategy. If someone has just read a piece of content and then gone on their merry way, even if they eventually do wind up becoming customers because of that piece of content, there’s no real way of determining the strength of that content unless you do some digging.

Engagement

There are several forms of engagement related to content, but we’re going to loop them together for the purposes of this article:

  • Likes and comments. Some CMSs allow for likes and comments hosted on your site directly, but otherwise, this will be based on engagement through your content distribution channels, like social media. If you’ve read our guide to social media KPIs, you’ll know that likes aren’t a hugely valuable metric, as people can like your post without actually having read your content. Comments are better, especially if your content was intended to kickstart a discussion.
  • Shares. Whether it’s shares of your content distribution methods (social media posts, email forwarding, etc.), or people sharing your content unprompted on their own channels, this is a valuable way to judge engagement. Firstly, it shows a deeper level of committed engagement than likes and comments: a person has enjoyed your content enough that they’re giving a form of endorsement by sharing it on their own social feed. Secondly, it shows that the reach of that content is being extended organically, as each share puts your content in front of a fresh audience.

Engagement can be a valuable KPI on a micro-level, as individual content that receives high levels of engagement should become your focus. On a macro-level, it can be useful to track engagement over time. If your engagement is increasing: keep doing what you’re doing! If you’ve found it’s plateaued or starting to fall, it might be time to shake things up with your content strategy.

Downloads

This KPI tends to be more relevant for long-form content, like reports or whitepapers. Often, companies with content they’d like to be downloaded will restrict how much a person can see without downloading it (“gated content”). If you’re going down this route, it does mean using downloads as a KPI is only really measuring the attractiveness of surface-level aspects of that individual piece of content, such as the subject, the small sample you’ve allowed people to see without downloading, or even just the title.

That’s not to say this method of gated content distribution isn’t valuable! It’s an excellent way of generating leads: standard practice to allow people to download your content is for them to provide an email address and open themselves up to further marketing.

Subscribers/followers

How you define subscribers and followers will probably depend on your content distribution channels or CMS. Some CMSs allow you to have native subscribers or followers for the content on your site. If you don’t have that feature, you’ll be relying more on the followers/subscribers from your content distribution systems, like social media followers or email subscribers.

Keeping track of these over time is a good way to gauge the success of your content on a macro level. It only really comes into play in regards to individual pieces of content when you see large spikes, both in gains and losses. If a piece of content achieves either of those things, it’s worth investigating, whether it’s what you’ve done right, or (hopefully less frequently) what was it about that content that ticked off so many people.

However, when it comes to B2B, just having a load of subscribers isn’t really good enough as a KPI. A big subscriber list isn’t generating any revenue for the company (unless you have some way of leveraging the number of subscribers you have into revenue by having sponsored content, or something to that regard).

How many of them are actually potential customers? How many of them are [insert dramatic pause] leads?

Leads generated

It’s highly likely your content strategy is a major part of your lead generation processes (75% of companies used content for lead generation). This means you’ll likely be tracking the leads generated by your content strategy as a matter of course.

This can work as a KPI for both your entire content strategy and individual pieces of content.

In order to effectively track how many leads you’re directly generating from a piece of content, it’s a good idea to include calls-to-action (CTAs) which direct people to ways they can become leads, for example, your email newsletter or a way to request a quote.

Successful responses to CTAs are often called “conversions”, which leads us to…

Conversions

If you’ve included a CTA in a piece of content, keeping track of the number of responses makes for an extremely effective KPI. A successful conversion from a piece of content tells us that the reader has read a decent enough chunk of your content and that it was persuasive enough that they followed your instructions in the CTA.

ROI

Return on investment (ROI) is one of the most important KPIs for any type of marketing, including content. You can look at the overall cost of your content strategy vs the revenue gained, but you can also get down to a nitty-gritty level by looking at the cost-per-lead or cost-per-click, where you look at the cost of the production of a piece of content (pretty easy when you’ve commissioned it from a third party, maybe a bit more complicated when it comes to internal teams), vs how many leads generated or conversions.

But content isn’t just about generating leads, it can be important in building the profile and increasing the brand awareness of your business (which might be a little bit tougher to measure against ROI), which is why the next potential KPI refers to ways of measuring that.

Influence

Thought leadership content can play an important role in building your brand’s profile without necessarily offering a direct route from audience to customer that can be measured. Rather it acts as a foundation for them to become leads: the more people who know about and are discussing a thought leadership you’ve produced, the more people who are likely to check out the content that’s more directly connected to your products and services to become leads.

But how do you measure something so esoteric? You can talk about the influence of a piece of content. You can measure this in terms of how much discussion a piece of content might have generated online, whether on social media or in the press. This might be a little difficult to pin down, so it could be useful to look at the number of backlinks a piece of content has produced for you.

Backlinks are links to your website and content on external websites, and it plays an important role in SEO strategies. The more backlinks on websites with high authority the better (e.g. New York Times is high authority. The hundred websites you’re thinking of setting up just to host backlinks are not). A piece of content that’s generated a lot of valuable backlinks can be considered to have a high influence, both in terms of getting your name out there and in enhancing your SEO.

Final thoughts

So which KPIs should you be paying attention to? Ideally, all of them! In fact, some organizations roll most of these KPIs under an umbrella term of “growth”, which covers just about everything to do with the reach and audience of your content (page visits, downloads, engagement, subscribers/followers, and influence). But if your content is seeing successful growth without converting or generating leads, then it’s not fulfilling its purpose, which is why you also need those other, more “bottom line” driven KPIs like leads generated and ROI.

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