Content Marketing Trainer, 10+ Years of Content & Digital Marketing Strategy
April 16th, 2020
It’s not unusual for marketers to be asked to prove our worth, especially to those “higher ups” who seem to think any marketing outside of sending postcards is more witchcraft than science.
And even if your manager and C-suite team understand the value of content marketing, they probably don’t really understand the actual value you're bringing in.
Not unless you show them the numbers.
After all, we can’t declare success (or failure) if we’re not measuring and reporting on the outcome of the work we do. Moreover, we should be able to back up the success of our content marketing with real numbers at any time.
Sure, every other meme on Instagram is proclaiming that we’re all in this together. And while that’s a little saccharine for my taste, it’s true for us marketers.
You can rest assured that the conversation you just had with your boss about needing to prove the value of your department (and, yikes, maybe your job) just happened in at least 1,000 other virtual offices around the world.
In times of economic crisis, it’s natural for all departments to consider cost-saving measures.
This hits marketing especially hard since, as we all know, marketing tends to appear in the profit and loss statement more on the expense side than the profit.
Nowadays, we marketers are overcoming the flop-sweat that inevitably occurs when we think about what we need to do to save our jobs and are pulling reports faster than 34 million Americans binged Tiger King.
But not all reports are created equal — and certainly not all of them are equally meaningful.
To save our budgets (and, yes, our jobs) we need to measure, report and celebrate content marketing ROI publicly and often. But what metrics should you be tracking, how do you measure them, and what’s the best way to get the word out to everyone else on your team?
Why do we measure the ROI of content specifically?
But data points like cost-per-lead and lead-to-customer ratios may be great at defining the movement of overall leads through the funnel, but they don’t quite tell the story of what’s happening with the content we’re producing and distributing.
If we’re not measuring the effectiveness of our content, how can we tell how it’s performing well — or even worth spending the time creating it?
If we’re not keeping an eye on the metrics that clearly showcase what revenue and new business the content we’re creating is bringing in, how do we show the sales and leadership teams the value of what we’re doing day in and day out?
The ability to gather the right data helps us not only curate helpful and meaningful content for our audience (since it helps us pinpoint what’s working and what isn’t), but also to track progress and celebrate wins.
Such analysis comes in the form of both knowing what metrics to measure and having the right tools to easily provide the data.
The value of analysis
Case in point: My friends at VMG Studios, a creative marketing and branding agency, started using HubSpot as their CRM in November 2019, around the same time they made a substantial content marketing push.
After two months, marketers found that a new contact had entered the pipeline via organic search, visited their Learning Hub pages, then moved on to services pages, and (ultimately) filled out a contact form.
This was, in fact, the first contact they were able to confirm came in through organic search from content they had created.
That’s reason enough to chalk one up to a content win, right?
But what makes the story one for the books is that this contact happened to be from a major social media company that VMG had been targeting for two years.
Prior to migrating over to HubSpot, VMG had limited insight into lead origin and reporting.
So, short of asking the prospect what they looked at and how they came to be on the website, there was no way of knowing how their site (and all that good content) was being used, as well as whether or not it was underperforming from a lead generation standpoint.
With their new CRM, they had the ability to monitor what content was viewed and how rapidly the content was being consumed.
In fact, with the new ability to track contact activity and the prospect’s path through their website, they could identify that from the time the first piece of content was viewed to the time the client became a customer was a mere 12 days!
Being able to track the buyer’s journey (by looking at the number and type of pages viewed) and watch the time it takes a prospect to progress through the funnel both speak to how content affects the sales process.
Of course, other metrics can be used to track the effectiveness of the content and can inform how different elements can be monitored, modified, and improved.
Overall content marketing metrics and benchmarks
What to track: How many blog articles have been published in a certain period of time.
When it comes to the content that lives on your blog, both quantity and quality matter. Keep an account of how many articles you’ve published in — for example, a month. Then count how many articles have been published that will actively help the sales team better inform your prospects.
Where this metric lives: You can find this data by looking at your blog, but it’s most easily found if you’re keeping your editorial calendar up to date. If you don’t have a working document to track what you’ve published, you can use this editorial calendar template to audit your site and plan for the future.
Metric benchmark: Consistently producing content that will help the sales team and create leads is key. We’ve found that developing three of this type of article a week is the ideal, firing-on-all-cylinders number.
For those just starting out, though, a realistic benchmark should be between one and three articles per week (12 to 36 per quarter).
What to track: The number of keywords you have overall, on the first page, and in the top three positions.
Where this metric lives: SEO analysis tools like SEMrush or MOZ Pro.
SEMrush allows you to see this at a glance and toggle your view by keyword position.
Metric benchmark: The best way to monitor keyword growth is to compare the number of keywords quarter over quarter and where those keywords are positioned.
You will want to see each of the keyword categories (overall total, first page, and top three) increase month-over-month and you continue to release new content and track for new keywords.
While I wish I could give you a concrete goal, there just isn’t one. I get asked about overall content goals quite a bit, but honestly, they don’t exist.
That’s because outcomes are so dependent on the individual company — a 1% increase might be disastrous for one company while simply outstanding for another.
Traffic totals and sources
What to track: This is a common marketing metric and for a good reason — your overall traffic gives you an indication of your visibility and the size of your top of funnel population.
You also should be monitoring where the traffic is coming from. If you notice your organic traffic is dropping, you’ll know you have some SEO implementation to improve.
If you see a spike in social traffic, you can audit what social activities occurred and repeat those efforts in the next campaign.
Where this metric lives: Google Analytics or HubSpot Traffic Analytics Reports
HubSpot gives you an easy view of both your traffic and sources.
Metric benchmark: Traffic varies widely between sites. Monitor your website’s traffic by looking at traffic patterns week over week or month over month to give you an indication of overall traffic health.
What to track: The number of impressions shows how many times a user saw a link to your site in the search results. You can use this metric to track both your overall site or individual pages.
The Performance tab allows you to toggle views of clicks, impressions, average CTR, and average position. You can also compare stats against previous time periods for an even more informative (and visually complicated) view.
Metric benchmark: Impressions are measured similarly to traffic. Monitor impressions by looking at patterns week over week, month over month, or quarter over quarter.
What to track: The number of clicks shows how many times a user clicked through to your site.
Where this metric lives: Google Search Console/Performance
Metric benchmark: Clicks are measured similarly to traffic. Monitor impressions by looking at patterns week over week, month over month, or quarter over quarter. If you see clicks decreasing, you need to assess your title and meta description.
Average click-through rate
What to track: The click-through rate is the percentage of impressions that resulted in a click.
Where this metric lives: Google Search Console/Performance
Metric benchmark: This varies widely and can skew up or down depending on if there’s been a surge in impressions, clicks, or both. Use this statistic in conjunction with the other metrics you’re monitoring.
What to track: This indicates the average position of your site in the search results. You can use this metric to track both your overall site or individual pages.
Where this metric lives: Google Search Console/Performance
Metric benchmark: Compare the results of this metric with that of a previous time period. If you have recently launched a considerable amount of content in a short period of time, expect your average position to be higher, as it will take time for the new content to rise in the rankings.
How to celebrate content marketing success
Once you have your results, it’s time to act on them. The good news about metrics is that they work in your interest whether the numbers are up or down, good or bad.
If the odds don’t seem to be in your favor, then they’ll help inform you where you need to focus. If traffic is down, for example, then turn to your editorial calendar to see the number of articles released and the type of articles published.
If your click-through rate is faltering, then it’s time to turn your attention to those titles and meta descriptions.
If your keyword growth isn’t, well, growing, you’ll need to dig into the keyword research and spend time with some SEO best practices.
The efforts you put into turning the numbers around will allow you to reap the rewards when the time comes.
Don’t be shy about touting content’s success. Yes, you’ll most likely have these numbers in a report you’ll send up the ranks, but you also should be alerting everyone involved that the content you’re producing has traction.
It includes all of leadership, who is enabling an inbound culture in your organization, and, of course, the rest of the marketing team in the trenches with you.
Here at IMPACT, we celebrate content wins each week during our all-company meeting. We’ll profile new clients who moved through our funnel by viewing articles (and usually lots of them) and we highlight top-performing blog posts of the week.
Everybody gets a special shoutout and, naturally, a round of applause.
I’ve also heard from several coworkers whose goal in creating content is, of course, to help people but also to appear in the Content Corner deck. (A little friendly competition is always a good thing!)
Some of our clients post their content analytics on monitors around their offices so teammates can celebrate.
And the team at VMG Studios? They admitted to doing a company happy dance when they announced they closed that marquee client.
Give everyone something to celebrate 🎉
These days, there’s a lot of anxiety everywhere we turn — but there are also wins if we look for them. Dive into your content analytics and shout out the good news or use what you learn to turn around underperforming results.
Just remember to keep those high-fives at a distance: