By now, virtually every brand across any industry or niche is doing some form of content marketing. Many of these businesses have formal content marketing strategies with editorial guidelines, content calendars, and posting schedules. But very few take the time to carefully measure content marketing results. And unfortunately, this comprises the very integrity of these campaigns by limiting or suppressing optimum results.

In this article, we’re going to explore precise ways you can measure your content marketing efforts to get a clearer picture of what’s happening both at a micro and macro level. By the end, you should have some clear action steps on how you can proceed in the coming days and weeks.

Why Measure Content Marketing?

Before we dig into the how of measuring and analyzing content marketing, let’s explore the why. In other words, why should you measure your content marketing in the first place?

Though each individual brand will have its own unique list of reasons, there are ultimately three overarching purposes:

  • Clarity. It’s impossible to know how your content is being received if you don’t take the time to study the data and analyze the trends. Careful measurement and analysis pave the way for greater clarity.
  • Justification. If you’re investing in content marketing within a large organization or multi-layered business, you have to be prepared to justify the investment. Subjective statements and generalities will only go so far. Eventually, the people calling the shots will want to see objective data and numerical trends to offer their continued support.
  • Optimization. Trends come and go. Best practices evolve. New strategies emerge. A static content marketing strategy eventually crumbles into a heap of irrelevant ashes. The only way to optimize with any real strategy or direction is to measure what’s happening on the ground floor so that you can make the necessary changes and adjustments over time.

Measuring content marketing takes time. Analyzing the data and trends requires a hefty ongoing commitment. But when you understand the impact, it becomes much easier to stay committed and tuned in. When in doubt, return to these three purposes and let them guide your decision-making.

How Often Should You Measure Your Content Marketing?

This question of how often is ultimately one of personal preference. However, the real answer is that you should be measuring content marketing as often as you can. (Ideally it’s a continual process.)

According to one industry survey, leading experts set goals and track KPIs for every piece of content they create. Approximately 37 percent of marketers monitor the success of their content marketing every week, while another 26 percent do so on a daily basis.

How to Measure and Analyze for Optimal Clarity

Okay, now that we’ve laid the groundwork and developed a common understanding of why content marketing needs continual measurement and analysis, let’s dig in and look at the action steps you can take to get clear and insightful takeaways that lead to growth and improvement.

  • Get Clear on Your Goals

Every good content marketing strategy starts with a definitive set of goals and desired results. Before you move any further in the process, it’s imperative that you get very clear on what these goals are in order that you can track against them. This includes both overarching goals, as well as content-specific objectives that apply to individual mediums and pieces.

Begin with your overarching goal:

  • Are you trying to increase your brand exposure to relevant members of your target audience?
  • Is your primary objective to drive traffic to sales pages so that you can drum up conversions?
  • Is your goal to educate people in order that you can cultivate an informed following?

Then there are the content-specific goals, like:

  • Increasing blog readership
  • Gaining backlinks
  • Improving search rankings

Each of these goals requires a different approach on the analysis front. (And it’s possible that you’ll have a combination of overlapping goals.) By getting clear on what your goals are, you can select the right measurements to move forward with.

  • Track These Metrics

Based on your goals, here are some powerful metrics you can analyze to measure content marketing efficacy:

  • Website traffic. Track your website traffic data every single day and overlay it with your content posting schedule. Look for a correlation between when content is posted and how traffic fluctuates. Do you notice an uptick in traffic based certain types of content (quality) or the number of posts you publish (quantity)?
  • Subscriber growth. Email marketing is obviously a huge component of content marketing. By tracking your subscriber growth and opt-ins, you can see how many new people you’re reaching over time. You should also track opt-outs and other engagement metrics, which tells you if people like what they’re getting.
  • Average time on page. Google analytics has a neat metric that allows you to track the average amount of time people are spending on each page of content you produce. Keep an eye on this data point, as it’ll give you a good idea of whether people are quickly scanning your content and bouncing, or if they’re actually taking the time to consume what you’re publishing. Over time, you’ll notice that certain types of content lead to a spike in the average time on page.
  • Click-through rate (CTR). Your CTR tells you what percentage of a page’s visitors click through your content and go to other pages on your website. In other words, it tells you how well you’re doing at convincing people to continue the experience with your brand (versus leave for another website).
  • Social shares. Comments and likes on social media are one thing. But the true test of whether your content is resonating is how many shares it gets. You don’t need all of your content to go viral, but you should try to get a few shares per post. This increases the eyeballs/impressions and increases your likelihood of finding success.

This data can be pulled from a variety of sources, including website Analytics, email analytics, social media analytics, and a combination of standalone tools and trackers that you use.

  • Check Your Backlinks

It’s one thing to share your content and pump it out across a variety of social channels, but if you want to double or triple the impact of your content, you need a backlinking strategy that encourages other websites and blogs to link back to you.

Use a backlink checker to identify all of the inbound links to your site and consistently measure for growth and attrition. Ideally, you should be picking up dozens (or hundreds) of backlinks a year. This not only leads to the increased potential of referral traffic back to your website, but it also strengthens your search rankings.

If you find one specific website or blog that regularly links back to your content, it might be worth sending them a quick thank you message for their support. (It would also be smart to link back to their site, when relevant and appropriate.)

  • Study Search Ranking Trends

One of the primary goals of content marketing is to amplify your website’s SEO and improve search rankings, which enhances discoverability and subsequently increases your chances of driving organic traffic back to your URLs.

Study your search rankings over time – both on a domain-level and page-level. In other words, you should be tracking your website’s search ranking trends, as well as individual pieces of content and how they rank for particular keywords. This can all be done via a combination of tools like Google Analytics, Moz, Ahrefs, etc.

  • Look for Anecdotal Evidence of Engagement

If search rankings and SEO represent the technical side of content marketing, engagement is associated with the softer side of things. But just because it’s more anecdotal doesn’t mean it lacks measurable metrics. In fact, studying content engagement is one of the keys to being successful. Here are some different elements to analyze:

  • Blog comments. Comments on your blog posts – organic, not spammy – are a sign that your content is working. Don’t fret too much about whether these comments are positive or negative. The fact that you’re driving conversation is key.
  • Email replies. Are people replying to your email newsletters and blasts? This will tell you a lot about how effective the content is. (A lack of replies doesn’t necessarily indicate your emails are ineffective, but an abundance of them definitely shows you’re getting the job done.)
  • Scrolling. How far are people scrolling down on your blog posts and content? There are a variety of tools you can embed into your site to gather these insights. It’ll show you where people tend to drop off.

If you’re doing well in these areas, your engagement is high. This is perhaps the clearest indicator that your content marketing is working.

Adding it All Up

Don’t let the volume of data or the dozens of different KPIs and measurements overwhelm you. You don’t have to tackle everything at once. In fact, you probably shouldn’t.

The best approach is to start with one goal and to spend a week tracking it. Then add in another goal and measurement the next week. As you become more familiar with studying your content – and as you simultaneously add more analysis to your repertoire – you’ll gain even greater clarity into what’s happening and where you can improve.

Nate Nead

Nate Nead is the CEO of SEO.co, a full-service SEO company. For over a decade Nate had provided strategic guidance on scaling organic website traffic for some of the most well-known online brands. He and his team advise Fortune 500 and SMB clients on keyword research, link building, content marketing and paid online promotion. Nate and his team are based in Seattle, Washington and West Palm Beach, Florida.