It’s a mistake I see time and again…
Businesses invest in content marketing without having a clue whether it’s effective or not.
No matter what your goals are, you need some way of quantifying the results of your efforts.
Otherwise, you don’t know if you’re getting a positive or negative return on investment (ROI).
To determine how successful you’ve been, you need to track metrics (also called key performance indicators (KPIs)).
Metrics are numbers that are related to the goals you want to achieve.
For example, if your main goal is to lose fat, metrics you could track are body fat percentage and weight.
The key factor that indicates a metric is that you can measure it.
There’s no guesswork or statements like, “I feel this is going well…”
You have non-biased numbers to evaluate your progress.
That makes sense, right?
You track metrics to find out whether the numbers are headed in the right direction and make your decisions based on that data.
If your metrics tell you that content marketing is bringing you a better ROI than paid advertising, you’ll probably want to increase your content marketing budget.
Conversely, if your metrics don’t look so good, you’ll need to improve your system or try a different option.
One small problem with metrics: Although metrics are important, they do have limitations.
It’s not always possible to find a metric that completely represents your goal.
Additionally, you might have multiple goals, and one metric will never tell you how you’re doing across all of them at once.
The simple solution is to track multiple metrics.
By combining several important KPIs, you can get an overall picture of your progress.
If you’re investing in content marketing, you’ll care not only about increasing page views but also making sure that those page views are resulting in engagement, growth, and profit.
Everyone has slightly different goals even if they’re similar.
Which is why I’m going to go through the 23 best content marketing metrics to track.
I’ll explain when you should and should not track each of them so that you can find a combination that works for you.
I’ve seen some successful businesses track as few as 3-4 metrics and others track more than 10.
There’s no wrong number. Just try to find a combination of metrics that takes all your goals into consideration.
Type #1 – Content consumption metrics
One of the main goals of content marketing is to produce value.
If you’re creating content that people love, not only are you making a difference in their lives, but you are building a name in your niche.
Oh yeah, it results in more leads and sales as well—I suppose that’s important too.
This is why it’s important to track metrics that tell you whether readers are discovering your content and whether they’re enjoying it.
Here are the best metrics to choose from for this purpose.
1. Page views: Let’s start with the basics—numbers that just about everyone should track.
Page views tell you how many times your content has been viewed. This includes both people who only saw a page once and those who have visited your page multiple times.
Within page views, there are a few different types of metrics that you might want to track.
First is the overall page views. You can see these by going into Google Analytics (GA), Audience Overview (the default screen):
Underneath the graph, you will see a number under “Pageviews”, which tells you how many times all of your content has been viewed in the time period that you have selected (in the top right).
I’d recommend writing down this number once a month.
You want to see your traffic numbers going up over time, which indicates that your content marketing efforts are working.
Since many niches are seasonal, you determine this by looking at two things:
- How each month compares to previous months
- How each month compares to the same month a year ago
If you know that traffic always dips in September, it’s not fair to compare your September traffic to August traffic. Instead, compare it to September of last year.
The second type of page views you might want to track is page views by a piece of content.
You can see this by going to “Behavior > Site Content > All Pages” in GA.
What you should do here is look at all your posts for the last year or so (exclude the newest few).
You want to see that posts are getting more traffic over time, which indicates that your audience is growing.
The reason why you exclude the newest few posts is because they haven’t had time to establish their search rankings, which will influence the number of views they get.
2. Unique visitors: Page views can be a bit deceptive at times. Depending on the content you produce, you may have the same visitors loading the same page 20-50 times per month.
This means that the increase in page views may be due to your existing readers visiting your site more rather than new ones finding it.
This isn’t a bad thing, but effective content marketing should grow your audience.
Unique visitors will tell you how many actual people visited your site. There will be some duplicates because people might visit on multiple devices, but it’s a pretty reliable metric.
To see these, go back to the main audience overview and look at your “Unique Visitor” number for the selected time period.
This gives you a good way to quantify your audience growth. Ideally, you should aim for at least a 5-15% growth per month, but if you’re really pushing content marketing hard, it might be even higher.
3. Downloads: Many businesses, in addition to their free online content, offer content in the form of PDF files.
To track the number of people who actually downloaded those files (not everyone who visits the page does), you need to set up an event in Google Analytics.
To do this, you need to add some simple code to your links of your PDF downloads.
Instead of this:
<a href=”pdfs/my-file.pdf” target=”_blank”>Download my file</a>
<a onclick=”_gaq.push([‘_trackEvent’,’Download’,’PDF’,this.href]);” href=”pdfs/my-file.pdf” target=”_blank”>Download my file</a>
Once you have some data, you can go to “Behavior > Events > Overview” in GA:
There, you’ll see the number of events that took place (named ‘Download’ in the code above):
If you want to make it even easier, install Google Analytics by Yoast, a WordPress plugin.
In the advanced settings of the plugin, change “Track downloads as” to “Event,” and make sure PDFs are selected be tracked in the next field.
Then, when you go to GA events, your data will appear for all your PDF links automatically.
4. Emails opened: Those first three metrics measure content consumption from all your readers.
Arguably, content consumption from your best readers (your email subscribers) is the most important metric for long term growth.
If your subscribers are getting bored of your content, that shows you have a bigger issue with your content.
All major email marketing providers show you the number of opens for every email you send your subscribers.
Open rate doesn’t typically go up over time unless you improve your emailing in a major way.
However, if your content is really valuable, it shouldn’t go down much either.
If you’re seeing that your open rate starts to rapidly drop off after the first few emails you send, you have a problem.
If the drop occurs after a specific email, figure out why that email would cause such a drop, and fix it.
5. Email links clicked: You can get emails opened if you use clever headlines.
But that’s as far as they get you. If subscribers immediately close the email after they open it, it’s kind of pointless.
Another good metric to track is the number of subscribers who click on the links in your emails.
Any good email marketing provider will also show you your link click performance right next to your email open rate:
If your click rate is poor (say under 5%), or it’s dropping off over time, that tells you that your subscribers don’t find whatever they think is on the other end of the link to be valuable.
6. Pages per visit: Finally, another great content consumption metric is the number of pages a visitor looks at in a session (on average).
You can also see this in your audience overview in GA under the “Pages/Session” label:
This tells you something a bit different.
Readers can love your content, but they may only visit one page per session.
This could happen for two different reasons:
- your content is very long
- your internal linking sucks
You know I’m a fan of long content. It’s not going to be possible for visitors of Quick Sprout to visit 10 pages every time they visit the website.
However, they still visit more than one.
The bigger potential issue is internal linking. If visitors can’t find other relevant to them and interesting content on your site, they can’t read more even if they want to.
And the fewer pages they visit, the less likely they are to engage with your content.
With this metric, your goal should be to improve it over time as much as possible.
Yes, you will hit a plateau, but put real effort into pushing it as high as possible.
Once you improve it, continue to track it. If you notice a sudden dip, examine why your latest content would cause this.
Type #2 – Conversion Metrics
While creating content of value is an important goal, so is getting a return from all that work.
No one can afford to keep creating and giving out great content if they’re not generating some sort of a revenue.
This second set of metrics contains different metrics that you might want to track—conversion metrics.
The ones that you’ll want to track will depend specifically on your sales funnel. For example, you might want to think about:
- conversions into leads
- conversions into customers
- conversions into followers
7. Opt-in percentage: The most common goal of blog content is to convert a reader into an email subscriber.
It allows you to consistently send your subscribers new content as well as emails that will move them down your sales funnel.
If you create a landing page with a tool such as Leadpages, you’ll have built-in analytics that will tell you your subscription rate:
In general, though, you’re better off setting up a goal in GA.
It’s very simple to do. Start by going to “Conversions > Goals > Overview”:
Then, under “Template,” pick the “Newsletter sign up” option under the “Engagement” heading:
Click Next step, and give your goal a descriptive name.
In the final step, you’ll need to enter a destination page.
For an email list, you should redirect all new subscribers to a “thank you” page. Enter this URL in here. That way, when someone visits the page, GA knows that they are a new subscriber.
If you know how much a subscriber is worth, add a value.
Now, when you go to “Conversions > Goals”, you’ll see a graph like this:
You can look at other reports in GA to see your goal divided by other factors, like conversion rate based on a landing page:
In general, a higher conversion rate is better than a lower one. Track your conversion rate, and try to improve it over time.
8. New subscribers: On top of the conversion rate, you’ll also want to measure the gross number of new subscribers you get on a daily basis.
You can do this using goals in GA, or you can just look at the reports supplied by your email marketing provider:
Your email provider’s numbers will be more accurate, but the difference between the two won’t be significant.
9. Social media follower growth: Another valuable action that readers can take is to subscribe to your social media accounts.
While social media followers aren’t even close to being as valuable as email subscribers, they can still help you spread your content and grow your audience.
Also, some readers would rather follow you on social media first to get your content until they get a better sense of who you are.
The best way to track this is with a paid tool such as Buffer. Once you connect your accounts, you can see your total follower growth over time across all accounts:
10. Revenue generated: Way down your sales funnel, you want to convert readers or subscribers into customers.
This is by far the most important metric to track.
One way to track it is to set up Ecommerce tracking in GA. When you go to “Acquisition > Channels” report, you can see which channels lead to the most revenue.
Then, you can shift your content strategy to focus on the highest converting channels.
Additionally, if you know how well your email subscribers convert into customers, you can determine a value per email subscriber.
Then, you can assign this value to a goal for your new email sign-ups:
When you go to any report, you can see your goal conversion rate and an estimate of the revenue each item produced:
Then, you can go back to “Behavior > Site Content > All Pages” to see how much revenue each piece of content is worth:
This can be really informative in combination with other metrics that we’ll go over later in this post.
Type #3 – Retention Metrics
There are many different levels of success with content marketing.
You can produce content that readers think is cool and helpful but not necessarily life-changing or extremely valuable.
This is a big deal.
If you can create content that falls into that second category—life-changing or extremely valuable—readers will turn into customers at a much higher rate.
But it’s difficult to measure the value of content directly. Instead, you need to use retention metrics that indicate how hungry your readers are for more of your content.
11. Unsubscribe rate: One way to see if subscribers are losing enthusiasm over your content is to look at your unsubscribe rate.
Again, your email marketing provider should have a simple report that shows you unsubscribes over time:
I’d caution you not to put too much stock into your unsubscribe rate unless it’s really high.
Everyone loses a couple of subscribers when they send out an email.
But if you get a spike, you need to investigate it.
If someone doesn’t want to be on your list, you shouldn’t want them to be there either.
12. Bounce rate: When someone visits a page on your website but doesn’t click anything at all, they will count as a “bounce.”
A high bounce rate can indicate a few things:
- the visitors found what they were looking for and left immediately,
- the visitors couldn’t find what they were looking for,
- there was nothing for them to interact with.
The first one isn’t a problem—it’s actually a good thing. That’s why having a significant bounce rate isn’t always a bad thing.
The third one is also an issue because it suggests your formatting or internal linking is poor. You can also find ways to lower your bounce rate.
To check your overall bounce rate, go to your Audience Overview:
Even more useful is to go to “Behavior > Site Content > All Pages” and look at the bounce rate by page.
Use this to determine if any pages have an abnormally high bounce rate that needs to be fixed.
13. Return rate: It’s obviously a very good thing if readers keep coming back for more.
You can see who returns by going to “Audience > Behavior > New vs Returning”:
The two important things here are the sheer number of returning visitors and the ratio of returning to new visitors.
Your goal should be to increase both of these metrics as much as possible.
In a perfect world, all your new visitors would come back again.
Type #4 – Engagement Metrics
In order to create highly effective content, you should always try to make your content as practical as possible.
Because you need your visitors to take action.
When they see that your advice actually produces a good result for them, they’ll become your loyal readers.
Those readers typically turn into customers because they know that if your free content is that useful, your paid products will be even better.
Again, you can’t measure directly how often people are taking action.
However, you can get a good idea of it by measuring how often they engage with your content in any way.
Here are some things you may want to track.
14. Social media shares or likes: When someone likes or shares content on social media, it reflects who they are to all of their friends and followers.
This means that most people don’t share low quality posts.
So, if you’re getting lots of shares, it means people really enjoy your content and are happy to recommend it to their networks.
You should monitor the number of social shares you get on each post.
Over time, you want those number of increase.
To measure your shares, Tweets, likes, etc., it’s typically easiest to use a tool like Buffer, which automatically tracks all this data:
Alternatively, you can use a number of free social share checkers if you’re willing to do it one by one.
Or if you have some programming knowledge, you could create your own simple report generator using the APIs of the networks you’re interested in.
15. Number of comments: Getting people to comment in the age of social media is difficult. Most people who enjoy content would rather share it on social media rather than comment on the post itself.
But comments tell you that readers not only read your whole post but pay enough attention to say something about it.
Getting a few comments initially also encourages other readers to comment.
Certain topics will automatically get more comments, regardless of content quality. Look at the number of comments over a long time period to make sure they’re going up, and don’t worry about short term changes.
There’s no fancy way of tracking this. Just put the title of each post in a spreadsheet, and add a column for the number of comments.
16. Page depth: This metric is similar to pages per session but can give you different insights.
This set of metrics in GA tells you what number of people viewed a certain number of pages during a session.
You can view it in “Audience > Behavior > Engagement > Page Depth”:
It tells you how many sessions consisted of a visitor seeing only one page, two pages, three pages, and so on.
This really tells you if you’re getting those raving fans who want to check out every single post you’ve written.
This differs from pages per session, which could be skewed because it’s just an average. If all visitors see two pages, you’d have an average of 1.5 pages per session.
However, if they’re stopping at two, that means no one really loves your content.
17. Session duration: I’ve mentioned before that certain metrics such as bounce rate, and especially pages per session, can be messed up by the type of content you produce.
If you create really long content, visitors could stay on your site and read many pages at once. If they spend a lot of time on your site, it shows they are engaged.
To check this, go to “Behavior > Site Content”, and look at the far right column in the behavior section.
When you go to the landing pages subsection, you’ll see the session duration for visitors who landed on that particular page.
You can use this metric to measure any changes you make and to see which page is the best starting point for visitors.
Type #5 – Promotional metrics
There are two major expenses associated with content marketing.
One of them is promotion.
You need people to see your content in order for it to produce any results.
It’s important to track metrics that tell you the cost of promotion so that you can determine if the results are worth it.
18. Emails sent: In modern content marketing, email outreach is almost a necessity.
You need to make connections and get your content in front of them.
Typically, the goal is to let someone know about your content and have them link to it or share it.
The first two metrics you want to track are the number of emails you sent and the time it took you to do it.
This is something you’ll need to track in a basic spreadsheet.
Secondly, you want to track the conversion rate of these emails. Divide the number of links or shares you get out of the emails (whatever your goal was) by the total number of emails.
This allows you to test different email outreach techniques and templates, compare them, and choose the winner.
You can also calculate the time spent per link if you’re more concerned with efficiency.
19. Cost and return of ads: Not everyone does paid promotion for their content. It’s not required, but it can speed up results.
This is where tracking metrics are highly important because if you don’t know your results, you have no clue whether you’re losing money and should stop spending or you are making money and should spend more on these campaigns.
Any good ad network will provide you with your total spend and your cost per click (or, ideally, conversion).
Compare the cost per conversion (calculate it yourself if you need to) with the revenue you get per conversion (a different metric).
If you’re making more than it costs to get a conversion, spend more.
If not, either drop that campaign or continue to split test and optimize it if it’s around a break-even point.
20. Cost per subscriber: Even if you’re not doing paid advertising, every promotional strategy has a cost.
Email outreach takes time. Giving samples to reviewers costs you product. And so on…
You need to quantify the cost of your time, employees’ time, or anything you spend on promotion.
Then, divide that cost by the number of new subscribers you’ve gotten from each piece of content.
You should do this for each piece of content you create.
You’ll end up with a simple table like this, and you’ll start to see that certain promotional techniques are more effective than others.
It’s also a good idea to add the cost of creating the content (metric #21) in order to get an overall cost per subscriber.
Then, you can compare this to the revenue per subscriber and decide if that type of content is effective or not.
Type #6 – Internal content creation metrics
Finally, the other major expense of content marketing is actually creating the content.
You’ll see that certain types of content are more expensive than others.
It’s important to be able to see whether the results of each type of content are worth the money you are putting in to create it.
Track these metrics to get a clear picture of your content cost.
21. Cost to create content: If you’re paying a freelancer for your content, figuring out the cost is simple.
But even if you’re creating your own content, you still need to factor in your own time, just like you did when looking at the cost of promoting content:
22. Content ready to be published: One of the biggest signs of a healthy content marketing process is whether or not you have content ready to be published.
This ensures that you are consistent, which is a big key to success.
This metric is just a simple count. How many pieces of content do you have ready to go?
Check it once a month, and write it down somewhere.
If it’s gone down, make sure you know why, and figure out how to get back on track.
If you want to be successful, you must track metrics.
You should always be looking at your metrics to see how you can improve them in the future.
This allows you to test new tactics and techniques to find those worth implementing.
The best businesses iterate their strategy over and over to improve it, using their metrics as feedback.
I’ve given you 23 metrics that cover six main types of content marketing metrics. Pick as many or as few as you’d like—as long as they accurately represent all your content marketing goals.
If there are any metrics that you particularly like or feel that I should have included, please share them in a comment below.