Metrics to Measure: What Makes Great Content?

Many of you have heard the chatter by the water cooler. Something is causing a rumble and changing the way companies market themselves. Producing great content has been proven to be an effective marketing tool, and businesses across all industries have started to take notice.

But in order to start tracking the success of content (and guide future efforts) you need a content marketing strategy with specific objectives. By implementing objectives or goals, you’ll be able to determine what makes great content within your industry. Your team can then make the necessary adjustments along the way to improve an effective formula.

To start, let’s highlight some broad goals that should be used as a starting point for any business. Successful content should:

  • Improve your brand awareness
  • Attract more traffic to your site
  • Generate new customer leads and/or sales
  • Develop your online reputation
  • Boost Audience Engagement
  • Encourage natural links and optimize search engine ranking
  • Benefit your competitive advantage

Moving forward, when you produce any single content piece, it should accomplish one or more of these goals, and your entire content portfolio should accomplish all of them.

Reaching Goals with Great Content

With any marketing strategy, accurately measuring and tracking efforts against targets and goals is essential in proving ROI. Content marketing is no different. When specific goals are set in place, the measurement of different metrics will be easier to track – making your content marketing strategy more effective.

Though there are many different tools available to measure the value of your content; most website owners utilize Google Analytics to effectively measure their content’s success. This tool offers a huge amount of useful data, but it can be difficult to choose which metrics to track.

Measuring Traffic and Time on Page

Every company wants more traffic to their site, but traffic alone is not a great indicator of content marketing success. If it’s coupled with other metrics, however, it can be particularly insightful.

Companies new to content marketing want their content (or brand) to show up in the search results. The problem is that they limit the measurable objectives for their content by focusing on traffic alone. Getting a lot of traffic doesn’t mean obtaining leads or loyal customers. Yes, you want users to visit your site, but there is much more to be measured that can improve your content marketing strategy.

In order to use traffic volume as a way to measure content marketing success, be sure to compare pages of similar content to each other, as all website pages are not created equal. For example, the home page of most websites will probably be one of the most visited pages on the site — but this isn’t always due to the content found there; basic SEO and promotional strategies can usually be credited with high traffic to the homepage.

Another metric to consider is the Time on Page. When the average time on a particular page is much higher than your site-wide average, it suggests that this page is grabbing and keeping visitors’ attention more than other pages, indicating that the content there is worth analyzing to see what additional insights it might provide.

This can tell you a lot about what type of topics your followers are interested in, or what type of content they might be searching for. That information can be extremely valuable in the future when producing new quality content for your audience. Take this knowledge and use it to create content that will establish your brand as a thought leader in the industry. Build trust and turn that into prospective leads and new customers.

How to Measure Referral Traffic

So what is referral traffic and how is it different from “regular” traffic?

Referral traffic is a bit more specific; this metric shows the visits to your website or content that originally came from an outside source. In other words, if a visitor clicks on a link from Facebook or Twitter and it leads to your website, that is considered a referral traffic or a referred visit.

Measuring referral traffic in Google Analytics can be done by selecting it as a Traffic Source:


Measuring referral traffic in Google Analytics
Photo by Marketing Web Today


With any content marketing strategy, you should have some content promotion and/or distribution in place to get that awe-inspiring content in front of your targeted audience.  If the content is valuable, people will share, like, or tweet your content on their own. As you create better content, it gets shared more often and will likely result in more referral traffic.

Referral traffic can be a sign of promotional and distributional effectiveness because it provides insight on which sites are referring the most traffic and the timing of the traffic being referred. Use this information to drill down on which distribution or social network channels you use to promote the content.

Measuring your Content Downloads

A frequent exercise in content marketing is to create downloadable content, such as free guides, whitepapers, mobile apps, or PDF’s. A great idea is to keep these downloadable content pieces behind a gated link — meaning visitors must fill out a contact form in order to gain access to the desired content.

Other times, visitors may not provide any additional information but still be required to download the content (e.g. large PDF documents, extensive resource pages, or even longer videos). In those cases, it is necessary to set up Event Tracking in Google Analytics to capture the incidence of your content being downloaded.

Once event tracking is set up, establish an event goal to track specific downloaded content pieces. When setting up your event goal in Google Analytics, you must set conditions for the goal and then specify a category, action, label, and value. In the case of measuring downloads, the event will be the act of downloading the content piece.


Google Analytics Event Tracking
Photo by Koozai


After the event goal is set up, you will be able to find the number of people who are actually downloading your content, without requiring any additional contact information from your visitors. This data can be used in conjunction with other metrics (like page views and time on page) to measure the success of your content.

Defining Your Content Marketing Success

At the beginning steps of any content marketing strategy, it’s absolutely vital to have a defined stance on what success looks like for you and your business. Success in content marketing will always be goal-oriented. As stated earlier, you need to establish clear, measurable objectives and then use various analytics to compare production vs. objective.

  • Define what success means for your content and how you will measure it.
  • Establish a timetable for measuring and using web analytics to gather data on the activity on your site.
  • Use analytic data to adapt future content for optimal performance.

Every goal should include measurable milestones so that you can clearly see whether or not you’ve been successful in your content marketing efforts. This allows you to further articulate your goals so that they are clearly established; make them as specific as possible.

If your goal is to increase traffic to the site, you could specifically set the benchmark “Show a 20% increase in traffic to our ‘Contact Us’ page in 12 months.” This precise goal identifies what area of your site you’ll focus on, provides a firm definition of the traffic increase you’re looking to achieve, and it establishes a deadline at which you will measure to determine the content’s success.

Whatever your goals may be – from measuring overall traffic and time-on-page to conversions, referral traffic and more – Google Analytics provides a robust amount of information that can be used to measure content marketing success. And obviously, tracking your conversion goals will be the most important metric as that shows how much of that traffic or downloads lead to a sale.

Through this measurement, you can focus on the kinds of content that have generally worked for you and your competitors. With these analytics, you have the ability to adapt your content marketing strategy toward success and not waste time producing content that doesn’t have a chance.