What Today’s Content Marketing Metrics Don’t Tell You

If you’re like most marketers, you struggle to track the efficacy of your content campaigns. As we recently discussed, over 77 percent of marketers admit to being unsuccessful at tracking the ROI of the stories they produce. Yes, there are lots of numbers you can keep tabs on – pageviews, time on site, shares, etc. – but what are those numbers actually telling you about your content, and how your audience feels about the work your brand is producing?

Let’s take a look at some of the commonly used content marketing metrics, what they’re useful for, and what they, unfortunately, leave out.

1. Old School – Pageviews and Unique Visitors

Ahh, a metric as old as the web itself. How many people looked at your content, and how many pages did they load up? That’s the simple beauty of these two metrics – making them universally understandable. That simplicity also leads to their strength in letting you compare Page X to Page Y; how many more people looked at this content piece compared to the other?

If you’re a “traditional” online publisher, anywhere from Yahoo to NYTimes.com, this was how you conventionally sold ads. If 100,000 people looked at a page, it meant you had 100,000 impressions on some banner to sell. Cha-ching!

But if you’re a brand publisher, a huge number of eyes on your content isn’t necessarily your goal. Let’s say you’re selling high-end jewelry to middle-aged American women. If 100,000 kids in Japan stumbled on to your microsite celebrating your latest bracelets, is that really a useful development? Do those eyes mean more 35-55-year-old women in the United States are going to pick up your latest product? Probably not.

2. Stat du Jour – Time on Site

With the rise of clickbait sites like Upworthy and EliteDaily, pageviews have only become more and more commoditized. This has led higher quality publishers to recognize that they need a new way to sell themselves and their inherent advantages to advertisers.

So where Viralnova might be able to claim a visitor looked at 10 different pages (of a slideshow of inspiring cats), The Washington Post can now say to advertisers that every visitor to their newest long-form journalism article spent five minutes on the page truly digesting it (and perhaps the advertising that surrounded it).

To content marketers, this metric does have some amplified value as well, especially if the goal is increased brand awareness. If someone spends 10 minutes perusing your content, they’re more likely to remember your company’s name than someone who quickly clicks through three pages and then leaves.

But unfortunately, that’s still just an assumption. Maybe they remember your brand, but maybe they just remember the story you told and never actually associate it with your products. That doesn’t sound like an effective use of scarce marketing dollars.

3. Feel Like Sharing? – Likes and Tweets

Another statistic that marketers sweat over is their social media performance. Thousands of companies and services now pore over the social universe to track down every last tweet that even tangentially mentions your content. Again, if you’re a publisher with a viral-based business model, like Buzzfeed, this is generally good news. More shares can lead to more clicks, which leads to more ads served (it always seems to lead there, doesn’t it?).

But if you’re a brand publisher, you’re still not trying to sell ads. You want people to like your brand, and then down the line be more likely to purchase your products or services.

What’s scary about social metrics is that what might look like good news for a content marketer could, in fact, be the exact opposite. People could be sharing your content because of how awful they think it, or your brand, is.

“Look at Company X’s deplorable new factory; this behind the scenes photo blog can’t mask the truth!” or “Isn’t it pathetic how BrandY has tried to co-opt celebrity bloggers to make them seem cool?”

Yes, those examples are a bit hyperbolic, but some social campaigns have been going that poorly for years now. Worse yet, for every disaster that we hear about, there are dozens of more mundane examples where content departments are patting themselves on the back because their latest meme-filled piece is getting a lot of Facebook love, even though inserting brand references into Game of Thrones photos isn’t really going to convert any of those “likers” into new buyers.

4. Loyal Listeners & Returning Readers

Here’s a suite of stats that can together tell whether or not your readers are enjoying your content and coming back for more: percent return visitors, frequency, and recency. These can be a bit more subjective than some of the other metrics (particularly numerator and denominator questions such as “Did my percent of return visitors increase because new visitors decreased, or because returners actually increased?”) but they give you a good sense of whether or not your audience likes what your putting out, and is coming back for more.

Unfortunately, enjoying your content and wanting to do business with your brand are two different things. This stat, like all the others, still leaves you guessing whether or not your readers are ever going to convert and become purchasers.

What We’re Missing

The real issue with all of these metrics is what they leave out. Combined, they give you a directional sense of consumption, but not what truly matters – whether your content is improving the market’s perception of your brand and increasing the likelihood that readers will one day buy what you sell.

Understanding this means looking at some deeper measurements, things like purchase intent, brand sentiment, and message recall. A few smart marketers have started to wise up to this, and are now attempting to measure this data. In our next article, we’ll take a look at which brands have taken this big next step, and what we can learn from them.

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