Talk to enough people about content marketing and you’ll hear a common question: Which metrics really matter? Truth be told, everyone is desperate for a number that will tell you everything — the “divine stat” number less than all others.
Unfortunately for those people, that magic god stat simply doesn’t exist.
Regardless of your goals, you need to understand your results on some level. However, this is easier said than done, and because it’s so hard, you start to see a harmful, familiar pattern in the way brands approach the metrics.
Choose the type of marketer who tends to focus solely on editorial metrics, either because she comes from a media background or because she uses Google Analytics. The most frustrated of these people will only look at pageviews — a metric that really matters only to publishers selling display ads — and social shares. More advanced marketers in this area will also measure metrics like engagement time, average closes, and returning visitors to gain insight into how people are engaging with their content . But they will stop there.
The other major type of marketer tends to focus on conversions, but doesn’t care too much about audience building metrics. To them, conversion is king. All that really matters is how many people get pushed into the channel and everything that comes before doesn’t matter as much.
Both of these types of marketers are putting themselves at a disadvantage. If you really want to be successful in content marketing, you need to look at conversion and audience metrics together.
Let’s say your goal is to generate leads. After all, you’re creating content because you want people to buy something from you, and for many people — especially digital, B2B businesses — it’s relatively easy to track how much people are exposed to. Your content then becomes the customer. However, trying to generate a lead means that you are assuming that nothing major happens before someone becomes a lead.
You may have heard the cliché that content marketing is a marathon, not a sprint. There is a lot of truth to it. Typically, a potential customer will be a reader for months, maybe even years, before expressing an interest in becoming a customer. But you’ve captured their interest through great content, and now that the stars are affiliated, they’re looking forward to working with you because of the strong relationship you’ve developed. That’s something you won’t see if you’re just tracking lead generation metrics.
In fact, strong audience metrics often correspond to strong lead source metrics. That’s especially true for content marketing under 18 months, because audience engagement metrics are often an indication that a lead opportunity is approaching. Getting people’s attention for the right reasons pays off.
On the other hand, if your goal is brand awareness, then conversion metrics are still important. Even a cereal brand that does most of its in-store sales should care about how many email newsletter signups or social media followings come from its content, and which pieces of content are performing best. That’s another important data point when trying to determine what content performs best.
In 2016, smart content marketers will be looking at all of these metrics at once. That’s our bet, at least. And that’s why we’re building our Analytics platform to show our clients how their content is performing both in terms of audience and conversions so they can clearly demonstrate success. clearly and more importantly, continue to improve their content over time.
Marketers who embrace a holistic view of content measurement will have an edge, and as the debate begins to heat up between conversions and audience metrics at the next marketing conference… well, you can rest assured at happy hour bar.
Michael Enriquez is the director of analytical product at Contently.