You Have a Content Marketing Strategy — Great! But Is It Working?
Consistently creating fresh, relevant content is great, but how can you tell if it’s working? You may be getting more site visitors, but what does that really mean? You may have more clients or customers than you did last year, but do you know exactly where they came from?
By tracking key performance indicators (KPIs) for your website content, you can figure out what pages your audience is truly engaging with. Tracking conversion metrics takes that one step further and helps you understand what pages are bringing in new business.
With these data points, you can maximize your return on investment (ROI) from content marketing. Below, we’ll discuss the most important metrics you should be tracking (and why), but we’ll also look at some of the metrics that tend to be misleading.
The Problem With Tracking Vanity Metrics for Your Blog and Website
Vanity metrics are data points that do not strongly correlate with the results you are seeking for your business or a specific campaign. Often, they can easily be manipulated to look better than they really are. Here are some classic vanity metrics:
Having more views always feels great, but using pageviews to determine the success of your online content can easily lead you astray. Here’s why: having a page with 10 views that brings in 5 new clients is better for your business than a page with 1,000 views that only results in 1.
We had this exact scenario come up with one of our clients recently. They had a blog post that was #1 in Google for a few popular keywords and brought in hundreds of views to the site each month. Unfortunately, almost 94% of visitors were leaving that page without doing anything else on the site, which is known as “bouncing.” And over 4 years, that page only had 1 person reach out to the business.
Another article had 90% fewer views, but less than 30% of visitors to that page were bouncing. Even more surprising, 3 people had reached out to the business using that page even though it had only been up for 2 years. Thus, the page with far, far fewer views was actually keeping more visitors on the site and bringing in more business.
Like all vanity metrics, pageviews can be an indicator of success — but they can also be misleading. We ended up taking down that high-views page and 301 redirecting it to a relevant and higher converting page.
Likes and Shares
Likes and shares on social media are often the highlights of our day. When our content goes viral on social media, we consider it a huge win. But are people actually reading or engaging with the content they like and share? Not really.
According to one study, 59% of all the links shared on social media are not even clicked at all. Chartbeat’s Tony Haile succinctly sums up the problem of using social engagement to measure actual engagement:
We looked at 10,000 socially-shared articles and found that there is no relationship whatsoever between the amount a piece of content is shared and the amount of attention an average reader will give that content.
Ironically, the piece with the most engagement time in that study received fewer than 50 tweets, while the story with the most tweets had 80% less engagement time.
Getting lots of engagement on social media is great and can have a significant positive effect on your business, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re getting equally great engagement on your actual website.
Google Search Rankings
Surely, ranking highly in Google is the pinnacle of content marketing success? As with all vanity metrics, it depends. Two scenarios tend to be misleading when it comes to search engine rankings.
First, you can rank highly for keywords with very low search volume. If you’re at the top of the page for terms no one is searching for, your pages likely aren’t going to perform well. You’ll have high rankings but no results.
The second scenario to be mindful of is ranking highly for keywords with extremely high volume. Typically, these generic “head terms” are very competitive and desirable. For example, we might get excited to rank well for “online marketing.” But who is searching for that? Few potential customers, and especially not ones at the end of the buyer’s journey who are ready to purchase online marketing services. Plus, approximately 70% of Google searches are for “long-tail keywords”: longer phrases that are difficult to predict and plan content around.
Ultimately, you want your site to rank highly for keywords that attract your ideal audience. Just because a page ranks well doesn’t mean it will bring new business.
These digital marketing vanity metrics don’t always lead you astray, but they need to be evaluated holistically. Analyzing vanity metrics along with more relevant KPIs for online content will give you a comprehensive view of how your pages are performing and how you can improve your content marketing strategy.
Crucial Key Performance Indicators for Your Blog Posts and Other Website Content
If you want to quickly gauge how your website is doing or you want to put a microscope on individual pages, keep an eye on the following KPIs:
Time on Page
Time on page is exactly what it sounds like: the average time a person spends on any given page. More time on the page, in general, means more engagement from your audience. But keep context in mind. If you have a 2,500-word blog post, you’d expect your time on page to be relatively high. If you’re looking at a dedicated landing page with 200 words, you’d expect a lower time on page. You may also have pages with video, graphics, interactivity, and other features that visitors might spend more (or less) time on.
What is a good time on page? The average adult can read about 250 words per minute, so the best time on page possible is going to be the word count divided by 250 (for written content). If your time on page is remaining the same or increasing, you are doing well!
Visitors “bounce” when they only visit one page and do not perform any other tracked actions. In general, a lower bounce rate signals more engagement from your visitors. Again, context is important. For a blog post, you would hope for a low bounce rate because you would want readers to click on other posts or pages they are interested in. You would also want them to take other actions after reading, like subscribing to your newsletter, downloading a resource, or clicking a link to call you. Other pages, like dedicated landing pages, may naturally have higher bounce rates, especially if you have not set up events, social actions, or other triggers for your site in Google Analytics.
What is a good bounce rate? If your bounce rate is remaining stable or declining, you’re doing well! Bounce rate varies across industries and sites, but 70% is a good starting point to strive for. Over the entire lifetime of our website, the bounce rate is 60.12%. For the first half of 2018, our bounce rate is 31.39%. Most of our new clients have bounce rates north of 85% before they start working with us. You gotta start somewhere.
Pages per Session
An oft-ignored but effective indicator of audience engagement is pages per session. In general, more pages per session indicates more engagement. This obviously isn’t an indicator of an individual page’s success, but it is a good indicator of increased sitewide engagement.
What is a good number of pages per session? As with most metrics, it depends, but 3 is a good target to start striving for. Mapping out your potential client or customer’s journey will help you determine what number you should be aiming for. At a minimum, people who find you in an organic search will probably visit two or three pages before they navigate to a place where they convert. For example, they could land on a blog article, visit one of your service pages, and then navigate to your contact page.
However, people will likely visit more pages. Some of the pages we never expected to be popular (like our bio pages) are visited often, especially by people who eventually become clients. People also tend to read several blog articles before they move forward in the client journey to a service page. You don’t really know how people behave until you look carefully at the data.
These key performance indicators for digital marketing should give you quick insights into whether your website content is performing well. But how can you tell if your online content is actually making a difference for your bottom line? In addition to KPIs, you should also be tracking both direct and indirect conversion metrics.
Crucial Conversion Metrics for Your Online Content
Conversions occur between stages of the buyer’s journey. In simple terms, your potential clients and customers will convert in two important ways:
1. Converting From Awareness to Consideration
Often, this means your visitors will go from being anonymous to identifying themselves. They’ll download a resource, ask a question, sign up for your email newsletter, or take some other action to engage with your brand as they weigh their options. At this point, your unknown user becomes a known lead.
2. Converting From Consideration to Closure
Your active leads will weigh their options as they move toward a final purchase decision, and they will eventually convert into paying clients or customers. (Hopefully you’re engaging with them during this process!) Scheduling an appointment, requesting a quote, adding products to their shopping cart, and other end-stage purchasing actions are all signs that someone is converting from a lead to a client or customer.
You want to track both types of conversions because both contribute to your bottom line. Below are three of the most important conversion metrics to track. They will help prove and validate the return on investment of your online marketing efforts.
Form Fills, Calls, Chats, etc.
Any tangible engagement action should be tracked. You should know which pages bring in the most contact form fills, chats, calls, newsletter subscriptions, etc. Ideally, you also track which pages ultimately attract the most (and best) clients.
In almost every case, more contact from your potential clients and customers is better. The only exception to this might be if you are getting an unusually high amount of contact from totally unqualified leads. Characteristics of unqualified leads may include:
- Being unreasonably far outside of your target geographic area
- Absolutely unable to afford your product or service
- Requesting services or products that you cannot (or do not) provide
Cost per Lead and Cost per Client/Customer
Determining your cost per lead and cost per client/customer is crucial to assessing the ROI of your marketing budget or content marketing campaign. This is sometimes referred to as the “customer acquisition cost” (CAC). In simple terms, just divide your total marketing budget for a given period by your number of clients and/or customers over that same period. That amount should absolutely be less than the net profit each brings to your business. And over time, it should remain stable or decline.
Certain business models may complicate this math a bit. For example, if your clients are a source of recurring revenue (like a subscription fee, retainer, etc.), then you may have a misleading cost per customer in the short term even though the customer lifetime value (CLV) is quite high in the long-term. As with all analytics, this data point should be considered in the wider context of your unique business model.
Increasing revenue is often an indirect measure of online marketing success. One of the greatest struggles for businesses and marketing agencies is determining the exact ROI of their efforts in any one area. Part of this can be solved with nuanced attribution models. But even with the most advanced web, email, call, and social media tracking, sometimes customer touchpoints are just not recorded.
Many businesses are loath to attribute any unproven revenue source to marketing. But the foundation of content marketing is the idea that it will bring long-term success to your business through greater visibility online and increased engagement from your target audience. Those benefits are direct (like when someone fills out a form after reading a compelling page) and indirect (like when a satisfied former client follows you on social media and shares your content to new audiences).
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DeMers, J. (2016, August 8). 59 percent of you will share this article without even reading it. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/jaysondemers/2016/08/08/59-percent-of-you-will-share-this-article-without-even-reading-it/#187475b02a64
Haile, T. (2014, March 9). What you think you know about the web is wrong. Time. Retrieved from http://time.com/12933/what-you-think-you-know-about-the-web-is-wrong/