Measuring Content Success: 2013’s Key Data Challenge


2013 is the year digital fully embraces a content-led future. Following years of technology obsession the realization has dawned on us all that the only way of creating a long-term business (irrespective of platform) is to create great “stuff” that those people we wish to do business with find value adding.

The key stumbling block to what is undoubtedly an area that now requires significant investment is tracking that value back to the bottom line.

While a lot of marketing and advertising spend can indeed be measured easily online clearly defining the value of content creation is more difficult. And as 68 percent of CMOs suggest that they are shifting more spend to content-led initiatives in 2013 there is clearly a need to measure how effective that budget will be.

And while there is no foolproof, head-slappingly obvious way of measuring it, below are some metrics you can use across the various campaigns you manage day-to-day.

Questions to Ask

Before building your organic segments in Google Analytics or setting up your social sentiment or listening campaigns, the very best place to start is to create a list of questions (about actions, conversions, reactions, behaviors) you believe are important to record.

Once you have your list of questions, you can then more easily translate them into a number of tracking outcomes. That list may include:

  • How many times has the content been viewed?
  • How long was spent viewing it per visitor and in total?
  • Did readers “convert” and perform the task you wanted them to?
  • Was it shared via social channels and if so how much and by whom – could Klout or amplification metrics add more insight value here?
  • Were other pages viewed or was the value siloed?
  • What may that additional earned “traffic” have cost you as paid traffic?
  • Have readers engaged with the content and, if so, what percentage overall? How many shares, comments did it gain?
  • How often is your brand being mentioned across the social graph? Is this number growing?
  • How is brand sentiment? Is it improving or declining over time?
  • How many purchases or conversions can be directly measured today, in 6 months and 12 months, from that activity?
  • Is the average value of that conversion/sale higher or lower than average?
  • What is the revenue per reader of the piece?
  • What is the average order size, both in terms of the number of products and dollar amount?

From these questions we can then begin to establish what the key segments and custom reports we may want to create in analytics may be.

Organic Search Metrics

Most businesses are used to using analytics tools to decipher ROI and of them all Google’s treasure trove is the most widely tested and trusted.

But where do you start to avoid drowning in average data? To get a true grasp of value you must first understand what you should measure. There are four types of content marketing metrics:

  • Consumption
  • Sharing
  • Leads
  • Sales

For the majority of marketers the first two are the key focus, but in reality it is the latter pair that represents the clearest signs of success.

To really discover what gets the best bang for its buck, I often use one or more of the following custom reports or segments.

You can customize both how you segment and drill in to the data using the various parameters as dimensions as well as customizing which metrics are included in the report. This will provide you with the greatest flexibility in how you view your data.

For instance if you blog regularly understanding the real value of that effort is very useful. To do this you can begin by creating an “editorial report”.

Simply put, an editorial report gives you the specific performance of each blog post showing organic searches, entrances, bounce rate, revenue, conversion rate, and other stuff. It’s useful, and your team may start using it quite regularly to compete against each other on their own work and across your client portfolio. Below is a screen shot of the actual set up created from within the Custom Reports section:


You can add to it by creating similar reports based on author if you also want to measure individual performance.

One other area of the Google Analytics platform worth making use of is the Multi-Channel Funnels segment. While it isn’t purely designed to measure content performance, with a few tweaks it becomes very useful for attribution.

The best way of fine-tuning the funnel reports is to create a New Channel Grouping from within the Top Conversion Paths subsection of Conversions:


By clicking on the Create New tab you will have the option to create a number of new Labels for each key section of the site, as in the example below:


Once these are added you will be able to clearly map which sections of the site are responsible for which conversions and what value they have to the business. This can help you channel resource to further improve underperforming sections or A/B test others. You can include whitepaper download URLs here too to understand what wider value they bring.

Tracking Lead Value

If you really want to drill down into the detail you can also set up Goal tracking to do a similar thing. While it doesn’t give you the full journey picture that the Channel Groupings report does it is a simple way of ensuring you understand the value of specific pieces of content. This works well if you want to track the value of a download or a piece of content where there is a specific URL they end up on after carrying out a specific action.

A simple guide to setting them up can be found here.

And if You Want Really Advanced…

The wonderful world of Regex (or Regular Expressions) can help you suck amazing data from your usual platforms into Excel, for instance, to play around with even more.

In simple terms, Regex is a pattern that allows you to describe a certain amount of text so you can pull out very specific data – such as “keywords attracting more than 1,000 visits that feature the words perfume, aftershave and moisturizer”. Annie Cushing is a Regex/Excel guru and you could do worse than follow her for more on this subject area.

This can prove really useful when examining specific content campaigns, and can also be used to create advanced segments within Google Analytics to track things like non-brand organic searches (to prove the value of SEO). In a content scenario you can use the advanced filtering to distill traffic sources to particular content campaigns, or areas of the site.

By navigating to the Content section of Analytics you can drill down into specific URLs to understand the value of total campaigns, or areas of the site.

Here the content we want to examine is sat within the /amazingcontent/ section and so by adding it to the advance filters section as in the example below you can exclude everything else and understand revenue per page/section, visits, bounce rates and more for the campaign.


Secondary Metrics

The value doesn’t end there of course. The whole point of content marketing is that it should be measured over a 12, 24 or even 36 month period; and that’s when secondary indicators come into play. If you’re measuring, then you should certainly include such proxies as:

  • Quality of leads
  • Retention period
  • Lifetime value per lead
  • Length of sales cycle
  • Number of new customers referred by lead

Social Metrics

If you are using social heavily to market your content it is also worth understanding how to measure each channel’s value in that overall campaign.

Measuring social value is one of the most challenging parts of the ROI mix and quite often businesses default to simplistic audience size metrics to try and understand it. The reality is we should be digging deeper to look at engagement and proxies such as:

  • Facebook Likes
  • Retweets
  • LinkedIn and other shares
  • Links back
  • Comments
  • Time spent on page
  • Average page views per visitor back to site
  • Mentions

Again it’s easy to build social-specific Google Analytics reports by using the Social section within standard reporting. The Social Value tool clearly shows the value you’re seeing from social referral and interaction as below.


A great way of understanding the wider picture is to drill down into the Conversions subsection of Standard Reporting and then simply add in Basic Channel Grouping Path as a secondary dimension. This will give you the funnel path users took before converting. You can then use the same New Channel Grouping process as in the organic example earlier to visualize actual pages they have interacted with before converting.

Other Considerations

You can, of course, go on forever with data analysis. The key is to create something that suits your business and its unique set of measurement requirements.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Other tools can help and there is a proliferation of platforms out there to help you understand the lifetime value of customers and also how you can better retain them.

Closed Loop marketing is the next step in the process and is where the insight you have now gained can begin to play out over the longer term, which is also when things such as Content Flow and other lifecycle marketing techniques come into their own. But that’s a subject for another day!

Related reading

How to take advantage of the latest updates to Google Search Console
Using Python to recover SEO site traffic (Part three)
international insight from google analytics
Five tools for audience research on a tiny budget