7 Ways to Tell if Your Content Marketing is Working (and What To Do if It’s Not)

Content marketing is a slooooow burn. Really slow. So slow that it can feel like nothing’s happening at all. So how can you tell if it’s working? How do you measure content marketing success?

At Forge and Smith, we recommend a blog or case studies area (or both!) to each client we work with on web design projects. We sing the praises of fresh, optimized content to establish your business’ trust and credibility, and for your SEO.

But what we often hear, especially from small businesses strapped for time and creative resources, is that they just don’t see the value in it.

What ends up happening is a few blogs or projects are created, and after a month or two the efforts are abandoned.

Now, potential customers will find a blog or case studies area with just a few posts, which can have two huge negative impacts:

  • It looks like your business doesn’t care about details or see things through to completion
  • No fresh content means your website can be crawled less frequently by search engines and drop in rankings

We’ll break down the specific value of content, and give you quick ways to measure content marketing you’re doing right now. Skip ahead if you want to jump right into analyzing your content — or fix what isn’t working!

Why Content Marketing (Still) Matters

Content marketing is like a subtle art. It’s about creating and sharing content to a finely targeted audience, to drive a profitable customer action — without openly asking for it.

This type of content doesn’t outright promote your business; it helps solve a problem and generates interest. It acquires attention, engages interest, converts readers into leads or customers, and retains loyalty.

Image of the marketing funnel

Source: AWeber

 

In order to accomplish this lofty goal, content needs to be helpful, relevant, and valuable.

Here are five reasons why content marketing matters for businesses of all sizes and industries:

  1. It attracts new visitors to your website and builds brand awareness
  2. It showcases your authority on the subject, point of difference, and/or thought leadership
  3. It delivers a steady flow of stimulating content to share on your social media profiles
  4. It’s great for SEO — new content is a chance to gain authority and rankings
  5. It gives potential customers a feel for your process, work, and brand personality

Some content is created specifically to attract attention — blogs typically fall into this category, as do infographics, eBooks, white papers, videos, and podcasts.

Other content is targeted to the convince-and-convert stage of the funnel, where it’s assumed that the reader has already shown interest and is getting serious. Case studies or project galleries, email newsletters, video demos, and customer stories are generally created for this stage.

Now, let’s get started on how to measure all that content and see how it’s performing!

How to measure content marketing

There are great high-level ways to measure content marketing — entire platforms like Hubspot and Salesforce are built around providing end-to-end data management and measurement for the entire buyer’s journey.

For small businesses, investing in a platform might not be an option. You could ask every lead how they heard about your business and if they ever read your blog posts or case studies, but that’s far from realistic.

We’ve put together a list of metrics you can quickly and easily use to measure content marketing for your company.

Make sure you clearly establish your key performance indicators (KPIs), so you have outcomes to compare your data against.

Some business goals to help measure content marketing might be:

  • Increase monthly organic website traffic by 25% year-over-year
  • Add 500 new contacts to your email database
  • Build LinkedIn following to 300 followers
  • Increase contact form submissions by 50% in six months
  • Drive recruitment

Once you have your KPIs, here’s exactly how to measure content marketing data.

Website Traffic

Of course you want to know how many people are actually seeing that post you laboured over! The total amount of traffic can be a relief when you can’t tell if your efforts are working.

 

Google Analytics view showing daily pageviews as a chart

 

Here are three quick ways to use Google Analytics to see how much traffic your content is getting:  

  • Check the Landing Pages report and view the total number of sessions to see how frequently your content is the first destination for visitors to the site; you can find this under Behaviour > Site Content > Landing Pages
    • You can add a secondary dimension of ‘default channel grouping’ to the report to see where the visitor originated, which separates how many visitors are coming via organic searches vs. social media for your goals
  • Check the All Pages report to see the total number of pageviews for your content; you can find this under Behaviour > Site Content > All Pages
  • Check the Referral Traffic report to see where your content is being shared beyond your own channels; you can find this under Acquisition > Referrals when you add a secondary dimension of ‘landing page’ to the default chart
    • If you click on the referral URL within the Google Analytics Referral Traffic report, you can usually see the other URL where the link to your content lives; good articles about your business or citing your content as a resource should be shared on social media!

Want more juicy insights on Google Analytics? Check out 10 Tips to Harness Your Website Data.

Engagement

Always look at the quality of the traffic visiting your content, not just the total number of sessions or users. This is where bounce rate, session durations, and pages per session come into play.

 

Google Analytics view showing user engagement

 

A bounce is when someone exits your site without taking another action (scrolling isn’t counted, only clicking). Generally, a bounce is seen as a negative — you want people to view more content, sign up for your emails, download related content, or contact you.

Of course, these actions don’t happen right away, and numerous factors can influence engagement metrics. Weigh them against other metrics to better evaluate your content performance.

  • Check the Landing Pages report to view the bounce rate, average session duration and average pages per session relating to your content as the first point of entry to your website
    • Use that secondary dimension of ‘default channel grouping’ to separate types of traffic; social media traffic often has a higher bounce rate/shorter sessions because people are prone to go right back to browsing their social feeds
    • Add a secondary dimension of ‘device category’ to see desktop vs. mobile views of your content; mobile traffic also often has a higher bounce rate and shorter sessions because these visitors tend to be multitasking or on the go
  • Check the All Pages report to see the total number of entrances and exits for your content, and the overall bounce rate
    • The total bounce rate might be lower when your content is discovered after viewing something else, compared to as a landing page; this data can help you understand how well it resonates with people in different situations

Play with other secondary dimensions to get a really deep understanding of how your content performs.

Read times

The average session duration metric can be misleading. Longer average sessions that tie to your content are a good thing, but this number can be skewed by other session data. Here’s how to isolate how long people are spending with just that piece of content:

  • Check the All Pages report to see the average time on page for your content
    • This gives you great insight into whether or not people are reading through, skimming, or leaving after 10 seconds
    • You can add user variables like age and gender as a secondary dimension to see the read times and other metrics relating to more specific audience groupings

Google Analytics view showing average reading times

Conversions/Leads

Another way to use Google Analytics to quickly measure your content marketing is through Events and Goals. Although it can be time-consuming to set up, once it’s configured this data will appear in all of the default dashboard reports.

  • Configure goals that relate to your KPIs, such as viewing the ‘thank you’ pages after filling in your contact form or downloading a piece of gated content
  • You can assign dollar values to completed goals
  • You can configure events that tie to your goals, such as viewing certain content or reaching certain stages in views or purchases
  • View the funnel under Conversions > Goals > Funnel Visualization to see where drop-offs are happening
  • View goal completions for your content under the All Pages or Landing Pages reports, in the last columns

The more costly your product or service, the less likely people are to convert after just one read — so don’t beat yourself up if you see no goal completions for blog posts! Consider setting goals around viewing primary site content that your business deems highly valuable and likely to drive leads, and how well your articles drive to those pages.

Click-through rate

If your business sends regular emails that share new content, the click-through rate is an awesome way to measure content marketing.

Use your email marketing platform analytics to see the click-through rates and other valuable data relating to each piece of content shared in each email.

Keyword position tracking

Your website needs to come up in the search results when people look up terms relating to your business — that’s obvious. So how can you use keyword positions to measure content marketing performance?

This one isn’t as direct as Google Analytics and in-platform reporting, but it’s still a great way to see how your content is doing.

  • Run a full organic keyword report for your business’ website using an SEO tool; Forge and Smith uses SEMRush, and you can find many similar tools that include free versions or allow a few free reports before you’re asked to purchase a plan
  • Export this data and keep in a spreadsheet
  • Continue to create content using your target keywords
  • Run a new report every month or so, and look at the position changes — most SEO tools will show your position changes in a single column, but if that isn’t an option you can add the data to a new tab in your spreadsheet and manually compare

SEO keyword report showing position changes

 

If you’re seeing new keywords relating to articles you’ve recently written, or increases in position for keywords already on your list, you’re achieving your goals.

Remember that factors beyond your control can impact your search position: other businesses competing for the same search term with more domain authority or stronger content, updates to search engine algorithms, and even current events can cause changes.

Vanity Metrics

They’re called vanity metrics for a reason — they tend to inflate the ego, but don’t always directly drive your business goals. What good are 10,000 followers if none of them are actively using your services or products?

That said, vanity metrics might tie to certain business goals, especially when starting out. Building a loyal following of engaged people can be profitable.

Vanity metrics that can help you measure your content marketing success by popularity and engagement are:

  • Likes, shares, and comments on your blog posts (if enabled on your website)
  • Likes, shares, and comments on your content when it’s shared social media
  • Audience size
  • Social media traffic to your website via shared content URLs — often posts with no likes or comments will still have clicks, which you can view either within each platform’s analytics or within a social media scheduling platform

Buffer analytics showing post click data

What to do if your content marketing isn’t working

You’ve dug into your data, and something’s not right. Where is the traffic? Why is the bounce rate so high?

Ask yourself the following questions to help solve common issues you might discover when you measure content marketing data.

Is it what your audience wants?

  • Maybe your posts are about topics that your customers don’t really care about. Maybe someone higher up is asking for content that they want to see, but it’s not solving a problem or generating interest. Spend some time doing audience research, looking at competitor sites, and reevaluating your topics and the types of content you’re producing.

Is it optimized?

  • Content needs to meet a minimum word count and be optimized to get indexed by search engines, get ranked, and get found. Make sure your content follows an SEO strategy, using topics and keywords that are both optimal and can fit naturally within the copy.

Is it being amplified?

  • Content can’t do all the work on its own, especially for new websites and those with low domain authority. Be sure to regularly share your content — new and old — on social channels where your audience would be found, and by email. Consider a little ad spend to boost posts for your best content.

Is it quality?

  • Take an honest look at your content. Is it up to the same standard as your services or products? Would you trust your business based on your articles? Check the writing for grammar and overall tone. Make sure the layout is appealing, the images are good quality, and use stock photography judiciously.

Does it have lateral navigation opportunities?

  • Increase your session durations, pages per session, and goal conversions through providing links to related content and other natural next steps within the content itself. Guide the reader forward, don’t leave them hanging!

Is it all about you?

  • Remember, content marketing isn’t advertising. You’re not shouting in the reader’s face about how great you are, you’re showing them what you can do and letting them reach that conclusion based on quality and relevance.

Is it tracking correctly?

  • It doesn’t take much to throw off tracking in Google Analytics. Incorrectly tagged emails, social posts, and other content will not appear as they should. If you mistakenly add two tracking codes, such as Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager, you’ll get a false bounce rate of 10% or lower. Your Google Analytics tracking ID can get broken during changes to your website code, and fail to track anything at all! Make sure everything is set up correctly.

Are you looking at it from the right angle?

  • The reason secondary dimensions are so useful in Google Analytics is because of the depth they can add to your general data. The overall numbers might indicate poor engagement on a piece of content, but adding the user’s country or city could show that it’s performing really well in your target region despite an influx of traffic from another country where it’s not relevant.  

 

These are a few of many ways you can measure content marketing without heavy time, resource, and budget investments. Don’t give up on your content marketing! It can take months or even years to really see the results, but it’s worth it in the long run.