Let’s be honest: you probably didn’t get into content marketing because you love working with numbers.
That’s certainly true for me. I’m a word nerd. I’ll run a mile when threatened with math (don’t even get me started on trigonometry), so examining data has never come naturally to me.
But I’ve worked in media and content marketing for over a decade now — long enough to know that keeping a close eye on the numbers is essential if you want your content marketing efforts to pay off.
Thankfully for folks like me, there are many brilliant tools to help you keep on top of your content marketing metrics (little to no math required). But the sheer volume of metrics can be a little overwhelming when you start digging into the data — pinpointing the ones that matter for your brand and business isn’t always easy.
That’s where this article comes in. In it, I’ll walk you through what are widely considered the key metrics to track when it comes to measuring your content marketing ROI (return on investment), KPIs (key performance indicators), and all the other acronyms business leaders love. Then, to add a little nuance to the discussion, we’ll deep dive into the metrics that matter the most to several top content marketing teams (including Buffer’s).
Ready to dig in? Again, I promise you won’t have to do any math — word nerd’s honor.
1. Website traffic
It’s little wonder almost all of the content experts I spoke to mentioned website traffic. This metric indicates how much traffic was generated (how many times your site was visited). Different content marketing analytics tools will have slightly different naming conventions for the important metrics that fall under this bucket. The ones I’ve seen used most often to track content performance are:
This is usually the biggest traffic number — the number of times a landing page or blog post on your site has been viewed. It’s important to note that this tracks multiple visits from the same person. For example, if one person visits the page ten times, ten page views will be recorded. (Side note: thanks for reading this again, mom!)
Users, or unique visitors, show how many people visit your website. Multiple visits by the same person are only counted once. So even though my mom has read this article 10 times, she’s only counted once.
2. Organic search traffic
Organic search traffic refers to how many page views are generated by non-paid search results. This number effectively ties into website traffic, but content marketing teams will often make this distinction if:
a) They’re using paid search ads on Google and the like to reach new members of their target audience
b) Search engine optimization (SEO) is an integral part of their content marketing strategy, and they’re aiming to climb the search engine results page (SERPs).
3. Keyword rankings
Again, if SEO is important to a content team, they’ll likely pay close attention to their keyword rankings — in other words, the website page’s position in search results that are important to their product or service.
For example, terms like ‘social media management tool’ and ‘social media analytics’ are essential to us at Buffer since that’s a big part of what our product does. People searching Google for terms like this might benefit from using it. By ranking high up on SERPs, there’s a higher chance of them finding our helpful content (and product!).
In most cases, monitoring this will require a separate analytics tool from what you use to track your other metrics. If you’re on the hunt for a tool to help you track keywords and SERPs, check out our free SEO Tools Guide (there are 27 of them on the list.)
4. Click-through rate (CTR) or conversions
One of the most critical metrics for a content marketer to track is click-through rate, or how many clicks toward a specific action a viewer takes after reading, watching, or listening to your content.
Yes, page views and time on page are wonderful (and important steps towards content marketing success), but click-throughs on call-to-actions (CTAs) or conversions indicate lead generation. In other words, how many people express more interest in your business thanks to your content efforts.
Click-through rates can take many different forms and directions, depending on where the customer is in your digital marketing funnel. Here are some examples:
- Signs up for your product or service
- Downloads a piece of software or resource
- Clicks through to a demo request form
- Signs up for your newsletter
- Signs up for an event
- Joins your community
At Buffer, blog-assisted sign-ups are our version of this metric, and we keep a close eye on this in our analytics dashboard (our Head of Communications and Content, Hailley Griffis, explains why below).
5. Time on page
The average time your audience spends on your website or reading your blog posts (now called average engagement time in Google Analytics 4) is a strong indicator of your content success.
Time on page indicates how deeply your audience is engaging with your content. More time spent suggests that your work is providing value, and less time spent that your content is falling short or not delivering the content the headline of your article promised.
6. Bounce rate
Bounce rate tells a similar story to time on page but in a slightly different way. Bounce rate measures the percentage of single-page sessions on your site — in other words, how many visitors only look at one page before bouncing away again.
A high bounce rate means that a large percentage of visitors are leaving your site after viewing only one page. This is the last thing you want as a content marketer, particularly if that visitor enters the site via a piece of content on your blog or the like. While there are many reasons for a bounce (a slow page load time is a common culprit), it’s a not-to-be-ignored sign your content is not helpful to them.
7. Social media metrics
Is one of your content marketing goals building brand awareness, being seen as an industry thought leader, or driving website traffic? Then, I’d argue a growing, engaged social media following is one of the most powerful tools in your content marketing toolbox. Not only is social media a powerful content distribution engine, but it’s also a great way to see if the content you’re creating is resonating.
Here are some metrics you should consider tracking, no matter which social media platforms you use:
- Follower or subscriber growth
- Engagement rate (the number of actions taken on your content — like, comment, etc. — per number of followers or subscribers)
- Post reach or impressions (how many times a post appears in feeds)
- Social shares (how many times your content is shared)
- Video views
8. Newsletter metrics
Email marketing is another excellent tool for that content marketer’s toolbox. Email is an owned channel — no tricky algorithms to contend with — and it’s one of the most direct and reliable ways to reach your audience.
If you’re leveraging newsletters and email lists in your content marketing efforts, there are three main numbers to pay attention to (all of which you’ll find in the dashboard of your chosen newsletter tool):
- Subscriber growth or sign-ups
- Open rate (how many people open your newsletter in their inbox)
- Click-through rate (how many people click on at least one link in your newsletter)
9. Event sign-ups
In many marketing teams, events are considered part and parcel of a company’s content offering (just look at how Goldcast’s Lindsay McGuire handles them below). Events are just content presented live, after all — and they can be an important source of content to repurpose for short-form videos on social media, YouTube videos, or even blog posts.
Events can also be a great way to introduce potential customers to your offering and expertise. Brands like Goldcast will often use high-value events to draw people into their leads ecosystem, perhaps using it to build out a newsletter subscriber base.
If events are a key part of your content marketing strategy, then event sign-ups should be one of the numbers you regularly report on. Tied to this is event attendance and the difference between these two numbers (and there will almost always be one) and views on event recordings if you offer them.
I’m adding this one into the mix with a caveat — if content output is a metric you track, you must be clear on why. Output for output’s sake, is something of a vanity metric. If you’re not focusing on high-quality content creation with a clear goal in mind (like Hailley Griffis and Eric Doty explain below), delivering ROI on all your hard work is going to be tough. That said, this may involve tracking things like:
- Blog posts per week
- Social posts per day
- Events per month
- Podcasts per week
Content marketing experts on the metrics they care about (+ why)
Here’s how the metrics I laid out above look as part of a larger content strategy — note how all of them are tied to an important business goal.
Hailley Griffis, Buffer
Top content marketing metrics: Organic traffic, blog-assisted sign-ups, and articles per week
At Buffer, we track the performance of both our blogs — Buffer Resources and Buffer Library — in a Mixpanel dashboard that shows us page views for the past seven days, 30 days, and three months at a glance. We measure the success of content in those spaces slightly differently. Since the Library is where our SEO-focused content lives, we track the success of these articles there over a more extended period. On Resources, we focus more on timely content, and so shoot for our results there to be more immediate.
As I mentioned above, blog-assisted sign-ups are an essential number for us, too. “If someone has visited an article on one of our blogs at any point before signing up for Buffer, even if they came in via our homepage or a different part of our site, we consider this a blog-assisted sign-up,” Buffer’s Head of Communications and Content, Hailley Griffis, explains.
Another metric we care a lot about is our content output — we aim to publish new blog content four times a week, Monday through Thursday.
This decision has a lot to do with the long, rich history of Buffer’s content marketing history. Our blog has been around since around the time of Buffer’s inception in 2011, and production on the blog slowly ramped up as the team — and the product — grew. We saw amazing organic website traffic results in our peak publishing years, 2014 to 2018. In 2014, we published 422 articles — eight blog posts a week!
It was (and is!) high-quality content, too. Articles produced during that time still rank high up in SERPs — though we have to work hard to keep this authoritative content up-to-date to keep it there, of course.
But for several reasons — big projects like our audio conference, Built to Last, a smaller team, and eventually, focusing on our COVID-19 messaging as the pandemic began — our blog output dropped. This really impacted our website traffic and Buffer sign-ups and eroded trust with an audience who had come to depend on us.
But since early 2022, we’ve been working on building up our publishing cadence again. “We’ve found that this has a knock-on effect on the other metrics we care about, traffic and sign-ups,” Hailley says. “For example, regular ‘fresh’ content makes it more likely our work will be featured in leading industry newsletters or shared by other thought leaders.”
“But perhaps the biggest part of increasing our output is rebuilding trust with our audience,” Hailley adds. “We want to show them we’re going to show up every week with high-quality content that we think will be useful to them.”
Eric Doty, Dock
Top content marketing metric: Output
“Metrics are meant to guide our behavior and focus,” Eric says. “In the long term, we want to look at metrics like MQLs [marketing-qualified leads], SQLs [sales-qualified leads], and revenue generated. But if I measured these things from day one, we’d mostly be looking at zeros and single-digit numbers — so they’d do nothing to guide my behavior.
Instead, the metrics that matter to him right now are leading indicators for future success. “So the number one thing I’ve tracked for the first year is output. Did we hit our target of eight published blogs every month? Did we publish and distribute our podcast every week? Did we get one weekly marketing email?
“While it’s not in vogue to preach quantity (vs. quality), focusing on the quantity of my output forced me to be hyper-efficient in my processes (while keeping a quality bar). Where do we need tools to add efficiencies? What’s the best way to work with freelancers? How much time do I have in a month for new projects?”
A year into his work at Dock, Eric is turning his attention to other metrics, like organic traffic, video views, social impressions, and more. “You must build a base before you can get to that stuff.”
Lindsay McGuire, Goldcast
Top content marketing metrics: Website traffic and event sign-ups
As Associate Director of Content and Campaigns at Goldcast, another early-stage company, Lindsay McGuire is laser-focused on brand awareness. “My days are spent overseeing and creating content around how B2B marketers can use events as one of their top revenue-driving channels.”
“As a young startup, right now, we are mostly focused on getting our brand out into the market and then generating demos and opportunities from that brand reach,” she adds.
What does this mean for the metrics? For Lindsay, her goals are tied to overall website traffic and organic traffic. Secondary to those numbers is their conversion rate on specific high-traffic pages.
As an event-led company, Lindsay has another set of metrics to monitor. “Another huge statistic on my mind is event registrants and attendance, followed by the pipeline [sales leads] generated and attributed from those events.”
Tom Whatley, Grizzle
Top content marketing metrics: Organic traffic, keyword rankings, time on page, and source of new leads
These are precisely the business goals Tim expects Grizzle’s in-house content marketing to contribute to. There are several metrics he looks at to monitor success on these fronts, he says.“We measure organic traffic, keyword rankings, and time on page for our content.”
In terms of pipeline impact, the Grizzle team simply asks new leads where they heard about the agency on the initial call and logs that info into their CRM (Customer Relationship Manager). “Sometimes they'll know exactly which article it was that led them to us; other times it's simply ‘Google’ or ‘the blog’ or ‘someone shared X article with me,’” Tom adds. “Right now, this is about as sophisticated as we get as we're in a period of experimentation.”
Sara Ott, Hound
The metric she’s most focused on right now is bounce rate. “The veterinary industry is a little less tech-savvy than most (sometimes they still do paper charts for their patients!), so when selling software to them, we have to be very clear and educational about why they should even care to have our software,” she explains.
“So, a lot of our content is more persuasive and teaches our prospective customers about these bigger employee engagement concepts — then we dig into why they need a solution!”
A lower bounce rate for their content is a strong indicator that they’re nailing those goals, she adds. “It signals that our prospective customers are really digging into the content and will be more knowledgeable (and excited!) about the benefits of our software when we get them on a demo.
In turn, this makes for an easier sale and a better relationship in the long run, she says.
Ben Kazinik, Mayple
Top content marketing metrics: Organic traffic and conversions
Thanks to a great domain authority on their website (a score out of 100 used by search engine optimization tools to predict how likely a website is to appear in Google’s search engine results), Ben and his team know that most high-quality content pieces on their blog will rank well, he says.
“Once it does, we look at how much traffic each article gets. Then, we work on converting that traffic into leads by adding interactive widgets, engaging calls to action, and A/B testing all of that.
“Bringing leads from your content is probably the biggest challenge marketers face, and we are taking it head on,” he adds. “Will let you know if it works out!”