5 ways to prove content marketing is working

How to measure content marketing success? Without click-throughs? 

A marketer from CarMax asked, “How do I measure content marketing success? What if there are no click-throughs?” She added that she’s talking about an informational webpage, not a sales page.

Questions about marketing metrics and marketing performance measurement are among the Top 100 Questions about content marketing. 

Many marketers lack the time, money, or expertise to do comprehensive marketing metrics. But you still can learn to measure and guide your content with our rules of thumb below. 

By the way, if you do have resources available for comprehensive measurements, good for you! Check out our blog on all-in analytics.

4 rules of thumb for content marketing measurement

10 budget rules of thumb to measure content marketing success
Rules of thumb make content marketing measurement easier to understand.

1. Start where you are

Study up. Find any available data on past performance, collect them, and sequence them on a chart. 

See if they make sense and if they tell a story.

Sometimes a predecessor might have changed what was measured without recording those changes in methodology. Such changes can generate data full of static – which makes it hard to separate the signal from the noise.

If there are holes or breaks in the continuity of your data, note these anomalies.

If the data is garbage, throw it out now. Start where you are.

Woman thought leader having idea with a lit bulb by her head to measure content marketing success
You don’t have to measure everything. Focus on a small set of meaningful measurements.

2. Focus on a small set of key measures

Going forward, if you can only measure 2 things, measure your website and email performance.

Your website and email are key parts of your owned media, the most important media for content marketing.

Here’s a blog about the separate roles of owned, earned, and rented (paid) media. The upshot: build your content on owned ground, not earned or paid.

push content and drive results To build your audience, all the company's paid and earned media should point to your owned media.
To build your audience, all the company’s paid and earned media should point to your owned media.

You can set up Google Analytics to measure website performance for free.

How? Here’s a layperson’s guide to setting up Google Analytics. 

Remember to annotate noteworthy spikes or fall-offs in traffic. If you know what caused traffic to spike or fall, annotate it in Google Analytics so you can find it easily later on.

Use Google Search Console to improve your search engine results over time.

You’ll want to find out:

  • Where does your website audience come from – Search? Social media? Advertising? Referrals? Direct traffic?
  • What are your top 3 or 5 or 10 web pages? What makes those pages different from others?
  • How long do visitors spend on your top web pages?
  • From which pages are visitors most likely to exit your site?
How do I measure content marketing success? ideal email frequency
Find out what metrics you can get from your email platform.

Most e-mail programs will show you the number of subscribers, email open rates, and e-mail click-throughs. If email click-through metrics are unavailable to you, you can create a page of content that people reach only with a link in an email, and count page views.

Find out: What are your top-performing e-mails?

If you’re new to e-mail measurement, here’s a place to start: the Ultimate Guide to Email Marketing from HubSpot.

Once you’ve gotten a handle on your website and email performance, if you have enough bandwidth, add in social media measurements such as social media engagement. 

A marketing automation platform makes all of these tasks easier. Here’s a blog on how to use marketing automation in content marketing.

3. Find patterns and seek meaning

Get your data as clean as possible, then search for patterns by looking through the eyes of your customers. 

Time For An Upgrade? Signs Your Current Website Might Not Cut It Anymore Arrows on a wall pointing upward
Find patterns and find out what they mean. Image credit: Unsplash

With your content marketing program, connect the dots by asking questions like these:

  • What’s your onsite engagement? What are people searching for when they come to your website? Which search terms do they use? What is their intent? 
  • What topics interest your audience the most?
  • Do certain times of the year, month, week or day perform better than others?
  • What sequence of events brings visitors to your site? 
  • Do certain emails drive traffic? Or did a guest blog, a new product launch, an event, or a news release drive visitors to your site? 
  • Can you establish correlation or causation?
  • Do any of these measures hold predictive value? 
  • For example, if you suggest that people consume an additional piece of content, how many people do so (a soft conversion)? If they do, are they likelier to buy later on (a hard conversion)?

Who else can look at these measurements with you? 

It helps to get multiple points of view so you can form competing hypotheses about what’s working and what’s not working. Once you have competing hypotheses, you can test them.

For example, once a client did not believe a blog was necessary for his website. It’s a valid hypothesis, worth testing.

We paused the blog … and discovered Death Valley. See the chart below.

analytics graph with blog posts vs no blog posts
Why you need a blog, in one easy ugly chart.

Without a blog, website traffic plunged to nothing – until the blog restarted. My takeaway from this experience: learning the hard way is better than not learning at all.

4. Experiment with new ways to measure 

Now that you have a handle on your website, email, and social media, it’s time to experiment with new ways to measure. You can go way beyond click-throughs:

create a test and learn environment to find how to measure content marketing success
Start tracking content marketing metrics. You’ll find new ideas, then gain the freedom to experiment!

Handy measurement checklist

Here’s a handy checklist of content marketing metrics to use going forward. Some of these can serve as key performance indicators (KPIs) for content marketers.

  • Email Newsletters: opens, click-through rate, subscribers, unsubscribes
  • Website and blog posts: traffic from organic search, direct traffic, referral traffic, organic social traffic, paid social traffic, speed of page load, visitors, repeat visitors, time on page, bounce rate, conversions, exposure and authority, new backlinks, search engine rankings
  • Videos, podcasts: downloads, views/listens, shares, subscribes, comments, thumbs up/down
  • White papers, guides, e-books: downloads, registrations
  • Social media: posts, post reach, shares, clicks, likes, follows, comments
  • App: downloads, usage, click-throughs
  • News media: mentions, impressions, message delivery, tone, value
  • Inquiries: lead quality, lead quantity, marketing qualified leads (MQLs), sales accepted leads, sales qualified leads (SQLs), sales pipeline, customers gained, revenue, profits
  • PPC Campaigns: cost per click, click-through rate, ad position, conversion rate, cost per conversion, quality score, cost per sale, total spend
  • Webinars, virtual events: RSVPs, attendance, downloads of recordings, lead generation.
  • Content marketing return on investment (ROI) and return on marketing investment (ROMI). Here’s a blog on measuring ROI.
How best to manage and track success of best performing content Group of rulers/measuring sticks
Always measure the impact of your idea to show content marketing results.

Are there other measures you use to measure content marketing success? Let us know what measures you use for content marketing and we’ll add them to this list.

It’s also smart to keep an eye on your competitors’ activities with a content audit. Here’s a blog on how to do your competitive content audit. 

Top 100 content marketing questions
“How do I measure success?” is one of marketers’ Top 100 Questions about content marketing. Here are the answers.

“How do I measure success? If there are no click-throughs?” is one of the Top 100 Questions about content marketing. Here are the answers.