The Right and Wrong Ways to Measure Content Marketing

By now it should be obvious: content marketing is hot. In the age of social media, major brands need a steady stream of photos, videos, and articles to stay relevant and bring in new customers. But while some companies, such as Oreo and GE, are clearly excelling at the content game, it’s not always easy to quantify the value of a given piece of content.

What makes measuring the value of content so tricky? Much of the problem stems from the fact that content marketing tends to influence a buyer’s decision process during each stage of the sales funnel. And that means that to understand the value of a given piece of content, we have to look at each stage separately.

Top of the Funnel

At the top of the funnel, the aim is to raise brand awareness and create positive perceptions of the brand. Success, then, is generally gauged by surveys that measure consumer attitudes. But sometimes proxy metrics can also provide a good idea of whether a campaign is effective at the top of the funnel. A popular (and cost-effective) approach is to look at the search queries that bring consumers to a brand’s site. These search terms can tell us a lot about how consumers think about a particular piece of branded content. For example, LUMA Partners (an investment bank that specializes in ad tech companies) creates industry maps known as LUMAscapes. And it’s a safe bet that “LUMAscapes” searches are driving most of the traffic to LUMA Partners.

Middle of the Funnel

In the middle of the funnel, one relatively easy way to measure success is to look at activation and engagement. Activation is the customer’s first interaction with a piece of content, such as someone clicking on a list of top recipes promoted by Kraft. In these cases, metrics such as page views and click-throughs can tell you much of what you need to know. The challenge is that many brands now publish on other sites. And Forbes, for example, isn’t likely to hand out all of its engagement data.

Some brands also rely on engagement metrics, such as the number of “likes,” comments, retweets, etc. This can be a good strategy, but be warned: some publications inflate their share numbers. I’ve seen articles published at 5 a.m. receiving 500-plus shares before 5:30 a.m. – certainly possible, but it seems fishy. On the flip side, some infographics published by my company receive relatively few shares but lead to reprint requests and other publicity. In other words, don’t rely only on the number of shares. Share metrics have to be looked at in a broader context.

Bottom of the Funnel

The bottom of the funnel is the toughest part to measure. Sometimes you’ll see a direct relationship between a piece of content and its impact on revenue. I’ve seen some pieces of content double the numbers of inbound leads overnight. In other instances, that correlation can be hard to establish. It’s tricky because sometimes a particular piece of content, such as an infographic, is designed only to set the stage for a future piece of content that will drive the consumer toward the bottom of the funnel. For folks in B2B, think of “drip programs” in marketing automation tools. Advanced analytics/CRM systems should highlight the various touch points throughout a customer journey and show the pieces of content that had the most impact. The analytics can become complex, but it’s a necessary process if you want to know what your content is really worth.

Image on home page via Shutterstock.

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