“Think like a publisher” is a mantra that’s tossed around quite a bit in content marketing, and with good cause. There are useful approaches from the publishing world that can be applied to topic ideation, editorial calendars, creative resource planning, and more. But you’re not in the publishing business; those approaches need to feed a broader content marketing strategy, including how you measure success.
You Are Not in the Publishing Business
A publisher’s goal is getting eyeballs on the page. If people are reading their content, their job is done. If you’re a business using content marketing, however, that’s only half the battle. For you, content is a means to end — putting out something of value with the aim of encouraging readers toward a business goal. Certainly you hope that your article is informative, entertaining, useful to your reader — but if reading is all they do then that’s a bad thing.
And yet, when asked to gauge the performance of their content, many brands will point to Pageviews – how many eyeballs (divided by 2) have graced this page? Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great baseline metric. All things being equal, you certainly want to see that number climb. But it’s also a vanity metric that doesn’t necessary correlate to things like user engagement, conversions, customer acquisition cost or other business-oriented measurements.
While there’s a lot that can go into tracking conversions and calculating content ROI, a good first step is looking at fundamental analytics metrics that can give you more insight than a potential red herring like Pageviews.
1. Bounce Rate
Bounce Rate – the percentage of visitors who arrive and then leave having only visited one page – gets something of a bad rap. Sure, you can look at it as the content equivalent of getting rejected on a blind date (“Has it been 20 minutes already? I really have to go”).
But keep in mind that some content is necessarily bouncy. I recently visited a page on “How to Install a Kitchen Faucet” and found a useful walkthrough on Home Depot’s site. I got the info I needed and left. But even though I didn’t continue through their website, I still had a positive brand engagement that may shape future interactions (including writing about them in this blog post). If that were a faucet product page, however, a high bounce rate would be more worrisome since that content is designed to directly sell, not just inform.
Also, every bad metric is an opportunity to do better. If a page designed to engage has a high bounce rate, find ways to test and improve it. Any online conversion path begins with getting them to a second page.
2. Exit Rate
Exit Rate is similar to Bounce Rate, except that it includes multi-page interactions. In addition to all bounces counting as exits, when a user leaves a site after reading multiple pages, that last page counts as an exit.
For some pages, a high Exit Rate is fine. You can expect a thank you page after a contact form or an order confirmation page after an eCommerce transaction to have a high Exit Rate – the user has finished their business transaction with you.
Not so, however, if a page is suppose to be driving people toward a conversion opportunity. If a page’s Exit Rate is almost as high (or higher) than its Bounce Rate, that means there’s likely a problem. It’s one thing if someone coming from Google, for example, views a page and doesn’t like what they see and leaves. It’s a very different thing for someone to be interested enough to view multiple pages on your site, then exit on a given page with high frequency. That can indicate a couple of things:
- The user didn’t find what they were looking for and got too tired/frustrated to keep searching
- They did find what they were looking for and weren’t impressed
- They weren’t ready or willing to make the leap (e.g. an abandoned cart)
Keep an eye on the Exit Rate for key pages, particularly your home page, conversion forms and pages in your eCommerce checkout process.
3. Average Time on Page
Time on Page is a good engagement metric that can add context to others. Generally, the longer a user is on the page, the higher the level of engagement. Pages with high Pageviews that also enjoy high Average Time Page indicate some real traction with users.
For example, the Vertical Measures Editorial Calendar Template has one of our site’s highest Average Time on Page, despite being relatively short. However, it does contain details and tips about the template, so many of our users keep it open after downloading the template to learn about how to use it effectively.
It’s worth noting that because of how Time on Page is calculated, it may not necessarily reflect the full time on page, particularly if the page has a high Exit Rate. However, it can still be a useful comparative measurement between how pages on your site are faring relative to each other.
4. Traffic Sources
There are various Traffic Source dimensions to plumb, whether by general channel or medium (Organic, Email, Social), referring source, AdWords campaign, or custom value. What’s important is to track where you site traffic comes from – what sources are feeding those Pageviews, and what does that mean for your content?
There are a lot of options on how to use them, but Traffic Source metrics are a good top-level gauge for measuring the impact of costs, both direct (like a PPC campaign) and indirect (like staff content production). For example, if you are investing in content marketing – and we hope that you are – tracking where users are coming can offer useful insights:
- Identify which audiences are engaging and should be targeted for future efforts
- Segment the traffic from specific campaigns (e.g. email lead nurturing) to gauge effectiveness
- Compare the impact of different marketing channels to determine relative costs and ROI
5. Social Reports
Like Traffic Sources, Social Reports are really a grouping of metrics that are quite robust, but even in a broad view offer useful measurements for content. These are particularly useful to add depth to social media efforts which have their own flavor of vanity metrics. A “Like” is great, but by itself what business goal does that support? We’ve all seen brands on Facebook with thousands of followers and a timeline that looks like a ghost town.
Enter Social Reports, which can add depth and merit to the shiny “Like” endorsement. It’s a great way to see which of your social channels are driving traffic to your site. Perhaps Twitter is feeding you a lot of traffic, or LinkedIn is sending you more qualified visitors that convert at a higher rate.
It’s also important to look at what content resonates with which audiences and to let that inform your content strategy. Pinterest, not surprisingly, tends to drive a lot of users to our more visual content, like infographics, videos and blog posts with quotes and supporting photos. Tracking the traffic and engagement of social referrals is a great way to drive success with an audience who is poised to endorse and share your content online.
Publish To Succeed, Don’t Just Succeed at Publishing
Getting content out is half the battle, so embracing the publisher mindset can be a valuable way to drive your content marketing production. But don’t stop at that – move beyond the Pageview and embrace the deeper metrics that can help you identify opportunities and build on successes.