Content Marketing KPIs: 5 Metrics that Matter

May 22, 2013

Tracking metrics like unique visitors, bounce rate, and conversion are critical to content marketing success. But choosing the right key performance indicators to measure can be a challenge. Slow down and focus on these five to start.
Performance improvement expert H. James Harrington once said, “Measurement is the first step that leads to control and, eventually, to improvement.” For anyone trying to take their content marketing efforts to the next level, his words certainly ring true.
For content marketers, key performance indicators (KPIs) provide deep insights into how our content is doing. They tell us how many people are consuming our content, whether or not they like it, what they are doing with it. The right content marketing KPIs can alert us to which ideas we should replicate and which we should look to improve. They are also what give us credibility within our companies by demonstrating that content marketing is both a powerful and worthwhile investment.
That being said, performance metrics can also be misleading if they are not put into proper context.

The Keys to Measuring Content Engagement

The truth is that there is no universal definition for what it looks like when content is “working,” or what that even means. The term currently being tossed around by marketers is “engagement” — we all want our content to engage the reader, to be the epitome of engaging. But what exactly does that mean, and how do you measure it?
One of the keys to measuring engagement is to first determine a desired action or outcome. In other words, what is it that you want your content to accomplish? Doing so will allow you to analyze key performance metrics contextually and better understand what those numbers mean relative to your unique goals. If you haven’t determined specifically what you want your content to do, you are naturally going to have a difficult time measuring its performance (not to mention justifying its existence).

5 Content Marketing KPIs that Really Matter

That being said, once you have determined what you want your content marketing program to accomplish there is certainly no shortage of metrics to measure its performance. The problem with the abundance of metrics, however, is that deciding which ones to measure — and keeping track of what matters — can get tricky.
To measure and improve your content marketing efforts (without making that process more complicated than it needs to be), keep an eye on these five content marketing key performance metrics:

Unique Visitors / Page Views

Unique visitors refers to the number of individuals who visit your website during a given period of time. Importantly, each visitor is only counted once and this number is likely to vary dramatically depending on the size of your company, industry, and, of course, the amount (and quality) of content you create.
Page views, on the other hand, is a metric that reflects the cumulative number of individual pages that visitors click on during a given period of time. If your page views are higher than your unique visitors, that may be an indication that your audience is finding your content engaging enough to stick around and check out multiple pages.

Bounce Rate / Average Time on Page

According to Google, bounce rate is defined as the percentage of single-page visits (i.e., visits in which the person left your site from the entrance page). Bounce rate is a measure of visit quality and a high number may indicate that site entrance pages aren’t resonating with your visitors. Generally, a bounce rate of less than 40 percent is considered acceptable. (For more see KISSmetrics’s infographic “Bounce Rate Demystified.”)
While bounce rate can be a key measure of visit quality, it is important not to place too much emphasis on it. Bounce rate is incredibly easy to misinterpret, and it may or may not reflect the quality or relevance of any particular post.
For instance, what if a visitor comes to your site, reads a post, and then leaves the site? That is considered a bounce, and you might interpret that activity as disinterest by the visitor. But what if your post gave them all the information they needed? As Tom Ewer, Chief Blog Officer of ManageWP points out in his post, “5 Reasons Why You May Have Your Approach to Analytics All Wrong”, a visitor could be extremely satisfied with the post, and simply decide he or she doesn’t need anything more at that moment in time.
At OpenView, we try to combine bounce rate statistics with a metric like average time on page to more holistically gauge the success or failure of a particular piece of content. By seeing which posts keep visitors engaged for longer periods of time and encourage them to read additional content, we can identify our most effective posts and create more like them.

Search Engine Referral Traffic

This metric tracks the amount of traffic being referred to your site by search engines like Google and Bing. Put into the right context, this number should give you a clear indication of how effective you are at optimizing your content for search. Are you using the right keywords? Are you including the right links? Did you include a meta description?
With some relatively simple analysis though tools like Google Analytics, you can easily measure pages with the most unique views by search engine and/or keyword and compare them to your custom goals (such as the engagement goal described above or a more specific conversion goal like newsletter subscribers).

Social Shares, Comments, and Inbound Links

Compared to metrics like page views, average time on page, and bounce rate, some might argue that social shares, comments, and inbound links are leaps and bounds ahead when it comes to determining the perceived value of your content.
After all, a “tweet this” or a “like” can essentially be equated with the visitor vouching for a post, asserting that it has some value and that it will have value for others, as well. When another website or blogger links to your content, they’re essentially endorsing it and exposing it to a broader audience. And when someone comment’s on an article or blog post, it’s a direct confirmation that a visitor found your content relevant enough to engage and take action with it.
What’s really impactful, however, is developing an understanding of how these referral sources stack up against one another relative to a specific activity or objective (engagement, for example). Looking at your referral traffic through the lens of engagement (number of page views and/or average time on site) can help you to better understand the true value it has to your content marketing efforts.

Conversion Rate

For many content marketers, this is the Holy Grail of all key performance metrics. Ultimately, this measurement reflects the percentage of visitors to your site who take a specific action that your content encourages them to (i.e., signing up for your newsletter, downloading an eBook, contacting you for more information, or digesting additional content that pushes them along the path to purchase).
In a column for Inc., Jeff Haden says that conversion rates — or, what he calls, Desired Action Percentage (DAP) — ranks as one of the top two metrics that every entrepreneur needs to know. But Haden also points out that DAP, like any other metric, is best analyzed over time and through iteration. The more you know about the factors that influence conversion, the easier it will be to make changes that positively impact your content’s performance.
Conversion rates vary considerably based on industry, but they often hover around 2 or 3 percent. That said, you should aim for a conversion rate of 5 percent or higher (may as well shoot for the stars, right?), depending on the specific goals you set for your content.

Warning: Focusing Too Narrowly on Metrics Can Cause You to Lose Perspective

Let’s backtrack a little bit.
While all of the metrics listed above can be incredibly helpful in judging and improving the performance of your content marketing program, they aren’t perfect measurements of success. In fact, the information they yield can sometimes be spotty at best.
With that said, perhaps it is permissible to allow a slightly more old fashioned method of measurement into the mix: editorial judgment.
Yes, that subjective method of analysis is notoriously fickle as well, but there is something to be said of its track record in the publishing world. All too often, content marketers spend so much time chasing stats and data down the analytics rabbit hole that they forget they are equipped with a natural performance gauge of their own.
Ultimately, the best recipe for content marketing performance measurement seems to be combining editorial judgment with analytical assessment, while also sprinkling in sympathetic understanding of your target audience’s interests and needs. Like a good pair of binoculars, that holistic approach will help you clarify and bring things into focus, without losing sight of what you were looking for to begin with.

Additional Resources


How do you define and measure content marketing performance? Do you regularly use the metrics above, and how often do you opt to use your own editorial judgment?

Content Marketing Director

<strong>Kevin Cain</strong> is the Content Marketing Director for <a href="">BlueChip Communication</a>, Australia's leading financial services communication firm. Before joining BlueChip, Kevin was the Director of Content Strategy for OpenView.