Content marketing: It’s more than a transaction

The best content marketing isn’t transactional. It provides value by informing, engaging, and even entertaining an audience. This can be about good will — but it’s also about revenue. Consumers today expect content tailored to their needs and desires, and they support and remain loyal to businesses that provide it.

Most businesses today understand this, which is why content marketing is still on the rise. Of the top B2B content marketing performers, for example, 68% use content marketing to build subscription audiences and 83% use it to nurture audiences and leads.

But just doing content marketing isn’t enough. You need to have a coherent content strategy. This includes things like developing customer personas, segments, and journeys. It also includes understanding what’s working and what’s not, which requires knowing what to measure and how to measure it.

Despite this, many content marketers don’t know the best ways to measure their content. If you’re one of them, you’re not alone. And you’ve come to the right place. Keep reading to discover the most important metrics for diagnosing your content marketing and how to get started.

Chapter 2

Why are you creating that content?

Before diving into metrics, you need to establish something else first: the purpose of the content you’re creating. Companies that emphasize content marketing see 30% higher growth rates than those who don’t. But this requires a strategic approach, which starts with this question:

What is content marketing good at doing?

  • Raising brand awareness
  • Driving site traffic
  • Generating leads
  • Nurturing leads
  • Keeping customers engaged
  • Fostering brand loyalty

Each piece of content you create should have a goal that aligns with one of the above reasons. Determining the goal(s) for each piece of content is the critical first step to measuring your content marketing.

Take, for example, a blog post outlining an easy solution to a common problem that customers face with your product. Expecting this to generate leads would be silly. Rather, your goal for this post should be aligned with keeping customers engaged and building brand loyalty.

Your goal for the post should thus be something like this: offer a solution to a common customer pain point that’s easy to find, understand, and implement.

To determine if this post is accomplishing its goal, you’ll want to measure:

  • Returning users (likely customers)
  • Bounce rates
  • Average time on the page (hopefully aligned with the estimated read time)
  • Click-through rate on the CTA (if there is one)

You’ll also want to ensure it shows up in the top 10 search results for your target keywords — eventually.

Chapter 3

7 low-hanging metrics to start with

With your goals in mind, you can begin measuring how effective your content marketing is. Let’s start with some low-hanging fruit — website engagement metrics.

1. Unique visitors/users

By measuring the number of unique visits to your website, the unique visitors/users metric offers insight into your audience size.

2. Page views

The number of times specific pages on your site are viewed. Use this metric to see how specific pages are performing in relation to other pages. This will help you determine the type of content that resonates with your audience.

3. Unique page views

An aggregate of the total number of times pages were viewed in a 24-hour period. A page reloaded 5 times over the course of 24 hours by the same person, for example, would be 5 page views but only 1 unique page view. The unique page view metric can help you dig deeper into the type of content that resonates by revealing how many sessions in which your pages were viewed.

4. New and returning visitors

The number of new visitors versus the number of old visitors, the new and returning users metric helps you answer two critical questions. Is our content attracting new visitors? Is it good enough to bring visitors back?

5. Bounce rate and exit rate

All bounces are exits, not all exits are bounces.

A bounce happens when a visitor lands on a page of your website and leaves from that page — without doing anything else. An exit happens whenever a visitor leaves your site. If that page was the page they landed on and the only page they looked at, then the exit is also a bounce. But if the page they exited from was the second (or the 50th) page they looked at, it’s just an exit.

If your bounce rate is high, that means people aren’t finding your site engaging across the board. You need to discover why. It could be that your page loads are slow, your design is bad, your content isn’t engaging, or something else. As with all the other metrics, understanding this requires context.

6. Pages per session

Pages per session shows the average number of pages — wait for it — per session. If the number of pages users engage in per session on your site is high, this is a great sign they’re finding value.

7. Average session duration

Similarly, if your average session duration is high, then users are likely finding value in your content.

Cheat sheet: Here are the paths to the 7 low-hanging metrics in Google Analytics: •    Unique visitors/Users:
     Audience > Overview > Users
•    Page views:
     Behavior > Site content > All Pages tab
•    Unique page views:
     Behavior > Site content > All Pages tab, sort by Unique Pageviews
•    New & returning visitors:
     Audience > Behavior > New vs. Returning
•     Bounce rate:
     Behavior > Site Content > All Pages
•     Pages per session:
     Audience > Overview > Pages/Session
•    Average session duration:
     Audience > Overview > Session Duration


Pro tip:

If you have a high bounce rate, low returning visitors, low pages per session, and low session duration, it’s definitely time to do a content audit.

Chapter 4

Higher-level metrics to ramp up to

With the low-hanging fruit all squared away, it’s time to drill down. The place to start is with a better understanding of how people are coming to your site.

Traffic sources

When you know where your traffic comes from, you know where to focus your efforts.

If the majority of your traffic comes from search engines, for example, you probably want to focus on your social media presence or raising brand awareness or both. On the other hand, if your direct traffic is high and your social presence is strong, people likely know your brand. It’s time to shift resources toward targeting specific audiences.

This metric can also help you know where to focus your PR and campaign efforts. Whether it’s time spent getting your C-suite bylines into industry publications, or money spent on paid social ads, you need to know if these are driving traffic. Again, this shouldn’t be done in isolation. It all comes back to your goals. Even if they don’t drive traffic, for example, C-suite bylines can be a good way to raise brand awareness.

One of the best ways to both gain traffic and build brand awareness is search engine optimization.

5 SEO success metrics

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the art and science of getting your website to perform well in search engine results pages (SERPs). If you sell sea turtles, every time someone searches for “Best place to buy sea turtles,” you want to be in one of the first three spots, or at least on the first page.


But if someone googles “Are sea turtles better than fish,” you also want to show up in those SERPs.

Not only because you want them to know the answer, but because they’re likely at an early stage of their sea-turtle purchasing journey. Ranking well in various SERPs around sea turtles is a great way to build brand awareness and generate leads. It can also nurture them.

Here are the most important metrics for measuring your SEO strategy.

1. Organic traffic

The first metric to consider is organic traffic. This measures the number of people finding your website through search engines. It’s the most important metric for your SEO — providing your SEO baseline and, over time, a broad gauge of your progress.

2. Target keywords

Keywords are the way you bridge the gap between what people are searching for and the content you provide. After you’ve done the research, written optimized content, and given the search engine bots time to catalogue your article, you need to check how it’s performing.

One way to do this is to simply do an incognito Google search for your short-tail and long-tail keywords. If you’re showing up on the first page, that’s great. If you’re not on the first SERP, that’s not. A more efficient way to track your keywords is to use one of the tools designed specifically for this, such as SEMRush Position Tracking.

3. Backlinks

Backlinks remain a critical aspect of SEO. Other than spammy links, which can damage your site’s reputation, the more backlinks you have, the better. The best way to get good backlinks is also the best way to boost your SEO: create valuable content.

You can use Google Search Console to discover your backlinks (see the Cheat sheet below). Check out this SEMRush article for strategies to build more.

4. Dwell time

One way search engines measure the value of content for users is by how long they stay on a page. If users consistently click back to the search results quickly after landing on your page, search engines will lower the page’s ranking.

Dwell time is how you measure this. Simply consider the combination of your bounce rate and the time spent on the page to get this metric.

5. Email opt-ins, form fills, and other CTAs

These aren’t exactly direct measures of SEO performance. But they are good signals of value. If someone is giving you their email for a list, filling out a form to download an ebook or research paper, or completing some other CTA, that’s a good sign they’re finding value in your content. It’s worth considering why and using that insight for future content creation.

CTRs, email, and A/B testing

Click-through rate (CTR) is a critical metric for everything from email to pay-per-click ads to web conversions. It’s essential to know whether users are doing what you want them to do. The CTR metric can tell you this. Understanding why they are or aren’t is another matter.

A/B testing can help. Most businesses do A/B testing in some form or another — often of email subject lines. But thanks to advances in digital experience platforms, it’s possible to A/B test all aspects of your site.

With Sitecore, you can A/B test CTAs, specific blocks of pages, and even different versions of entire pages. Using advanced machine learning, Sitecore tests reveal which versions work better in general and which work better for specific segments. You can then present different versions to different audiences.

Social shares

Social media strategy deserves its own post (likely several). But one metric that’s essential to your content strategy is social shares. Most social channels offer their own metrics, and there are many secondary tools available. Just make sure you pick one you’re comfortable with and will actually use.

Cheat sheet: The paths to these metrics using GoogleGoogle Analytics
•   Traffic sources:
     Acquisition > All Traffic > Channel
•   Organic traffic:
     Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels > Check the Organic search group box

Google Search Console
•   Backlinks:
     Google Search Console > Search Traffic > Links to Your Site
•   Click through rate (CTR):
     Search Console > Search Analytics, check the Clicks, Impressions, and CTR boxes, then click the Pages filter

Chapter 5

Advanced business metrics: Leads

All of the low-hanging and higher-level metrics discussed above are essential for developing, understanding the value of, and refining your content marketing strategy. But other departments in your business likely only care about two things:

  1. How many leads are you delivering?
  2. Are they worth the investment?

Leads: How many? What kind?

To get high-quality leads, you need to get people to come to your site. Which is exactly where content marketing comes in. But you don’t want just any leads.

Say, for example, that you’re doing a thought leadership campaign for your CMO. Your PR team has convinced three popular market publications to each publish an article with your CMO’s byline. Each article has relevant links to your website, and the publications are sharing data with you so you know who comes from where.

From an ROI perspective, the question becomes, what do these people do once they arrive on your site?

Do they:

  1. Contact sales immediately?
  2. Download an ebook on the first page they land on?
  3. Peruse your site for an extended time?
  4. Leave (bounce) right after they land?

If they’re contacting sales immediately (#1), you should buy your PR team lunch — immediately. They’ve done your work for you. Chances are, however, that those landing from an external article will need more nurturing.

If they download an ebook (#2), you’ve got a qualified lead along with their contact information (assuming you gated the ebook). If they’re perusing your site for an extended time (#3), you’ve also got a lead.

While bouncing off your site once they land (#4) is a fairly clear sign they’re not finding what they’re looking for, it’s still a metric worth knowing.

On the one hand, it reveals a disconnect. Is it possible the article links are a bait and switch? Could readers reasonably expect to find something else when clicking? Is there more relevant content you could be linking to with a redirect? On the other hand, it might be a sign of success. If your thought leadership campaign is about spreading brand awareness, then people landing on your site is a clear sign they at least know you exist or at least are interested enough to take a quick glance and see what your company provides.

Again, it all depends on your goals. So, let’s turn to what’s likely your most important goal: revenue.

Pro tip: If you have a high bounce rate, low returning visitors, low pages per session, and low session duration, it’s definitely time to do a content audit.

Chapter 6

Advanced business metrics: ROI

On the one hand, content marketing return on investment (ROI) is simple. It’s a mathematical formula. Just measure the revenue you gained (R) against the money you invested (I) on your content creation, management, and distribution.

Here’s the formula:

(R – I) / I = x%

And the breakdown:

Subtract the money that went into creating the content, I (the investment), from all the money that it generated, R (the return), and divide that by I (the investment), then represent that number as a percentage.

Let’s say you made a video. It cost you $5,000 to make (I). And it brought in $21,000 in sales (R).

(R) 21,000 – (I) 5,000 = 16,000
16,000 / (I) 5,000 = 3.2
3.2 = 320%

The video’s ROI = 320%. Not bad!

Like we said above, it’s simple. On the other hand, you still need to do the tricky part: get the numbers for I and R.

Calculating I (investment)

Here’s an example of what you need to know to honestly represent how much you invested in making that video.

For the video, you wrote the script and made most of the storyboard in-house. You then hired an outside agency to complete the vision. You also had to make a simple landing page. Fortunately, you were able to repurpose a whitepaper for lead generation on the landing page, and the cost of that was accounted for in another project.

Cost to produce

  • Hours spent (3) and hourly rate of copywriter ($40): $120
  • Hours spent (1/2) and hourly rate of editor ($60): $30
  • Hours spent (2) and hourly rate of in-house designer ($50): $100
  • Video agency fees: $3,250

Don’t forget to include all the time spent in each phase throughout pre- to post-production. If you really want to know the ROI, you have to be honest.

Cost to distribute

  • Paid promotions: $500
  • Software and other tools used to manage and distribute: $1,000

I = $5,000

Calculating R (return)

You need to add up all the sales that resulted from a piece of content.

If you’re a retail company and the video is for an Instagram ad, it’s simple. You can see how many people purchased products right from the post. But you still probably want to take into account touches that didn’t result in a sale. And more often than not, the relationship between content and a sale is less direct.

For many business models, discovering this relationship requires looking into how many leads a piece of content produced and how many of these leads resulted in a sale. If the relationship is even less direct, it might mean mapping out where content touched customers on their journeys and breaking down the specific role played by each piece. But even for the most complex sales cycles, connecting sales to each piece of content produced is possible — at least in theory. (This is one of the reasons why it’s critical to have other metrics for success.)

But it’s best to start with a clear example to understand what’s needed. You can extrapolate from there. So, let’s return to our video.

Here’s what you need to know the video’s return (R):

  • Number of leads generated
  • Rate of lead conversion to sales

You first need to clarify what counts as a lead. You knew this already, which is why you posted the video to all of your social channels with a clear CTA driving people to a landing page on your site. The landing page has a CTA to download a gated whitepaper.

Based on past data, you know that ~20% of those who watch the video will go to your landing page. (Your videos rock!) Of those who land on the page, ~5% will download the whitepaper. After two months of running, 10,000 people have seen your video, 2,000 of those have landed on your site, and 100 of those have downloaded the whitepaper.

The video has provided sales with 100 good leads. And your sales team is solid, with a ~7% conversion rate from leads to sales. Your video generated 7 sales. Each sale generated $3,000 in revenue. Voila: R = $21,000.

Chapter 7

Sitecore’s unique approach to measurement and analytics

Everyone wants clear metrics these days. But getting them isn’t easy. And even when you can get them, it’s not always clear what they mean nor how they align to your businesses goals. We hope this article provides insight into doing this for your content marketing.

Over the past 20 years, we’ve thought a lot about measuring digital marketing performance. And all our thinking led to creating our Engagement Value Scale — a way to measure how your visitors’ interactions align with the specific goals your business cares about most.

Read more about what our Engagement Value Scale is and about our specific analytics and measurements.