In the previous post, we looked at ways to measure the efficiency of your marketing operation’s content production. If you think of your content marketing machine like a restaurant, production is comprised of the time it takes to prepare and serve the food and the cost of getting it to the diner’s table.

While these measurements are vital to determining your ROI, they take place in the kitchen, away from the public eye. When we talk about content performance, we mean the perceived quality of the content you dish up for your audiences. Do they like it and hang around for dessert? Do they come back frequently and tell other people about their experiences?

Many successful marketing teams take a “lean” approach to improving content performance. In a nutshell, lean content marketing involves an ongoing process of:

  • Making a hypothesis
  • Publishing content based on the hypothesis
  • Collecting and analyzing data
  • Refining (or replacing) content, based on results.

So, what metrics best gauge your content’s performance and the quality of your selected distribution channels?  The answer ultimately depends on your specific marketing goal(s) for the piece (e.g., brand awareness, lead generation). In general:

  • Avoid evaluating too many metrics at once, or you’ll quickly get overwhelmed by the data and lose focus. Less is more. (Unless we’re talking about dessert.)
  • Start with a solid baseline and set your sights on metrics that align most closely with your marketing objectives.
  • Be sure you know how to interpret the results so you can identify actionable items. If in doubt, ask a colleague or consult with your marketing agency.

Here are five important metrics that can give you insight into how your content hits users’ palates:

1. Engagement time

(average for the site and per piece) – A high number of page views indicates a link was enticing, but it doesn’t tell you whether people liked what they found. A lot of clicks could add up to empty traffic if you don’t capture users’ attention. How long are people lingering over your carefully crafted content?

Engagement time reveals whether visitors value your content enough to stick with it. What content kept people absorbed for the longest time, and which parts of the material received the most attention? Services such as Chartbeat can help you measure and capitalize on this factor.

2. Top referrers and devices

– Which domains and channels drive the most views and engagement time? In other words, how are people finding your content? You can glean these statistics from Google Analytics or paid services such as Mixpanel and Kissmetrics. This information will help you determine the return on your marketing investments and where you should focus to drive conversions.

For example, if your target audience members are heavy users of LinkedIn and Twitter and you publish the same content in both channels, you may notice that certain topics or themes generate more attention from LinkedIn. Digging deeper, you find that 65% of visitors originating from LinkedIn on mobile devices abandon your site within 30 seconds, while those visiting your site from a desktop average about three minutes.

Based on this user behavior you can create new hypotheses and associated experiments designed to test your assumption, with the goal of improving both content performance and user experience.

3. Shares and mentions

– Is your audience moved to share or mention your content with colleagues and friends via their social networks? How often and which networks? This activity reveals a greater magnitude of user attention—it goes beyond engagement to action. To gauge this activity across networks, consider Simply Measured or other social analytical tools.

4. Loyal vs. new visitors

– Who is engaged with your content, new or loyal (returning) visitors? New visitor statistics indicate the number of leads you could capture; a high number of returning visitors shows how much people value the content on your site. While most analytics tools report these measurements, you must define what “loyal” means to your organization and within your marketing operation.

In his excellent article looking at differences between customer “retention” and “loyalty,” Mark Klein, founder and CEO of Loyalty Builders Inc., writes:

“Loyalty… is a measure of the performance of individual customers. A loyalty score is built of many parts. It can include how much a customer has bought, how often they purchase, how many different items they buy from your product set, how long it’s been since they last bought or visited your website, and their future value. It’s obvious that these numbers will vary from customer to customer.”

5. Spend and ROI

– How does the content’s value (revenue generated) compare to its publication cost? (Note: See previous post in this series about measuring content production performance.) This comparison can help you determine whether to invest in similar topics and which pieces, if any, you should eliminate.

For example, you may spend $15,000 a year—including internal and agency time—updating and distributing what your team considers core content for your sales team. You might discover that engagement time and other metrics make it clear few people are reaping value from the content. Based on these measurements, you can determine whether the problem is discoverability or perceived quality, or both. Perhaps it’s time to withdraw and expire that piece, and use the budget elsewhere.

Pulling it all together

Lean marketing is a lot like looking for a new signature dish. Knowing what your customers like, you try what you believe will be a winning recipe, test it on your patrons, assess their feedback, and fine-tune the seasoning. Of course, like in marketing, this month’s signature dish may be next month’s old news.

In part three of this series we’ll take a closer look at how lean content marketing techniques can help you make continuous improvements in your measurement plan.