Does Content Marketing Measure Up?

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Ultimately, the answer to the question of which metric is best for tracking content marketing performance is: It depends.

The ever-increasing popularity of content marketing shows that most marketers are well aware of its advantages in terms of customer engagement. Some strategic marketers are gaining additional benefits by tying content marketing to revenue. The quandary some marketers face is determining which measures are most appropriate for ensuring that their content marketing efforts align with their overall marketing goals.

By monitoring clicks, shares, views, and other engagement metrics, marketers have become increasingly adept at measuring how their content marketing is performing. But is there an ideal metric? “The best thing marketers can do is have data that's consumption-focused,” says Eric Payne, senior content strategist at interactive marketing agency Moxie. “[Marketers] will note how many likes or shares content has, but where are those shares going? What are people searching for?” Marketers need to follow that thread. Fortunately, data has become rich enough that marketers now have the opportunity to track how far digital conversations reverberate in the social sphere and beyond. That ability to track customer behavior enables marketers to pinpoint coveted brand advocates and even critics.

Other metrics, such as word-of-mouth momentum, can also help brands measure their relevance to today's fickle consumers. After all, there's little argument that earned media through word of mouth is a valuable asset in its ability to help fortify brand image and build awareness.

With such a heavy focus on sharing-related measures, however, other metrics may be overlooked. “Brand marketers have been focused on virality, but metrics like organic page efficiency in Google Analytics can help with that shift from fun and viral to useful,” says Jeff Fagel, CMO of digital marketing solutions provider G/O Digital.

ROI isn't everything

Along with tracking performance measures in terms of customer engagement, many marketers are, of course, concerned with measuring and maximizing the return on investment of their content marketing efforts. But it's essential to balance both, versus favoring one over the other, some experts say.

“The aspiration to tie marketing to revenue is healthy because it pushes us to continually challenge ourselves analytically,” says Joe Chernov, VP of content at HubSpot, adding that engagement measures are just as valuable. “In a very real way, marketing-tech vendors have done a disservice to marketers. [Vendors] have been so dismissive of ‘vanity metrics,' while fawning over ROI, that they've created a content caste system where those who track views and shares are somehow below those who track revenue.”

Content marketing results, however, shouldn't be measured in dollars alone. Usage is another essential metric, according to Moxie's Payne. “The data that needs to be measured should be about consumption, not ROI,” he says. “[Marketers] should track the velocity and sentiment of a conversation.”

Ultimately, the answer to the question of which metric is best for tracking content marketing performance is: It depends. The appropriateness of the available ways to measure success will vary, just as the many reasons that marketers use content vary. “Content should play a variety of roles in your inbound marketing. It should do everything from getting people talking, to generating quality leads, to accelerating close rates,” says Chernov. “[But] all metrics matter. There's no one magic metric.”

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