Of the 14 posts in this content marketing series, this one has been the most difficult to write. The reason? Accurately measuring the impact or ROI on a content marketing strategy can be difficult and, while there are a number of really good ways to get at measurement, you'll never get to measures like those from a PPC or retargeting campaign.
Still, measurement is important and definitely worth doing. Moreover, the SEO that content marketing enables is very measurable, and correlative value can be assigned to content marketing efforts as a result. What follows are some high-level pieces of advice. Given the available space, I'm not going to get into a ton of specifics but hope you'll add your own ideas in the comments section below.
A common and elusive goal for many marketers is a metric called audience engagement. I find it's important to make this a little more specific and often ask "Audience engagement to what end?" Do you want to engage audiences for branding reasons? For lead gen or demand gen? Are you working to shorten the sales cycle or drive sales conversions? Being absolutely clear about what you want from audience engagement will make measurement that much easier.
I find it's also important to know your company's sales or acquisition funnel in a very intimate way so you're clear exactly how it is you engage your prospects and customers at each level. Designing content for the appropriate channels serving each level of the funnel will help you to measure whether or not you're seeing improvement over a baseline.
Finally, it's key to get very close to the sales organization. In particular, I always want to know what the length of the average sales cycle is, so I can use that as a baseline against which I'll measure content strategies over a month, a quarter and a year. Excellent content that truly engages a target audience should result in shorter sales cycles. You should also get anecdotal feedback from frontline salespeople indicating that prospects and customers are better educated or informed.
SEO and Analytics
As anyone who has optimized a Web site for search engines will tell you, great content is one of the fastest ways to climb the organic search rankings for your most important (and long-tail) keywords. Become intimately acquainted with your Web analytics software (usually Google Analytics, but also Omniture and others) and start tracking where all your organic traffic is coming from. Know your baselines, including where you rank for important keywords, before implementing a content strategy, and then track movement from the baseline.
If you're already a pro at tracking your organic traffic, be sure to track movement of older content that gets spruced-up or optimized (for example, a reworked headline). Also, if you're not doing this already, be sure to track traffic by channel (blog content vs. YouTube content, etc.)
Social media analytics are increasingly as important as your Google Analytics, so make sure you've set and are tracking hash tag data, URL shortener data, QR code data and sharing metrics (such as retweets.)
All this tracking should add up to impacts on your audience engagement over a baseline, and therefore bottom-line business objectives.
Measure Early, Measure Often
Once you've started a content marketing strategy, it's not something that stops -- ever. Increasingly, audiences demand fresh, constantly updated content that keeps them informed, entertained and motivated, and it's now the marketing department's job to deliver it.
This means measurement must never stop, either. Be sure to hit the "pause" button once in a while to set new baselines and to recalibrate your strategies, and then start both producing and measuring again. I also encourage you to find and read great sources of information to help you get at best practices in measurement. For instance, I really like A List Apart and the Brain Traffic blog. Though the latter is a vendor, they are also the poster child for content strategy done right, and they produce consistently great blog posts on all things content strategy, including measurement.
Make your content strategy work for your SEO, for the sales cycle and for the bottom line. Constant, creative and accurate measurement will ensure you're delivering on your objectives. Again, please share your own advice and thoughts in the comments section below.