The life of a content marketer gets tougher with every passing week. Such is the relentless progress of the digital landscape.

There’s a limit to what can be done, though, because content takes time — and great content takes a lot of time.

Even the fastest writer can only hammer out blog posts at a certain rate before their wrists snap and their fingers crumble to dust. Sure, you can save a lot of time by using blogging tools like Wordable, but there’s still a reasonable limitation on the quantity of stuff you can publish.

What, then, is the answer to getting better and better results?

It’s simple, though not easy: making the most of the content you can produce.

This requires you to do two things in particular:

  1. Work as hard as you can to promote your content as widely and enthusiastically as possible
  2. Comprehensively track the results so you know where it succeeds and where it falls short (information you can use to optimize future content).

But when you’re tracking results, how much data is enough?

At what point do your efforts at analysis become counterproductive by taking up too much of your time?

Let’s take a look at why it isn’t advisable to track too many metrics, and cover some standard metrics that warrant serious consideration:

The perils of tracking too much data

Digital content is highly trackable: if you get into manually configuring conversion goals, you can define fresh metrics indefinitely.

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You can track a dizzying amount of things with modern digital analytics tools (Image Source)

To someone just getting started with analytics, that might well sound interesting — if knowledge is power, then why wouldn’t you want to know as much as possible? But relevant and significant knowledge is power. Not everything is worth knowing.

For instance, take the number of people visiting your content from Stuttgart in Germany. You could pointedly track it on a daily basis, but unless you’re specifically trying to sell to Germans (at the very least), then what’s the point? It’s essentially junk data, and it’s going to draw your attention away from metrics that actually warrant your attention.

After all, you don’t have unlimited time (as noted), and the human brain — while good at pattern recognition — is bad at processing large amounts of data. When you open up your analytics panel to see how your content is doing, you don’t want to be looking at a near-incomprehensible slab of mixed fields.

It’s only by paring it down that you can stay on top of it.

Why metrics must be placed in context

So take away the junk (and vanity) metrics, meaning anything and everything that just doesn’t matter in the slightest in your particular situation. What’s next on the chopping block?

Well, some metrics that are meaningful are only useful when you factor in the context, meaning they should only be used if you have a specific idea of what you’re trying to glean from them. In other words, do they meaningfully help you answer important business questions to help you make better decisions?

The most common example of this type of metric is bounce rate.

Bounce rate gauges how many people arrive on a page only to ultimately leave without visiting any other pages on that domain (or triggering any custom events on your website), and it’s typically viewed as something to be worried about. One month, you notice that your bounce rate is up 10% from the previous month. Surely that’s reason to panic?

But it’s really not that simple. On a site with hundreds of pages and a thin homepage of little inherent value, a raised bounce rate is a big problem, because it means that people are missing all the major content. On a restaurant site, though, with just a few pages and a comprehensive homepage, a raised bounce rate is of unclear significance. It might transpire that it resulted from word-of-mouth buzz making visitors more likely to reach the homepage, arrange a booking, and leave (not needing to read anything more to be convinced).

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You can (and should) think about bounce rate, as we’ll see next — but when you do so, you must know exactly how to interpret it, and avoid leaping to conclusions if you can see that there are plausible alternative explanations.

Another example is revenue absent an explanation. Website flipping (buying and selling stores online) has become popular in recent years, but if you go to a retail store marketplace and look at what’s on offer, you’ll notice that you really need to look at the listings very closely to see what their situations are.

Without knowing what was spent on PPC advertising and other tactics, it’s really hard to gauge what monthly revenue figures actually mean.

8 content marketing metrics worth following

Having been through the meaningless metrics that can plague you, as well as why you must be able to place all your metrics in context, it’s time to run through a basic list of metrics that are worth your time and attention.

Obviously some of this will depend on your context, but generally speaking, these 8 content marketing metrics are worthy of tracking and monitoring:

  1. Bounce rate
  2. Views and unique views
  3. Dwell time
  4. Conversion rate
  5. Return on investment
  6. Backlinks
  7. Traffic source
  8. Social media mentions

1. Bounce rate.

Though it can be horribly misinterpreted, bounce rate is still very useful in the right hands, particularly when applied across different types of content. If you’re trying to create content hubs to tie together your overall strategy, for instance, then each content hub should have a minimal bounce rate (almost every visitor should visit at least one more page). Just never forget the context.

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2. Views & unique views. 

Views are the lifeblood of your content. Every view is an opportunity to get something across, develop an opportunity, and/or market a product. But you don’t just want to think about views: you also want to think about unique views. Depending on what you’re trying to achieve, one may be more important than the other.

Do you want to keep someone coming back, or convince them on the first trip?

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3. Dwell time. 

How long someone spends on your website before closing it or going elsewhere is obviously of critical importance if you benefit from them sticking around. An information service might aim to achieve a shorter dwell time through solving the visitor’s problem and freeing them up to leave.

Note: this is normally measured by average time on page in Google Analytics.

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4. Conversion rate. 

Not every website has meaningful conversations, though of course every commerce store will. Wherever you can assign financial values to particular steps, find a way to do so. It will make it so much easier in the long run to determine what you’re getting from your efforts.

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5. Return on investment. 

Ultimately the metric that you should care about the most for steady growth, return on investment weighs what you spent on a particular project against the value it returned. The tricky part is in defining the value you get. It’s very rarely as simple as direct financial return, so what do you consider valuable? You’ll need to figure it out to be successful anyway, so it’s no additional hardship.

6. Backlinks. 

How Google determines rankings may have changed a lot since the early days of the internet, but banklinks — of the high-quality variety, at least — remain the most important things for getting content ranking well. By tracking how many backlinks your pieces of content pick up, you’ll be able to pick up a lot of interesting pieces of information about where, when and how people are discussing your work.

A great tool for this is Ahrefs or SEMRush.

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7. Traffic source. 

A strong content marketing strategy must factor in all relevant channels, but that doesn’t mean it should focus on them all to the same extent. By paying close attention to traffic sources, particularly in the early days, you’ll be able to determine which channels are consistently driving visits, as well as which ones are failing to accomplish much. You can then adjust your approach accordingly.

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8. Social mentions.

This categories encompasses likes, shares, mentions, and any other activities that involve remarking upon pieces of content through social media. And while social media activity isn’t yet believed to directly affect Google rankings, it can provide a lot of direct visits from interested parties.

A great tool to track social mentions is Mention or Hootsuite.

This isn’t a comprehensive list, so the fact that I haven’t included something doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth tracking. It’s simply easier to start with a fairly simple list and add things to it when you believe they’re worth adding.

How to improve your content marketing metrics tracking

With a fair assortment of content marketing metrics to point you in the right direction, it’s now worth thinking about how you actually track them.

If you have analytics currently set up for your website, it’s almost certainly through Google Analytics (the ever-popular free analytics tool upon which many other tools are based anyway) or some type of analytics solution added to your CMS.

If you’re using WordPress (as you likely are), then look through this list of analytics solutions for WordPress to see if anything catches your eye. The downside with most solutions is that they’ll track generic sets of metrics by default, some of which (many of which) may not be relevant to your needs.

As such, you’ll need a customized view — here’s how to make one for Google Analytics, but be aware that it may take a while to get the hang of it.

Furthermore, a tool like Social Animal can make it a lot easier to see how your content is performing relative to other pieces of content targeting the same keywords and niches. That type of insight will cost you, but if you’re serious about your content marketing (and you have the budget to match your resolve), then it’s worth the investment.

Final thoughts on content marketing metrics

So, to wrap up, how many content marketing metrics should you be tracking? Only as many as you find useful.

I can’t put an exact number on it — well, I could, but it would be arbitrary and unhelpful — but you’ll figure things out if you commit some thought to the matter, taking into account the dangers of tracking too much and the importance of taking context fully into account.

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