Content marketing is often looked at as a brand-building channel.
Where we can get quick feedback loops and direct, last-touch attribution with a channel like paid ads, it’s more difficult with content. Therefore, we often think about content marketing when it comes to “increasing our brand awareness.”
While I think this is a false dichotomy (I think ads can boost brand awareness, and content can be a performance channel), that’s a subject for another article.
For now, let’s cover the basics: if content marketing is going to be designated a “brand channel,” then how in the world do we measure it? How do we know if it’s effective?
What is Brand Awareness, Anyway?
How you define brand awareness has a lot to do with how you’ll measure it. In many cases, I find businesses never discuss nor agree on a specific and measurable definition of “brand awareness,” and that’s why it often gets talked about only in the context of failed performance campaigns (e.g. “well, we didn’t get any leads, but that webinar was great for brand awareness!”)
Image Source: Branding Statistics
Let’s define brand awareness here as “a measure of a brand’s relative cognitive representation in a given category in relation to its competitors.” Basically it’s a quantitative measure of how well your brand is known by your target market in relation to other competitors in the space.
Now, given that we’re focusing on content marketing, we can even shift this metric down to the level of “blog awareness” – e.g. instead of measuring how well Drift is known vs. HubSpot, we could measure how well each respective blog is known.
In my opinion, the best measures of brand awareness are both specific (narrow) and actionable. So we can clearly define what it is we’re measuring, and we can do something with the information once we collect it.
7 Ways Content Marketers Can Measure Brand Awareness
There are many ways one could measure “brand awareness,” depending on how you define the term. Since we’re limiting ourselves to metrics reachable by our efforts writing blog posts and building our organic traffic, we’ll limit the ways we can track brand awareness to just 7 methods.
- Social Shares
- Branded Search Traffic
- Organic Traffic
- Email List Subscribers
- SERP Real Estate
I’ve deliberately left off the most obvious and traditional method of measure brand awareness – brand recall surveys – because it is a method that reaches far beyond the scope of content marketing and is a better aggregate measure for all brand activities (and usually only useful for large consumer brands).
I’m also leaving out clear business metrics like MQLs and purchases, since they measure performance metrics and we’re hoping to get a clearer view of brand metrics.
Let’s walk through each of these and weigh the relative pros and cons.
1. Social Shares
If you publish an article and no one share it on social media, does it really count?
Social shares have become the implicit fabric of content promotion, the unconscious barometer by which we measure popularity.
Unfortunately, we know that social shares unequivocally measure more than just popularity, and especially more than just brand awareness. In fact, the emotional character of a piece of content may determine its virality much more than any sort of brand tonality or quality.
While social shares can be an interesting metric to keep an eye for content marketers, it most likely shouldn’t be the only one nor one of the most important ones (unless you’re a marketer at BuzzFeed, in which case, keep pressing that emotional manipulation button for the clicks.).
Pageviews are another common metric used by content marketers to determine not only the effectiveness of a piece of content, but its reach and impact on brand awareness.
One thing pageviews has going for it? It’s a wildly simply metric, in both technical terms (a pageview is a pageview, unless you’re a content marketer at Business Insider running those stupid slideshow articles) and strategic terms (eyes on the page *does* signify something).
Pageviews, however, suffers from the same fate that social shares does: it’s a vanity metric in most cases. You can’t make decisions based on it. You can completely game it by writing irrelevant, high traffic, click-bait articles.
Nothing about the metric implies those viewing the page are within your target audience, nor does the metric tell you that the viewers know about your brand. Unless you know how many pageviews the other brands in your category get, it doesn’t give you a relative categorical comparison, either.
At best, pageviews is a good directional indicator for your content program (things should be going up and to the right). I don’t think this is in any way a good way to measure brand awareness for content marketing, though.
Impressions is like pageviews, but one step beyond. You can measure social media impressions (the amount of people who have seen a message of yours) or organic impressions (the amount of people who have seen an organic post of yours on a SERP) or a combination of them (add in paid impressions, too, if you want).
This metric suffers from the same fate as the above two: it’s completely broad and doesn’t include solely your target audience. Expanding your impressions may be exactly the wrong action to take (if those viewers aren’t right for your product).
Impressions are a bad metric, particularly when used for brand awareness, but also anytime. It’s almost always something used as a justification for a failed campaign (‘well, at least impressions looked good!’)
4. Branded Search Traffic
Content marketers alone don’t control the amount of people who search for your brand name, but as far as brand awareness measures go, tracking branded search traffic is a pretty darn good one.
Basically, you’re just looking to see what the quantity of ‘your brand search term’ is per month. You can find this in any keyword research tool:
5. Organic Traffic
We could also measure overall organic traffic. This is like pageviews, except we’re cutting out all the other channels – paid, email marketing, direct, social, etc.
This has benefits and downsides. One downside is that there is nothing inherent to search engines that signifies ‘brand awareness’ more than other channels. If someone searches ‘best red wines’ and your site shows up, it doesn’t necessarily mean someone knows your brand better than other competitors.
The upsides are tremendous, though, as long as you are very prudent on which keywords you’re targeting and which content you write (again, you can game this with irrelevant, high traffic keywords).
Organic traffic is probably one of the better indicators of a growing awareness level for content marketers.
6. Email List Subscribers
Email list subscribers, to many businesses, is a core business metric. The money’s in the list, as infomarketers everywhere have said at one point or another.
In B2B industries, as well, it’s often the case you need to get someone to sign up and give their information in exchange for value (ebook, quiz, demo, webinar, etc.), before they actually sign up for your product. This is true even if you’re in freemium.
Email list subscribers is a fairly strong (narrow) indicator of brand awareness, as long as your segment and clean your lists properly. It can show you prospects in a deal stage before purchase, which is really what we want to know (not whether or not some random person on the internet happened to see our Tweet once).
You can measure this as a core component in your sales funnel, and you can also begin to treat your email list as an affinity builder. Your blog is a net with which you can catch potential audience members, but the list is where you warm them up, make them love you, and compel them to purchase.
This is where the money is made. The good thing about this one, too, is that it’s a highly actionable metric (you can run experiments to increase email sign up rates, you can run cohort analyses on autoresponder flows, etc.)
7. SERP Real Estate
This is my favorite one, though it’s more complicated (technically) than others on the list.
Say you sell paleo-friendly wine. Someone in the market for this might search “paleo wine” or “red wine paleo” or “best paleo wines.” It’s one thing for you to rank at the top of Google for that, but people comparison shop. They might visit three or four of those pages, because while they indicate they are high intent and want to purchase, they’re also clearly shopping for the best possible option.
If you appear on several (or all!) of the lists/pages, it’s very likely the prospect will take you as something serious to check out.
You can manually track your placements in a SERP or check out this sample code Alex has written.
This method is probably best applied in industries with high search traffic (e.g. “best CRM”) and especially for brands with several keyword variants or product categories. It’s just not worth the effort if not many people are searching for what you’re selling.
There are tons of ways to measure brand awareness, some better than others. I like organic traffic as an overall temperature check of your reach with content. I also like email list subscriptions because it is truly where you build a mostly captive audience.
SERP Real Estate is best for industries with high search volume and who rely heavily on search.
I’d avoid wishy-washy metrics like pageviews and impressions, and social shares should mostly be used as secondary metrics to gauge the resonance of given posts, not the overall brand awareness of effectiveness of a content program.