First it was hits, then page views, then unique visitors. Now it’s engaged time, attention minutes and brand lift. Content measurement trends are forever changing, yet perpetually flawed.

At my content marketing company, we often hear questions such as “How do you know if the content performed well?” “What would you consider a successful article?” and “Can you make this go viral?”

Here’s the short answer: It depends.

Content marketers have long contemplated the complex ROI metrics question while others hang their heads low and accept the norm. But brands have different goals for content and ideas of success; one metric couldn’t possibly account for every variation.

To save you from measuring the wrong things, let’s dissect a couple trendy content metrics.

Brand Lift

Brand lift is the increase in positive interaction with and/or perception of a brand after reading its content. Few analyze this better than BuzzFeed’s sponsored content case studies.

After creating and distributing sponsored content for Taco Bell, BuzzFeed partnered with Vizu to measure brand lift. It found that users who were exposed to Taco Bell’s sponsored content were 195.9% more likely to try its new menu item than the control group.

For brands such as Taco Bell that rely on in-store sales, this information is far more valuable than click-throughs. Measuring brand lift allowed Taco Bell to see how sponsored content furthered its goal of raising awareness and influencing consumers’ perceptions. But without the budget for an experienced team of researchers, accurately measuring brand lift could be out of reach.

Engaged Time/Attention Minutes

The time users spend actively engaging with your content is the metric Chartbeat seems to be hanging its hat on in 2015. It explains why in its whitepaper on audience development:

If you want readers who are with you for the long haul, and if you are looking to build an audience that returns — and returns often — you have to measure something more than page views. You have to start measuring engagement.

Other publications such as Upworthy are moving in a similar direction of measuring attention minutes. Upworthy’s goal is to “draw massive amounts of attention to the most important topics,” and it didn’t see traditional metrics such as page views as an accurate reflection of its content’s performance. Attention minutes show that readers don’t just blaze through the site; they actually spend time reading articles.

If your goal is reader engagement, you probably want to pay attention to this metric. But if you’re creating content to convert readers into leads, action metrics can shed light on how your content performs against this sales objective.

Use Action Metrics to Understand Sales Potential

Content takes time to work its magic, and any seasoned content marketer knows that the value isn’t immediate. If you have concrete ideas of the actions you want readers to take and are willing to invest in the long term, action metrics will be your new best friend.

When evaluating the content we publish on online, we measure success based on the following five desired actions:

Social Connections With the Author

Studies have shown that no relationship exists between reading and sharing content. When you glorify shares and likes, you overlook real, meaningful interactions that illuminate an article’s success. Instead, track social interactions to reveal the real impact your article or blog post has on readers. By measuring the number of new followers an author gets on Twitter and how many LinkedIn and Google+ connections your posts drive, you’ll start to account for the actions readers take to further engage with your brand rather than meaningless clicks.

Quality Comments

Instead of looking at the volume of comments, we value the quality of the commenters and the comments they leave. When industry experts, potential customers, or other valuable connections leave comments, these are opportunities to start meaningful — and potentially lucrative — conversations.

Click-Throughs to Our Site

In online advertising, high click-through rates are the gold standard. But in the context of content marketing, quality always trumps quantity. If you’re attempting to attract and nurture prospective clients who need education and trust, look for fewer but more high-quality clicks to your site, and invest in those potentially viable relationships.

Percentage of an Article Read

When publishing content on your company blog, measure the percentage of the article that viewers read to understand which ones are compelling enough to finish.

Clicks on Calls to Action

Once readers get through an article and continue on to the CTA, they’ve clearly found value in the article and want to continue the learning process. Clicks on your CTAs are a sure sign of a successful blog post.

Measuring action metrics is a continual process. We still see leads come through from articles we published three years ago, and we know that some of the articles we publish this month may result in more qualified leads and longer client retention 12 months down the road. If you’re using a CMS such as HubSpot or Marketo, you can see how these metrics tie into your overall lead and sales metrics over time. But you need a healthy dose of patience and persistence to get the bigger picture.

Don’t just look to metrics that others find valuable; track the ones that align with your business goals. Choose brand lift for brand awareness goals, engaged time or attention minutes if establishing a loyal readership is important, and action metrics if success means driving prospects through your marketing funnel. Once you actually start measuring against the right goals, you’ll start unlocking the true potential of content marketing.

Author Photo
Kelsey MeyerKelsey Meyer is the co-founder of Influence & Co. a content marketing firm specializing in helping companies showcase their expertise through thought leadership. Influence & Co.’s clients range from venture-backed startups to Fortune 500 brands.
More about SEO
An SEO Guide to Yoast for WordPressYoast SEO for WordPress is a powerful optimization tool. In this guide, we’ll explore how it works, and how to best integrate the plugin with Semrush’s keyword tools.
10 min read