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We Should Measure Content Marketing by Relationships

3 Ideal Content Marketing Metrics

As a metric for content marketing, pageviews are flawed according to a white paper – Why Content Marketers Are Using All the Wrong Metrics – published by Contently.  The company provides the combination of a talent marketplace and content marketing software to manage projects and campaigns.

The white paper calls the pageview a “superficial impression of how people behave on the web.” It also labels the click “its evil queen.”

“For 20 years, the media and marketing world has been beholden to the pageview, a deeply flawed metric that only captures the most superficial impression of how people behave on the web.”

Why Pageviews are a Weak Metric

The paper traces the use of pageveiws for measurement to online advertising, where CPM, or cost per thousand pageviews, became the standard for advertising fees.

It’s a poor metrics because it can be easily gamed.  From clickbait headlines to automatic page refreshes, there are a number of simple and hollow ways to drive pageviews.  Yet pageveiws became the default unit of measurement, according to Contently, out of familiarity as brands transitioned to the publishing focused model in content marketing.

Contently says some “30% of clicks come from bots” which is easy to see in any of the top analytics platforms such as Google Analytics (GA). Confidence in analytics is becoming an enormous concern in marketing; Moz has an excellent article on How to Stop Spam Bots from Ruining Your Analytics Referral Data.

Also see these related posts: 
How Long Should a Blog Post Be? [A Data-Driven Answer for B2B]
Repurpose Does Not Mean Regurgitate in Content Marketing
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Surrogate and Social Media Metrics

The paper criticizes four other typical measures:  unique visitors, Facebook likes, social media shares and conversion rates.

Its arguments on all four are sound.  Unique views give little indication as to how long visitor stays engaged (ever go to a party and then bounce to a better one? It’s easy to be shallow on the web).  Indeed, citing analytics research published in a Time article – What You Think You Know About the Web Is Wrong – the paper says more than half of all web visitors stay on page less than 15 seconds.

Facebook has essentially “rendered” likes useless, as the social network has become focused on social media advertising revenue.  Facebook is the first “new media” site to act entirely like “traditional media” — what’s old is new again.

Shares are a poor metric because research shows people share content blindly.  Again citing the data in the previously mentioned Time story, the company says content that is the “most shared are the least read.

If Contently treads carefully on any of the surrogate metrics it is the conversion rate given the obvious importance for proving a return on content marketing.  The paper says, “focusing too much on sales and conversions is dangerous fruit for content marketers.”

The authors place this in context with a question – which would content marketers prefer:

 A: A piece of content that 100 people read and enjoy that leads to no direct sales?

B: A piece of content that 100 people read that leads to three sales but makes the other 97 people unlikely to ever buy from you again.

3 Idealist Content Marketing Metrics

According to Contently, we should measure content marketing by relationships.  This does not have the same meaning in which most PRp pros would identify, though (real) relationships can clearly be cultivated through content marketing.

The Contently paper focuses in on three ideal measures:

1. Engaged time. It appears the company is advocating for something greater than merely time on page. It says its own analytics solution measures engaged time by “tracking scrolling, mouse movements, highlighting, active windows/tabs, and other factors to figure out the exact second users stop paying attention.”

2. Readers and returning readers.  Returning visitors are a good measure and I know for sure that GA provides this information.  Contently is aiming to measure this – and engaged time together writing, “it’s also crucial to measure when readers come back, and track how much Engaged Time they spend during each session with your brand’s content.”

3. Average finish. This was the most interesting measure the paper proposed – how many visitors are staying engaged until the end – of a blog post, white paper or video?  As Contently puts it, “It’s incredibly important to know whether you’re creating content your readers are sticking with to the end. If they’re feeling compelled to drop off early, you’re going to have a much harder time getting them to come back.”

* * *

I’d take a softer view, though I really do like the ideas Contently is advocating.  The metrics content marketers are likely to use aren’t wrong:  traffic, with all its flaws (and assuming it’s the right traffic), is still an important measure because content consumption is an overarching category of measurement. It’s directional, and that what metrics are supposed to do: indicate whether or not we are headed in the right direction.

This is especially true for anyone selling a content marketing philosophy internally. However, Contently is offering a more refined perspective of analytics.  The full paper – 14 quick pages – is worth a read.

An Anecdote in Content Marketing Measurement

Contently published its white paper in May 2013 (see the first link at the top).  About a year later, in May 2014, the company published a post on its blog The Content Strategist which was a creative way to repurpose the content.

I read the 2014 post, shared it the same month on Twitter, which earned zero clicks according to Bitly.  At the same time, I had also downloaded the white paper and it’s been sitting in my reading queue – along with a long list of other white papers – in line to be read.  By the time I publish this post, it’ll have been nearly two years since Contently published that white paper.

How do you measure the value of that?

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3 Responses

  1. Hi Frank,

    Your comment about when you finally got to reading that white paper made me smile because it reminded me of the debates I used to have with my prospects and clients in my ad sales days.
    We’d go round and round about whether there was more value in a million dollar ad buy for a 20 second spot at the US Open as opposed to the $50k I wanted them to spend on an interactive campaign.
    The crux of the discussion always came down to our trying to identify what metrics provided the most significant and comprehensive look at what our prospects and existing customers were doing.

    Average finish sounds interesting but how do they account for the person who doesn’t have time to read through the entire piece so they skim and then come back to it?

  2. Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes Thanks for stopping by Joshua. I’m definitely in the camp that each organization is unique — what is an effective measure for one may not work for another. As for average finish, and absent a demo, it seems they use a combination of clicks, scrolling and other activities to determine “finish.”  I’d imagine someone that skims would be converted into some sort of percentage easily enough. Fifty or 60% finished for example. I did ask Contently as to the relationship with Chartbeat (on Twitter) but no answer yet.  You’re comment reminded me, to remind them, of the question. It’s interesting stuff for sure!

  3. Pingback : 5 Ways to Translate Your Content Marketing Goals into KPIs

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