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Over the past year or two I’ve written a whole bunch of articles about content marketing. For example, there was my three-part series on how to create a content marketing program from scratch, 5 tips for creating high-quality content and 3 content marketing trends you should know about.

As I was wracking my brain trying to think of a new content marketing topic I could write about this month, it occurred to me that there’s at least one — OK, probably a whole lot more than just one — angle I haven’t covered yet: measuring the results of content marketing programs.

Not My Strong Suit

I have to admit that the reason it took me awhile to think of this topic is because it isn’t really my strong suit. I’m pretty good at creating content — that’s what I’ve been doing for my entire 30+ year career, after all — and that’s what my clients hire me for. But I usually leave the whole results measurement and ROI thing up to other people.

There’s a fancy term that’s used to describe the things you should be measuring with regard to any marketing program: key performance indicators, or KPIs in marketing parlance. The most important KPIs I look at with my e-newsletter are the open rate and the click-through rate. These are prominently displayed in the Constant Contact platform so they’re easy to monitor and track.

The open rate is just what it says: the percentage of people I send the newsletter to who opened the email. My open rate over the past year averaged 24%, which is actually pretty good. Constant Contact says the average open rate for my industry is just 12%. My open rate for the April issue was 34%, which was a new record for me. I’m not exactly sure how that happened — I wish I knew so I could do it again!

The click-through rate, meanwhile, is the percentage of recipients who clicked on any of the links in my newsletter. Unfortunately, my click-through rate averaged just 3% over the past year, which isn’t so good (but it was 6% last month).

Content Marketing KPIs

Yesterday I came across this infographic that lists the most important KPIs for content marketing programs. Other than open and click-through rates (which the info-graphic lists), here are a few of the other ones that seem most important to me:

  • Social shares — Obviously, the more people who are sharing your content on other social media channels, the more exposure your content is going to get and the larger your potential audience will be. Be sure to include sharing links for all the big social media sites (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.) along with your content.
  • Number of followers/subscribers — Ideally, this number should be growing instead of shrinking. Use every opportunity to promote your content across multiple channels (both digital and print) and make it easy for people to subscribe and follow you.
  • Audience engagement — Are your readers and followers engaging with your content by commenting and interacting with you? To me, this is kind of the holy grail when it comes to successful content marketing. Engaged readers and followers are more likely to remember you — and buy from you — when a need for your product or service arises.
  • Inbound links — In other words, are other bloggers, marketers and websites linking to your content or quoting it (kind of like I’m doing with this info-graphic)? This is another sign that your content is really hitting the mark.
  • Cost per lead — Now we’re getting into some of the more nitty-gritty KPIs that are mostly relevant if you use your content more for direct sales as opposed to relationship-building like I do. To calculate your cost per lead, simply divide the total cost of your content marketing campaign by the number of leads it generates.
  • Conversion rate — This helps you see which types of content are leading to the most conversions of prospects to customers, and thus boosting your sales. One way to track this is to add a UTM link to each piece of content you publish. This is a simple code added to the end of the URL that lets you track various components of the campaign, like where traffic originated from (e.g., Google) and the type of traffic visitors came from (e.g., email, social, referral).

Choosing Your KPIs

So how do you decide which KPIs you should measure for your content marketing programs? As I hinted at above, it depends mainly on what your goals are.

For example, my goal in publishing this monthly e-newsletter is to send information of value about writing and marketing to people who might need to hire a freelance writer to help them create content. It’s not hard sell at all — my hope is that by sending you something that you find useful, instead of salesy, you’ll remember me if you ever need to hire a freelance writer who specializes in business and finance.

So KPIs like cost per lead and conversion rate aren’t that important to me. I mainly want to know how many people are actually opening and reading my e-newsletter, how many followers/subscribers I have and how engaged readers are.

But if you’re using your content to make direct sales — like a retailer who wants people to click links and buy products online — then KPIs like cost per lead and conversion rate are crucial. You should be watching them closely and tweaking your content marketing programs based on what you learn.