The state of content measurement today is… well, cloudy. Are you really measuring the value of your content marketing efforts? What metrics are you using to gauge if your content marketing initiatives are working? Are you able to connect content to revenue? If your goal is more thought leadership, brand awareness, or prospect engagement, do you have a process in place to capture and report on the necessary inputs?

From a recent exchange with an executive at a high-growth technology company, I came to understand that, in many cases, marketing measurement remains more focused on the discrete points of measurement (traffic, conversions, leads, revenue), or classic funnel metrics. In that kind of environment, the holy grail of content marketing measurement is to then connect content all the way through purchase.

Or is it?

One of the pioneers of the content marketing discipline during his time at Eloqua, Joe Chernov, recently wrote the following in an article about his own content marketing journey: "When I ran content strategy at a large marketing technology vendor, I was a purist. I felt that content should never be 'locked' behind a form, that credibility demanded the brand's logo be 'zeroed out,' and that embedding even the subtlest sales message was a cardinal sin."

He went on to say, "I was a purist because I could afford to be. Because of my employer's size, momentum, and diversity of marketing programs, we didn't have to force readers to complete a form to download an e-book or video. We didn't examine each content expense in the same way a small or early-stage company must. The luxury of time granted us the freedom to trust that those who valued our content would be more likely to buy from us when they were good and ready."

As Joe put it quite cleverly, he could afford to trust the process; that good content marketing would ultimately influence the buying cycle. Although I am sure his company was doing some measuring, it's clear that measurement wasn't the only thing.

His article and his journey reflect a larger dichotomy. Larger companies, which have many marketing channels in play at any given time, may be less concerned about the direct correlation between content marketing efforts and deals. But, for the rest of us, it's critical. (Of course, now let's see how many comments come from large companies screaming about how they have to justify every last dollar against a defined result!)

So, how do you gauge the power of content and the value of your content marketing initiatives?

One model we proposed recently in a blog post focuses on using website conversion rates to calculate the value of a content item in terms of sales. That tells an important piece of the pie. But to truly measure the entirety of your content marketing effort you also need to explore all of the inputs and outputs.

Here are just some of the content-specific KPIs we are starting to track:

  • Content throughput: Publishing volume and rate
  • Content engagement: Views and comments across all channels
  • Content dispersion: Likes, Shares, Tweets, +1s, Pins, etc.
  • Content connection: Number of content interactions in the sales cycle
  • Search lift: Keyword rankings
  • Traffic: Across all properties (Web, social, etc.)
  • Content conversions: New subscribers, leads generated
  • Content value: Rough measure of revenue expectation from each content post

Get these KPIs in place, and you will have hard numbers to show that your content marketing efforts are having an impact. And when you take them together with the rest of your marketing metrics you should be able to calculate a true return on your investment, as well as calculate any improvements in your overall cost of your demand gen efforts.

To help, here are two "hot tips" from the cutting edge.

Tip 1: Expand your traffic-counting tools

You surely already know how to measure your Web traffic and make correlations between traffic and lead conversion. However, now take that one step further: Expand your traffic counting tools to the edge of your network to the extent possible.

Start grabbing traffic data from Facebook, SlideShare, and other sources. Even your Wikipedia page will also give you page view counts. Include that data as an additional reach metric.

For example, if you have 10,000 daily pageviews on your website, you probably already report the percentage of those views that come from social channels. Add another KPI that looks at total countable social views as well, and then calculate and report that conversion rate from social channels back to your website.

(By the way, we are rapidly approaching an era where the "back to your website" part will be largely irrelevant, because you will be tracking lead conversions straight off of your social channels. Some of you in B2C land probably already do!)

Tip 2: Use your tags

At this point, we already know how to tag our discrete campaigns using DART tags or other mechanisms so we can track how our digital advertising and other campaigns are converting. Many of you are already creating specific URLs in your marketing automation or site analytics packages so you can track which links in your social channels are converting the best.

You should apply this same logic to your content, both on your site and off. Use your tagging and URL creation capabilities to ensure you have a complete picture of how a particular piece of content was dispersed through your extended network, and then drove visitors into your conversion funnel.

* * *

We have all seen the stats from MarketingProfs and others that we are going to be spending much more on content marketing this year than ever. If you are not working to become more advanced in your measurement of your content efforts, it will be really hard—maybe impossible—to justify another increase in spending in 2014.

What KPIs or processes are you using to measure your content marketing? What are we missing? Add them to the comments here!

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How to Gauge the Power and Value of Your Content Marketing

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image of Aaron Dun

Aaron Dun is senior vice-president of marketing at CareAcademy, provider of caregiver training online for agencies.

Twitter: @ajdun

LinkedIn: Aaron Dun