Every time I use the words “analytics,” “metrics,” or “KPIs” in a discussion about the impact of content, a little voice goes off in my head. It’s the voice of Inigo Montoya from the movie, The Princess Bride: “You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.”
While content marketers may recognize these terms relate to content measurement, it’s easy to confuse their distinctions. Read on for explanations of 23 common measurement terms and how they fit into your content’s performance strategy.
Content measurement definitions
Marketo defines analytics as the practice of managing and studying metrics data to determine the ROI of marketing efforts like calls to action, blog posts, channel performance, and thought leadership pieces, and to identify opportunities for improvement.
According to Google Analytics, a bounce rate is a single-page session divided by all sessions on your site. A bounce is a session that triggers a single request to the analytics server, such as when a user visits a page on your site and exits without taking further action. While a site exit doesn’t tell you much about your content (everyone leaves your site at some point), a page with both high exit and bounce rates may need changes to the content.
Click-through rate (CTR)
A click-through rate is the percent of total viewers or recipients who clicked a link in a content asset (clicks divided by total recipients). It’s commonly used to gauge success for email campaigns, newsletter-driven website visits, and content promotions (e.g., display ads, native advertising), where the total number of recipients can be quantified (rather than estimated).
A conversion happens when a consumer takes an action after engaging with your content. The action is what your organization designates as meaningful – purchasing a product, registering for an event or a gated asset, subscribing to a blog or newsletter, or joining a social media community. Calculate the conversion rate by dividing the number of visitors to the content who converted by the total interactions with that piece of content.
Customer acquisition cost
A customer acquisition cost is how much the company spent to obtain that customer. Take all the expenses – product research, development, manufacturing, marketing, advertising, etc. Divide that total by the number of customers within a designated time frame.
The download metric is commonly used to gauge performance for lead-magnet content assets like white papers, e-books, and infographics. It indicates a deeper level of engagement and interest than a view or visit because the user found the content valuable enough to save a copy to explore in more detail or share with others in their networks.
Engagement is considered both a fundamental content metric and a content marketing goal. As a metric, it’s broadly defined as an act of content consumption –opening an email newsletter, reading a blog article, clicking on an ad or an interactive asset, or liking/commenting on a social media post. While engagement indicates at least a passing interest in your content, it’s not a particularly informative indicator of why the content captured audience interest. It’s often best used to contextualize other metrics rather than as a definitive decision-making tool.
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Entrances are the number of times visitors enter your site through a specific page or set of pages. Likewise, exits indicate how often visitors end their site visit on that page. A page with a high entrance rate could indicate it’s well-optimized for search. However, neither entrance nor exit rates are clear indicators of content success (or failure) on their own. It’s a good idea to correlate this data with other insights – bounce rates, time on site, user flow, and referral traffic sources – to get a clearer picture of what it indicates about your content performance.
Goals are the desired business outcomes to be achieved through your content marketing strategy. While the stated goal of content marketing is to drive a profitable action, your goals should be more specific and quantifiable, such as increasing sales conversions, saving the company money, building (or growing) a subscribed audience, or driving greater customer loyalty and brand satisfaction.
KPI stands for key performance indicators. They are standard, agreed-on measurements for assessing progress against your content marketing goals. Potential KPIs might be average conversion rates, number of leads, quality of leads, or revenue per new customer.
Marketing-qualified lead (MQL)
MQLs are leads generated by the marketing team that satisfy the criteria to pass along to the sales team for further outreach.
In contrast to KPIs, metrics are the business-as-usual measurements for things that add value to your organization but aren’t focused on the most critical goals. They might include website page views or likes on social media posts. Think of these as the “what-needs-to-be-true” numbers that can help you achieve or optimize your KPIs.
Objectives and key results (OKR)
OKR is a method to determine which metrics best gauge performance against your goals. It starts with designing a measurement pyramid that includes goals, key performance indicators, and metrics. CMI’s chief strategy advisor Robert Rose details the OKR process here. The end result should be your business mission segmented into strategic objectives. Each segment should connect to the OKR pyramid and be a source tool for each metric that goes into it.
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An open rate is a metric related to content delivered via email. It measures the percentage of subscribers who opened the email regardless if they clicked on any of the links in that content. Already limited in value due to its narrow focus, its reliability has come into question even further with the advent of Apple’s iOS email tracking changes.
Page views vs. unique page views
Commonly used to gauge website traffic, page views are the total number of times a site page is loaded by all visitors over a set time called a session, usually lasting 30 minutes. If a visitor views the same page three times during a session, total page views increase by three.
In contrast, a unique page view tracks views based on the visitor’s unique IP address, device, and browser. In the example above, the visitor who viewed the same page three times in a session would count as one unique page view. However, let’s say the visitor viewed the page two times in a Google Chrome browser and one time in a Microsoft Edge browser from the same URL. That would count as two unique page views.
If your website content is configured for Google’s Universal Analytics, look for page views and unique page views for each of your site page URLs under Behavior > Site Content > All Pages. If you’re working with Google Analytics 4, you’ll find the pages report under Engagement > Pages and screens, but will need to do some additional configuration to view data by page URL instead of the page title.
When a visitor reaches your domain through a third-party link (other than a search engine), it’s tracked by Google as referral traffic. In Universal Analytics, you can find referral data under Attribution > All Traffic > Referrals. For GA4, click on the Reports link in the left-side menu, navigate to Acquisition > Traffic acquisition, then type “referral” in the search box and hit enter.
You can see the sources that led visitors to your site, how many visits were referred from each source, and additional data on their behaviors after arriving on your site. As a metric, it’s a useful indicator of brand awareness and thought leadership. The more sources that send traffic your way, the more highly regarded your domain likely is – an outcome that leads to better domain authority and better rankings of your content on search.
While gaining subscribers is among the top goals for content marketing (particularly for content brands and entrepreneurs), it’s also a metric tracked to gauge progress toward other achievements in the marketing funnel.
It refers to the total number of people who completed a form or other action to gain access to your content – attend an event, download a lead-magnet asset, receive email newsletters, join your brand community, etc.
When registrants or subscribers renew, that renewal rate is a metric that can be used to gauge brand loyalty.
Return on investment (ROI)
Return on investment is a broad term to describe how a company’s marketing initiatives drive profitable actions and business growth. Knowing ROI for content campaigns enables marketers to determine appropriate budget allocations, maximize the efficiency of each marketing expense, and demonstrate the impact of their efforts to their executive stakeholders.
Though it’s (arguably) the most critical measurement of a marketing technique’s effectiveness, the complex nature of attributing conversions to a particular asset can make content ROI difficult to calculate precisely, let alone prove definitively.
Sales-qualified lead (SQL)
An SQL is lead qualified by the sales team as active in the market. These leads are more likely to become a customer than an MQL.
Subscribers are defined as audience members who have taken an action around your content (and provided some personal data to do so) in exchange for an expectation of receiving ongoing value. It is a core metric for measuring content marketing value.
Time on site/time on page
These metrics indicate how long a visitor spends on the site or a page. Visits that exceed the average time on page (or site) are a positive indication of interest and engagement with that content. However, it’s impossible to tell using this metric alone whether the user actively engaged with the content all that time or simply left it open on their browser.
Video views measure how many times a video asset is watched. Duration indicates the time the average viewer plays that video. Just because a video was viewed in its entirety does not mean the viewer actively engaged with all of it.
A visitor is any internet user who arrives on your website (or mobile website). Seems simple, right? But what’s involved in characterizing that visit and how it gets factored into content measurement is more complicated.
In Google Analytics, to track site visits, the user needs to have enabled tracking cookies. (This is why the end of third-party cookies was likened, at least at first, to the end of digital marketing.)
There also is a distinction between visits and unique visitors. Visits encompass any time a user visits your site. Unique visitors refers to the number of people who browsed your site during a session. A unique visitor who visited several times during that session would count as one unique visitor. If they returned after the session, that would count as another unique visit.
Know what’s in the measurement name
Every content marketing program requires a solid measurement strategy. By knowing the terms and understanding how they fit in your brand’s content marketing, you’re at the start of a successful evaluation of your content’s effectiveness.
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute