Designing The Content Marketing Strategy Measurement

Welcome to the wonderful world of quantitative content marketing analytics.

It’s at this point where I hear you saying, “I was told there would be no math in marketing.”

The good news is that all kinds of tools will help you do all that math.

The bad news is that none of these tools will help you understand what the numbers mean for your business.

As we’ve said, shared objectives without analytics are visions without a map. And deciding on analytics without objectives is like having a map but nowhere to go.

If you have a shared objective and a common understanding of how you’ll know if you’ve met it, only then can you define it with numbers. That’s when the numbers have a purpose and, more importantly, meaning.

Think of your company as a team with the shared goal of winning the game. Everyone on the team knows you need to score more points than your opponent to win.

But without a common understanding of how many points result from a field goal or a touchdown, you won’t know if you’ve scored enough points until someone’s declared the winner.

If you end up losing, it’s too late to fix anything. If you somehow win, nobody understands why.

Your goal is to architect your shared objectives with crystal-clear, unambiguous measurements of success. You want to establish this architected measurement so that everyone across the company agrees.

This isn’t about everybody getting to define their own standards (à la Lockheed and NASA agreeing among themselves on metric vs. imperial). Your designed measurement plan must be communicated, shared, and expressly agreed upon by everyone.

As a vice president of marketing once said to me:

The sales team is measured on the value of the opportunities that turn into customers. Marketing is measured by the number of leads created.

That sounds like a match – but it’s not.

We create a huge number of leads looking for introductory products, but the sales team only cares about the leads we create for enterprise products. We’re both meeting our objectives, but we’re losing for the business.

If you don’t have a clearly defined (and shared) vision for what success looks like, you can’t measure anything meaningful in content marketing or any other department.

One useful measurement architecture that emerged in the last decade is a concept called objectives and key results (OKRs). OKRs are a fantastic method for getting to the measurement that matters. They help ensure progress toward a shared destination.

A great way to think of OKRs is to just fill in the blanks in this statement:

We will _____________your objective as measured by ____________key results

For our purposes, we’ve modified this methodology slightly for content marketing strategy. We call this the content marketing Measurement Pyramid.

The pyramid is a framework that you can utilize to assign a shareable objective and understand the important (and well-understood) meaning of progress toward that objective.

There are four levels to each pyramid:

  • A. The Objective. A shared and well-understood goal. Objectives should align to the charter and responsibilities identified in Chapter 3, and are the result of understanding the overall business goal and what success looks like.
  • B. The Key Results. The unambiguous investment values that will demonstrate we have met the objective. This is a combination of factors that you all agree accurately describes “what success looks like.”
  • C. The KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). The unique aggregated measurements that inform progress toward the key results.
  • D. The Analytics. The detailed transactional conversions, conversations, and other single data points that make up the measurement of the KPIs.

With this framework in mind, you can build one measurement pyramid for each of your strategic objectives.

Here is the process.

Step 1: Set The Objective

Ensure you create an actual and shareable objective.

Well-articulated strategic objectives capture a mix of how content will deliver value to the business. They also imply or overtly talk about a time horizon— when the success will happen.

Now, you may plan to realize objectives (or not) by the quarter, year, or multiple years. You might have long-term and short-term objectives.

You can figure out the hierarchy of those things.

Setting strategic objectives doesn’t mean they don’t change as the marketplace shifts or assumptions evolve. It just means you can start to time-box them to understand how quickly you need to change.

For example, pretend your business agrees that the strategic objective is to ensure your new thought leadership blog is a valuable platform for the business.

Your overall objective, then, is: Our blog will be a profitable source of new leads for our marketing.

You can see this objective belongs in the upper left part of the journey, as discussed previously (direct savings), and is squarely in the Campaign category of value.

You can also see in the objective that it’s not just a source of new leads at any cost. Your blog is designed to be a profitable source of new leads.

Now that you have a shareable strategic objective, move to the next step.

Step 2: Define Success With The Key Results

Decide the key results that will unambiguously define accomplishing that objective.

The shareable objective for the content marketing team is to become a profitable source of new leads. But what is the definition of that? How many leads? What does profitable mean?

So, the next step is to define the key results that the business will agree are standards that define the objective. So, perhaps you agree on these key results:

  • The blog produces 10% of all net new sales qualified leads within one year.
  • The blog produces 2,000 total addressable subscribers within one year.
  • The leads produced by the blog are 10% less expensive than standard lead acquisition.
  • Organic traffic to the blog represents 20% of your total website traffic.

There could be others here, but the idea is that you identify a handful (not dozens) of key results that will define what a profitable source of leads means.

The reason to have more than one KPI, but not too many, is that there are degrees of achieving KPIs that need to be determined for defining success.

For example, we may meet 3 of the 4 key results (perhaps we only achieve 9.5% of all net new sales, and we must determine if that then becomes a pass or fail for the objective).

You won’t be surprised to learn that my advice for determining this is that you simply get agreement for each one.

You have a shared objective and you’ve defined how the impact on the audience will have a direct effect on profit over cost. That gets you to Step 3.

Step 3: Design Your KPIs

As I mentioned, one of the challenges of your key results is that each one is probably better defined as a combination of measurements than one single measurement.

For example, the key result that “blog leads will be 10% cheaper than standard leads” can be reached in a number of ways.

You might find that people who subscribe to your blog are actually more expensive to acquire than high-level leads for a “free trial.” However, you may also find that blog subscribers convert into qualified leads at a much higher rate than those who sign up for a “free trial.”

Therefore, these combinations of metrics actually determine the true “expense” of the lead.

Designed KPIs help you get to the best definitions of how to measure progress toward reaching your key results. So, for example, there may be quite a few KPIs that will help you better determine your progress.

In this example, we might look at the following KPIs:

  • Subscriber counts.
  • Subscriber vs. visitor and lead form fills.
  • Conversion rates by content promotion methods (paid vs. organic).
  • A-level (sweet spot) subscribers vs. B-level subscribers such as competitors, students, etc.
  • Paid traffic vs. organic traffic levels and cost.

You get the idea. This is the equivalent of help with understanding the in-game analytics data to help you play a better game.

You know the objective, and you know what success looks like, now you just have to see the multiple ways of getting there and how they all play nicely with each other.

You may discover, for example, that it’s easy to develop high-quality leads but that the cost is higher than traditional marketing.

Locking yourself into only one way of looking at things limits your ability to make a business decision about what is acceptable for now.

This is the whole idea of KPIs – they indicate performance. They help us make adjustments to everything, including our overall results or even the objective.

That leads to the final step.

Step 4: Assemble Your Analytics

Once you understand the KPIs, you need to begin to identify the specific analytics – the granular measurements that will define the continuous health of your individual KPIs.

Analytics tools are just as they are defined – they are built to measure the granular, transactional elements of “what happens.” They are not built to measure “why” it happens.

It is up to us to examine our KPIs and then assemble the precise analytics we will utilize to define the measurement of improvements or progress toward them.

For example, with perhaps dozens of KPIs associated with the example here, you can then look to the various metrics that will help you understand how your actions are impacting progress toward them.

You might look at:

  • Likes and follows on social media that promote our blog.
  • Shares of content from our blog.
  • Traffic, time on site, bounce rates.
  • Cost of content production.
  • Cost of the traffic being generated.
  • SEO rankings for specific keywords.

Again, you get the idea.

That sounds like a lot of work.

Spoiler alert: it is. Nobody said this was going to be easy.

And guess what – you need to do this for all of your objectives.


This article is an extract from the book “Content Marketing Strategy” by Robert Rose ©2023 and is reproduced and adapted with permission from Kogan Page Ltd.

This article is the third in a series of three (Read: Defining The Responsibilities In The Content Lifecycle and The Three Pillars Of Content Marketing Strategy) on Search Engine Journal that delve deeper into the concepts discussed in the book, which officially launched on September 26, 2023.

As a token of appreciation for your readership, Kogan Page Ltd. has generously shared a 20% discount code exclusively for Search Engine Journal readers. If you’re interested in purchasing the book, please use the promo code CMS20 at www.koganpage.com/content-marketing-strategy to redeem it.

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