Fixing Performance Measurement issues in Content Marketing & Digital Publishing


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Digital publishers broadly consist of 3 wide groups – Media companies (both legacy media with an online presence and digital first startups), Content Marketers for brands and Bloggers. Each group of publishers has distinct content volume, frequency & distribution patterns that require a nuanced approach to content analytics.

Big brands that have a large content marketing operation and digital media houses tend to have similar metrics of success, in fact former journalists are often the architects for content marketing strategy at large brands. However, newsroom analytics solutions have evolved by great leaps in the past few years, and content marketing is playing catch up. In this post, we will focus on problems that these large segments face and how to tackle them, moreover, we will review a variety of surveys to diagnose the issues before getting to the fixes.

Defining Success in Content Marketing & Digital Publishing

The good news for brands & publishers creating content is that the approach is working: 81% marketers believe their creation and distribution strategy is successful. Most brands appear to have solved the problem of being able to define quality of content and it is now possible to tell the difference between good content vs. bad content.

Moreover, this success is likely to continue well into the future, according to a survey of content marketers this year: 52% of marketers say they have increased their content marketing budget this year and 60% say content has become a key part of their marketing strategy.

The bad news is that most brands brands are not still sure exactly how well their programs are performing. In fact, 62% of senior marketers say their organization continues to struggle with assessing content effectiveness.

What’s going on? Why, when nearly three-quarters of firms rate their content marketing maturity level as mid- to advanced, does measurement remain such a challenge?

We recently looked at a host of recent surveys and analyst reports to find out.

What emerged from the research is that the root of the problem is that there is a disconnect between what businesses want to accomplish and what they are measuring. This issue is both clear and widespread: According to a survey conducted last year, just 19% of marketers rate their organization as “excellent” or “very good” at aligning metrics to their content marketing goals.

Objectives of content marketing survey results
Content Marketing Objectives according to Marketers(Source: Ascend2 Survey)

When asked why they are creating content, marketers say their top objectives are to increase sales, build brand awareness, and boost lead generation. However, when asked which KPIs they measure, some 69% of brands say traffic; only 55% track engagement, 36% goal conversions, and 27% sales attribution.

In other words, the content metrics which most marketers are looking at are not providing much insight into whether pieces are or are not succeeding in helping to achieve business goals.

This has a direct impact on what marketers say is their biggest content challenge: measuring ROI. Because the insights they are receiving do not have a clear, measurable relation to objectives such as higher sales, more leads, and increased brand awareness, it is difficult to connect individual pieces with their impact on the business. That is largely why 42% of firms say they still cannot measure content ROI at all, in the aforementioned Zazzle media survey report.

The second major problem with not tracking the right metrics is that it makes future planning much more difficult. According to the same Zazzle media report, some 52% of marketers say creating more engaging pieces is among their biggest content challenges. This struggle is directly related to measurement: because firms are not sure what is connecting most strongly with audiences, they do not know where to focus resources.

So, what can marketers do to overcome the content measurement challenge? They can start by learning from those who have already solved the problem.

Earlier this year Content Standard surveyed 1,000 content marketers about their creation, distribution, and analytics approaches. The responses were segmented into Bystanders (firms with low-performing content), Novices (mid-performing), Experts (mid-performing), Leaders (high-performing), and Visionary (best-in-class).

Content Marketing Success metrics
Preferred Metrics for Content Success, split by expertise level of marketers (source: Content Standard Survey)

The researchers found that the most effective marketers — the Visionaries — pay much more attention to engagement metrics (time on site, bounce rate, etc.), goal conversion metrics, and sales attribution metrics than other markers.

Put simply, to be able to effectively measure content effectiveness marketers need to change which metrics they pay closest attention to. Specifically, they need to move away from traffic-based KPIs and towards insights such as engagement and conversions.

Why haven’t firms made this shift already? When surveyed by the Content Marketing Institute, marketers who do not measure content ROI say the top reason, by far, is because “we need an easier way to do this.”

The Solution: Better Tools & Smarter Metrics

The irony of the problem we deduced above, is that it’s not that difficult to measure success. While in the past it was a challenge to see more than traffic KPIs, today there are now a number of sophisticated tools — such as our NativeAI platform — that make it easy to see richer metrics. By quickly looking at a dashboard, marketers can clearly see engagement volume and quality, real-time intelligence, and actionable insights.

nativeai realtime analytics dashboard
Content Analytics dashboard with Engagement metrics (Source: NativeAI Analytics)

Publisher Analytics tools such as NativeAI which use Artificial Intelligence & Natural Language Processing can classify content, recognize topics and objects and group audiences by their topic affinities. These tools prioritize Audience Attention & Engagement Quality over visits and time spent, which is a much more reliable way to measure success in content marketing in today’s multi-device, distraction-filled online user behavior. For a comprehensive walk-through on how to use advanced content analytics, our Content Analytics guide for Publishers & content marketers may prove handy.

Measuring success of content marketing isn’t always very simple, even with powerful tools, when brands do not control where content is distributed. Often articles are distributed on third-party sites where access to analytics is restricted or even non-existent. To overcome this, content marketers must push for more visibility and/or focus on publishing to platforms which they have greater control over.

Ultimately, solving the measurement challenge is possible: marketers need to clearly define why they are creating content, map these goals to the right metrics, utilize the tools which provide the necessary insights, and gain more control over where content is posted.

Karthik Balachander
Karthik is a retail marketing manager for, Canada's original domain name registrar and a popular Canadian Web host. He handles customer acquisition & growth across PPC, PR, SEO, Social, Branding and Events for the retail segment of Previously he led marketing for the NativeAI Publisher Analytics platform and the News360 Personalized News app.


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