Three common content measurement mistakes

"Vanity metrics" might make stakeholders feel good, but business outcomes are more important.

You just launched a newsletter. How quickly are you checking to see what subject line worked best? 

If you’re one of those brands (or people) that’s significantly stats-minded, the answer is probably right away. Digital metrics can be addicting — never before in the history of marketing have we been able to get the immediate gratification that something is working. Or panic that it’s not. 

But for content marketers, there’s a downside to a microscopic focus on metrics — homing in on the wrong ones can veer you and your team off course rather than keep you on track for success.

Here are three common measurement mistakes that can break your content strategy — and what to do if you find yourself (or your boss!) going down one of these rabbit holes: 

“Every Metric Should be Going Up.”

Hey overachiever! Are you tracking 10+ metrics and expecting all of them to go up to feel successful? (Are you also a first-born child, perchance?) I’m here to tell you to let yourself off the hook. It is rare to see every metric favorably increase in a given time period — for example, if you see a surge in pageviews, the likelihood is that you won’t also see a surge in time on site per user. And that’s OK — your efforts can be successful without every conceivable metric going “up and to the right.” 

If this is you, consider paring back the metrics you care about by drawing a line between your business goals and your analytics reports, and deprioritizing anything but the few stats that show progress there. For example, if discovery is your main objective, focusing on inbound search volume and referrer traffic will be much more important than other metrics. (And if you’re not sure what metrics you should focus on, reach out to us for a conversation). 

“Ban this Low-Performing Topic.”

The despair when something doesn’t work is real — but it doesn’t actually signal failure. Most of the time, when content isn’t performing to your expectations, it can be for a host of reasons. Perhaps, for example, there’s been some disruption in your channel distribution strategy. Or, maybe you wrote the content for a more specific, higher-value audience that’s smaller in size, but larger in purchasing influence. Or it could be a variable you haven’t even considered yet.

If this is you, consider expanding your dataset to get the full story. For example, rather than just trial-and-erroring it with different topics, invest in timely audience research to understand ebbs and flows in interest from your specific target audience before committing to content on the topic itself. And if you work in a space with a particular audience target (especially in B2B), regularly check in with your sales team to understand whether your content is playing a role in their process. It could turn out that a relative “dud” is actually contributing to positive outcomes that you’re just not seeing in your existing reports. 

“We Grew 450% in Two Days!”

Celebrating growth is important, and all teams should do it. But massive spikes in growth that don’t sustain can leave you feeling empty for days and weeks after as you try to replicate your “lightning-in-a-bottle” moment.

If this is you, do two things immediately: (1) Zoom out your dates to understand if the trend you’re seeing is a long-term one or a short-term gain. The goal is to see steady development of your channels to amass an audience that can be activated for success on an ongoing basis. (2) Be sure you have a strategy to capture surges in traffic like this one by having strong calls to action to more permanent relationship vehicles like email or following social accounts. 

For the analytics-obsessed (guilty!), it can be tempting to fall into these categories. But the tips above should put you on the right path to demonstrable business growth, not merely metrics growth. R


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