Digital Media

Content Marketing and The Measurement Conundrum

Over the last 6 months I have seen many briefs from brands requesting ‘content marketing’ services. Some indicate a desire to shift away from online paid media, reallocating budget into producing and seeding content. This is partly due to a view held that paid online media is a bottomless pit requiring constant funding, and that content marketing is more sustainable, less intrusive and therefore more effective. I’m not opening up this particular debate here, but placing content marketing in the same bucket as paid media presents all sorts of issues and should really be avoided. For a start, content does not behave and cannot be measured in the same way. Content marketing is a longer term strategy; it is not a tactical approach that can be switched on and off. Good content should also not try to ‘sell’ something, which means that standard DR metrics cannot be applied in the same way as they are with search and online display. This does not solve the fundamental challenge for marketers: how do we effectively measure success in this space? If I’m going to allocated £50k to £100k on producing a suite of ‘how to’ videos, can I compare this to an investment of let’s say £20k in a PDF download or even a £10k investment in PPC?

The first and most important thing to do is decide why you’re producing online content in the first place. Obvious point I know, but I find that most content briefs will (or should) sit in one of two camps; they will want to either inspire an audience, or service a particular demand. These are two very distinct requirements and cannot be measured in the same way. The second thing to be aware of is that most of the metrics used to measure the performance of content should be used as guides rather than absolutes.

Measuring almost all of the KPIs in the diagram above poses a degree of complexity. For example, ‘reach’ poses significant challenges (hence appearing in red); content that lives and breathes offsite cannot always be tracked. For example, it is impossible to know how many people see an infographic  that is shared across multiple blogs. Even harder metrics like natural search are becoming increasingly difficult to measure now that Google has encrypted data when users are logged in. ‘Service’ KPIs are generally easier to measure, partly because they are more tightly aligned to DR goals, but also because they are more likely to sit onsite or in environments which can be tracked. The conversion rate of a PDF download that sits onsite is much easier to measure than a stunt that is filmed and shared on a people’s mobile phones. It is a strange twist of fate that virality makes content so difficult to measure, and virality is what makes content marketing so appealing at the same time.

I’ve seen briefs which specify that sales should be the main KPI and focus. I would highly recommend anyone who receives a brief like this to send it back. Sales should never be the primary KPI for content marketing. For one thing, it is very difficult to measure the sales impact of a particular piece of content, especially if it is used to engage with an audience that is much higher up the purchase funnel. For another, sales lead content will almost always repel the discerning public. Unfortunately this will not sate a CMO who is asking you to prove ROI. That is where the challenge remains. The complexities and challenges around measuring the performance of content will sound like a weak excuse at best in a boardroom. This is why I think it is important to be realistic upfront and select KPIs which are easier to measure. For example, new leads or prospects produced from those who have seen content versus those who have not is a solid measurement approach to a ‘service’ lead brief. Telling a client an infographic will drive a certain number of sales is not. Foremost because this can never be validated, but also because an infographic’s role should not be to sell a product.

There is no silver bullet to measuring the effectiveness of content marketing but there are equally enough prerequisites specified above to ensure a great degree of accuracy and transparency in this space.


Nathan Levi is a contributor at The Makegood and the Head of Media at VCCP, a media optimisation company.