Especially in times of crisis, keywords such as controlling, content KPIs and
ROI (return on investment) become particularly important. After all, you are probably even more motivated to use your financial and human resources in a targeted manner. In this article I'll show you how to measure the success of your content - as a freelancer or in an agency.
In some situations, success monitoring in digital business is comparatively simple: A landing page should have a clear call-to-action, for example. Whether this is actually used or not can be clearly measured. In this case, you would take the number of leads or purchases gained and compare it to the number of visitors on the landing page. If this value turns out to be too low, then it's time to troubleshoot. Or to put it more positively: optimization.
This approach becomes more difficult the further forward in the customer journey a content is positioned. Think about the topic of content marketing - its content should not sell anything at all. Read my articles on content marketing for agencies and freelancers as well as on target-oriented content strategy. With such content you want:
- Attract the right target group and then
- Achieve a positive change towards your products and offers
Here it becomes much more difficult to determine and capture the right metrics. And yet you want to know how your content is received by the target group.
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Finding the right key figures
A major problem: Typical and easily available metrics like page views usually have little meaning. After all, what does it help you to know that your new blog post has been viewed 10,000 times? What value does it have for you that 5,000 people subscribed to your newsletter? And are 200 new fans on Facebook enough or not?
Such metrics are sometimes called "vanity metrics": They are essentially there to flatter one's vanity. As an example: Anyone responsible for social media channels is probably familiar with the pressure to have more fans and followers than competitors. But that's like saying a brick-and-mortar store is all about having more visitors than the store next door. Of course it's important to attract prospective customers. But rent and salaries are only earned from sales, not from visitor numbers. It is much more important to attract the right visitors - and to convince them of your offers.
This example also shows you that comparisons with others often don't help. Because if you have a jewelry store and a supermarket next door, then of course you have completely different conditions. And even two jewelry stores don't necessarily have comparable offers and customers. One may focus on mass-produced goods, the other on exclusive individual pieces.
Therefore, instead of comparing yourself to others, you should primarily focus on measuring your own progress. After all, who can tell you that your outwardly successful competitor is actually making better sales than you? And: Only through your own experiments, measurements and conclusions can you discover and find out something that your competitors may not even know about.
The first thing you need to do is set your goals
Which metrics are "right" for you depends on your goals. It would take too long to explain the topic of company goals at this point. Therefore, only very briefly: They should be formulated as "SMART" as possible. This abbreviation stands for specific, measurable, achievable, result-oriented and time-bound. So, for example, your stated goal is not "more sales". Instead, your goal specifies exactly how much more turnover you want to achieve and by when. Based on this, your further considerations look something like this:
- What do you want or need to achieve in the short, medium and long term?
- What are the ways you can do that?
- What actions and measures would make this possible?
- How large is the likely effect of a measure compared to the effort involved?
Little by little, you create a prioritized list of goals and measures. Your content on your own website, in social networks or for your newsletter distribution list is also part of it.
And because your content and activities now hopefully have clear goals and tasks, it is much easier to derive the appropriate metrics from them.
The KPI Finder
That's the good news. The bad news is that the more interesting and meaningful a metric is, the more difficult it often is to measure it. See Andreas Kösters' still very readable article on measuring success, in which he highlights this phenomenon for the field of social media marketing. He divides possible measurement values into a three-level pyramid. You won't be able to glean some important insights from analytics tools. Instead, you will have to ask your prospects or customers directly.
In order to find the decisive key performance indicators (KPIs) in the content area, the German Association of the Digital Economy (BVDW e.V.) has also created a guide that is worth reading as a free PDF. It also provides the KPI Finder. Both relate primarily to the topic of content marketing, but are also interesting for other content.
The BVDW divides the KPIs into the three rough goals "interaction", "reach" and "conversion and costs". Here you must already be clear about what you actually want to achieve (see above).
In the next step, you choose which platform you are interested in (website, online shop, newsletter, Facebook ...). The KPI Finder is limited to listing possible measurement values. What is behind each of them, what statement the KPIs can make and whether they apply to your situation, you have to research yourself. Nevertheless, I find the tool helpful to search for possible metrics and to get inspired.
Regularly record and evaluate key figures
If the control should bring something, then it must be done regularly and as often as possible. Checking once a year to see what your content work has actually brought is clearly not enough. Depending on what you are looking at, you should also keep an eye on certain values on a weekly or daily basis. The frequency depends on the particular metric. Some can change in the short term (page views), some develop over time (Facebook fans).
Also, make sure to choose meaningful comparison periods. It is usually a good idea to use both the previous period and the same period a year ago. After all, there are sometimes seasonal differences. Comparison with competitors, on the other hand, is of limited use, as mentioned above. That's simply because you're very unlikely to see the metrics of your competitors that are actually interesting. More tips:
- To make your numbers comparable, you should only use one data source per measurement. Because even things that seem clear, like a page view, can be assessed differently depending on the measurement tool.
- Also make sure that the numbers are as clean as possible. A typical problem is, for example, to count the own accesses to the website. This of course distorts the results.
- Speaking of skewed results: Some metrics like dwell time are technically subject to error. You always need to be aware of how accurately something can be measured. And some values like "bounce rate" can have different messages depending on the situation, as this post explains.
- Last but not least, it is important that the measured numbers can be easily evaluated, for example by displaying them in a dashboard. Is it tedious for you or your colleagues to gain insights from the measured values? Then there is a high risk that the task will be left in the daily routine or that long-term changes will be overlooked.
Even a simple tool like Excel or Google Spreadsheets can be used as an aid. There are also specialized tools like Klipfolio or Geckoboard. However, make sure that they are GDPR -compliant. Another important point in the evaluation, which I mentioned briefly above, is: How much effort was necessary to achieve the result? Sometimes it is noticeable that there are comparatively small activities that can have a large leverage effect.
At the same time, there may be content projects and products that seem far too costly at first glance, but make up for the effort with long-term success. And yet other content may be prestige projects that are celebrated internally but in reality have little impact externally.
Targeted and sustainable performance measurement has primarily to do with drawing the right conclusions afterwards. These fall roughly into three categories:
- Learn from mistakes: In the spirit of the Lean Startup approach, you should not see "mistakes" as a defeat, but as a gain in knowledge. Failures also provide valuable data! They can provide you with insights that your competitors don't have because they don't experiment as much as you do.
- Marketing budget: That's why you should always have a budget for experiments. Because that's the only way you'll come across new tools and methods that will move you forward. If you try something and it doesn't work, then at least you don't have to wonder if you're leaving potential lying around.
- Optimize: Sometimes something will neither be a failure nor a success. Then the decision is not always easy: Continue to invest or let it be? That depends on how important the measure is and what you expect from it. Sometimes even seemingly small things can be decisive. For example, you may have created a great white paper, but its title is not appealing to the target audience. But it can also be that you have written past the actual central question.
- Research: Here it is important that you research well in advance. If you are sure that your content should be much more successful, then invest the time - and experiment further.
- Strengthen strengths: You're in the lucky position of having scored a hit? Try to find out what exactly made this success - and repeat it. However, this sounds much easier than it is, as many one-hit wonders show ...
What is important in all of this is that anyone who records their figures and then relies solely on their own gut feeling, or ignores them for other reasons, can save themselves the trouble. Those who ask questions must also live with uncomfortable answers. Favourite projects should not be taboo if they turn out to be inefficient. And just because a lot of time and effort went into something doesn't mean it has to be kept alive (see "Escalating Commitment").
Lean Startup Approach
If you take a closer look at the success of your content as described above, you will certainly find a lot of potential. At the same time, content controlling should not be at the very end of your to-do list. The sooner you find out what works well and what doesn't, the less time and energy you waste. Again, I come back to the topic of Lean Startup, which can also be applied to content: Test your ideas with simple tools before you create an elaborate white paper, for example. Raidboxes creates simple blog posts before it becomes a complex e-book:
Interested parties may then sign up for a newsletter distribution list to be informed about its publication. Only when the feedback suggests that there is a need for information do you get down to work. Or use channels like social media to find out what issues your target audience actually has - and incorporate that into your planned content. Once your content is published, that's when the work starts. You'll need to promote and distribute it, and keep working on it - unless it turns out to be a total bust.