What does successful content really look like?

[ measure it with the right metrics ]
by Vanessa Tobias Published

Unpopular opinion. Sometimes, even the most experienced marketers or brand advocates don’t really know what successful content looks like. They may be able to produce an article or content piece. And it might be full of relevant and engaging information tailored specifically to their target market. But that doesn’t mean they know how to measure the success of it. Not only that, a lot of marketers are using the wrong metrics to think something is doing well when it really isn’t at all. And if you don’t know if your content is doing well, what’s the point of doing it at all?

Marketing and content go hand-in-hand like Ben Affleck & Matt Damon. Like hamburgers and fries. Popcorn and movies. Like chilli and chocolate (just me?). We’ve even got a name for it. Content Marketing. Yes, the creative juices were flowing when they came up with that one. Content Marketing is at the heart of most successful digital marketing campaigns. Behind every great brand is a wealth of valuable and relevant content available that really connects with the company’s audience and inspires a loyal following.

So what content is valuable and relevant? And how do we know it’s inspiring a following and actually doing its job? Relax, you guys. I’m here to spill all the tea on what successful content REALLY looks like. I'll also help you understand the metrics you should be using to measure it.

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So, How Do You Measure The Success Of Your Content?


It’s a common misconception that if you get likes and shares on social media your content is doing well. But despite what Mark Sucker-berg, I mean, Zuckerberg may lead you to believe; Successful content doesn't necessarily have to do with the action you’re getting on Facebook. Sure, it’s nice when people take the time to holla at you online and say they like your stuff. Even better if they share it to their social media network. But what’s to say because they’ve liked it or shared it, they’ve even read it? And if people aren’t reading it, how can it be a success?

Us humans are fickle creatures. The truth is, I’m just as likely to be fifteen images deep on a “cats wearing hats” Instagram bender. Suddenly, I've come across your branded content piece. I may have liked it automatically and now it's too late. There's no turning back. Just like that time I accidentally liked my ex’s girlfriend’s profile photo. It was too late to unlike it, so I had to fake my death and move to Mexico.

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Anyway, I digress. The thing is, it is great to have an audience. Even better when that audience supports you with shout outs on social media. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve bothered to read your post. That doesn't mean they actually "like" or "engage" with what they've read. And that's why it's important to look for further ways to measure content, rather than just go off social shares.

I'm not saying your content isn't successful when it has likes on social media. We'll discuss this in more detail later. But if you are measuring the success of content only by the likes, shares or retweets etc. Then you’re doing it wrong. Unless of course, the purpose of the content was to get likes and shares and retweets. Which brings us to the next point. You need to set a goal or purpose of the content first, so you can measure its success, second.

You Need to Set The Goal/Purpose of Every Content Piece You Create.


Let’s be honest. Some of you have never defined the goal or the purpose of your content and it shows. You can’t measure the success of any content you produce if you haven’t defined what the content is for. And if you’re creating content with no purpose in mind for it all, you’re just wasting your time. You might as well have enjoyed a Netflix binge for the last few hours instead, because you would have achieved just as much, anyway.

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There are a number of reasons you would be creating content for your brand. Some of the main ones include;

  • Sales & Business Growth - The holy grail of why we do anything for the website
  • Lead Generation - Producing quality leads you can nurture into sales
  • Web Traffic - Gaining more visitors to your website
  • Onsite Engagement - Getting your audience to engage with your content online
  • Social Media ROI - Engaging with your audience on social media
  • SEO Success - Content that is written for the long-term strategy of SEO to increase your organic visitors to your site.
  • Exposure & Authority - Building a loyal brand following and building trust and authority with your audience.

What Metrics Can You Use to Measure Success?

The great thing about the digital space and content marketing is that every type of digital property can be analysed, tracked and measured for success. You can see exactly what people are doing on your content piece, where they come from and how much time they spend reading your stuff. And thank the Google God's because nearly all of this can be measured through Google Analytics from your website.

What is Google Analytics?

If you haven’t set up Google Analytics (GA) on your website, then you should send yourself straight to website jail. Do not pass go. Do not collect 200 dollars. You're in the naughty corner on the internet where you belong. It is crucial to have Google Analytics set up because this is the best software to understand what successful content really looks like. If you need to set it up there's easy instructions available here.

Google Analytics is an advanced and free web analytics tool offered by Google to help you understand the data behind the website traffic that comes to your site. For most businesses, your website serves as the hub of all your online visitors. If you are creating content for marketing purposes, including search ads or social media ads, your users are likely to head to your website somewhere along their user journey. Because of this, you can track it to understand the effectiveness of all campaigns you are running.

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It pretty much lets you know a whole lotta information about anything website related. The inner nerd in me fangirls so hard over it, because it shows detailed data and statistics about anything you could want to know. We've broken down in bullet points some of the features that will help you understand the success of your own content. It'll show you;

  • How many people are visiting your website?
  • The user and demographics of who these people are
  • Which pages of content are most popular and how long they are spending on these pages?
  • What other websites are sending traffic to your own
  • How many visitors are converting to leads or customers? And where they came from.

Plus a whole lot of other cool stuff. When we want to measure the success of the content, we can delve even deeper using your Google Analytics software. If you want to know what your content is doing, you need to get to know the users that are engaging with it. On Google Analytics you can understand this through a number of ways we've highlighted below.


In the User & Demographic Section You Can See;

Page views: Pretty much what it says it means. Page views will show you which pages are viewed on your site. Any time a page is loaded or refreshed this will count as a page view. This is one of the most valuable tools for you to see the performance of the content you create. This a great metric to measure the success of your content.

Unique visitors (UV): Also, pretty much what it says. It shows you the individual or unique visitors to your site. This is determined by the person's IP address and cookie in their browser they are using, so visitors from the same user aren't counted. This is a great tool for you to understand the audience that is reading your content. Boom.

Demographics: If you are tailoring your content to a specific audience - which you should be - this is the best tool to understand the age, gender and general interest of the people reading your stuff!

Geography: Now you know the users who are viewing your content, why not find out where they live?

Average time on page: This is another valuable metric that really shows whether your content has been successful or not. For instance, if you've written a 10000-word long-form content article for your website. And the average time spent on the page is under a minute. It's likely your audience is skimming at best. Or there to just look at the pretty pictures at worst.

However, if people are spending significant time on that page, then you can safely assume that the content you've written is the business and that people are engaging with and really liking it. Virtual high-fives all round.

Bounce rate: The bounce rate metric is a fantastic tool to tell you the percentage of visitors who came to your website, viewed one page and left. If someone bounced off your website after reading your content piece, it doesn't mean it hasn't been successful. They just didn't have any interest in the rest of the content on your site.

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Measure the Success of Your Content Through Social Media Sharing

I know this is confusing since I’ve been on a quality rant above about not measuring content success through likes and shares. But I am confusing, which might explain why I’m not married at 34, but that’s another story. But as we mentioned above, social shares are not the be all and measure of success for content. However, if you are creating content with the goal of social engagement than you need to be able to measure this goal as well.

It goes without saying if you are creating content for this purpose you should make your content easy to like and share. Widgets like Shareaholic or Addthis do just that. You can also use programs like Hootsuite, Buffer or Sprout Social to schedule posts and easily track your shares, retweets, re-pins and re-grams.

However, follower growth is probably a better indicator of whether your content on social media is working or not. Because you are providing content people want to read, they’ll follow you in order to receive more. If you've doubled your Twitter following or increased your Facebook page likes significantly. You can assume your content is successful because people are following you to get more of it.

Another great indicator on Social Media is the comments. Comments show people have engaged with the content enough to want to share their opinions on the piece. Don't shy away from these. Even disagreements are proof in the content pudding, that at least it's inspired action for them. Welcome them as well as agreements, compliments and personal stories. Delete anything offensive.

Sales & Lead Generation


As we discussed above, lead generation and sales are the holy grail of your content and your content marketing strategy. Google Analytics will be able to show you what’s converting into sales or not online, as long as you've set up the tracking and software properly.

But other ways to track whether they are working is to set goals up in GA for when people download your eBook. Or fill out a contact card. Or sign up for a newsletter etc. And with email marketing campaigns you can track the success by whether they are opened, and the click-through-rate [CTR]. The CTR shows whether it spurred enoug hinterest for the user to head to your landing page, too. A high percentage obviously means your content was compelling enough for users to read more.

So Now We Know What Successful Content REALLY Looks Like. What Next?


At the end of the day, content isn't going anywhere. It's considered "king" for a reason and is one of the most important elements for any marketing strategy. But there's no point in creating content that doesn't have a purpose or can't be measured for success. Successful content is the only content that really counts.

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Before you even begin to create your next content piece. Establish the purpose of your content first, and how you are going to measure it, second. Ensure you've set-up goals for it and measure it with software like Google Analytics or any other program that gives you real statistics and data to show everything you need to know about it. By using a data-based measurement approach, you can see exactly what successful content looks like.

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