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The Most Important Marketing Metric You're Not Measuring Our digital marketing expert Ryan Bonnici tells us to stop measuring your marketing performance by channel, and instead by content type.

By Ryan Bonnici

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Q: What are the minimum non-vanity metrics every organization adopting inbound marketing should track?

A: It's no secret: marketers have struggled to measure the metrics that matter for a very long time. Fortunately, the internet and advancements in technology have made marketing far more measurable than ever before. Consequently, marketers have become much more accountable for the success they drive. If you are a marketer today, your business and career depend on you tracking the right metrics.

But here's the problem: most marketers take a channel-centric approach to metrics (assessing email, social, or all channels combined) instead of a content-centric approach (what content topics attract and convert the most and best customers for your brand).

Let me explain.

What's the difference between channel-centric and content-centric marketing metrics?

Modern marketers have realized that it's not the channel that dictates the success of their marketing. Bad content promoted through your best performing channel will still perform poorly. In contrast, truly remarkable content creates buzz, engagement, education and sales regardless of the channel it's promoted on.

Related: 3 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Diving Into Video Marketing

If we're being totally honest, for most marketers working on a channel-centric basis, most of their content sits somewhere in the middle of "pretty bad" and "truly remarkable" when it comes to performance (i.e. the traffic and leads it generates). That's because very few marketers are taking a truly content-centric approach and analyzing the right metrics to tell them what their prospective customers want from them when it comes to content.

Once you crack that million-dollar question, you should see an uplift in the traffic and leads generated by all the channels you use to promote your content because you're giving your audience what they really want.

No doubt your next question is "But how do I figure out what they want and measure it?"

Here's how:

1. Conduct a content audit of your existing digital assets

Think of this step as an auditing process with the aim of figuring out what content topics are already performing well for your business. But why should you bother doing this?

Each of your content topics will have different visit, lead and customer conversion rates. Tracking these rates from a content perspective, rather than a channel perspective, helps you understand what topics are important to people that become customers, so you can move forward with a content creation strategy that has a real impact on your business.

Before you can measure the right metrics, you need to group each of your blog posts, web pages online tools and ebooks (basically all of your existing content assets) by their topic.

For example, at HubSpot we provide a free (and paid) all-in-one marketing and sales growth platform. We know that one group of people who make good customers for us are digital marketers searching the internet for things such as email marketing, social media marketing and marketing analytics. So, we create content around all of these topics. Any blog posts about email marketing would be tagged with "email marketing" as their topic, and so on for the other posts and topics.

2. Apply content-centric metrics to each topic bucket

There are three key metrics that effective entrepreneurs, business owners and marketers measure to analyze performance, refine strategy and scale marketing-generated revenue. They are visit-rate, lead-rate, and customer-rate. Now you have your content topics, you need to apply each of these metrics to each of your content topics to see which performs best across each metric.

Related: 4 Free Small Business Marketing Tools

Visit volume per content topic

The question you're trying to answer here is: "What content topic generates the most visitors for my business?"

To answer this, use Google Analytics to find out how much traffic each page in a single topic bucket generated in the last six months. Export this data to Excel and sum the total number of visits generated by each page in a topic bucket. This is your visit volume for each topic bucket in question. Repeat for all pages in each topic bucket and ensure you keep the timeframe consistent throughout your analysis.

Pro-tip: if you're already generating a significant amount of organic traffic to your website, try only looking at this instead of total traffic for a cleaner view of your visit-rate per content.

Lead-rate and volume per content topic

Now that you know what content topics generate the most visitors, you want to work out how well each topic converts those visitors into leads. The question you're trying to answer here is: "What content topics generate the most leads?"

For the purpose of this analysis, we'll define a lead as someone that has opted into receiving communications from you (email subscriber, etc). However, if the criteria for a lead is different for your business, feel free to apply your own definition.

To answer this question, build a report in your CRM which gives you the total number of leads each page generated. Work out the total leads generated for each topic bucket, and divide that number by the total number of visits you received for the same pages and timeframe (e.g. six months). Now you have your lead-rate and volume per content topic.

Customer-rate and volume per content topic

Now that you know what topics generate the most leads, you need to work out how well each of them convert into customers. The question you're trying to answer here is: "what content topics generate the most customers?'

To figure this out, you'll need your CRM data again. Take each content topic and divide the number of customers each page in that topic bucket generated by the number of leads for the same timeframe.

3. Identify your 'topic ceilings'

Now you know what content topics generate the most customer revenue for your business, you can scale those metrics incredibly quickly. While doing so, it's important to remember that each content topic will likely have a ceiling when it comes to organic traffic, where any extra content will have diminishing returns.

To estimate how close you are to your "topic ceilings," use the below method:

  1. Combine the sum of monthly searches in Google for all the related keywords per content topic (you can get this data for free in Google Analytics, or you can use a paid product like SEMRush)
  2. Calculate 33 percent of the above result to get the approximate number of total visitors you could expect to your site if you were to be in the first position for each of those keywords (33 percent is the average click-through rate for position one in Google's search results)
  3. When the organic traffic you're receiving to each of the pages in this topic bucket per month reaches this number, you are close to achieving the maximum organic results for that content topic (assuming that your visitor to lead conversion rates are as good as they can be)

What next?

Once you're regularly measuring the above content-centric metrics, and know what content topics work best for your business, you can begin to optimise these topics per channel. This will promote incremental gains to your channel performance. Nonetheless, your biggest gains will likely eventuate from optimising the latter three content centric metrics themselves.

Related: 7 Tips for Getting a Bigger Response from Your Ad Copy

If marketers spent half as much time analysing their campaigns by content-centric metrics as they spend measuring channel performance, the industry would be very different. Marketers would be on higher salaries, have greater pride in their work, and be more respected within their business circles.

Ryan Bonnici

Chief Marketing Officer, G2 Crowd

Ryan Bonicci is the chief marketing officer of G2 Crowd, a leading review website for business software and services. Prior to joining G2, Bonicci served in key executive-level marketing roles with HubSpot, Salesforce, Microsoft and ExactTarget. He leads a team of creative marketers at G2 Crowd's headquarters in Chicago. He speaks regularly about the need for greater workplace flexibility.

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