It is notoriously difficult to measure the success of content marketing, much more so than other forms of marketing.

This is true for a number of reasons, writes Divvy’s Brody Dorland. For one, content marketing campaigns tend to last longer than other marketing campaigns. It’s also harder to attribute success to your content than it is to a paid search campaign, for instance.

Further, the customer journey is far from straightforward. Users may read several pieces of content and see several ads before they convert.

When content marketers do try to quantify their success, their data is often found wanting. Analytics platforms aren’t perfect. Sometimes, the data is flat-out wrong; other times the best metrics are hidden or not available.

Either way, bad data leads to bad decisions that can hamstring your content marketing efforts.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. In this post, we’ll highlight the common pitfalls of using analytics to inform content marketing decisions and show you a smarter way of using data to inform your strategy.

Most Analytics Platforms Are Limited — And Some Are Wrong

Google Analytics is a pretty comprehensive platform that can give you some valuable insights. But it isn’t perfect.

As Hinge’s Kevin Bloom points out, it’s easy to make mistakes using the platform. When errors do occur, they often throw your data completely out of whack. “I don’t mean a few extra sessions or a bounce rate that is off a bit,” Bloom writes. “I mean traffic numbers that are double what they should be and time on site and average pages per visit that are half of what they should be.”

Bot traffic can also be a big problem, writes the team at DataDome. Currently, bots account for around half of all web traffic. Most aren’t blocked by tools like Google Analytics, either, which means much of the data you are using could be skewed.

Even some of the metrics they provide can be misleading. Take bounce rate, for example. This is the percentage of users who leave your website having only viewed one page. Digital marketer Jeff Sauer says bounce rate doesn’t tell a complete story. It doesn’t tell you how much time a user spent on that page, for instance, or whether they got what they needed from the one page they landed on.

Bounce rate often gets framed as a negative when it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

frustrated woman glares at laptop, bites pencil; bad analytics concept

The Most Important Metrics Usually Aren’t Tracked or Aren’t Obvious

Google Analytics has a lot of inherent issues when it comes to measuring the success of your content, writes digital marketing consultant Gabrielle Sadeh. This is particularly true for B2B content marketers.

“Analytics was built to track traffic for ecommerce and content sites, with the structure of its reports built around pageviews,” Sadeh writes. “It can provide some sophisticated data around those views – what kinds of audience members are behind them, how they might have arrived, what they did next, and other such questions – but today’s content marketers need the ability to measure and understand much more than that.”

The platform is great at giving marketers a birds-eye view of content performance, writes CRO strategist Mark D. Hall. But it doesn’t help you understand why a piece of content is performing better than another or how it contributes to business revenue.

That’s because the focus is on metrics that are easy to track and understand, not the more complicated, valuable metrics that require a bit of work to calculate.

The most important metrics — e.g. conversion rates per traffic source, organic traffic to key pages, qualified leads, net promoter score — are often the hardest to track, says Orbit Media’s Andy Crestodina. “This is what most people don’t realize about content metrics: The most visible the metric, the less important it is to the bottom line. And the less visible/easy to find, the more important it is.”

Unfortunately, many content marketers get sucked into those low-hanging-fruit metrics, and those can tell a pretty optimistic story. A specific article might get thousands of shares or Likes, for example, and that will give any content creator a little rush of dopamine.

But those are vanity metrics. They look good but don’t tell you anything important.

They’re also great at placating a boss or a client, which is where a lot of the problem with bad analytics lies. Marketing Insider Group CEO Michael Brenner notes just how much sheer pressure is on some content marketers to use vanity metrics as a result. If you need to demonstrate the value of your content, it’s easy to use impressive engagement metrics rather than more insightful alternatives.

Ankit Prakash, the marketing lead at Aritic, says in his experience the vast majority of content marketers focus on engagement metrics like page views, bounce rate and view time at the expense of more important metrics relating to sales or lead generation.

marked up wall calendar covered in sticky notes; bad analytics concept

Bad Data Leads to Bad Decisions

Most marketers understand the powerful role data can play in improving their efforts. When it comes to content marketing, data can be used to help content creators target a specific audience and get more engagement, marketing speaker and trainer Michael Leander writes.

But data is only beneficial if you’re using the right metrics. “The quality of your marketing efforts depends on the quality of the data being managed and studied,” writes George Deeb, a managing partner at Red Rocket Ventures.

The metrics you use must be aligned to business goals, advises Gain CEO Albizu Garcia. If you’re looking at the wrong metrics, you aren’t going to improve your content in the right way.

This is exactly what happens when you rely on vanity metrics and inaccurate data.

Relying on such metrics can cause you to waste time and effort by focusing on the wrong areas, writes Brafton’s Jeff Baker. He uses bounce rates as an example: A page with an 86 percent bounce rate but a conversion rate of 2.3 percent is performing much better than a page with a significantly lower bounce rate of 53 percent but a conversion rate of less than 1 percent.

Vanity metrics won’t help you to improve your content, either, writes SEO strategist Jessica Greene. You simply don’t get the level of detail you need to identify the type of content that works best, the optimum channels for distributing that content or how you can create more value.

A Smarter Way to Using Analytics to Improve Your Content Marketing

If you’re serious about accurately measuring the success of your content and using data to improve your strategy, then ditch the vanity metrics in favor of the strategies below:

1. Clarify Your Content Marketing Goals

Content marketing can be used to meet almost any business goal, writes Element Three’s Mollie Kuramoto. “The important thing is to set a goal for your content that makes sense to larger business objectives and then measure it.”

2. Identify Metrics That Measure Progress Toward Those Goals

Once you’ve identified that goal you can choose much more accurate metrics to measure. If you are using content marketing to drive revenue, then focus on lead quality and sales, writes OptinMonster’s Jacinda Santora. You can track a range of on-site actions like whether a user downloads your lead magnet or checks out your pricing page to determine how good a lead they are.

You don’t have to get rid of Google Analytics to do this, either. Freelance writer Elise Dopson demonstrates how you can eCommerce reporting to track the digital revenue your content generates.

3. Track Only a Handful of Metrics

Be careful not to go overboard with metrics, though, warns the team at Quicksprout. The more metrics you have, the harder it will be to demonstrate clear value. “Instead, aim to have as few metrics—that give you actionable, accurate information—as possible, and base your decisions on those.”

Vanity metrics are great to show off, but they don’t demonstrate real value. Using them to guide your content marketing efforts is as foolish as shouting about them in the first place. Instead, dig deeper into the numbers to prove whether your content marketing works. That’s how you get the actionable insights you need.

Images by: Lukas Blazek, JESHOOTS.COM, Daria Nepriakhina