Dylan Tweney

How to measure content effectiveness

Quantitative and qualitative metrics you can use to study and improve content production
Dylan Tweney 7 min read
How to measure content effectiveness
Photo by Siora Photography on Unsplash

The final step in my six-part POWERS process for team-oriented content production is to study the results.

If you don’t pay attention to the effectiveness of your content, it’s difficult or impossible to improve it. What may be worse is that it’s also impossible to prove that the content was worth the investment.

So studying the results — quantitatively and/or qualitatively — is an essential final step. It allows you to close the loop and start the next content project smarter and better prepared.

Most of the teams I’ve worked with have done this step only sporadically. As valuable as the exercise is, teams often have difficulty finding the time to do a proper retrospective (or, as we call them in the newspaper and magazine business, a post-mortem) on all but the biggest projects.

Still, I urge every team I work with to make time for this whenever possible. Even if it’s an informal review by a couple of team leaders, rather than a formal retrospective involving all team members, there is still value in assessing what worked and what didn’t.

The more you can make this kind of review habitual, the faster you will be able to identify and correct production problems, improving your processes and getting more efficient at producing good content quickly.

Here are a few different ways you can measure the effectiveness of your content.

Quantitative content metrics

Writing and editing might not be STEM disciplines, but you can still take a quantitative approach to evaluating their effectiveness — at least in part. While numerical measurements won’t capture the totality of a writing project, there are a host of quantitative results that you can measure to assess the impact of a piece of content.

Website traffic: Blog posts or website pages generate traffic, which can be measured. Whatever measurement your organization uses—pageviews, website visitors, unique visitors, or new visitors—you can apply that measurement to the content you create. You’ll need access to the traffic analytics tool or access to someone who has that data to get this data.

Web referrals: If your content lives on another site (as a byline, a piece of sponsored content, or a post on a partner’s site, for instance) you should be able to measure how many people visit your organization’s website after reading it. It’s far easier to attribute visitors to a specific piece of content if that content uses a unique identifier (a UTM code or other unique URL) encoded into any links back to the “home” website. Keep in mind, however, that this only counts visitors who click on the link to get to your website. Someone who reads the content, makes a mental note to check your company out, and then later visits your website by typing the URL or doing a Google search won’t get counted, even though they were influenced by the content. There are ways to estimate this kind of indirect attribution, but they’re approximations.

Time spent: One of the most useful ways to measure the effectiveness of website content is to look at how much time visitors spend reading it, or how much time they spend on your site overall. If the time spent on a web page you’ve written is longer than average, or if it leads visitors to spend more time or look at more web pages overall, then the content is doing something valuable.

Social media engagement: Another useful measure is how much people like, share, or reshare links to your content via social media channels like LinkedIn, X (Twitter), Facebook, or TikTok.

Comments: While most websites no longer have comment sections, news sites generally do, and if your content gets published as a byline or op-ed on one of these sites, you should monitor the comments to see what readers have to say about it. Positive or negative, a large number of comments indicates engagement, meaning you’ve struck a nerve. The same goes for comments that people make about your content on social media channels. Measuring the volume and the sentiment of these comments is a valuable quantitative data point.

Sales leads: Content doesn’t always translate to sales leads, and when it does, those leads are not always directly attributable to the content (see the note above about website referrals) — but if your marketing system has the ability to connect these dots, this is one of the most valuable pieces of data you can collect. Translating content into the number of sales leads it generates, or the dollar value of the sales pipeline (potential sales) that those leads represent, is one of the most powerful ways to demonstrate the utility of your content. A couple of years ago, one of the research projects I helped lead generated double-digit millions in sales pipeline, the client told us. That is an investment that paid off, big time.

Revenue: If you can track the number of sales leads or the quantity of pipeline your content generates, you may be able to follow those leads all the way to closed sales and attribute a revenue figure, or a share of revenue, to the content you’ve created. This, in turn, enables the holy grail of metrics: return on investment, or ROI. If your content is generating more revenue than it costs to create that content, congratulations: You’ve achieved indisputable business success. Consider yourself lucky: The vast majority of content creation teams are not able to demonstrate their effectiveness so clearly, due to the difficulty of tracing attribution from content to sale. There are too many steps in the buyer’s journey, and they’re generally far too indirect, to make such attribution effective in most cases. That doesn’t stop us from longing for this kind of measurement, however.

Qualitative results that prove content works

Some of the most significant impacts your content will have cannot be measured in a quantitative way. That doesn’t make them less important — it just means you need to use a different approach to measuring and using them when demonstrating the results of your work.

Feedback from the publisher: If you’ve delivered a piece of content to an external partner, such as a news outlet, feedback from that partner is extremely valuable. Did they like the piece? Were they able to publish it with minimal edits? How did their bosses (more senior editors) like it? What kind of reader reaction did they see? Are they interested in follow-up pieces? Once, after sending a byline to an editor at a high-profile international business publication, one of my team members was surprised to hear from the editor that they liked it so much that they wanted to turn it into a three-part series. That’s a huge win.

It’s also possible to ask publishers if they’re willing to share quantitative data, such as how many people read the article or pageviews it generated. That’s not always possible, but it’s worth asking.

Feedback from customers, partners, or prospects: These are among the most significant audiences for any organization’s writing. Develop relationships with your company’s customer success team, the partnership management team, and the sales team. They’ll let you know how well your content works for them and the customers, partners, or prospects they work with. They’ll let you know if a particular article really resonates, if a blog post is stimulating conversations, or if a particular asset it proving especially useful to their contacts.

Satisfaction of stakeholders: You’ll want to make sure you know if your content meets the expectations of internal stakeholders, such as the subject matter experts you worked with to create the content, the person whose name is on a byline, or the executive sponsor of a content project. Hit the mark with these people, and you can be assured of their support for future projects. Leave them unhappy or unsatisfied, and you’ll soon run into trouble.

Reactions from the market: Did your publication provoke a reaction from competitors or other players in the market? Perhaps someone posted a direct rebuttal. Or, more likely, maybe they published a piece of content that takes the opposite point of view but without mentioning yours. Both of those count as reactions — and reaction is good. It shows that they take your content seriously enough to post something against it.

Another type of reaction is when people in the market start using your terminology or your framing and adapting it to their own ends. If this starts happening, it’s one of the most powerful indicators of success there is. It’s a sign that you’ve succeeded in setting the terms of the debate — framing the narrative that others are now responding to, using your framing to tell their own stories.

Media engagement: If reporters mention your content or link to it, that’s a powerful indicator of success. It’s especially gratifying when you publish a research report and reporters cite the data in that report in their news stories. This is a sign that your organization has not only won their attention, but that they consider you credible and authoritative enough to use as a source. This kind of legitimacy is extremely valuable.

Do you measure the effectiveness of your content? I’d love to hear what metrics your teams have used and what kinds of results you’ve seen. Reply to this post with a comment or email me — let’s talk about what works!

MORE: The collaborative writing series

  1. Writing as a team
    How creating content collaboratively is different from solo writing
  2. The POWERS process for effective team writing
    A six-step method for making collaborative content creation simpler and more effective
  3. How to start a writing project with a team
    How to prepare effectively for a group writing project (this post includes links to two templates you can use: an assignment brief template and a meeting agenda for kicking off a content project)
  4. Three ways to write an outline - plus one that is better than all the others
    Why an outline is so important, and 4 different types of outlines
  5. How to write - and how to avoid writer's block
    5 tips for getting started when you’re stuck
  6. Avoiding that "Untitled document" feeling in Google Docs
    How to ensure that no one is confused about what to do next.
  7. What does an editor actually do?
    Good editing aims at improving the writer as well as what they’ve written
  8. Release management for content products
    How to create and use a pre-publication checklist (includes a sample checklist template you can use)
  9. How to measure content effectiveness
    Quantitative and qualitative metrics you can use to study and improve content production.
  10. Blogs are alive and well, survey data shows
    Over 80% of professional content creators are busy writing blog posts for our companies and clients, according to my survey.
  11. The top tools for collaborative writing, part 1: Writing and editing
    Google Docs is the runaway favorite tool for writing and editing, used by 79% of all content pros.
  12. The top tools for collaborative writing, part 2: Project management and publishing
    What's the best choice for managing an editorial calendar? Once again, Google tools lead – but that's not the whole story.
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