Setting goals, objectives, and metrics is key to content marketing success. But the process requires some clarity of mind. Goals and objectives are not the same thing. And without metrics they are no more than aspirational thinking.
Goals vs. Objectives vs. Metrics
Every organization has goals. Your organization might want to dominate the market for X, become the go-to solution provider for Y, or disrupt the industry known as Z.
However lofty these ambitions might be, they are no more than aspirations. Although you might strive to attain them, you do not have an actionable program, with specific steps whose outcomes can be measured. Goals are statements of ambition. Objectives are practical targets. Metrics are how we measure our success in hitting targets.
Action, specific steps, measurable outcomes—this phrase captures the essence of content marketing, and of business itself.
Setting goals, objectives, and metrics is the first step in your content marketing program.
Turning Goals into Objectives
If you’re not sure how to formulate objectives, begin with your goals, then break them down into a series of actions. If you want to dominate a market for your product or service, think of the specific steps you’ll need to take to attain your overall goal. You’ll probably come up with a list like this:
- Generate lots of leads.
- Get those leads interested in you and your product.
- Persuade those leads to communicate with you.
- Get them to buy from you (and become customers).
- Get your customers to buy from you again and refer their friends.
For your content marketing program, these steps would translate into objectives like these:
- Brand awareness
- Lead generation
- Retention and loyalty
You will probably need more than one objective. For example, if you’re just starting up, you may need all of the objectives defined here. Conversely, if you’ve been operating for a while, you may find problems in your existing funnel—a failure to generate leads, for example, or a problem in retaining customers after sale and keeping them involved with your organization.
Objectives correspond to the stages of your marketing funnel. Brand awareness is a top-of-funnel objective. Engagement and lead generation are mid-funnel objectives, while sales and customer retention are bottom-of-funnel objectives. Keep this correspondence in mind. It will help you design content to meet your specific goals. We’ll talk about that more in Optimizing Content for Your Audience.
Turning Objectives into Metrics
Note that all of these objectives are quantifiable. We can count the likes and shares that indicate engagement. We can also count leads and conversions, although attributing them to specific pieces of content can be tricky. For every objective, we set numerical targets.
Why are numerical targets important? Because business is a numbers game. We count everything our organizations produce or consume, such as wages, material costs, production rates, units shipped, revenue, and profit. We manage by these numbers to achieve optimal results. Numbers also matter in nonprofit work, although we’re more likely to count things like clients served, dollars raised, and volunteers recruited.
Numerical targets are also important in content marketing. To reach a sales target, we need to generate a certain number of leads. To generate leads, we need to reach a certain level of engagement. To reach that level of engagement, we need to attract a certain number of visitors to our site. And to get our content marketing program up and running, we probably need buy-in and budget approval from management. To gain management approval, we need to present numerical targets.
Once you choose your objectives, you have to decide how you will measure them. Once again, we turn to Moz for a solution, which provides some useful metrics in their Beginner’s Guide to Content Marketing, Chapter 8: Content Analysis and Reporting. Over at Portent, Zac Heinrichs also examines this topic in How to Measure SEO Performance: Vital Metrics & KPIs.
- To measure brand awareness, track metrics such as unique visitors, time on site, and bounce rate
- To measure engagement, track likes, shares, comments, and links
- To measure lead generation, track leads and qualified leads
- To measure loyalty, track referrals and repeat business
If we align funnel stages, objectives, and metrics, we get a matrix like this:
|Unique page views
Time on page
Sale or other customer action
Lead qualification (percentage of leads that led to sales)
Do you like this table? Would you like to download it? Great—but hold on. We’re going to flesh it out a bit first. I’ll make the final version available in Optimizing Content for Your Audience.
A Few Caveats about Metrics
Moz makes a few important caveats about metrics, which we should all keep in mind.
First, simplicity is your friend. Don’t over-design your analytics. Instead, start with a set of core metrics, such as the ones listed above, which can give you a general view of the health of your content marketing program. You can always add metrics as your program evolves and you become a more enlightened marketer.
Second, remember that the numbers game is a relative one. While hard targets are important, what you really want to capture are trends, as indicated by gains and losses. You might not hit your targets every month, but as long as you are trending in the right direction—with appropriate adjustments for seasonal variations—you can be sure your program is healthy.
Third, view your numbers in context. It might sound great to say that page views tripled in the last year, but not if you started from a very low base or if the majority of views were from in-house visitors. Similarly, it can sound great to say that you doubled engagement, but this statement is less impressive if it turns out that half of your blog comments were responses to reader comments by the post author. So measure smart. View your numbers in context.
What Is Content Marketing?
Setting Goals, Objectives, and Metrics
Optimizing Content for Your Audience
How to Do Keyword Research
Promoting Your Content
How to Create a Content Calendar