Image by superdeluxesam via Flickr.

Image by superdeluxesam via Flickr.

Data, data and more data: As content marketers, social media managers and journalists, we’ve been taught to love it. And yes, data like page views, followers and clicks can be valuable. But I’m here to tell you there is so much more to a successful content marketing program than metrics.

When Google announced in September 2013 that it would begin encrypting nearly all keyword data, marketers collectively panicked. Within a few days, the content marketing world was talking about how “this is actually a good thing” and “it was never really about keywords anyway.”

That’s fine to tell clients, but it never felt authentic. We all knew this marked a major shift in the way we measure and report for clients.

For a long time, keywords were easy to measure. Even mediocre SEOs could whip up a nice-looking bar graph that showed how well a client was ranking for search terms. But that’s over and we, the content marketing faithful, need to take a hard look at how we measure our work.

For years, humans have been held captive while the robots ran wild. It’s time to reintroduce humans to their natural habitat.

Lead with content, not bait

I read a blog post recently that changed the way I think about content. Andy Beaumont, the technical director at Albion London, wrote about his accidental viral blog Tab Closed; Didn’t Read in a Medium post.

In it, he describes his frustration with marketers’ desire to overlay content with calls to action and completely obscure the content that people have come to read in the first place. “Why would anyone in their right mind hide the content that visitors are there to see?” asks Beaumont.

Analytics, he says, “prove” that overlays work, but any reader will tell you they are simply intrusive.

Analytics will show you rising graphs and larger numbers. You will show these to your boss or your client. They will falsely conclude that people love these modal overlays.

The transition to better analytics starts by trying to understand the story behind the numbers. Even if the metrics show rising numbers, it doesn’t mean you are creating more value.

Metrics might help you highlight short-term gains but without a mutual understanding of their meaning, they likely cannot help you instill faith in your client that your work is delivering value.

Let’s say, for example, that you can attribute real value – leads, sales, a new monetization strategy, etc. – to your recent work but see a decline in an important metric like organic search or bounce rate. Are you failing or succeeding? Keeping your clients’ eyes on the prize will help them move past numbers that don’t directly impact the bottom line.

An overlay isn't the right way to attract audiences. From Tab Closed; Didn't

An overlay isn’t the right way to attract audiences. From Tab Closed; Didn’t

It’s all about the reader, even at the expense of your quarterly report

Would you be willing to sacrifice one quarterly report to free yourself up to focus on strategies that could take your client to the next level? If the answer is no, you need to take a good hard look at your services and the value they deliver.

Float this idea around with your co-workers and see how it applies to your own work: Is your content simply bait for search engines and email subscribers? Or is it an authentic effort to engage your target audience, build relationships and grow your community?

Invest time in defining goals and measuring outcomes

Data or no data, you need concrete goals in order to measure success. Challenge yourself to think in terms of micro-wins and overall value as opposed to clicks and +1’s. Yes, they can be meaningful, but let’s look at new ways to measure content.

  • The Micro-Win. Comments are one of the highest forms of engagement on the web. If your post moves a reader to leave additional information, ask a question or even troll your site, you might be on to something. If you’re truly leading with content, readers will comment often. In fact, if your content isn’t spurring discussions in the comment thread, you are doing something wrong. There are many forms of micro-wins. For example, it is easy to show the value of a Twitter mention from a key influencer. Maybe this only happens now and then, but clients will appreciate it if you can explain why it’s important.
  • The New Value Proposition. In the attention economy, content is currency and it’s a buyer’s market. Marketers need to accept that their content will make up only a fraction of their readers’ day if they are lucky enough to be noticed. If you can nab five minutes of someone’s time on the web, you are succeeding. Instead of thinking about cumulative counts – like page views and followers, which are nearly meaningless in the battle for attention – think about time. A high Time on Page is considerably more meaningful than lots of views in this paradigm.

The bottom line: Define what value means to your reader, not your client or yourself.

Take a day off from analytics

I challenge you to dedicate a day to the post-analytics world: no Google Analytics, no Buffer stats, no Moz and no Raven Tools. I love each of these tools but sometimes you need to spend time with people, not numbers.

Instead, use that time to:

  • Talk with your followers on Twitter and find new, interesting people to follow.
  • Exchange content ideas with other marketers in a forum. (I’m personally a big fan of Copyblogger’s Authority forum.)
  • Find the other sites your readers visit and study them.
  • Sift through your comments and Twitter mentions to get a better understanding of your current readers. You think you know them, but I bet you’ll learn something.
  • Identify your biggest fans and figure out how they found and fell in love with your content.
  • Look for the most valuable piece of content in the last year. Not the most viewed, the one that had the most impact.
  • Write down your goals for the next twelve months.

It’s an exciting time for content marketers. We want to hear how you are measuring, delivering and showing value. Let us know in the comments.