Measuring Content Performance: Content Engagement Metrics

Measuring Content Performance: Content Engagement Metrics

What is the effectiveness of our content, how well does our content work? Who is writing the best content? What should we be writing about next? These were the top X questions I received on a weekly basis while working at The Next Web. And I’m probably not the only one, I hear a lot of companies that are asking the same questions. We were a publisher, with a big editorial team (~10 FTE editors) and publishing around 30-40 blog posts on a daily basis and had so for the past ~10 years. Which meant that there were over 65.000 articles in our archive that we could learn from. One of the hardest projects in the end.

“Tons of page views doesn’t always mean this post is doing well or is of the highest quality/the best journalism”. If one of our post hit Reddit, HackerNews or was a top story in Google News we for sure celebrated this but the impact on the business wasn’t always that big as we were hoping. Traffic from most of these sources has very low engagement and basically only brought in money through display advertising (with incredibly low CPMs). Overall, this meant that we wanted to find a better metric to score the performance of editors and find out what kind of quality really worked well for the business, not just for engagement & visitor metrics. So we got started looking into this…

Usage Metrics, Useful & Useless

What I still see a lot of companies do, and in all honestly you can’t always blame them for that. Is look at the basic usage metrics of content. How much time has a user spend reading this article, what is the bounce rate, etcetera. Which isn’t great as most of the time you don’t know the context. Is a good blog post one that has been read for 2 minutes, or 1 minute. Obviously the length of the blog post and if it has videos/images has an impact on this. All data that is usually easily overseen when analyzing content performance. Even with taking this into account it’s making it hard to come up with recommendations while working for a publisher. Are you really always going to recommend to use at least 2 ¾ images in a blog post and require a video that is exactly 23 seconds long so we know for sure people will watch it? Probably not.

Business results

Most of all, these metrics don’t align with your business goals. How often does the CEO/COO/CMO ask you what the bounce rate is of your articles so they can calculate the return on investment. Never right? That’s why over time we need better metrics that align with the business and that provide useful insight into what content really helps and what content is just good for vanity metrics like page views. You’ll be surprised in the end how many companies are still driven by these.

Capturing Goals in Google Analytics is important to measure impact of performance.

Creating a Content Engagement Metric

It’s going to be about the monetary value that content represents for your business but we won’t be setting it up that way. In the end you need to be able to evaluate the way you calculate this and over time this will likely change with your business. That’s why it’s important that we can make the decisions in an open and honest way so we can make changes later when we think they’re needed.

Setting up Goals

If you want to get started and do this on your own it’s going to be important to know what kind of events are important to your business and site. In our case we looked at, for example: newsletter subscriptions, article shares on social media (they bring in more visits, so useful for more revenue), ticket sales, ecommerce sales, etc. But also in general we wanted to know what the value for us was with a pageview. I’m not going to walk you through the setup of all these goals in this post, but if you’re unfamiliar with setting up goals in Google Analytics, read & watch this.

Custom & Calculated Metrics

So now you have determined what the goals are that matter to you. What is going to be important in this step is making sure that you assign ‘points/value’ to all of the goals. You don’t have to edit the goals for that (probably even better not to, to not interfere with the page value metric). So for example, think of it like this:

  • Pageview: 1 point
  • Article share: 5 points
  • Newsletter subscription: 10 points
  • Ecommerce sale: 150 points (or varying on the product value)
  • Ticket sale: 250 points

Now it’s time to set up a calculated metric to take this into account. Why a calculated metric? By using this we’re able over time to adjust the formula to our needs but also individually assign values to the goals if we wanted to (in that case we’d use goal completions as well).

When you get started with this, know what numbers you are using for the goals that you have setup. You can find that in the Goals interface within Google Analytics.

  1. Name: Content Engagement Score.
  2. Formatting Type: Integer (you can change this to Float or Currency if that’s more applicable)
  3. Formula: {{Goal1 Completions}} * 1 + {{Goal2 Completions}} * 5 + {{Goal3 Completions}} * 10…

In the end that should look something like this:

Reporting & Dashboarding for Content Quality

Now you have successfully created a calculated metric that we can use for reporting and informing other teams in the company about the content performance.

Trial & Error: Formulas should always be up for discussion

This formula isn’t going to be good the first time, you’ll have to tweak it and assign values that make more sense in your case. That’s why I also didn’t share the actual values of TNW (they were different from the example) as it matters to your specific business and goals.

To talk a little bit more about how things worked out for us, we tweaked it 3 to 4 times over a period of two months to get closer to our actual goal of measuring performance. In the end we could have editors who still would write for a ton of pageviews so get hundreds of thousands of points through that but editors who did great on business results weren’t rewarded value through that. So we upped some of the points assigned to our business goals to align them better.

Custom Reporting

Just setting up the goals probably already gets you quite far. It will allow you to create a page + goals report in which you can see how many goals have been hit for certain pages. Very useful if you want to measure the performance.

Dashboarding: Google DataStudio/Chartio versus (Google) Sheets

You need to share the reporting around this in an easy way, depending on your teams it will depend what works best for them. Sharing spreadsheets or making it easy for people to immediately take a look at a dashboard in a tool like Chartio and/or Google DataStudio.

Performance by day/editor/topic

Now you have all this data you can hopefully combine this with the data that you also have gathered through your custom dimensions. Previously I have blogged on The Next Web about all the ideas that I have around custom dimensions. Give it a go, it will be surprising to see how much easier it will become to report & analyze the performance across topics, time of day, team members when you can really align this with your business goals.


This is just an example of how we were measuring the performance of content for the business. There are many other ways to do this and you will have to customize the formula for your own business. What other metrics and ideas would you take into account to analyze and report this? Leave a comment or reach out on Twitter: @MartijnSch

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4 thoughts on “Measuring Content Performance: Content Engagement Metrics

  1. To come up with your weights, did you correlate the actions to dollars earned? For example, a new email subscriber brings on average $10 over their lifetime, whereas a page view might bring in a $0.01 in ads. So then email subscriber is worth 1000x an ad in weighting ($10 / $0.01 = 1000x). Or was tweaking more what felt right and fair?

    1. In our case it was more about tweaking what felt right and fair. Because some user actions don’t always have that monetary value right away. But you know down the road that there is a certain value to email subscribers, because they do more pageviews as they’ll likely come back more often. As you don’t want to make too many assumptions on how often these subscribers come back you only use the moment of signup as a value in the calculation.

  2. The problem is – you still aren’t getting/using any real ‘descriptive’ or ‘informative’ metrics.
    All you are doing is looking at shallow/surface/base metrics and hoping that a large enough % of the contributions to those scores match what you think they do.

    Further, the customisations required for getting any novel/definitive values (such as author etc.) often require tailoring the platform and the website/frontend with custom code.
    That’s more than a little beyond a fair % of site owners/web devs/SEOs.

    It’s 2018 – but we are still in 2010 for analytics 🙁

    1. I didn’t say that implementing this was an easy job, and for sure this is not something that any random blogger can probably implement herself/himself. In the end I’d argue that using metrics like this are way more informative for most businesses as they represent metrics that correspond with the core metrics of the business. Based on this data then you can go as far as you want with the analysis, in the end this is high level, but only scratching the surface on what’s possible. So I wouldn’t see it so negatively as this solution brings many others with itself.

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