Does your day go something like this?
It’s NOT CONVERTING.
It’s NOT MAKING MONEY.
HOW DO WE KNOW IF IT WORKS?
I feel you. I do.
By day, I wear a Content Marketer hat, and helpful comments like these are part of the daily routine.
My job, in a sentence, is to make articles / videos / infographics to edu-tain readers and make them want to hear from me again (so they become customers later).
At some point, I realised that metrics fall into two buckets: business metrics (a.k.a vanity metrics) and use metrics.
Vanity metrics make good headlines — user base, downloads, revenue, profit etc…
But in day-to-day trench life of digital startups, vanity metrics tell you nothing about your effect on the user.
What drives revenue and user growth is usefulness. The more useful you are, the more people will want to pay for your stuff.
Use drives revenue. Not the other way round.
Note: you can make money without being useful. But, like keeping your head above water, it will be stressful and not last very long.
In the digital world, metrics like these should be at the forefront of your mind:
Are people using my app regularly?
Are people reading my articles fully?
Are people watching my videos fully?
Duolingo is the most used education app in the world and it only teaches languages. They focus on two things: how well are students learning and do they continue learning. Revenue is a business concern, but doesn’t guide the logic of improving the app.
Importantly, use is different from quality. Quality and aesthetics can be subjective, but use is observable, and can be inferred from user behaviour.
The more use you provide, the more will come back to you. Not in a “the-universe-is-fair-and-beautiful” way, but in a Google Analytics way.
As a content marketer, the more use people get out of my free stuff, the more likely they are to recommend it and pay attention when I offer premium stuff. Simple.
To measure the use (of anything), look at 3 things: consumption, retention, and engagement.
Here’s how I apply this to content marketing but it can equally be applied to Web apps, mobile apps, YouTubing, vlogging, and any other digital shenanigans.
Article read percentage
If you baited someone onto your website with a headline and under-delivered, you’ve pissed off a potential reader and missed out on a potential customer.
But if readers takes the time to read your article to the end, you can assume that there is use in it and you’ve taken the first step to “warming” them up (perfect for re-targeting later).
Get the word count of your article and divide it by 200 (the average words-per-minute reading speed for adults). This is how long it should take to read your article on average. If you match this up with time spent on page from Google Analytics, you can tell whether people are reading the entire thing (on average).
Book publishers dream about having such data at their fingertips. Real-time data on how much of the book people are reading?! Are you KIDDING ME?
On a side-note, Amazon is starting to pay Kindle authors on a “per-pages-read” basis, instead of upfront sales. Smart — no more incentive to over-hype books. Read about it here.
Lower than average time on page can mean that your content was boring, it was difficult to read, didn’t match expectations, and so on.
How much of your article was read is one of the most direct measures of quality of your article that you’ll ever get.
Automating this is a matter of connecting Google Analytics to Google Spreadsheets with a plugin like Supermetrics, loading up the XML sitemap from your blog, and lining up the URLs to the expected read-time and the average-read time.
Video watch percentage
Just like the success of Game of Thrones isn’t measured by how much advertising revenue is brought in, the success of your videos isn’t measured by how much revenue they generate.
The most useful metrics for video are absolute and relative audience retention. Meaning how many viewers watched each minute of your video and how it compares to other youtube videos of similar length.
Both of these metrics are found in YouTube analytics under Watch Time Reports.
HBO producers would freak out if they had metrics like this.
Let’s compare two of our own videos on Mindvalley Academy.
In the first one, you can see that about 90% of viewers make it to the end of the video.
In the second one, you can see that people drop off super quick and only a quarter of viewers get to the end of the video. No prize for guessing which one was more engaging and useful.
Pro-tip: if you see a “bump” in the retention graph, this means viewers rewind to watch a particular part of your video. In this video, people rewind the video to catch the name of a breakthrough study we mention. Did we follow this up with a blog post about the exact same topic? You bet your sweet little butt we did.
Here’s the graph for relative audience retention on one of our most popular videos (currently on 2m+ views). View count is pure vanity, but under the hood you can see the magic sauce — people watch it all the way through. And this is a LONG video. Rinse and repeat.
Average session duration
You might read this often on other marketers’ blogs, but I’m including it here as a warning.
Unless all of your articles and videos take the same time to read and watch, this can be misleading.
By all means keep an eye on this number, but before you react to a dip, remember that it could be because you posted a shorter video or article that week.
As a snapshot, how many new visitors come to your blog in a given month isn’t particularly useful — but an increase of 10-20% a month tells you your readership is growing healthily. Check.
The hallmark of a healthy blog is that people come back for more. Either directly, through feeds, social media, or email.
When we talk about retention, we’re looking for how many readers you have instead of page views.
Note: I am assuming you are building an email list or offering readers a way to get notified about new stuff.
Not number of subscribers, not new subscribers, but active subscribers. You will have to tinker with this, but what you’re interested in is how many people have subscribed and are reacting to your notifications.
If someone subscribes but isn’t opening your notifications, you can safely assume they’ve changed their mind about your blog or there’s something wrong with your notifications.
A list of 1,000 active subscribers trumps a list of 10,000 subscribers of which only 500 are active. Just like a Facebook group with a million fans is only useful if people are actually interacting with you.
Most email marketing providers will allow you to segment your list by “last email open date” or “last active”.
A savvy business will grow the number of active subscribers, not the total number of subscribers.
If total subscriber count is going up, but the number of people opening your emails is going down, sound the alarm.
Same concept as active subscribers. If a visitor doesn’t want to come back to read more of your stuff, this could be a sign of low usefulness or value.
In Google Analytics, under Audience > Behaviour > Frequency and Recency you’ll see this sexy thing:
This shows how many sessions visitors have on your site. We can see that 34,810 users had a 2nd session, 18,949 had a third session, 13,031 had a 4th session and so on…
To work out how many people came to your site once and never returned, subtract the second number from the first number. In our example, this is 136,375 – 34,810 = 101,565. So just over 100,000 users had just one session in this time-range.
If this graph looks more like a flatline after the first session, this is cause for concern because it means nobody’s coming back. Here’s an example I found on Google images of what “concern” looks like:
People will unsubscribe naturally from your list, but if your unsubscribe rate is too high this will either mean: your content or emails are under-delivering on expectations or there are too many of them.
Not even your own mother wants to hear from you every day, so don’t even think about emailing your list every day unless you want to hold the World Record for the highest unsubscribe rate.
Not all of your content should be designed to spread. Some will be more of a reference piece like an in-depth how-to, while others might be designed to be surprising and controversial, and spread. But if you’re aiming for spread, then you need to measure.
Average interactions per user
This is a beast to calculate, but it will show you how shareable your work is.
Remember: folks will share your stuff for 3 reasons: because it makes them look cool, it might bring value to their friends’ lives, or because they want to raise awareness about something.
Step 1: create a spreadsheet with all the social media interactions on your site at https://www.sharedcount.com/.
Step 2: match it against the number of users that visited the page from Google Analytics.
You now know how viral each of your posts are.
So many people get this one completely wrong.
Bounce rate measures how many people have one-page sessions. Meaning they visit one page and leave.
I’ve listened to senior people complain about high bounce rates on one-page Sales Pages.
If you only have one page, guess what? Your bounce rate is 100%.
However, if your blog has a high bounce rate, something is off. It means visitors did not find what they expected or you offered them no reason to stick around (ex: read more, get this free thing, learn about us etc…).
It’s the equivalent of someone taking two steps into a store and turning to leave. You haven’t displayed eye-catching products anywhere, the store smells, it’s too cluttered etc…
This is also super important for your SEO efforts. Many SEO firms have noticed that posts with lower bounce rates (more reason to stick around) get higher rankings.
To give you an idea of what to aim for, here are some bounce rates by industry from our friends at razor social.
Every single book on money or getting rich will tell you that the shortest path to riches is to provide value.
The key to watching your business succeed lies in measuring your value, not how much comes back to you.
Measuring your revenue is measuring how much you’re getting, but the most savvy businesses know that to survive, you gotta measure what you’re giving.
It pains me to watch people make creative decisions based on business metrics.
With every passing day, we can measure usefulness with more and more accuracy. Sometimes you gotta hack the right metric together, but it’ll be worth it.
Even though the example here is content marketing, the principle applies to any creative area.
The only metric that matters is — are people using my [thing].
A smart way to think of use metrics for your [thing] would be to imagine a person who was delighted by your work, figure out what type of behaviour they would exhibit, and measure that.
As a rule of thumb, the harder it is to calculate your use metric, the more insightful it will be.