Go back

You’re probably measuring your content wrong: Here’s how to fix it

Lauren Lang
July 9, 2024

Over my past nine years as a content marketer in SaaS, I’ve developed some serious jealousy about the project management concept of success criteria. Product managers use their criteria to get engineers and business stakeholders aligned on what “good enough” looks like. When there are always ways to optimize, you need to know when to stop and move to the next priority.

The context in content marketing is entirely different, but I wish that success in our line of work could be so clearly defined — and the research suggests that I’m not the only one.

Why Content Struggles to Define Success

Check out this graph from Beam Content’s latest report, “Closing the Content Gap”:

The results show a big discrepancy — both between how content marketers measure success ourselves and between how we think of it compared to the rest of the GTM organization: 

Content skews toward defining success by leads and conversions, where the rest of the organization (marketers, sales, and product folks) are split equally between leads, revenue, and brand awareness.

This surprised me at first. Content marketers usually aren't growth marketers; we focus on building brands and educating people over time. Leads and conversions are short-term metrics, while content plays the long game. 

But there are a few things we can take from this research here in 2024, a time of tighter budgets and marketing cutbacks:

  1. Content marketers are afraid of being next on the chopping block. They want to prove their worth, and they often work closely with demand gen marketers who prioritize conversions and breathe analytics. It’s hard not to drink the Kool-Aid.
  1. As the data from non-content marketers shows, lead gen is just one part of the business. Content adds value in many ways, and measuring content's success only by conversions undersells its true impact.

Why Not Lead Gen?

If it seems like I’m calling out the 4 in 10 content marketers who prioritize conversions, let me explain why it’s problematic:

  1. Conversions do not equal pipeline or purchase intent. My aunt fills out lead gen forms just to read my white papers. Someone converting on gated content doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a good prospect or interested in your product. This metric alone doesn’t align with how business leaders view success (pipeline and revenue).
  1. You create lots of other content that doesn’t directly drive leads. 70% of buyers consume at least three pieces of content before becoming customers, including blog posts, podcasts, or YouTube videos, which aren’t captured in conversion metrics. If 79% of content marketers maintain a company blog, shouldn’t success metrics reflect the actual work they’re responsible for?

This data points to a skills gap in content marketing, a misunderstanding of our broader mission. Content is the strategic heartbeat of marketing: campaigns don’t exist, sales falter, and brand awareness dies without it. Content marketers need to broaden their perspective and step into that strategic power.

Content Is the Kingdom

Ann Handley famously wrote that content marketing is like the famous scene from the Lion King: it’s “everything the light touches.” It’s the kingdom.

Content communicates everything, from messaging and value propositions to feature updates and educational opportunities for prospects and customers. Done right, it involves a lot of cross-functional collaboration. On any given week, I could be interviewing my CEO, CTO, CMO, VP Product, account execs, data scientists, engineers, product managers, or customer success managers. I’ve even interviewed a CFO to get a better understanding of how businesses make purchasing decisions. 

These interactions aren't just great for content marketing; they’re good for building relationships and understanding the bigger picture of what’s going on. I get a better view of the business — not unlike Mufasa and Simba looking down at their kingdom — so that I can better serve the business. 

The more I did this, the more I began to realize that “success” is what supports the highest-value initiatives — the ones that further company goals and OKRs. I learned what truly matters to different business functions and company leadership. (Hint: it’s not someone filling out a form.)

Content often gets relegated to "campaign filler" rather than being seen as a strategic cornerstone. When marketing is short-term focused, everything and everyone becomes part of that short game. Even CMOs. Even you.

However, I believe that we teach others how to treat us. If you want content to be valued and respected in your organization, you need to be able to prove its value and show that it deserves to be a strategic foundation. 

And you need the right data to do that.

How to Prove Content’s Value (for Real)

I recommend starting with company goals — if you don’t know what yours are, start asking. What are different business functions working on right now? What are the top priorities in the near future? 

One is likely to be a revenue goal; that’s a constant, as we are all in the business of making money. Others might be secondary goals to achieve that revenue target, like launching a new product, expanding into a new market, or increasing customer retention.

This is your roadmap to value.

Step 1 (Beginner): Be strategically collaborative on important projects

You can’t be everywhere at once, so you need to make sure that content is in the right places at the right times. Once you’ve identified the company goals that matter, build your quarterly content strategy around them. Most of your GTM team wants to help, according to Beam Content’s research! Identifying where content can collaborate and add value to major initiatives shows GTM teams (and the company) that you’re serious about making an impact.

Some ways you could do that: 

  • Work with your product or product marketing team to propose an announcement blog post and a video series for a new product launch to sustain momentum
  • Lead the content strategy for your new market expansion, ensuring enough pieces address these customers' unique needs and ensuring that your sales team knows how they can help in conversations
  • Partner with your CS team to create onboarding content that helps customers reach activation faster

But weren’t we going to be talking about data? This is data. Each successful partnership creates a data point about your internal collaboration and the value you add to projects. Having your name in high-value Slack channels, your face in key meetings, and your work in important projects demonstrates your impact— and these perceptions can be as powerful as analytics dashboards.

Extra credit: If you are contributing value, get loud about it (professionally, of course). Hold enablement meetings to walk sales through new content pieces, acknowledge product folks for their time as SMEs, and publicly thank team members who helped with editing, research, and design. This encourages people to work with you again and positions you as a strategic leader.

Step 2 (Intermediate): Choose your brand awareness metrics

While qualitative data is great, content marketers also need to tell a compelling story with quantitative proof of the success of their program. Content is a holistic combination of long and short games, so it makes sense that we’d look at both: how is content building brand awareness, and how is content building pipeline?

Brand awareness is a bit easier, so we’ll start there. Brand awareness isn’t a metric in itself but a cluster of metrics. Think beyond generic traffic and lead generation:

  • Look at both overall blog post/content traffic performance and branded search metrics, which can tell you how many people are searching for your company specifically 
  • Look at referral traffic from podcasts or guest posts, which indicate people are visiting your site with a good idea of what you do already
  • How are your social media mentions, followers, engagement, and referrals to your website changing over time? Are you getting post reshares from followers in your space?
  • Ask your sales team: are they seeing any changes in outbound success? Have prospects heard of you before?

Next, consider how you can use the brand awareness metrics you have to guide decisions about where to experiment with content in the future. If you’re seeing an uptick in social metrics, for example, what would happen if you added another post per week? 

Step 3 (Advanced): Add content pipeline metrics to the mix

When we come back to proving business value, the most powerful data that you can show is content’s influence on pipeline and revenue, because revenue is always an OKR. For the record, I think most content marketers know this instinctively, but the problem is that the data is hard to get.

Rather than reporting solely on conversions, this data looks at what really matters:

  • What content was converted on prior to deals in the pipeline becoming sales-qualified? (I call this content-sourced pipeline)
  • What content was viewed and engaged with once the opportunity was already in sales conversations? (I call this content-influenced pipeline)

There is a lot to unpack here about where this data all comes from, what it means, how you pull it in the first place, and how it’s different from channel reporting. But with a little bit of UTM magic, some data wrangling, and a lot of collaboration with your friends in marketing ops, it’s the most powerful evidence you have.

Once you have this data, work on building an executive, high-level dashboard that shows content’s impact on brand awareness and pipeline: the key long-term and short-term metrics that matter most to executives.

Then, work on presenting your value story to senior leaders at your company and taking them through the dashboard. For example, how much of the pipeline generated was tied to content that targeted specific company OKRs?

Proving Value by Being Valuable

For most content marketers I’ve worked with, there is a clear evolution in their professional development. The ones that are the most equipped for leadership are those who have learned to think beyond the metrics that matter only to them.

Gaining a larger contextual understanding of the business (which, by the way, includes radical care for the customers you serve; that’s not going anywhere) is how individual contributors and mid-level managers advance. Seeing the big picture — and knowing what role you can play in it — is how content truly begins to prove its value. The next step? Bringing the rest of your organization along for the ride.

Lauren Lang is Director of Content at Uplevel and creator of the online course Bending the Spoon: How B2B Content Marketers Win.