When Content Became King

In 2016, there is little need to spend an introduction about the importance of content.  Savvy marketers and executives understand that content, in its various forms, helps move prospects along a buying process and connect with a brand. Though, a question still remains: Content may be king, but how do you know if you are a good ruler?  Like any good ruler, you measure. #homonym_humor

A few years ago I picked up cycling.  When I left the store, they handed me a cheap speedometer that would tell me things like time on bike, total miles, and number of rides.  As I began to ride, these were really exciting to watch.  I quickly learned that they were not true indicators of my performance.

So, I bought more expensive gear.  My new tool had a map and a color dashboard.  And more calculated metrics!  I loved my new tool, and all the new metrics! Then, a friend asked, “What are you trying to achieve?”  

I was speechless in spandex.  I realized I was reporting on the data that I had at hand, not asking the important directional questions.  Given what I wanted to achieve, my friend helped me radically redesign my cycling measurement tools and invest in a power meter. Now, the other metrics are fun to look at, but I measure and focus on the key data points that align to my objectives.

Minus the spandex, the same principles apply to content marketing measurement. Most marketers will benefit from 1) setting up the proper framework for measurement and 2) choosing the metrics that best support those goals. 

Measure What Matters

When they measure content, most content marketers measure the wrong criteria.  They collect the data at their fingertips and report on it.  Or, an executive asks, “What’s the ROI on X content marketing initiative?”, regardless of whether or not that is the correct question to ask. As Colleen Jones points out in Clout, having all of that data available can be detrimental to that executive’s decision-making:

“Sometimes, you can have too much of a good thing. When people overload their minds with irrelevant data, they make decisions harder, not easier—and even less accurate.”

I submit, that if the goals of the efforts are aligned at the beginning, and the appropriate metrics are determined beforehand, the ‘success’ of a piece of content marketing, or a program, will be much easier to define.  Those are three words—goals, alignment, beforehand—that sound easy, but often are overlooked in the speed to get content out the door.

Assuming you can get your executives to step back and look at what the content goals are, and the appropriate measurement criteria, there are 3 broad categories I think should be considered: Interaction, Engagement, and Value metrics. I’ll share those three, with an emphasis on engagement, which I think is the largest area of opportunity for most content marketers.  

Interaction Metrics

Interaction metrics are often called consumption metrics, but I believe that misses the mark and makes what I call the “consumption assumption.”  It assumes that people consume the content after clicking on it.  In a recent study of consumer content behavior, we learned that 83% of global consumers report they “multiscreen,” which means they are using more than 2 devices at the same time. Breaking through the clutter is no longer a single device mantra, but a cross-device effort. If you think that because a user clicked through to your blog, or downloaded a PDF, they consumed it, you are making the consumption assumption.   

If our measurement categories are a nice meal, these metrics look at what was ordered and that the food was received. Where this category of metrics misses the mark is in understanding how the content itself connected with the audience.  Examples of metrics in this category include content downloads, visitors, views, form completions, etc.  

These metrics are great for understanding which topics are of interest and what is really resonating with an audience.  At Adobe, these types of metrics help us answer questions like:

  • “What topics should we focus content on next quarter?”
  • “Where should we stop investing valuable internal resources and budget?”
  • “What titles are most appealing?”

Most marketers measure interaction metrics (because they are able to) and
assume the content was consumed and hit the mark, and report these metrics to tell that story.  

Engagement Metrics

It’s not surprising to me that many marketers stick with the interaction metrics at hand.  According to Content Science Review research (“What Makes Content Teams Thrive”, p 11), the top three challenges content marketing teams face are balancing workload, scaling the business and lack of time.  Given this, there isn’t a lot of time to devote to putting the right measurement approaches in place.

If interaction metrics tell us what food was ordered and delivered to the table, engagement metrics tell us how much the customers enjoyed the meal of content received.  Did they smile and enjoy every bite, or did they look for the maître-de to send it back? Engagement metrics help marketers really understand the impact of content and are the true measure of content quality.  At Adobe, we approach content engagement in two ways.

First, we look at our key audiences.  At every job I’ve been at, when I ask for persona information, I receive their daily schedule, workload, what they like to eat as a cohort, etc.  If I’m lucky, I’ll get some pain points relevant to the business.  I have never seen information related to persona content consumption preferences.  At Adobe, we ask our personas questions like:

  • “When do you consume content at work?”
  • “What asset types do you prefer to read/watch?”
  • “How much time will you spend consuming content in a day?  Or at a time?”

Armed with answers to questions like these, we have created a checklist with a general list of items we know are important to our key audiences.  We use this as an internal gauge of content before we let it out the door.  You can access it here.

Second, we put content in places we can measure how our audience engages with the content.  

Common engagement metrics we look at include % of content consumed, completion, page depth, etc.  Whether a video, a blog, or whitepaper in HTML form, we host the content where we can gather specific data points to understand engagement.  With technology in place to measure where the mouse hovers on a page, what portion of traffic reaches certain points of a page, and other mouse/click movements, we are getting closer to understanding how users interact with our content in great detail.

Engagement metrics are a focus for us at Adobe, because these really help content creators know that the content being created is winning the war on eyes and time.  In a multi-channel world, having your content on a consumers’ screen is not sufficient.  Your content must be engaging enough to be given attention across all open devices.  

Next year, we plan to find ways to combine this behavioral data with qualitative responses from our audiences, to tie together the “how” and the “why.”  

Value Metrics

Back to this amazing meal of content.  Value metrics look at the unique perspective or value that you gave to your audience.  If it was valuable, they likely will want to share it with coworkers, peers, friends, etc.  In our analogy, this is the obvious equivalent of saying, “If you go to Chez Mike’s restaurant, you have to order the truffle frites.”  Important value metrics look at include shares, likes, comments, reviews, etc.  

Final Thoughts on Design

Design and experience matter.  As consumers become increasingly omni-device, marketers are fighting for attention between devices.  Your competition isn’t just your business competitors, but it’s that text on the Apple Watch, and that streaming movie on someone’s Surface 3. Smart content marketers will focus on having their content stand out from the clutter, and will have measurement capabilities in place to understand true content engagement.

What Now?

As you look at content measurement in your organization, be honest about what the metrics you are collecting actually tell you.  While story-telling is important in sharing data insights, that story needs to be non-fiction.  If you have important content questions your data isn’t telling you (and you likely do in the engagement category), work with your IT and web teams to put the correct infrastructure in place.  

That way, next time your CMO comes to you asking for “content marketing performance” and asks “What were you trying to achieve?” you won’t find yourself proverbially speechless in spandex.  

The Author

As part of the enterprise marketing team at Adobe, Mike manages a team of smart content strategists who create content for busy enterprise professionals. He simply has one goal: changing the way people engage with content, one click at a time.  In his B2B career, he has worked on almost every type of content, for a large array of audiences, always seeking to find out what is at the center of their ‘work universe’, and find out how he can have a compelling POV.

This article is about


2 thoughts on “Using the Right Metrics To Measure Content: Insights from Adobe

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


We invite you to share your perspective in a constructive way. To comment, please sign in or register. Our moderating team will review all comments and may edit them for clarity. Our team also may delete comments that are off-topic or disrespectful. All postings become the property of
Content Science Review.

Partner Whitepapers

The 3 Elements of Content Intelligence

Make better content decisions with a system of data + insight.

Digital Transformation for Marketing

Your content approach makes or breaks your digital transformation. Learn why intelligent content strategy + engineering are critical to your success.

Content Strategy for Products + Services

Your content is integral to your product. You might have piloted content strategy and seen promising results. Now what? It’s time to get more strategic so you can sustain and scale. This whitepaper will help you start.

Help with Content Analytics + ROI

Does your content work? It's a simple question, but getting a clear answer from content analytics or ROI formulas is often anything but easy. This ebook by Colleen Jones will help you overcome the challenges.