Editor’s note: This is the final post in my series about content marketing. Check out the previous posts on the benefits of content marketing, developing a content strategy, creating great content, and content distribution.

Content marketers often make the mistake of thinking that once their content is published and promoted, their work is done. However, in reality there’s still a very important job for them to tackle long after their eBooks, blog posts, and podcasts have gone out: They need to measure how each piece of content performed, reflect on what worked and what didn’t, and try to use whatever insights they gather from the process to make improvements.

It’s essential to look at how your content performs on a regular — at least monthly but ideally weekly (or even daily if you’re publishing that often) — basis. When you evaluate your results, try to answer the following questions:

  • How much traffic is your website getting in total and how much traffic are specific pieces of content generating? In particular, how many unique visitors and page views are you getting?
  • How engaged with your content is your audience as measured by time on page, bounce rate, number of shares, and number of comments?
  • How many people completed the desired conversion as a result of consuming your content, i.e., what was the conversion rate?

All of the key performance indicators bolded above are ones that you can easily access using Google Analytics. (For a useful guide to Google Analytics, check out this post.)

Once you start gathering analytics data, it’s a good idea to start tracking and recording them in a content marketing dashboard that you can set up in an Excel spreadsheet like this:

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Although very basic, getting into the habit of compiling and reviewing data like you see above is a useful exercise. You can also begin tracking similar metrics for individual landing pages to see how they perform and to get more specific insights. Over time, you may also want to track other metrics, such as average pages per visit, the amount of traffic driven by search engine or social media, or the number of new subscriptions.

When you start to look at the data, your goal should be to try to identify any trends over time as well as any potential outliers. If something performed really well, for example, can you figure out why so that you can try to replicate it again? Conversely, if something else didn’t perform so well, can you pinpoint the reason and avoid it going forward? Your job is to glean as many insights as you can into how your content performed and why, and then to adjust your strategy accordingly.

To utilize your content marketing metrics successfully you not only have to update your content marketing dashboard on a consistent basis, but also meet as a team to discuss it. Having meaningful, data-driven retrospectives about your content marketing program and what’s working and what isn’t, is one of the most critical steps to improving your program over the long term.

Unfortunately, it’s a step that many content marketers overlook. Even if they are disciplined enough to gather the right metrics, they never sit down as a team to discuss them and figure out what they all mean and how they should adjust their content strategy as a result.

Don’t fall into that trap.

The reality is that content marketing is as much of a science as it is an art, and without a clear understanding of the analytics behind your program, it is going to be virtually impossible to make meaningful improvements to it. That said, there is a limit to how deep you should go.

Google Analytics allows you to track so much information about your content that you can quickly find yourself in a state of analysis paralysis. It’s an easy way to spend a lot of time without necessarily getting a substantially bigger benefit. For that reason, it’s a good idea to limit what you track to metrics and pages that matter most. After all, if you spend your entire week gathering and analyzing the data, it will leave little time for you to attend to the tasks of creating and distributing your content.

As you set off to build your own content marketing program, remember that metrics are going to be a key indicator of the value that your program is bringing to your organization. Not only that, they will also serve as guide posts to help steer you in the right direction when it comes time to make improvements to it.