In digital content, measurement remains a massive boondoggle for most organizations. Attribution is wildly misunderstood; the maxims of the "attention economy" don't often correlate with improved business performance; and paid media sources are given far more credit for growth than they deserve when compared with organic content improvement. 

With varying interpretations of how measurement should be applied to business actions, teams that should be aligned in creating quality content are pitted against each other—SEO is responsible for ranking and traffic metrics, while user experience teams try to minimize the friction that arises from too much unqualified traffic landing on the wrong page. 

Content marketing teams attempt to fill every blank space perceived in the pre-purchase journey, while customer support and documentation teams are trying to minimize the amount of time they spend fielding easily answerable questions. And almost no one considers how the audience's holistic brand perception of how every piece of content works together.

Automated software "insights" taken at face value add absolutely no actionable information, and companies rarely train their reporting teams to dive in deeper than the surface level. Many junior digital marketers are trained in prescriptive 12-week certificate programs or online-only courses that remove the emphasis on methodology and original thinking more advanced degrees provide, and they're not familiar with advanced measurement methodologies. And it's sadly increasingly rare that good content professionals are even getting the access they need to read analytics that will help them do their jobs.

By including measurement as a phase of The Content Technologist approach, rather than merge it with strategy or outsourcing to another team, my goal is to emphasize that content performance needs to be measured differently than other counterparts in the business. Content measurement, when executed with a dose of sophistication, provides the quantifiable insights needed to prove exactly how quality digital content is making a business impact.

How can content teams measure their work more effectively?

You can't tell a story about measurement if there's no before-and-after, so before you make big changes to a website or launch a new content campaign: take some benchmarks in your measurement tool. The free version of Google Analytics 4 is all most companies need.

I've put together some benchmarks from the analytics data across my client and prospect accounts, and gathered a few engagement benchmarks to help organizations understand what "good" looks like, measurement-wise. My dataset included no ecommerce companies, nor any pure media companies. The dataset primarily comprises organizations that create content as a resource for their audience and driver for growth.

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Common audience growth metrics and growth rate recommendations

If your primary goal is to grow an audience that is connected to your content, I recommend recording one or both of the following:

  • Average monthly engaged sessions: One of GA4's most helpful new metrics, engaged sessions describes the number of users on your website who have passed one of the following three thresholds: they've spent more than 10 seconds (or, better yet, changed to 60 seconds) on your website; visited more than one page; scrolled through more than 90% of the webpage; or completed a form. Ideally, you're always going up and to the right for monthly engaged sessions, even as rank or traffic fluctuates. 
  • Average monthly active users: Depending on your goals, you'll want to track the absolute number of new and returning users every month. In GA4, this also means tracking Users (aka Active Users) and not Total Users (which includes Active and "inactive" Users).

In general, for average number of sessions and users, you're aiming for a healthy growth rate of around 3-5% month over month. Anything more is great! But because content changes and their effects tend to be a slow burn, a healthy snowball of incremental monthly growth is better than a viral avalanche of visitors who never return.

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*It's worth noting that, before GA4 was even announced, I outlined a solid method for measuring high-quality sessions that is more or less the same as GA4's "Engaged Sessions" metric.

The best audience engagement metrics and benchmarks

If your primary goal is to connect more deeply with an audience and become part of their content consumption routine, I recommend tracking the following:

  • Average engaged time per session: Based on the clients I work with, websites focused on content benchmark at an average engagement time of 30 seconds per session... or in some cases much higher. Benchmark where you're at today, and watch what happens after you implement changes designed to increase engagement
  • Average engaged time (per user): The benchmark with my clients here is 50 seconds— with many high-quality resource-driven websites clocking in at well over 1:30 during a typical 30-day measurement window.
  • Engagement rate is a great at-a-glance metric to benchmark and understand performance. Websites optimized for high-quality content have an engagement rate of 50% or above.

Understanding key events, fka conversions, for content publishers

Earlier this year, Google Analytics switched the language on what had always been called "conversions" to "key events." Like most surface-level language changes, the shift in terminology means the same thing it always did: just like a conversion, a key event is an important action on your website that we've marked to track in detail. 

But now Google wants to associate the word "conversions" solely with Ads, which... whatever Google. We'll call them "key events" in GA4 now.

Anyway, those of us who regularly look at cross-channel content analytics know that "key events" from organic search occur at a higher rate than those from paid, whatever they are called. Lately I've been referring to key content events as Commitment metrics, since they represent an audience's desire to commit to receiving more from your company.

In any case, every GA4 account has to manually set their Key events. For most content-focused websites, I recommend toggling the setting up the following as to key events, if applicable on your website:

  • Newsletter sign-up form completions
  • Qualified leads (form completion usually)
  • File downloads
  • Video completions
  • Purchases, if applicable

Every organization has its own scheme of conversion and attribution, but typically companies investing in content will see that, all conversions or key events being the same, non-paid channels attract higher quality audiences and return on investment than paid media.

And speaking of channel attribution...

Dimensions and attribution for content measurement

When taking benchmarks, it's crucial understand the dimensions applied to each metric. For most organic and content performance, I recommend focusing on the following dimensions:

  • For most strategic content changes (templates, workflow, etc.), measuring effects monthly is much easier and more sustainable than daily or weekly impact.
  • Always examine channel-specific growth from organic and direct compared with paid media (because otherwise paid channels will tank your high organic success rate).
  • Aggregate performance of similar content is more valuable than page-level performance, so use content groups when possible.
  • Individual session behavior and individual anecdata almost never correlates with audience preferences at scale—so session recordings or comments aren't good reasons for making changes without additional validation from your aggregate data (beware of upsetting your website's silent majority).

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