This essay originally was published on July 7, 2022, with the email subject line "CT No. 130: Your data will change. Here's how to take benchmarks."

The data we use to measure content success is changing, rapidly, and most businesses are not remotely ready. Privacy regulations in Europe, antitrust actions in the United States, and self-regulation from tech giants have already affected the types of data that can be collected for audience digital behavior. Shifting metrics include:

  • Complete organic keyword data - hasn't been fully provided in either Google Analytics or Google Search Console in about 10 years
  • Email open rate - rates universally rose when Apple changed privacy settings in its email last year
  • Bounce rate, unique pageviews and almost everything tracked with the old version of Google Analytics, to be retired in July 2023: reconfigured or completely removed from Google Analytics 4

Trackable data on digital channels will continue to shift as tech giants and governments alike make changes to improve end-user privacy and limit the amount of trackable data that individual companies are able to collect. In my view, these changes are good, contribute to more ethical digital business operations, and shouldn't make a dent the data that supports your content strategies.

Content strategists collect and interpret data to understand what attracts and resonates with their audiences as an aggregated group. Data affected by privacy regulations, often tied to individual identifiers like email or IP addresses, shouldn't affect the evaluation of aggregate content performance.

Open rates, Apple's privacy changes and "unreliable" data

In September 2021, Apple launched iOS 15, which included additional measures to protect user privacy from unnecessary surveillance from advertisers and businesses. The change dulled the individual effectiveness of email tracking pixels, so Apple Mail users would no longer send signals to advertisers and sales teams when an email is opened. As a result, email open rates went up across the board, since Apple Mail programs recorded more emails as automated opens than before.

When a big change like Apple's email privacy updates goes live, and metrics like open rate shift from their previously established norms, some digital professionals throw up their hands and argue, "None of the data is reliable anymore!" That's not true, and anyone who says that doesn't understand digital measurement.*

When dealing with a major shift in data availability or if you're just starting to measure for the first time, the best way to stay on track is to re-benchmark your data. Understand that the data will change with new regulations, and that there are new changes coming. If you take before-and-after benchmarks from the data change, you'll be able to adjust your strategies to accommodate major shifts in available data.

What are content analytics benchmarks and why are they important?

A content analytics performance benchmark is:

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