Focus on measuring content effectiveness, not vanity metrics. Consider these three questions: What goal(s) do we want the content to achieve, for our users and for our organisation? What are the best signals the content is achieving those goals? What is a realistic way to measure those signals?
Firstly, be really clear about what you want the content to achieve. If that's something that's hard to measure (informing or persuading, for example) then think of indicators of success that you can turn into numbers. And don't be afraid of collating the qualitative to go along with the quantitative: quotes add important nuance to statistics.
You have to make sure the goal you set is measurable. And then ensure you have whatever you need in place to be able to confidently determine if the goal has been met. If not, why, what can you learn? If it has, what should be repeated and what should be changed? This usually means the right tools for data collection, and also user testing and feedback. Baking measurement into your best practice processes is important for ensuring you are regularly assessing your content's performance rather than checking every once in a while.
When you’re measuring the success of product content inside software or apps, my top tip would be to think about the experience holistically. People don't experience your design or content separately, so you need to measure and test them together. Before you launch, look at user feedback, support tickets, and data to see what's working and where people are getting stuck. Use that insight to choose specific success metrics that you'll monitor after launch.
The only success that really matters is your goal for that content, so align your measurement strategy—quantitative and qualitative—accordingly. For instance, if your goal is to fulfill a niche need among your users, lots of pageviews probably isn’t what you’re looking for. In fact, if you get lots of pageviews for niche content, either it’s not really niche content or lots of people who don’t need this content are wasting their time with it.
A better measure for this content might be seeing if most page visitors exit the site from this page, which could suggest that it satisfied their needs. To be certain they are exiting the page satisfied and not frustrated, however, you’ll need to layer in qualitative assessment: search terms used to find the page, content testing with users, and/or satisfaction surveys of users. How many of these you do depends on your resources, of course, and the value you place on getting content to be successful.
My advice for better understanding content success has three parts:
1. Make sure every piece of content has an explicit audience and a clear, measurable business goal (conference registrations, product purchases, report downloads, audience retention, fewer support calls, etc.).
2. Document how you will measure whether the content contributed to the goal: get data from elsewhere in the organization, benchmark performance before and after, conduct customer satisfaction surveys, measure using eye-tracking, etc.
3. Measure, communicate info to all concerned parties, and use that information to drive decisions about how to improve next time.
Look beyond web metrics to see the impact your content has made. Consider call centre volumes, help desk requests, upgrade enquiries, warranty claims - all of these can be improved with better content.
Rob is Head of Content at GatherContent. He is a journalism graduate and has previously worked as Studio Manager and Head of Content for a design agency and as an Audience Research Executive for the BBC. He’s a published author and regular contributor to industry publications including Net Magazine, Smashing Magazine, 24 Ways,WebTuts+, UX Matters , UX Booth and Content Marketing Institute. On occasion Rob speaks about content strategy and ContentOps at leading industry events.