Intelligence
Measuring Content Success: Metrics That Matter
Measuring Content Success: Metrics That Matter

Intelligence

Measuring Content Success: Metrics That Matter

Jul 29, 2021By Shannon Lanus

Whether you’re launching a new website or refreshing the content on an existing site, you should be concerned with how your content is performing. But how do you know if your content is successful?

In this post, we’re going to walk you through some ways to measure how effective your content is at reaching your intended audience both on and off your site.

But your first priority should be to ensure that you’ve laid the groundwork for creating effective content in the first place.

Starting With a Content Strategy

You can think of a content strategy as a plan for developing and sustaining the content you need to create and maintain to keep your site fresh and effective. (We’re talking primarily about website content in this post, but the best content strategy also considers how web content can be used to support marketing and communications in other channels, such as social media and print.)

An effective content strategy answers some key questions:

  • Who is this content for?
  • What do you want it to accomplish?
  • What actions do you want your target audience to take?

One major key to successful content is to always remember who the audience for your content really is. It helps to have done research or some kind of audience analysis to make sure you’re clear about who will consume your content and ensure you know what they’re interested in learning. This is also true if you’re creating content that is primarily focused on storytelling: What elements will entice your target audience to engage with the story you’ve created? What will make it compelling enough for them to continue?

Effective web content is as clear and concise as possible, consistent with your institutional brand and accessible to all visitors to your site, including those with various disabilities. The presentation of digital content should be optimized for all reasonable consumption situations: tablets, smartphones, non-smartphones and other mobile devices, different modern browser brands and versions, and various connectivity speeds.

It’s also important to have a clear idea of what you want to accomplish. Are you developing content that will lead people through a process, such as an application, or are you informing them about something that will lead to an action such as sharing contact information or requesting something from you?

This will help you decide what you want to measure. For example, if you’re measuring an academic program page for prospective students, you might look at page visits and completion of a request for information. However, if you’re writing a page for current students about what tutoring services are available to them, you might track and measure whether people are using a sign-up button.

Having those steps in mind is invaluable as you create your content — but it’s essential in determining whether your content is successful or whether you need to tweak or revise it. How do you know if it’s working?

Therein lies another key understanding about creating effective content: You don’t create content once and move on. To get the best results, you assess how effective your content is and then revise it based on how it’s performing.

Analytics Tools

If you’ve explored web analytics to any extent, you probably know that today’s analytics tools offer many ways for you to measure what’s happening on your website. And that can be a problem: You don’t need to know most of the things you might be able to learn. Not that some of this information isn’t valuable, but it can distract you from what’s really important.

That’s why keeping some larger goals in mind is essential. You need to see how your content pages are performing so you can make them as effective as possible. But you also need to be aware of how those pages fit into larger patterns of use of your site. In the big picture, it matters where people enter your site; what pages they interact with while they’re there; and where they go and what they do after they interact with them.

Many of our clients use Google Analytics for their websites. Google Analytics 4 changes how conversions are created, making them more flexible and oriented toward reporting, and it’s now the tool we recommend.

Here are some of the settings we’ve found valuable in considering how to measure whether web pages are performing successfully:

  • Page visits and unique visits are two of the most common ways of measuring how successful content is. Both can tell you a lot about your content, about how your site is organized, and about how your on-site search is working (or maybe not working). 
  • Time on page is loosely correlated to engagement. But be careful about overinterpreting it. For example, if you want to see how a story is performing, a longer time on page probably indicates that people are spending time absorbing it. But if people are spending a long time on a process page — “How to apply,” for example — it might indicate that you need to explore how to make this content clearer. Then you’ll want to see what people are doing after they interact with that content. Are they visiting an FAQ page? Do they contact someone in admission with questions? That helps you complete the picture.
  • For years, bounce rate was an important measurement of how effective content on a web page was. Essentially, a “bounce” occurs when people visit your page and leave your site apparently without interacting with the content on the page. If that happens repeatedly, it could indicate that you have a problem with the content on that page. Or it could mean that you’ve been successful if the page lists faculty office hours or the hours when the dining hall serves dinner. Google Analytics 4 now considers conversion rate rather than bounce rate, which is a much clearer indicator of success than bounce rate: It helps you follow the path someone takes across your site and focuses on what really matters — the larger actions people take as a result of what they’ve learned from your web content. This could mean that your reporting focuses on submission of inquiry forms or requests for visits as a goal rather than page views. Results are what you’re after.
  • Exit rate, which is defined as a visitor leaving a site from a particular page, is often confused with bounce rate. Google defines exit rate as the percentage of visits that were the last in the session, whereas bounce rate is the percentage of visits that were the only visits of the session. Suppose a visitor lands on your home page, then goes to your program pages, visits a specific program, and then leaves your site. That’s bound to happen; not every program is going to meet the needs of everyone who views it. But if you see this happening on a single program page — giving that page a high exit rate — you need to do some troubleshooting.

Additional Metrics to Consider

There are a few other key metrics you might want to pay attention to as you consider how to assess how effective your content is.

  • Entrances, or entrance points, are the pages through which people enter your website. You’ll want to identify the top-performing entrance pages on your site (and have a sense of where people come from just before they visit that page). The goal for entrance pages is usually to provide clear pathways for visitors to find what they need deeper in your site, so knowing what people do once they reach an entrance page is essential.
  • Every entrance to a website has a source, and it’s very important to know where your traffic comes from. Is it from organic searches on Google or another search engine? Is it from an ad you placed with a prospective student search service? Is it from a social media campaign? This information can help link those external sources to your initiatives and measure how successful they are.

How Measurement Comes Together

What does sophisticated and integrated, sitewide analytics look like? A view into the data you need to determine how successful your content is at achieving real results? Here are some key items to consider tracking:

  • Inquiries: traffic to inquiry forms and submissions for admissions and enrollment.
  • Program pages: entrances to program pages, how long visitors engage with content on these pages, and where they go and what they do when they exit.
  • Campaigns: how successful various campaigns are at attracting visitors to the site, how long they engage with content created for them, and how they convert once they’ve interacted with this content.
  • Interactions: how visitors interact with stories and videos and other longer-form content and whether this content yields meaningful actions or interactions (e.g., information requests, visits, applications, or gifts).

Reviewing Your Results

In general, we recommend that your team touches every page in your site at least once a year. We know—at some institutions, that’s a large number of pages to review. And it’s also a reminder to think carefully about adding new content to your site.

In general, you should consider exploring your admissions and recruitment-focused content more frequently. Why? Simply because the number one goal for most of our clients is student recruitment. In general, we recommend tying your page reviews to the academic calendars. For example, look at your current student content before students are back on campus and starting to engage with these services again. Look at donor content twice a year: in spring during reunions, Giving Days, and similar events; and at the end of the year, when people are being reminded to give before taxes are due.

You often have the opportunity to make a big impact with relatively small refinements, so explore key pages such as academic programs pages regularly. And if you’re making a big investment in creating video for your site, you definitely want to know whether people are engaging with the video — the traffic to those pages could be a cue to dial up your video production, or perhaps prune it or redesign the pages where the video appears. This can help answer the question of what kind of content you should put your energy and resources into.

We’ve fostered a mantra of process vs. project at mStoner. The goal is to help our clients move away from big website redesign projects every five to seven years and toward an operating model in which we implement smaller, incremental changes on an ongoing basis.


  • Shannon Lanus Director of Content Strategy and Services As Director of Content Strategy and Services, Shannon Lanus works to make sure great content and amazing design co-exist in every mStoner project. She crafts persuasive digital stories for our clients that are informed by their business goals as well as mStoner’s market research and effective audience engagement methods.