Eric Wendt

The saying goes: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

You’d be forgiven for wondering if the person behind this quote was commenting on performance metrics and content marketing.

At the end of the day, no matter how pleased you are with a piece of content, it’s essential to measure its effectiveness. Even the prettiest picture or wittiest turn of phrase is worthless if it’s not driving conversions.

Thankfully, modern content marketers have a host of tools at their disposal to evaluate their content marketing efforts in an attempt to replicate what works and adjust what doesn’t.

But just how can you use past article performance to improve your content? The answer is weighing both external and internal performance metrics.

Past article performance metrics lead to a brighter content strategy.

The impression that you make

Start with your search presence.

“Look at all of your impressions and clicks and your click-through rate,” said Jeff Baker, Director of Digital Marketing Strategy at Brafton. “I would start by looking at how often your content is being seen, and how often it’s being clicked on. If you’ve got a high click-through rate, it’s safe to assume the headline and topic are pretty enticing. On the flip side, if you have something that’s being seen a lot but not being clicked on, it’s probably a good indicator that your title sucks or people aren’t enthused about clicking on it for whatever reason.”

From there, it’s a matter of sniffing out patterns.

“Evaluating things from a trend standpoint, I would look through the articles with high click-through rates and see if there’s a theme behind that – the phrasing, how the content is arranged, if there are certain keywords you’re using,” Jeff continued.

Remember, tools like Search Console make it easy to capture impressions, clicks and your average position on Google search engine results pages. With this external data in hand, you can move on to metrics closer to home.

“If something’s being seen a lot but not being clicked on, it’s probably a good indicator that your title sucks.”

Take a seat, stay a while

Getting clicks is only half the story. Now it’s time to examine performance metrics as they relate to how visitors behave once they land on your website.

Metrics concerning bounce rate, time on site and conversions will provide insight into how visitors interact with your content, and whether your current strategy is getting the job done.

Of course, it’s important not to let certain numbers skew your perspective. We’ve written before about how a blog will increase your site’s bounce rate, which in turn will drag down your average time on site.

Blog content is extremely top of funnel, meaning it exists to grow awareness of your brand. The people clicking on it are not necessarily in the market to make a purchase. What they are in the market for is valuable, relevant content related to their search queries.

You can program Google Analytics to disregard certain actions as bounces if a visitor stays on your blog post for a predetermined amount of time. After all, just because someone doesn’t click to another page on your site doesn’t mean your content is in trouble.

However, if people are landing on your website’s core landing pages and clicking away in droves, it may be an indicator that something is wrong. Whether it’s poor content, bad UX or slow loading times, these performance metrics should drive updates on your part.

“Look through articles with high click-through rates and see if there’s a theme.”

Putting the past to work

Once you have an accurate picture of your performance metrics, you can determine why some content is working and some isn’t. Be sure to understand how both external and internal performance impact each other.

A certain keyword strategy may give you a big boost in terms of impressions and help garner clicks. However, if your content does not serve searcher intent, you’ll find visitors leaving your site in record time. On the other hand, perhaps your content is engaging and leads to conversions, but this won’t count for much if your average position in Google searches leaves you stranded on the second page and generates little traffic.

Also be sure to evaluate how you’re leading visitors along the sales funnel. Blog posts may be at the tippity top, but that doesn’t mean you can’t bring readers further along with well-placed calls to action.

It’s also important not to confuse correlation with causation, or assume you understand why certain articles are performing well without a deep dive into your metrics.

“Some articles will rank very well for no reason; they’re just at the perfect time and place,” Jeff said. “There’s no trend behind it. Chance and luck made the article rank high. You get really tempted when looking at web analytics to follow a preconceived notion in your head when that may not be the case. Put your opinions aside, and try not to bend the numbers you’re finding to fit your story.”

Keep in mind that while you should certainly let past successes influence future content production, do not be afraid to provide high-quality content that is not based solely on numbers. Some content just needs to be created, keyword rankings be damned.

In the end, your job is to serve your visitors, not a search engine algorithm. If you’re producing high-quality content that provides value to website visitors, your foundation is strong. The rest is window dressing.