Measuring Content Marketing ROI: Why trust is the #1 metric

I’ll begin this article with a premise.

Contentmarketing is about brand. Brand is about trust. Trust is the amplifier ofconversions.

If you’re a math nerd:

CM =Brand = Trust = Conversions

Therefore, I don't care very much about directsales as a result of content marketing. What I care about is building trust.Trust in your brand is the secretsauce to driving traffic, capturing leads, and boosting conversions.

But don’t take my word for it. There’s data!

According to a recent analysis of over 3,000websites by ProfitWell, “Customer acquisition costs (CAC) areup across the board, but content CAC is roughly 15% less than paid CAC,suggesting some efficiency when it comes to an inbound marketing strategy.”

Also, “47% of buyers still view 3 to 5 piecesof content before engaging with a sales representative, companies with blogstend to get 67% more leads than those who don’t have a blog, and inboundmarketing close rates are still 8 to 10 times higher compared to those ofoutbound efforts.”

In short, content marketing works, and it’s cheaper than paid customeracquisition.

But not allcontent works. Some content simply sucks. And while we know it when we seeother people’s shitty content, we usually have blinders on when it comes to ourcontent. So how do we know if something is performing?

What should we measure?

Marketers like to talk about a lot of thingsas if they are gospel. For example, years ago we were obsessed (I mean reallyobsessed) with traffic. And that over-valuation of traffic led directly to thedot com bubble in the late 90s.

People were like, "we've got 2M visitsper month, give us $100M!" And of course, we know what happened next.

That little snafu gave rise to the notion thattraffic is a vanity metric, and that its measurement is frivolous.

It gets worse. Over the years we’ve relegated many other metrics to the vanity bin. Likes, shares, and clicks are only a few. We’ve done this to such a degree that now everything is a vanity metric save for one all-important metric: the sale.

But this is wrong!

The sales-only mentality is what leads Big Pharma bros to jack up the price of cancer pills 560%. It’s what caused the downfall of Enron and the for-profit prison system in the United States. It’s what might cause Facebook to disintegrate under increasing government scrutiny.

Sales alone are not the answer.

Think about it like this: would you do anything to increase sales for yourstore? Of course not. There are some things you just won’t do because theydon’t align with your values or they make you feel gross.

Which means that we all know other metricsmatter. Things like shares and likes and traffic and time on site matterbecause they show us that our audience cares about what we’re doing and what westand for.

So, with that soapbox out of the way, I hopewe can agree that, when it comes to content marketing, sales aren't what we'reafter. What we're after is trust because it's the amplifier of conversions (AKAsales). What we're after are measurements of trust.

And they are:

  • Audience Size
  • Social Engagement
  • Shares
  • Traffic
  • Organic Traffic
  • Pages per Visitor
  • Time on Site
  • Leads
  • Compliments

The metrics above are listed from leastimportant to most important. And the only rule of thumb is: they should begoing up over time. Seriously, that’s it.

You might be wondering why something like acompliment would be more critical than a lead? The answer is simple.

It takes a hell of a lot more effort to writesomebody an email to compliment them on an article they wrote or a video theyposted than it does to type your email into a subscription form.

And what does it mean when somebody puts in more effort to do something that mostlybenefits us? It means they trust us.

Now, I know the math nerds are freaking outhere because I haven’t thrown any numbers around for a while. That’s why I madethis handy chart. It allows you to assign points to each one of the metricsabove. We’ll call them trust points.

 Activity    Trust points earned    Audience Size (Follow or Page Like)    1    Social Engagement    2    Shares    3    Traffic    5    Organic Traffic    8    Pages per Visitor    13    Time on Site (per minute)    21    Leads    34    Compliments    55  

The math nerds will know that the points in the table above follow the Fibonacci Sequence. There's no real reason for that, other than I really want the math nerds to like this, so I'm throwing them a bone.

Also, the chart doesn't really make that much sense. Hey, it's a work in progress. Okay?

The real point is to show that the moreimportant the metric, the more points it’s worth disproportionate to theincrement in effort taken by the audience member.

What does this mean?

It means that followers are essential(obviously), but getting some love from your fans via email means so much more.

Think about it like this: are you more likelyto buy from a brand you merely follow on Instagram or one on whose account youcomment and to who you occasionally send some DM daps?

I’m betting on the latter.

How should we measure thesethings?

I’ve used a myriad of tools to measure how mycontent is performing and what I’ve learned over the years is that if you learnthe basic tools well, then you don’t need to buy the fancy and expensivesoftware. The most notable ones I’ve used (paid and unpaid) are :

  • Google Analytics (free)
  • Mixpanel (free & paid)
  • Hotjar (free & paid)
  • Native social media analyticstools (free)

GoogleAnalytics (GA)

You're probably already using GA as a Shopifyentrepreneur. In fact, you probably already have events set up in your GAaccount to track ad conversions. If that's you, awesome because you probablyalready know enough to skip this section. However, if that's not you, continue.

I'm not an expert at Google Analytics, butover the years I've learned how to isolate specific traffic to understand somebasic questions. The GA experts out there will probably find a lot of morestraightforward ways to do what I'm doing, but here are a few examples.

Example #1: Organic Traffic Growth

If I want to know if my organic traffic isincreasing over time, I simply:

  • go to GA’s Acquisition tab,
  • Click on Overview
  • Click on Organic Search
  • set my date range back six months,starting at the beginning of a week and ending at the end of the most recentweek (this is important so that you don’t have incomplete data in your linechart).

Then I get something like this:

What I want to see is an average increase weekover week. It looks like that’s been happening in the screenshot above, butthat the site’s organic traffic is in decline for the last month or two. Imight use this information to justify writing a few more guest posts orchanging up my content strategy a bit.

Example #2: Blog Time on Site vs. Homepage Time on Site

If I'm interested in knowing how long userswho land on my blog stay on the site vs. how long users who come to the homepage, here's what I'll do:

  • Click the Behavior tab
  • Click the Landing Page tab
  • Click on “/” and get the AverageSession Duration
  • Then go back to the Landing Pagetab with all results
  • Create an advanced search with“contains /blog/” and get the Average Session Duration from there

I see that my blog has a much lower AverageSession Duration than the home page, but that the top performing blog postshave a much higher Average SessionDuration than the home page. That probably means I have to do some bettertargeting and copy for my future social media promotion for articles.


Mixpanel is a tool that allows you to trackuser behavior on your site as well as in applications.

At first glance, Mixpanel may seem verysimilar to Google Analytics. However, there are some key differences:

  • Mixpanel can de-anonymize userdata so you can see how individual users interact with your site
  • Mixpanel tracking is in real-time(GA has limited real-time data)
  • Mixpanel is better at trackingusers through various experiences such as website to app and to other devices

What's more, many people may find the views,reports, and user interface a lot more appealing in Mixpanel. Personally, Ifind it a lot easier to use than GA.


As if we haven’t become creepy enough, Hotjarallows us to get even creepier. Hotjar’s main features are:

  • User heatmaps
  • click tracking
  • scroll tracking
  • Recorded user sessions!

It gives me the shivers, but it can be a UXdesigner's dream come true to know precisely how individual and aggregate usersare interacting with your ecommerce site.

With the free version of Hotjar, you can getdata based on up to 300 user sessions. You can even review the footage ofindividually recorded user sessions to see where people get stuck.

NativeSocial Media Analytics Tools

Most social media platforms have decent built-in analytics. These are great for measuring post engagement, impressions (not that important), and shares. I try to look for patterns in posts that perform well and those that don’t.

For example, I may see that certain types ofimages perform better than others (e.g., those with striking colors or photoswith a lot of depth). I might also notice that using a specific tone in thecopy changes engagement, as well as explaining what's contained in an articleinstead of just announcing the title of the article.

Numerous things can affect your social media performance. The best way I know to discover the patterns is by producing a higher volume of content and by testing different versions of virtually the same content, but with different copy or a different image, etc.

There’s not much more to say here than that you ought to learn these native tools.


Obviously, I'm not a CRO expert. I'm nottrying to be. My only goal as a content marketer is to build trust with ourtarget audience.

Since we started investing in content marketing at about six months ago, we’ve received many emails thanking us for the valuable content we put out and ultimately asking us for advice on content marketing. We’ve also built many new and incredibly valuable relationships with industry influencers and Shopify entrepreneurs.

But more importantly, while it took 46 months to go from zero to 10k customers, it took us less than 4 months to go from 10k to 15k customers, which we hit on March 15, 2019.

We can’t attribute that growth to content marketing, of course. It's too new. Much of that growth came from the brand and reputation that has already established over the last few years.

But we know our content marketing efforts are massively contributing to our brand, and that a more trustworthy brand has a massive impact on our bottom line. After all, our business is all about trust (reviews).

So, imagine what you could pull off if you didthe same for your audience.

Especially if you’re just starting out, stopworrying about CRO when it comes to content marketing. Focus on building trustinstead.

Ryan Chatterton Editor, Content Strategist, Digital Nomad, Coworking Influencer, Lover of Wine & Tacos