Stop your content performance KPIs from ruining your content

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Andrew London

17. 11. 2020 | 4 min read

Stop your content performance KPIs from ruining your content

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Content performance KPIs were created for one purpose: to measure how well great content performs. Because as the saying goes: If a tree falls in the woods and no one measures the audio output, did it make a sound? 

If you’re in content marketing (and I’m presuming you are) you’re in the market of trying to fell big trees and make big sounds. So it’s understandable that you’d want to measure how big the sound is you’re making. 

You know, so you can make a bigger one next time. Or show your CEO at the next QBR the ROI of felling trees (and acronyms). 

But there’s an issue with measuring performance. It can (but doesn’t have to) hinder performance. And is most likely to do so at the exact moment performance needs to be its most exceptional. Bummer, right? Let’s talk about why, and how to stop it.

Where content performance KPIs are great

It’s unlikely that every piece of content you make is going to be an award-winning, home-run of a piece. But it doesn’t need to be. There’s plenty of room for those blog posts and product pages and social copy that just keep things ticking along. Keep those reporting dashboards pointing up.

It’s similar to how successful investment funds work. Every fund will be made of a mix of risky and safe investments. The safe investments will be the majority of the fund and will perform (hopefully) a little over average so you get marginal gains. 

Sidenote: let’s not undervalue marginal gains. The aggregation of marginal gains means something as small as a one percent increase every day means you end the year 37 times better. Get a content performance KPI on that. Stat.

Then a small amount of the fund will be dedicated to risky, potentially off-the-wall investments.

And because they’re high-risk, high-return, they end up making astonishing amounts of money. They’re order-of-magnitude better bets. 

Any fans of Antifragile will already be mumbling “Seneca’s Barbell” to themselves. And yeah, it’s that. These risky bets could (and occasionally will) fail, but because they’re only a tiny part of the fund, it’s not a big deal. And the times they pay off, they pay off.

That’s kinda what you should be going for with your content. 

The vast majority of your content will be the things that little by little improve your SERP rankings for keyword clusters, drive up your organic traffic, point audiences in the direction of your big ticket items. So your killer content gets the airtime it deserves. 

But you have to actually make that order-of-magnitude content. Take the risks. Swing for the home-run. And this is where we potentially run into trouble. 

Now, before you think this is one writer railing against KPIs, first of all, that’s not what this is. And secondly, this is how we, Velocity, including one of the best content performance teams going, think about these things:

“I’m Neil Stoneman, head of content performance at Velocity and I approve this message.”

See? Now let’s look at the issues.

Where content performance KPIs can cause problems

There’s a famous phenomenon in sports called “paralysis by analysis” which is used when otherwise brilliant sportspeople choke. They become filled with anxiety, and start consciously observing and trying to control the unconscious parts of their game. 

And they fumble the ball. 

A similar thing happens in content creation. Those big-ticket items, the order-of-magnitude bets come from a place of creativity and bravery. They come from the deep, dark, slightly sticky unconscious minds of brilliant marketers. 

Now, if you try to create this type of content without a clear agreement that this type of creative thinking is actually part of performance marketing (not distinct from it), you tie yourself in knots, thinking about KPIs and year-on-year traffic and there’s only one outcome: a fumbled ball. 

You’ll end up with something that best case scenario is inoffensive, worst case scenario utterly ineffectual and a waste of money, time and effort. And ironically, you’ll end up with something that isn’t good for SEO. 

A lot of content teams have doubled down on SEO efforts, ploughing all their energy into structure and optimisation, forgetting that the other side of the coin is backlinking. Which only happens when content is so bloody good that people, you know, link to it.

Now, from this point, you’ve got two options. 

  • Option one: you eschew content performance KPIs forever to live in your creative idyll of limitless possibility, no success metrics, no marketing budget and no promotions.
  • Option two: you figure out a way to make space in your process for unconscious, creative thinking. 

Joining up left and right brain

Clearly, option two is the way to go. 

And the good news? The way to get to that place of equilibrium, balancing the creative and the analytical, is simpler than you might think. 

We’ve put together a big-ticket, creative presentation (don’t worry, it’ll only take you a couple of minutes to read) to share with you a method I’ve discovered that gets you there. Oh yeah, and we’ve embedded it in this very optimised, super KPI-friendly blog. Because we eat our own dog food.


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  • content performance KPIs

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  1. Soumya Roy

    January 19th, 2021

    Much like everything, measuring performance is good but, you are right; overdoing and over-relying on it may kill the potentials. We faced similar results for one of our clients who was way more data-oriented and never valued the marginal benefits, as you mentioned. In a nutshell, value the quality more than numbers or, at least, somewhat balance it to acquire the optimum results.

  2. James Maxwell


    April 29th, 2021

    This is actually insightful, thank you for sharing.

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