For those of you in marketing, you’ve no doubt seen the deluge of ideas, opinions, tips, strategies and advice for content marketing. Content marketing works as a way to increase leads, trust and sales (in roughly that order). What’s needed in our attention-deficit world is just that: attention and patience—and engagement.

Recent research from the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs shows that 86% of business-to-business (B2B) respondents are using content marketing, but only 38% consider themselves effective. The ancient (in Internet years) “blog” is the basis for many content marketing efforts. HubSpot, a marketing automation company, research shows that an increase in blogging frequency leads to an increase in leads and return on investment (ROI)–companies that focus on blogging experience 13 times the ROI of those that don’t. So, more content leads to more search engine optimization (SEO) that leads to your company being found more frequently, which leads to more leads–if your content is useful for your audience.

Content marketing works. It just doesn’t work overnight. Impatience and confusion around how to measure the impact of content marketing are two reasons only 38% consider themselves effective.

So, what do you measure then? Engagement and trust—these two are tied together, and I’m not sure if the chicken or the egg comes first—can lead to sales. “Engagement” is everywhere and ill-defined, because there isn’t an exact definition, sorry. It’s the content part of content marketing that creates the engagement opportunity with your customers/potential customers. Increasing brand awareness and leads are numbers one and two for content marketing goals. A close number three, at 81%, is to increase engagement. Engagement is a great word to use in a meeting. Throw it out there and heads will nod sagely, “Yes, absolutely. We must increase engagement.”

The Economist says it perfectly, “An engaged customer is one who sticks around” and that buys what you sell.

Engagement carries connotations of attachment and/or commitment (and relationship). How do you measure this online? A Facebook or LinkedIn “like?” That’s a nice vanity stat (who doesn’t like to be “liked”), but does it mean anything? The effort required to hover and click “like” is so minimal as to be nearly effortless.

Online measures often focus on attention, web traffic and leads, for example. They’re important but are just raw numbers. Engagement implies a level of participation. Plus, a laser focus on the bottom line–and getting more leads—can actually make your content marketing efforts weaker and can lead to impatience and a return to selling rather than educating with content, undercutting the trust and audience engagement you want to build.

A few more valuable metrics that indicate engagement with your content are time on site, time on page, number of pages visited, inbound links and return visits, which are more reliable indicators of an engaged audience than a bunch of likes–or thousands of visitors who never return. Number of comments is another good metric, as is number of social shares (though people often share without reading, so take this one with a grain of salt).

Metrics for engagement should focus on retention, renewals and repeat purchases and identifying the content that contributes to those three things. The Economist says it perfectly, “An engaged customer is one who sticks around” and that buys what you sell.

What’s a simple way to engage with your audience? Email. Contently makes an astute observation about why content marketing and thinking like a publisher are relevant for brands: “They [brands] realize that if they own the relationship, they can eventually speak to the audience much more often and for less money than if they have to pay to play [buy an ad] every time.” What’s one way to measure this level of “ownership” and engagement? Email subscribers.

MarketingSherpa research shows that 72% of people prefer to communicate with companies via email. Combine useful, trusted content with the basic personalization of simply using someone’s name in an email, and you’ve got a perfect way to begin engaging with your customers. Of course, don’t forget to “engage” (you know, talk) to your customers on all of your social channels–that’s engagement too.

As Captain Picard would say as the Enterprise embarked on another adventure, “Engage.”

Bryant Duhon is the content conductor for Prospect Builder, a marketing agency dedicated to exceeding the inbound needs of the dealer community. He was a longtime editor, community manager and marketer at AIIM. Contact him at or visit

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