Do you know what vanity metrics and analytics are?
Have you ever opened up a tracking program (like Google Analytics or Fathom or Clicky) and stared at all the data – unsure what is the most important?
If your answer is anything even vaguely related to “Hell to the frickin’ yes!”, then you are not alone.
These days, you can find metrics and statistics to validate or invalidate anything.
Thanks to the world of 24-hour news cycles and 10-year-overnight successes and 40 Under 40 lists, we come to believe that we should value certain number values – especially as they pertain to our writing and content.
How many views did a piece get? How many shares? Did it go viral anywhere? Did it make any best-seller lists? What podcasts did it land you?
It’s easy to get lost in the swirling vortex of all that information, and end up chasing the wrong goals.
This is why those metrics are called vanity metrics!
They make you feel better, because they signal to you that you are doing something right and maybe even exceptionally. But really, they can sometimes be vapid and superficial preening in front of an online mirror; they only matter because you think they matter.
But are they really reflecting what is important?
Such is the struggle I go through at the end of each year, as I look through all the articles and content that we published on Craft Your Content in the prior 12 months. This isn’t just to wax poetic on the wins and losses of 2020, it is to understand what happened, so I can make a plan for 2021.
It is easy to get caught up in the vortex of data and analytics that are available in any of the tracking dashboards.
There are 500+ metrics that are available in Google Analytics, for example.
That means there are 500+ rabbit holes to tumble into when you are trying to figure out how effective your content is.
If you make your money from ads, then Page Views are a number that you want to share with potential advertisers. If you are an influencer, then folks will want to know how many Site Visitors you get in a given period of time. If you are selling your own eCommerce, then Clicks and Conversions are what you want to be paying attention to.
And that barely scratches the surface!
The point is, before we get into how I measured and decided on CYC’s Top 10 Posts of 2020, it is important that you spend some time considering what your real goal for your content is.
To get a good start, if you’ve never really thought about it before, consider:
(Reminder: Before I get into all of this, CYC is now open for submissions for 2021!)
Lots of marketers will tell you that the most important thing you can do for your content marketing is sharing it.
And that is sort of true.
If you aren’t telling people what you’ve written and where they can find it, who is to say they ever will? It isn’t a sin to promote your work.
The thing most of those marketers won’t tell you, though, is that it is so much easier to market great writing.
Put as much effort into creating the content as you put into marketing it, and that’s when you start seeing the huge returns.
So back to the metrics I’m specifically measuring on CYC…
This year, I chose to drill down on one particular metric in our analytics dashboard: Time on Page.
Time on Page is very much what it sounds like : the time a user spends actively on a webpage of your website. From the moment they click onto it to the moment they click away from it, how much time did they spend reading and observing what you’ve put on that particular page URL.
It all goes back to my original question: “What’s your real goal?”
For the articles we are publishing, I want to see pieces that are holding a reader’s attention. I want to see them well above the average read-time for the website. I don’t want huge page views and abysmal read times – those are pieces that sound interesting, but didn’t end up fulfilling their promise.
They aren’t doing anything to reinforce CYC’s core value of quality and excellence.
With that said, and as I promised when I announced that CYC was open for submissions again, I now present to you … drumroll, please … ????????????
This list is based primarily on the Time on Page metric I previously explained, and secondarily sorted by Page Views (if Time on Page was an exact match.) Additionally, I only track the first 30 days after a piece was published. If a piece is popular beyond its first 30 days of publication, I consider it to be more evergreen content.
Of course there are different variables to look at within this set of metrics and measurement as well.
Some were written and promoted when we had a dedicated social media and marketing position, some were left to the sad second-thought availability of my own schedule. Some were longer than others (and, big duh here, a longer article takes longer to read!) Some really engaged readers, but didn’t bring a lot of traffic.
Compare that with our Top 3 page view pieces of 2020, which had fairly average read times:
A list like this makes me take a second look at the pieces to see why they might have been popular for clicking, but not for staying on the page to read through. I consider things like Dana’s awesome and compelling title that likely brought through folks who were intrigued and eager to see what she had to say (and then a super optimized and scannable article.)
Or the fact that pieces I write on CYC tend to have high sharing numbers by the mere fact that I have an established platform and personal audience.
It’s something for my team and I to work on in 2021; to make sure that pieces that have high marketability also fulfill their promise of high quality.
And vice versa. If we have great content that is being devoured on site, we need to step up the marketing efforts on those pieces, to push them into evergreen status.
It’s a lot to take in, huh? But as you can see in that “to work on in 2021”, if you take the time to dig into some of these metrics and analytics with an intentional plan to focus on what your real goal is, then you can start to see the places you want to work on improving in the upcoming months (or year!)
Before you reset your entire system for creating content and writing articles, let me remind you: metrics are vanity metrics unless they are serving the voice and vision you have for your craft.
For CYC, I want pieces that people love to read and find value in. It would be great if these pieces helped to convert readers to customers. It would be fantastic if they were shared wildly and with abandon.
But those are all different metrics groups, and need to be measured and analyzed accordingly.
Before you start drafting your content for this new year, I’d urge you to stop and simply consider what voice and vision you want to see in your craft.
Get down to that very fundamental basic foundation, and then you can start figuring out what metrics to measure. Apply the measurements to prior work, to see what you can learn about what you should (or shouldn’t!) be doing. Find the pieces that need more editing love, or perhaps a bit more sharing love.
Spend January getting right with your analytics and goals, so that the rest of 2021 is fulfilling your greatest writing purpose.
Not sure what your voice and vision are? Don’t worry! We’ve got a free email course that will walk you through how to get right with that part before you start getting right with your deities and analytics!
Elisa Doucette is a writer and editor who works with professional writers, entrepreneurs, and brands that want to make their own words even better. She is the Founder of Craft Your Content, and oversees Client Strategy and Writing Coaching. Her own writing has been featured in places like Forbes, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Yahoo! Small Business, and The Huffington Post, among others. She also hosts the Writers' Rough Drafts podcast here on CYC. When she isn't writing, editing, or reading words, she can usually be found at a local pub quiz, deep in a sun salutation, or binging TV shows for concept ideas and laughs.