The ROI of content hubs

Measuring the results of content marketing's big kahuna is an art and a science.

BY Kim Caviness
EVP, Chief Content Officer, Imagination

We’ve been on an epic content hub quest here at Imagination. Our mission: make the definitive case for why the content hub is the king of content marketing formats.

So far, we’ve explored the nine reasons why the content hub is an essential strategy for thought leadership; how to tell if a hub is right for your brand (with a handy checklist); and the design do’s and don’ts of hubs that deliver.

And now, in this final part of the series, we end, as all things must in content marketing: measurement.

(Side note. For those of you just now joining us and not quite sure what a content hub is, here’s the quick hit: A content hub is a one-stop-shop digital experience built to house and leverage all content—no matter the format, channel or platform—created by a brand to showcase expertise and inspire its audience to deliver its business goals in measurable ways. Done right, a content hub is more substantial than a blog, more focused than a website, and pretty much the perfect content medium to deliver on all your business objectives while still catering to your audiences. While a blog prioritizes time—since content is published in order of date—and a website prioritizes navigation, a content hub prioritizes relevance. And now … back to our regular programming.)

This whole content hub thing sounds pretty great, you might be thinking. But to convince the corner office it’s worth the investment, you need proof that content hubs work. We feel you.

Here’s the best part: Content hubs are a dream to measure. Because a content hub’s got depth. It’s got breadth. It’s got flex. And it’s got data. Tons of data.

Here’s the hard part: There’s so much data, it can be easy to drown in it if you don’t know what to measure. Which KPIs you pick to prove your ROI has everything to do with the particulars of your content hub, business goals and audience.

Ready? Let’s get started.

The FYI on KPIs

To decode the art and science of data and content hubs, I sat down with Kyle Olson, Imagination's former VP, digital marketing and analytics.

Which KPIs do you track for content hubs? Like all data-driven marketers worth their salt, Olson answers: “It depends.” He goes on to outline his five rules for determining content hub measurement priorities.

Rule 1: Define What ‘Working’ Means for You

What do you want your content hub to do? That’s question No. 1. Always. “Because all content hubs aren’t built for one purpose, understanding why your content hub really exists is so important,” Olson says.

Define before you data mine. Or you’ll measure the wrong thing, wasting everyone’s time and effort.

Pro tip: The definition of “working” can evolve over time—and that’s OK, says Olson. “We see it with several of our clients who originally say, ‘We want to do content marketing because we want more leads.’ Sure, a hub is a great driver of that. But over time, they might realize the value of a return visitor that doesn’t take an action also plays a role in converting.” It’s fine to keep your goals agile and adjust as you go, but first things first: Commit from the get-go to defining your hub’s reason for existence, and measure for that.

Define before you data mine. Or you’ll measure the wrong thing, wasting everyone’s time and effort.


Rule 2: ID Your Purpose and Pathways

Next, chart your two P’s: purpose and pathways. Define and declare on your hub why you exist, where you want visitors to go and what you want them to do next once they arrive at your content hub.

Let’s start with purpose: There has to be purpose coursing through your hub’s design, navigation and every content experience on it. Does your content hub exist to purposely answer questions your desired audience (not the one you might be accidentally attracting) is already asking? If you didn’t promote your hub with paid efforts, would visitors come anyway?

“We can check [the power of your] purpose by tracking organic search and organic traffic to you,” says Olson. Success is when “people are finding you naturally. They’re searching for keywords that exist on your website and are associated with your website from a Google standpoint, and they’re finding your content as the solution to that search query.”

Pro tip: Make sure you state your purpose prominently on your content hub, either right at the top of your global header on every page or home page as well as in your About section. It’s good for search as well as UX.

On to pathways. How will your content hub guide visitors from experience to experience in the right way for them—and for you? “Pathways on your hub need to exist for people … if you want continued conversations,” says Olson. You want to be able to “tie, at the right time, products to ideas and to needs.”

“If you have a hub that either exists on your domain or off your domain, providing connectors from your brand properties back to it is really important. I don’t think companies do that enough with content hubs. They see it as a thing that lives over here, but they aren’t connecting those conversations from other brand sites.”

Pro tip: “UX comes into play here,” Olson says, “heat mapping, understanding where they’re clicking, how they’re clicking as an individual user, as a persona. Those are really important for content hub success.”

Rule 3: Benchmark

We’re almost ready to set KPIs, I promise. But before we do that, we need to pause for Rule 3: Set benchmarks, tailored to your two P’s. Otherwise, the numbers mean little and can’t confidently inform the way forward.

“If you aren’t measuring against something, you’re just sort of afloat in the ocean, allowing the waves to take you, allowing the visitors to dictate success, versus saying, ‘I have a hypothesis about how many leads I’m going to get from content,’” says Olson.

Start by looking at your aspirational competitive set or your own relevant previous efforts to inform your targets. “Use the environment of the industry, of previous websites or previous parts of your website that are content driven to understand benchmarks,” he says.

Pro tip: “There are tools, like SEMRush, SimilarWeb and Alexa, that can help you see how your traffic trends stack up to your competitors,” Olson says. Once you have a handle on that, you can “use your own data on top of that to understand benchmarks and goals.”

ferris wheel

Rule 4: Funnel Your Strategy

The best content hubs offer value at every stage of the funnel: awareness, engagement and conversion, and their younger sibling: loyalty/advocacy. Ask yourself: Which part of the funnel is most important to the business goals of your content program (not the brand itself)? For which audience segment(s)? And then calibrate your content journey mapping and metrics accordingly.

“The best-in-market content hubs fulfill multiple needs at the same time but also don’t try to do that with every visitor,” Olson says.

“So they understand, for example, that you are a return visitor. They give you a different environment. They give you different content. They customize the experience.”

Note that Olson says customize, not personalize. That’s because “personalization is very tough from a content hub perspective because there are so many variables,” he explains. “There are so many people visiting that trying to design it for every single person is going to be difficult.” Customizing to a group of targeted audiences? “That’s more achievable.”

Pro tip: Mind your middle. “The content hub really should be designed for the middle funnel,” says Olson, “that nurturing stage through thought leadership, through content conversations. That’s really where [most hubs] should be showing success and value—not just leads.”

Instead, says Olson, “It’s where we see a lot of content hubs failing.”

Content-hubbers, make sure you have enough gotta-consume mid-funnel content to bring back your desired audience again and again. Because the road to conversion is paved through the middle.

Rule 5: Set Your ROI KPIs

You’ve defined what “working” means to you and determined your purpose and pathways, benchmarks and funnel priorities. Congratulations! You’re ready to select your strategic KPI combination for your business and marketing goals.

Pro tip: Once you’ve selected your funnel priority, choose no more than three to five KPIs per content hub program to keep a close eye on. More than five makes it hard to connect the numbers in an actionable way you can use to communicate results to your team, client or boss.

The best content hubs offer value at every stage of the funnel: awareness, engagement and conversion, and their younger sibling: loyalty/advocacy.


Content Hub KPIs

Use these best-practice metrics to track for each stage of the funnel.

Goal: Awareness

  • Visits—The total number of times people visit your content hub
  • Unique visitors—The number of individual people who visit your content hub
  • Bounce rate—The percentage of people who leave your content hub after viewing the landing page

Goal: Engagement

  • Visits—The total number of times people visit your content hub
  • Return visitors—The number of individual visitors who return to your hub after an earlier visit
  • Average time on hub—The average session duration for a visit to your content hub
  • Average pages per visit—The average number of pages visited during a session on your content hub
  • Newsletter sign-ups (if available)—The number of hand-raisers who committed to receiving email marketing

Goal: Conversion

  • Visits—The total number of times people visit your content hub
  • Average pages per visit—The average number of pages visited during a session on your content hub
  • CTA response—What action did visitors take in response to the call to action offered?
  • Hard/soft conversion—Did the visitor take the desired end result?

Goal: Loyalty/Advocacy

  • Return visitors—The number of individual visitors who return to your hub after an earlier visit
  • Average time on hub—The average session duration for a visit to your content hub
  • Average pages per visit—The average number of pages visited during a session on your content hub
  • Social shares—The number of social media shares (by platform)

most popular

To gate or not to gate?

That is the question. But it’s just one you should be asking about the exchange of content for user information. Here are four more to get you started.
read it

22 resources to help you nail email

Find out what to read and whom to follow to hit inbox gold.
read it

How to write for the human ear

Use these three tips to write text that rolls off the tongue for podcasts and audio.
read it