Marketers love data, generally speaking. We measure nearly everything and spend hours comparing, investigating, and improving metrics. In many regards, this is our job. But if we’re not careful, we can easily become blinded by the countless numbers and lose focus.

When all marketing metrics have equal value, it’s easy to jump from number to number without making substantial progress on any.

This is why every content marketer should consistently track and prioritize three essential marketing key performance indicators (KPIs). Of course, I’m not saying track exclusively - we still need to drill down into various elements of website performance, search engine optimization (SEO), social engagement, etc. But having three metrics in focus at all times will unite and motivate your team to achieve tangible results.

Why Only Three Content Marketing Metrics

The reason for having three metrics or KPIs is part psychological and part common sense. Studies show that people can easily recall only 3-4 items at a time - any more and we struggle to store them in our conscious minds. Focusing on too many metrics at once dilutes our focus and our efforts.

There’s also a flip side, however. Common sense tells us that if we focus on just one metric exclusively, we’re more prone to form a skewed perspective.

For example, if you only track the number of sessions for your website, you might see a false positive if your conversion rate drops while your session numbers slowly increase.

Selecting the most important marketing metrics is all about striking a balance between focus and context. Too many metrics and you lose focus. Too few metrics and your perspective may be distorted.

The big question now is - which content marketing metrics are truly the most important? We explore the three most important metrics below.

Top Three Essential Metrics

While recommendations from marketing experts vary, two metrics emerge as common denominators - number of sessions and number of conversions (or conversion rate). The third metric listed below is more of a guideline or placeholder to be personalized based on your company, product/service, and stage of growth.

1. Number of Sessions (monthly)

This fundamental marketing metric indicates the health of your top-of-the-funnel activities (i.e. social media, paid ads, content marketing - the things that drive new visits to your website). Of course, there are plenty of other specific session numbers and dimensions (# of organic sessions, session length, session source, site engagement, blog sessions, etc.), but this one number provides a quick overview of your website traffic and a pulse check on lead opportunities.

2. Number of Conversions (and Conversion Rate)

The objective of marketing is to convert strangers to leads and ultimately to customers. The number of conversions is an absolutely essential metric to determine if we’re succeeding. Tracking the number of conversions is helpful for reaching a concrete target such as X number of leads or customers.

Closely related to the number of conversions is the conversion rate (the percentage of strangers converted to leads), which is a powerful tool in determining trends in the performance of your marketing tactics. When you track the conversion rate you're able to compare sessions and conversions more objectively.

For example, the number of website sessions should be increasing month over month and the conversion rate shows if your number of conversions is increasing at a similar, greater, or lesser rate than the number of sessions. Tracking your conversion rate over several months helps you to identify missed opportunities or perhaps page optimization issues.

3. The One Metric That Matters

The first two metrics we’ve covered act as guide rails for every marketer. They clearly indicate if you’re on track to hit overall company goals like monthly recurring revenue or customer growth. This third metric - the one metric that matters - is how you improve the first two metrics. The reason I’ve listed a concept here instead of a concrete metric is because the metric will vary from marketer to marketer and even change for the same marketer over time.

The concept of the One Metric That Matters (OMTM), coined by Alistair Croll, means focusing on one metric at a time that you can change - the most important metric right now. He presents this in the context of a company as a whole, but the idea can be applied in marketing.

For me right now, the one metric that matters is increasing return visitors to 50%. At Geckoboard, we’ve discovered that repeat visitors are significantly more likely to sign up for a trial than one-time visitors. Once I’ve hit my target for this KPI, I’ll select another metric to focus on next quarter.

What is the one area or aspect you need to improve right now? This might be the bounce rate, time on the blog, average search position, email click-through rate, or something else. Pick the marketing KPI that:

a) will have the most impact on your overall company objective,
b) has the most potential for improvement and
c) you have the authority or means to improve it.

Remember, this metric will change over time. After you improve one metric, move on to another one.

Set Goals and Benchmarks

Your marketing metrics are most actionable when you set goals and benchmarks. You’ll want to research and set a baseline (usually called a benchmark) for each metric to show what’s ‘normal’ for your industry or company. This benchmark represents the minimum target you need to achieve.

For example, the website conversion rate (percentage of visitors converting to leads) for B2B SaaS companies is around 7%. Understanding this industry benchmark helps you set a minimum target for your conversion rate and provides a baseline for number of conversions based on your current number of website sessions.

Goals for your marketing metrics are specific targets to be achieved within a predetermined time frame (week, month, year, etc.) that align with your overall company objectives. If benchmarks are the minimum target, think of goals as the maximum or stretch target. For example, you might set a goal of getting 100,000 sessions this month or increasing your email click-through rate by 1.2% this quarter.

Start Tracking Your Success

Once you determine what your third metric is - the One Metric That Matters - it’s time to start tracking all three marketing KPIs. In order to keep these metrics in focus, I recommend putting them on a live TV dashboard you can glance at throughout the day.

Here are some marketing dashboard examples for inspiration.