A friend and former colleague asked me the other day how do you know the content you deliver to clients is working?

In other words, is the content raising their profile? Is it attracting and driving business?

It’s a fair question, especially for marketers who’ve been at it for a while; the concept of inbound marketing is still very new, and the idea that a brand isn’t blasting out its message seems … wrong. But all the evidence suggests it’s the right strategy at the right time.

It’s all just a little too Zen.

Quite obviously, your customers are searching the Internet for information way before you hear from them. So smart organizations have embraced the idea of providing non-brand-specific information to customers somewhere out there – customers with whom they don’t yet have a relationship. We call it content marketing.

But how do you know if it works? That’s the question traditional marketers and salespeople – especially salespeople – are asking. The flippant answer is how do you know your advertising is working?

The real answer is that content-based inbound marketing offers you a much greater chance to track engagement and gauge how prospects move through your sales funnel. Rather than putting a message out into the world and hoping – but never really knowing – if potential customers respond and whether that response is positive or negative, inbound marketing gives you the opportunity to use easily tracked metrics.

They include:

Baseline traffic numbers.

These include pageviews and unique visitors. Basically, you’re tracking quantity, not quality. But quantity does matter, at least to a point. If no one is on your website, well… it’s kind of a waste of time.

Quality indicators.

If you’re producing quality content, you should be attracting a quality audience; that is, you should be attracting prospective customers. The way to understand whether you’re operating at this intersection of content and prospects is in quality indicators such as bounce rate and time on site. Bounce rate is the number of people who view one page of your site and then leave. So if your bounce rate is high – more than 50 percent – it demonstrates that you are not capturing your readers’ attention. You can also be more sophisticated with a tool such as Crazy Egg, which creates heat maps that show you what sections of a page visitors are viewing.

Engagement metrics.

You don’t want to be talking at your audience, you want to be speaking with it. Which requires the audience to speak back, to engage with you in your thoughts. Two simple indicators that your audience is engaged are comments and social sharing. Are they commenting on your content, or perhaps commenting with you off site on social media? These are signs that you are breaking through. Social sharing is critical as well; if your content is deemed share-worthy, it means you’re doing something right, and you’re getting your name out there as a thought leader.

The goal of every content strategy is – or at least should be – to build trust. With trust, you can generate a connection with your audience that makes them far more likely to consider you as an organization with which they want to do business. And that means you need to always understand where you stand with that audience. Are they paying attention? Are they engaged? Following these metrics begins to tell you whether your content strategy is working.