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Content Marketing | Nov 20
Elise Dopson on January 29, 2019 (last modified on June 24, 2020) • 19 minute read
You’re not the only one; 38% of marketers cite measuring content effectiveness as one of their greatest challenges.
But what’s causing the difficulty?
According to a report by Content Marketing Insitute, the biggest reasons for failing to track content marketing ROI are a lack of formal justification, a need to do it easier, and confusion around how to do it:
That doesn’t come as a shock, because calculating the ROI of a single piece of content isn’t clear-cut–especially because B2B audiences consume several pieces of content before deciding to purchase (between 3 and 5 pieces, on average).
How can you accurately spread attribution across the URLs a customer visited before they bought, and determine which singular piece of content triggered that purchase?
We asked 27 experts (who track their content marketing ROI) to share their advice.
From strategies to measure, metrics to track and software to assist with calculations, here’s what they said.
Editor’s note: The path to ROI starts with understanding performance. Want an easier way to track and analyze the specific sources driving traffic to your website? Well, all you need is Google Analytics and this free dashboard. Once you connect, you’ll see instant visualizations of sessions by source, sessions by social network, and more.
Sure, ROI technically means return on investment. But what exactly does ‘return’ mean?
Typically, a campaign is considered as having a “high ROI” if you’re generating more money than you’re spending on it.
301 Digital Media‘s Andrew Becks explains: “When it comes to content marketing, the goals should match the measurement. If you’re in the ecommerce space, focusing measuring around direct sales and conversions is great. If you’re a software or subscription-based business, measuring the lifetime value of users you bring in through content marketing efforts might be the best way to measure and prove ROI.”
He says: “No matter the industry or content type […], determine how you’re going to measure and gauge success is one of the very first things we like to do both for our own internal campaigns, as well as when engaging with clients.”
Now you know what ROI you’re measuring, it’s important to understand which metrics can help you calculate it.
According to Brandon Andersen of Ceralytics, “ROI is a finance equation”, and any goals you set “have to be specific, measurable, and tie back to a monetary number. Notice that likes, impressions, and shares cannot fit into this equation.”
Andersen explains: “The key is to assign values to KPI’s that aren’t directly related to money. For example, you can calculate the average value of an inbound lead. Take the number of leads x the value of each lead, and you have a revenue number you can use for your ROI calculation.”
But not all marketers recommend tracking ROI as strictly as Brandon.
According to our respondents to this latest report, we found marketers consider leads, visit-to-signup, and unique sessions as the “most important” KPIs for communicating content ROI:
Jonathan Aufray of Growth Hackers specifically recommends tracking these three (non-monetary) metrics:
And James Green, Founder and CEO of Offer to Close, says: “We create different measurements based on our goal for each piece of content. If the content is building awareness, we will primarily use impressions and clicks to show the value of the piece of content. When the goal is to drive sales, we’ll only look at which piece of content eventually led to the sale.”
Best Company‘s Chad Zollinger agrees: “Our main KPIs include the organic ranking of our top partners, quarter-over-quarter click increases, backlink generation goals, and quarter-over-quarter organic revenue increases.”
“We try to look at overall costs vs overall sales (or revenue)”, explains Andrew Maff of Seller’s Choice. “The KPI we watch is impressions or visits, then we just try to keep improving the direct return.”
In a nutshell: The metrics you chose to track ROI should be somehow related to earning more money.
Unique visitors, lead magnet downloads and conversions can all play a role, so you’ll need to hone in on exactly which metrics eventually result in paying customers if you’re accurately measuring the return on your content investment.
You’ve got a list of metrics you’re thinking of measuring, but where should you collect the data from?
Simple metrics, such as the number of conversions or conversion rate, can be easy to find-as explained by Kiyo Wiesnoski of Adlava: “If the goal is strictly getting users to directly buy something, that’s straightforward enough to measure”.
But Kiyo says “content marketing often assists revenue growth in other ways.”
She’s right: Content marketing can increase overall brand awareness, improve organic rankings, and build upon the campaigns you’re using advertising for.
That’s why you’ll need to measure key metrics across several platforms–such as CPC on Facebook Ads, LinkedIn campaigns and Google Ads accounts.
Here’s Kiyo putting that into practice: “For example, if the goal is to increase organic reach, you could measure organic entrances to your website originating from the url(s) specific to a content marketing campaign. If the content was created for link building purposes, you could measure success by the number of websites linking to your content.”
Remember how we mentioned ROI is a simple equation?
“In a nutshell, the best way to prove ROI is to determine how much revenue comes in via content marketing efforts, and subtract all the inputs (dollars spent on advertising, salaries for freelancers, staff writers, etc.)”, shares Catherine Giese of Fundera.
She says: “Depending on how your site is set up, you can either multiply the number of leads that landed on your blog by average revenue per lead OR track each lead, determine how much revenue each lead brought in, and add all of those numbers together. That way, you get how much revenue comes in via content marketing efforts. Then, determine all of the inputs for that period of time. For example, if you’re measuring a month, add up how much you paid employees that month. Then, subtract that number from the revenue. Hopefully, you have a positive ROI.”
Ampmycontent‘s Daniel Daines-Hutt also uses this process to calculate ROI at his company.
He says: “After the initial cost to create and the promotion efforts, its almost all profit right? So if you know how much traffic the article gets per month, along with the conversion rate from visitor to subscriber, and then subscriber to sale- its very easy to measure the ROI.”
He admits this tactic is “pretty basic, but this way you can see directly how an article drives ROI for your business.”
When you’re running an eCommerce business, you’ll be no stranger to CAC and LTV metrics.
Here’s David Hoos, Director of Marketing at The Good, explaining how these two eCommerce metrics can be used to calculate content marketing ROI: “The best way to measure ROI of content marketing is by looking at the customer acquisition cost (CAC) and comparing that to your average lifetime value (LTV).”
“Combine your staffing, tools, and content production costs, then divide that by new paying customers per month. That should show you the maximum CAC for your content”, David explains. “Now, your content will certainly provide value beyond a strict CAC, but observing it next to your lifetime value is a great benchmark to work from.”
“Ultimately, your goal should be to bring your CAC lower while pushing your LTV progressively higher.”
Do you have a handful of high-value customers that can be contacted through a quick email?
Andrew McLoughlin of Colibri Digital Marketing says: “The easiest way, at least in a business like ours, is to just ask for feedback from new leads and clients.”
When it comes to the questions they’re asking, Andrew says: “We always ask what drew them to us, or how they found us. We collect comments on our posts, and engage in discussions, too. Since our business model deals with a relatively low number of high-value clients, it’s possible to track each individual conversion path.”
But Andrew thinks this simplistic approach to measuring the ROI of content marketing can still work for larger businesses.
He says: “With larger volumes, the best way to track ROI is to chart out your site traffic’s flow around your site, cross-referenced by date of publishing. That way, you can attribute new conversions directly to a particular piece, or phase of content marketing.”
“For us, content marketing is all about reach and conversions”, says Blogging.org‘s Zac Johnson.
In fact, lead generation, brand awareness, and acquisition are amongst the most common goals of content marketers:
But how do you understand the value of traffic you’re driving to your website content?
Zac recommends to “[…] use a tool like Ahrefs and see what type of keywords your content is ranking for. While you might not be seeing the actual keyword value in your internal revenue reports, it’s still good to see what you might have to pay for this same type of traffic if you were to use PPC advertising in Google.”
“UTM codes allow you to tag inbound traffic from referral, paid, or social sites”, explains Joe Sloan of Advice Media.
“We have specific codes that allow us to know what traffic came from Facebook (paid/organic), YouTube (even the video), PPC campaigns, and others. But because we have standardization I can see traffic from all our content/ads across many sites that were targeting a specific vertical. This allows us to show an increase in content created for a vertical has resulted in more traffic from those sources and lead to an increase in sales.”
Fancy getting started with UTM codes? Head over to Google’s Campaign URL Builder, and set the parameters you’ll use to measure the success of each campaign.
Joe says you’ll use these parameters for everything–including your website forms: “You need to automate forms embedded into your content to automatically be added to your CRM system and labeled properly. This allows you to track leads through the sales process and what content generated that qualified lead. This will save you time and save you the headache of trying to manually track the performance of lead generation from your content.”
While the overall ROI of your business’ content marketing strategy can be calculated by offsetting direct costs, there are other nifty tricks to dive deeper into your results.
But you really want to learn the answers to these four questions, shared by Lola.com‘s Mike Baker:
“The most effective way to prove the ROI of content marketing is to ensure you have closed-loop reporting in place that can attribute closed sales to engagement with your content”, explains Jennifer Lux of Lynton Web.
Attribution models can make this possible. They’re rules that determine which page should be credited for conversions (mainly sales).
But when you’re using this method to track content marketing ROI, there are several ways you can credit the URL resulting in a conversion, including:
We found almost half of marketers prefer multi-touch attribution models:
…including Amanda Nielsen, who forms part of the New Breed marketing department.
She says: “We use a multi-touch attribution model to understand the way different types of content influence the customer lifecycle at all stages. We don’t believe in attributing 100 percent of the buying decision to a single touch point, because the decision-making process is usually distributed across multiple touch points and engagements.”
Nielsen’s decision to use multi-touch attribution relates back to their typical buyer’s journey: “For example, say someone converted on a middle-of-the-funnel form from a blog post right before they closed as a customer. In that case, it’s safe to assume they used that blog post to inform their final decision, so it’s weighed more than if it was their first conversion.”
She’s not the only one using buyer journeys to determine the most appropriate attribution models to track content marketing ROI.
“Ideally you’ve built out a framework for your content marketing that is soundly based on the buyer’s journey”, says TSL Marketing‘s Ryan Nicholson. “After doing that you’re assigning performance KPIs for your content at different places in the journey. You have to look at this content as the foundational cost of attracting, educating, nurturing, converting, retaining, etc. And you’re likely going to need a pretty big window of time to see that investment turn into a return.”
That doesn’t mean multi-touch attribution is the only way forwards, though.
Ian Evanstar of UNINCORPORATED is one of the marketers who prefer first-touch attribution: “Despite the majority of KPI’s being the derivative of a final click in a conversion, identifying the origination of a customer gives agencies a snapshot into the most effective channels for content marketing.”
Summarizing, Ian explains: “Because we know from where a contact originated, we can report on the number of Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs), Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs), opportunities, and ultimately customers from those channels.”
But Brand Chemistry‘s Christabelle Tani doesn’t think which attribution model you’re choosing really matters.
She says: “I would be looking at whether buyers are actually interested in the content – are they even consuming it, finding it useful, becoming more interested in the product/solution as a result? Where they’re getting it from matters less. When it boils down to it, it doesn’t really matter – what matters is that you’re correctly putting content in front of your buyers, and they’re consuming it and it’s helping them convert into actual customers. In terms of metrics, tie it back to the customer.”
Great job! You know the theory behind measuring the ROI of your content marketing strategy.
But you want to make your job easy, right?
Forget about collecting metrics from individual platforms, and consider using these five marketer-approved tools to track ROI accurately:
Speaking of attribution models, Dan Patino of Digifianz uses HubSpot’s Campaigns tool to “connect all blog posts, content offers, social media posts, etc. by Campaign Name”. He says this approach allows him to “know exactly which posts and offers are converting, regardless if it was a first-touch or last-touch.”
Dan’s team then “review which of those leads have converted into actual paying customers and attribute it equally to all content offers that were viewed in that specific buyer’s journey.”
He says: “It is one of the few that is actually closing the loop on content marketing via one centralized and holistic campaigns module where every data point and attribution points is trackable and reportable (when setup properly and used effectively).”
The best part? HubSpot’s dashboard allows them to prove their content marketing strategy to their agency’s clients: “Leveraging the HubSpot tool in this way, as well through consultation with clients on total costs and spend, we effectively report and demonstrate ROI for our clients content marketing.”
“As your content marketing strategy matures, measuring the impact of content along the buyer’s journey in a multi-attribution model can provide deeper insights into which pieces of content are most effective not only in a prospect’s initial buying phase but along their path to purchase”, explains LyntonWeb‘s Jennifer Lux.
That’s why she names HubSpot as her “tool of choice, alongside the reporting capabilities of Databox, to measure and track related KPIs.”
“If you work in a call heavy industry, CallRail is a great option for attributing calls to your content”, says Market 8‘s Brian Schofield.
CallRail is a tool which tracks, records and analyzes phone calls your business makes, and Brian says: “If you use HubSpot, you can take this a step further by connecting your CallRail account and following your leads throughout the entire lifecycle. The ROI then becomes crystal clear.”
To accurately monitor ROI, you’ll need to accurately track the activity happening on your website.
He says: “I can clearly see if someone bought as a result of a piece of content I shared, as well as which piece of content that is. I’ve found that my longer, more in-depth written content tends to get more sales than anything else–even video. Using Improvely has allowed me to see which characteristics I should replicate in my future content.”
Are you using affiliate links on your website to generate more cash?
Nate Masterson of Maple Holistics recommends Pretty Links: “We use a plugin called Pretty Links, which effectively tracks our Amazon affiliate links within our blog posts. This shows us exactly where many of our Amazon purchases originate and which calls-to-action are most effective.”
But even if you’re not participating in affiliate marketing, the Pretty Links plugin can still track which links are being clicked–allowing you to understand the effectiveness of your linking strategy.
You know how to track ROI, and the software you’ll need to measure it accurately.
But if you log into your dashboard and aren’t happy with the result, what happens next?
These four content marketers share their best tip for improving ROI, so you don’t have to pour your cash into a strategy that’s failing to see results.
PACIFIC Digital Group‘s Jennifer Cueller says: “When a consumer interacts with your content (be it an article, video, podcast, or anything else), they should walk away ready to make a decision about your brand. For some companies, that decision is anything from a purchase to social share to page view. These decisions around buying, interacting, and trusting represent how well your message landed with the consumer.”
That’s why she thinks “the heart of content marketing is delivering the right message in the right package.”
“If your content marketing strategy does not target the area of your business that makes the biggest impact then who cares”, writes Chad Zollinger of Best Company. “You need to tie keywords into revenue.”
Chad says: “ROI of content will ultimately come down to how well your organic efforts have attributed to your end goal (increasing revenue). It starts with content produced, technical SEO, and on/off page SEO. If you do these three things, you will see results in your organic rank, which will increase your impression share and organic clicks, which will ultimately increase your revenue.”
Granted, the term low-hanging fruit ranks pretty high on the “marketing jargon” list.
But if you’re looking to boost ROI in the short-term, Wendy Lieber of ContentBacon says: “Having a complete inbound marketing plan that covers all stages of the buying cycle is essential over time, but if you need a place to start, you start with what lever you need to pull to get the biggest bang for your buck.”
“That often is where some good ‘low hanging’ fruit is that can get the ball rolling.”
Putting this into practice, Wendy says her team “often start with our customer’s database and help them engage, re-engage, excite, and entertain them.”
You could take advantage of customers ready to convert again and boost the results you’re getting from your content strategy, by targeting this low-hanging fruit.
“The single biggest way we have built our presence is through paid ads to content pages about different kettlebell movements, expert advice and signing up for weekly workouts to receive in your email inbox”, explains Jay Perkins of Kettlebell Kings.
“By being able to target people who are interested in ‘kettlebells’ on social media we are able to get new leads into our workflows at about $1 per lead. This method has had about a 10X return on spend over the last year with these people turning into real customers who are buying our actual kettlebell equipment.”
David says: “This has been a super effective way for a business that has bootstrapped from the beginning to build our email list and community with the $1 per lead cost, because we were early adopters in the content strategy game in our niche we were able to spend less to get leads and turn them into customers as opposed to AdWords.”
Accurately measuring the return on your content marketing isn’t an easy job.
But it’s an important to-do in your content marketing plan, as Brandon Anderson (of Ceralytics) summarizes: “If you can do this, you can prove your worth as a content marketer to the c-suite. If you can’t, you’re going to have to rely on the c-suite having blind faith in your program. And when it comes to big budgets, proof always outweighs blind faith.”
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