In content marketing you’ll often hear that one should “think like a publisher.” It’s sound advice for developing great content: develop a strategy, plan an editorial calendar, manage resources, create a compelling story. But your business is not the publishing business, and simply producing content is not your goal, it’s a means to an end. So how do you ensure that the time, money and resources you’re investing into content is paying off for your brand?
Identify Your Investment
It may sound basic, but it is important to have a good handle on the “I” in your ROI. Just as there are many direct and indirect ways that good content can provide returns for your business, the costs for content marketing can be both obvious and subtle. Items to consider in calculating your content marketing investment:
- Planning investments like content strategy and employee training
- Staff time to create and publish content
- Payments to writers, designers, developers or other third parties
- Promotion costs , including social media, press release, and online advertising
- Follow-up time for analytics tracking
There are a number of considerations to calculate how much content marketing costs, so be sure to consider all the commitments you’re making to your campaign to ensure an accurate measure of your return.
For newer sites or those just beginning their content marketing campaign in earnest, there may not be a wealth of historical data to use as a baseline for measuring your content’s success. In that case, you can use indirect indicators to help assess how your content is performing. Such indicators include:
- Facebook Likes and Shares
- Google+ +1s
- Number of backlinks
- User comments and inquiries
As your audience grows and you establish more direct metrics to track, it’s important to incorporate those as the primary factors in determining your content marketing ROI. However, the above factors are always useful as a bellwether of the health of your content. Over time, you will learn which of these indirect signals most consistently accompany your primary success metrics.
Put Value on Your Goals
The most straightforward way to gauge the return on your content marketing investment is by tracking goals in your analytics. This requires assigning a dollar value to the goals you’ve established. For ecommerce sales the value is self-evident, but for less direct conversions it requires tracking your conversion rates and average sales. There are many factors you can consider, but a very simple starting goal value is multiplying your average sale value by your conversion rate. For example:
The average sales contract on a website is $2500. Leads that fill out a contact form end up becoming customers 5% of the time. The average value of a contact form lead is $125.
Now that you know the value of a lead (or sale or whatever goal result you’re tracking) you can begin to evaluate the content that produces those leads. If a site visitor reads a blog post and then fills out a contact form, then based on the above example that blog post has, over that period, generated you $125. Now you have a dollar amount to measure your content marketing costs against when considering ROI.
As we’ll see in the following sections, being able to ascribe value to your general online audience means you can see how that value translates by content type or audience segment.
Add a Little Nuance
The above is a great way to get started in measuring your content marketing ROI, but there are a lot of ways to drill down and get a more accurate look at what’s working for you and what isn’t. All pieces of content are not created equal: moving beyond averages and into deeper metrics can help you identify which content consumers are most likely to spend money with you, and which content attracts them.
For example, many of our clients find that the longer a website visitor is on the site, the more likely they are to perform what Content Marketing Institute’s Joe Pulizzi calls a profitable customer action – be it a sales inquiry, online purchase, newsletter subscription, webinar registration or something else.
So in looking at the ROI of your content, you will want to consider these secondary behaviors of your audience. If a customer that spends over 5 minutes on your site is twice as likely to convert as someone under 5 minutes, then you can factor that into the returns your content provides; content that supports longer time on site statistically provides a higher ROI.
What’s important here is to find strong quality indicators and trust the averages. A given blog post or infographic may not perform up to expectations, but if content of that type or subject performs well overall, then it’s worth pursuing. Some factors to consider when determining valuable metrics for gauging content marketing:
A significant content marketing ROI measurement for many is the traffic source for their website visitors. For brands that rely on paid search advertising to help drive their traffic, getting a boost from organic search traffic, referring traffic from other sites and direct traffic from brand-familiar customers can mean lower overall cost to acquire leads.
Even without an increase in sales, a company that is able to reduce their paid search from $5,000 to $2,500 per month and retain their overall traffic and conversions can measure a $2,500 per month return on their content investment.
Visitor Time on Page
The length of time a visitor spends reading your content can be a strong indicator of its effectiveness, but how it does so will depend a lot on your audience and industry. For example, in some instances a high time on page means your audience is really engrossed by your content and keen to read all of it. In other cases, a high on-page time could indicate that they don’t understand the content and are struggling through it. Compare this metric against overall conversions rates to determine whether longer time on page is a positive or negative signal.
Visitor Time on Site / Average Page Views
Generally, the longer a visitor is on your site, the more likely they are to convert, but like time on page figures look at how the data pairs with conversions. In some instances, visitors will come to your site eager to convert and a long time on site or high number of page views indicates their interest cooling off.
Visitor Bounce Rate
What percentage of the time does someone hit a piece of content then leave the site? While the urge is for visitors to stay, a high bounce rate is not always a bad thing. Sometimes people visit a page and then leave precisely because they found the information they’re looking for; but for sale-oriented content like ecommerce or service pages, the opposite is likely true.
New vs. Returning Visitor
That high bounce rate is a lot easier to swallow if people come back later for more. In determining the ROI of your content marketing it’s important to look at conversion data and see why they’re coming back. You may find that an increase in return visitors means you’re successfully moving prospects through the sales cycle as they become more familiar with and trusting of your brand. If returning visitors correlate to higher conversions, then you can track an increasing percentage of returning visitors in measuring your return on investment.
Alternately, as in the example graph below, returning visitors may be coming to you for more informational content about your industry, products or service:
In that case, the ROI may tie less to a direct conversion and more to continued marketing value if that content is shared or linked to by the user, driving referral traffic and potentially lower lead acquisition cost. Either way, it’s important to track how your audience behaves and be sure your content is positioned to drive the right kind of response from your audience.
As important as the online data can be, it can be just important to see how your content marketing is providing returns in your business’s day-to-day. Here are some examples from our content marketing clients:
- Sales leads are better qualified, requiring less time to nurture to a sale
- Customer service staff spend less time answering questions due to FAQ and similar resource pages on the site
- Decreased print advertising and direct mail expenses
- How-to articles and videos reduce support calls
Finding the Right Story
Measuring content marketing ROI is about being firm but fair. If your content isn’t performing, then it’s important to recognize that and make the necessary adjustments to get better bang for your buck. Don’t create a narrative that isn’t there. That said, there are a lot of considerations in establishing the return on your content investment: focusing only on a few or the most visible metrics means you may overlook the rewards that great content is providing your business.