How to Measure Content Marketing ROI (And Use What You Learn to Improve ROI)
Is your content making you money? 💸
As a content strategist, I can tell you that not every piece of content you create is going to lead to direct revenue.
Some content is created to nurture prospects who are high up in the marketing funnel and not yet ready to buy. That type of content won’t lead to direct revenue, but it does help push the lead closer to buying. (So it has its hand in contributing to revenue at some point.)
So if I don’t think that every piece of content is connected directly to company revenue, than why would I advocate for measuring content marketing return on investment?
Well, to put it simply, you cannot invest a bunch of money in content without understanding in some way how that content contributes to revenue.
I’m not advocating for you to use content marketing ROI as your only metric. But I am suggesting that it’s an important metric to include when trying to get an overall picture of how your content is performing and how it relates to the ultimate goal of driving revenue.
Below, we’ll take a look at what content marketing ROI is, how you can measure it, and how you can take steps to improve your return on investment for content marketing over time.
What is Content Marketing ROI?
Content marketing ROI is a percentage that shows you how much revenue you gained from a piece of content in relation to its cost. While the success of content is often tied to revenue goals, the ROI of content marketing and the success of content is not the exact same thing. ROI focuses on actual time and money spent on the content creation process, and content success will depend on your content goals.
There are some common issues that surround measuring content marketing ROI. When marketers create their content strategies, they do so with the long-term in mind. Content marketing, and in particular SEO, takes a while to work its magic. That means that when you initially measure the return on investment for your content marketing, you may find that it’s negative overall. However, if you’re creating high-quality content as part of your content marketing campaigns, then you should see the ROI start to improve over time as more of your audience is exposed to your content.
Another issue with measuring content marketing ROI is that it doesn’t take into account the benefits of content marketing that are hard to measure numerically. Benefits such as brand awareness and brand perception are not things that bring your company money directly. However, they do play a role in helping your business build relationships and authority in your industry, which can later lead to more sales.
While the ROI of content marketing may not give you a complete idea of how your content performs, it still plays an important roll in helping you determine your overall content marketing success.
The Importance of Measuring the ROI of Content Marketing
Making the effort to put a content marketing strategy in place with strategic pieces of content without ever measuring your return on investment (ROI) is like trying to lose weight with healthy eating and exercise but never weighing in.
How do you know it’s working?
To what degree is it successful?
Should you completely revamp your content strategy to improve?
Measuring the ROI of content marketing is a part of answering some of these questions.
Content marketers can use content marketing ROI to determine if they should adjust their budget based on the content marketing efforts that are bringing in the most revenue.
For instance, let’s say your e-commerce brand has both an e-book and a blog post that have the same goal of lead generation. You bring in 100 leads from the e-book and 150 leads from the blog. At first glance, this might mean that the blog is more effective than the e-book overall. However, leads don’t always convert, so more leads does not necessarily = more revenue.
Calculating return on investment helps you understand which of these content assets have brought the most revenue to your business in relation to expense. If the e-book ends up having a higher ROI, then you may decide to invest more in e-books in the future as a way of maximizing your digital marketing spend.
But how exactly do you calculate the return on investment for your content? In the next section, we’ll share the ROI formula that you can use to determine content ROI.
By now you should have a good understanding of what content marketing ROI is and why it is so important to measure it. Now, let’s look at how you can measure your return on investment for your content.
As you create content, you certainly want it to be best-in-class. Writers strive to create content that is authoritative, innovative, and actionable. As they write, they picture readers immediately snapping to and taking action because the piece of content they provided is just so spot-on, with the perfect balance of reality and humor.
While all of that seems nice in the creative world, it is important to come back down to earth and find out whether that content actually has moved the needle. Although it can be hard to hear, content providers must also understand that even if it’s creative, a piece of content is not successful unless it converts and helps the brand meet its business goals.
Your business needs content with a purpose, whether that purpose is brand awareness, click-throughs to a website, sales conversions, qualified lead generation, new referral traffic, or new customers walking through the door. In the Mad Men days of marketing where paid advertising ruled supreme, measurement was somewhat simpler. You knew your costs to generate and place an advertisement and could calculate the number of new customers and sales generated from that advertisement – making calculating ROI a breeze!
A direct mail campaign was once said to be effective, even if it only pulled in a very small percentage of responses. But now, with digital marketing enabling even the smallest businesses to mount an effective content strategy, content creation can be a very long game indeed. However, your content must still serve your company’s bottom line in some way if it’s to be deemed effective. Not to mention, you need to provide proof that your content marketing efforts are definitely generating results, especially when reporting to executives.
What Is The Formula for Measuring Marketing ROI?
“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”
Retailer and politician John Wanamaker is credited with this saying about the frustrations of trying to measure advertising effectiveness. While it may seem humorous, it does underline the fact of just how hard it is to try to measure content marketing ROI. Just because something is hard, though, doesn’t mean it cannot be done.
The specific formula for measuring ROI seems pretty straightforward at first glance:
Return minus investment, divided by investment.
This is then expressed as a percentage. For example, let’s say that you spend $500 to create and place a piece of content about a specific product. You can calculate that you sold $1000 worth of that product. Therefore, you would have the following:
Return ($1000) minus investment ($500) = $500
Divided by investment ($500)
You multiply the result by 100 to get a percentage. $500 divided by $500 means you would have an ROI of 100%, and would probably be very pleased with this type or result if it could be replicated on a much larger scale.
Unfortunately, the path to calculating ROI is often not a straight one.
Sometimes it can be hard to calculate everything that goes into the investment portion of the equation. Content costs can include salaries, image rights, placement or distribution costs, and tracking software, along with a certain percentage of any applicable overhead and internal administrative costs.
Other times, the return might not be so obvious – how do you put a value on increased brand awareness, click-throughs, or quality leads? While all might lead to an eventual increase in sales or profitability, their immediate return can be more difficult to calculate.
What Other Metrics Can Be Used To Track Content Marketing ROI?
For those times when adding up sales or relying on a simple formula is not sufficient, there are other content marketing metrics that can be used to measure success beyond a strict dollar calculation:
- Retention Metrics: This is important if you are trying to measure engagement. Factors here would include return website visitors, bounce rates on emails, blog subscriptions, newsletter readers, and social media followers.
- Lead Quality Metrics: Sometimes you may offer a white paper or lead magnet to generate leads or build an email database, but you want to make sure the quality of those leads is worth the effort. Ways of measuring this metric could include visits to other pertinent website pages, downloading additional resources offered as part of the marketing funnel, or contacting the sales team. This indicates that your content is generating a high-quality lead with a good probability of turning into a sale.
- Sharing Metrics: If your goal is to quickly build an influencer or word-of-mouth campaign through social networks, then your metrics will focus on areas like Re-Tweets, Likes and Shares, repins, or video shares.
Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
One way to evaluate content marketing success is to track and analyze the key functions or activities. For content marketers, these indicators are usually based on factors such as conversion rate, lead quality, website traffic, onsite engagement, social media responses, search engine optimization (SEO), and actual sales. Studying these elements will give an indicator of how well your content marketing strategy is working. If you find that a sufficient amount of leads are working their way through your sales funnel, then your strategy is on the right path. If these indicators reveal a problem somewhere along the way, however, your marketing team will need to make adjustments to the plan.
Metric Tracking Tools
One of the most helpful tool for measuring content marketing activities is Google Analytics. Most of this data is focused on actual consumption metrics such as page views, time spent on page, downloads, and unique visitors.
Another tool you should utilize to track important content marketing metrics is your email marketing platform. Whether you use MailChimp, Active Campaign, Constant Contact, or another email marketing automation tool, you should have access to important email marketing campaign consumption metrics like click-through rates and open rates.
How Frequently Should You Evaluate Your Content Marketing?
Depending on the size of your business, you might not have the time or expertise to accurately track all of these metrics all of the time. But it is still crucial to make measurement a priority part of your workflow. You might be able to choose a few metrics to track regularly, depending on your goals, while others can be left for a quick check-in from time to time.
Content marketing is a long-term strategy, so don’t just stop after you publish one blog post or send out one email campaign. Your initial ROI might look negative in terms of dollars and cents if you try to correlate dollars to a specific marketing activity, which is why you should be looking at both short- and long-term metrics as well.
For example, if you are tracking sales, you will probably want to do this every week so changes can be quickly implemented. If your marketing is centered on a specific product or sales activity, you can gauge dollar results on a more immediate basis.
But, if you are tracking a larger goal, such as backlinks or brand awareness, you might only need to check in once a month to see how results are tracking on a quarterly basis. At the other extreme, however, a social media campaign that is supposed to be creating buzz for your product might require you to follow-up daily so you can respond to emerging trends.
During the first day, week, or month of any content marketing strategy, you might experience very little return on your investment. You might start thinking that your strategy is not working at all. But looking at some of your individual metrics helps you make minor adjustments. You suddenly start seeing slow, but steady, growth. Suddenly you have a well-established base and can use your content marketing to continue to engage and grow this audience.
The initial investment that you thought was wasted is now looking like a pretty good deal, isn’t it?
What Should You Consider When Creating A Strategy For Implementing And Evaluating Content Marketing Campaigns?
In accounting, there is no one strategy that is necessarily right for counting sales or inventory. In taxes, there is no one strategy that is necessarily right for filing the most favorable return. The specific approach depends on the company and what it is trying to achieve.
The same can be said for evaluating a content marketing campaign as well. There is no one approach to measuring ROI that is necessarily right for every company. You want to realize the maximum value of your content marketing, but still do it in the most efficient and cost-effective manner possible.
The best return on investment with any content marketing campaign is to see new leads coming in regularly, create customers who are satisfied with the product or services you offer, achieve a satisfactory increase in sales year after year, and realize an overall steady profitability rate.
Good content marketing is about creating content that enables your company to attract, engage, and nurture your target audience. You always want content that is memorable, but you also need content that works. Don’t just create content for the sake of creating content; create content that is supposed to serve a purpose. And then use the proper metrics and tracking mechanisms to make sure it is performing exactly as you anticipated it would.
How to Improve Content Marketing ROI
Content marketing is only as good as the return it gives you on your investment. There is no point in pouring a lot of time, money, and effort into content marketing if you aren’t improving your methods and working towards a higher return. This ROI may not happen overnight, but you should be making solid strides in the right direction and those moves should be something you can measure.
Improve your content marketing efforts by focusing on the aspects that will offer a better investment with higher chances of returns. There are key parts of content marketing that will make or break your whole strategy. Here are some key things you should be doing to improve your content marketing ROI:
Increase Your Content Length
Google isn’t afraid to tell you what makes your content rank better. They don’t want you trying to trick the search engines (black hat SEO), they want you to create the kind of content worth putting in the top results (white hat SEO). Google says websites do best when they are full of highly useful and relevant quality content. Holding a high level of expertise, authority, and trustworthiness (E-A-T) is required for being considered a high-level page by Google.
In order to make your blog posts actually worth something, it is going to take some time and serious effort. You will need tips that are actually helpful and research to back it up. Long articles of real value lead to increasing the time potential customers spend on your page, which lowers bounce rates and can lead to improved lead generation rates.
When visitors stay on your page for minutes instead of seconds, this signals to Google that the user found this page useful. For this reason, time on page impacts how Google values your content.
For this reason, it’s important for brands to include long-form content – that which is packed with value that keeps readers on the page – as part of their content strategy.
People don’t necessarily always want to read thousands of words…
However, when you create long-form content that’s full of value and formatted for the skimmers who just want to gloss over the content and get the main points, you are serving both those who want to read and those who would rather skim.
The more you can write about a topic (without filling it with fluff or stuffing in keywords), the more value you can add. And as you add more value, Google can see you have something to add to the conversation with high-quality content.
But what constitutes “long-form”?
Well, top-performing pages typically contain well over 2,000 words on a page. (SerpIQ)
According to the research done by SerpIQ, the first 10 search results were pages that held well over 2,000 on average. But we know that page ranking isn’t based on word count alone. Hubspot also reports that pages with 2,250 to 2,500 get the most organic traffic. Close behind that are pages with over 2,500 words! And those pages with over 2,500 words earn the most links from outside domains.
Longer content is also more shareable. In fact, posts with over 2,500 are shared most on social media. (Hubspot)
Now, should every page be written to the top 2,000 words? Certainly not!
It’s highly unlikely anyone is itching to read thousands of words about your store opening or your newest product. But, not all content is the same. This is where it’s really important to separate your evergreen trees from the forest.
Build Indexed Pages for Keyword Ranking
Evergreen content is the kind of content that continues to bring visitors to your site through the search engines. It’s also the type of content that is most likely to be shared by your target audience.
Evergreen content isn’t self-serving content, but rather well-researched articles that place you as an authority within the industry. Think about evergreen trees—they are consistent and don’t come in and out of play with the season.
Evergreen content isn’t tied to an event, news topic, or fad, but it is the kind of content that remains true and helpful for a long time.
Not every piece of your published content is going to be evergreen, but when you know there is an important topic your audience will find valuable and relevant, you should focus on that content to make it stand the test of time.
Does that mean that you shouldn’t create content that responds to current trends and fads your audience loves? Well, not exactly.
You can create content that is relevant in the immediate here and now for the shareability, but you will also want to consider if that same content can be made into long-form content that is relevant for a long time.
The more evergreen content you can create for keywords, the higher your pages will rank for people who are searching for the topics you cover. As you create indexed pages that show value, you will have more access points to bring in new leads from the search engines.
Evergreen content isn’t necessarily something you can set and forget. Though it does stand the test of time, this doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have to be updated periodically to include timely statistics and ideas.
That means you should revisit and update old content periodically. Just because something is getting a bit dusty doesn’t mean it isn’t worth pulling out and reusing.
Here are some ways that you can keep your indexed pages and evergreen content up-to-date:
- Clean up the hyperlinks that might be old and add any new internal or external links that could be valuable.
- Change information that is inaccurate, and add any new information that might fit within the structure of the article.
- Include new statistics and research that has emerged since you initially created the piece.
- Add a note about updated content so that readers understand it is current, but also see you’ve been doing this a while (giving you authority).
Focus on SEO Improvement
Your site, from content to code, can either play its strengths for Google or make it hard for Google to crawl. Understanding SEO is more than just knowing which keywords to use. And unlike many other platforms, the effort you spend on SEO will continue to provide returns long after you do the work.
You don’t have to keep paying to get boosted traffic once some of your key pages rank high for popular search terms—they continue to bring in the leads long after the post is published.
Here are some stats that highlight the importance of SEO for your content strategy:
- Across both mobile and desktop, SEO has 20x more traffic opportunities than PPC. (Sparktoro)
- Google provides 94% of all organic website traffic. (Web Presence Solutions).
- 20% of online searches are done in the images tab looking for visual results. (Sparktoro)
If you are going to capitalize on that organic opportunity for bringing in more traffic over the long-term, then you need to make sure your website is optimized for search.
Here are three key things you can do to help improve your website optimization for search engines like Google:
Build domain authority.
If Google doesn’t see you as an authority, the search engine won’t serve your content on the first page of its results, despite how good your content may be. You will need to determine what is hindering your site from being seen as an authority.
Sites like Moz offer the ability to check Domain Authority (DA) to see how your website strength is ranking compared to others. This isn’t a number specifically used by Google, but it gives you insight into how your authority is viewed on a scale of 1-100.
You can check out your DA on Moz to get a starting number to measure against.
One of the best ways to increase domain authority is to get backlinks from sites of authority. Building backlinks isn’t easy, and it starts with creating great content that others will want to link to. Including quotes
Use branded images.
Not only will images engage your audience, build brand awareness, and increase your content shareability, they increase your search reach by popping up in the Google search results.
For this reason, always include at least one professional image in your content and make sure you caption the image with Alt Text related to your article content for searchability. Include your business name or logo on the image so that when it’s shared, your brand will be too.
Practice responsive design.
Whether you like it or not, many of your target customers are using their mobile devices to consume content and media.
In 2018, 43% of all email was opened via a mobile device. (Statista) And that number only increases as our dependence on smart phones and mobile devices continues to increase.
Not only do your users hate trying to read desktop layouts on their devices, but Google hates it too. It’s 2020, and mobile-friendly is no longer a nice-to-have, it’s a must-have.
Practice responsive design when designing each landing page, email, and blog post. It should look nice and be easy to navigate on screens of every size.
Deliver Tailored Content to Audience
Creating great content is just the first step. You need to make sure that content is in front of and accessible to your target audience.
Targeting your audience goes beyond creating tailored products, you also need to think strategically about how and where you promote your content as well. There’s a good chance that you have more than one audience persona that you are trying to reach. Make sure that you create content for each persona and deliver it to your target audiences in places they will see it.
One way that you can do this is through email segmentation. Segment your email marketing contacts by like characteristics. Once you segment your list, it will be easier to send each segment the content that speaks to their unique interests, needs, and position in the buyer’s journey or sales funnel.
You can break up your list by a wide variety of factors, including:
- Past purchases (or not purchased yet)
- Points of entry (why did they give you their email)
- Products reviews
- Products left in the cart
…And so much more! You don’t need to send content out as a one-size-fits-all solution. Promote the content that will really appeal to that segment of your list to increase the chances of being relevant to them.
You can also think more strategically about other promotional channels like social media. Share the content on each channel that appeals to the audience that uses this channel most.
Promoting the content you’ve already spent time and effort on is more cost-effective than just continually creating more. And the more content you produce, the more you will be able to change up what you are re-promoting without irritating your target audience.
Establish Your Content Marketing Strategy
Do not skip your research.
You are going to need a solid strategy with goals and a measurement to define success or failure. You don’t want to wander around, unsure of if you are moving forward, treading water, or being sucked backward. A content strategy will help you clarify your path—both what works and what doesn’t.
Research is going to be your best friend to help you find the strongest marketing strategies for the best return on your investment.
Knowing your buyer personas and who, exactly, you are targeting is very important. Performing A/B testing to see what actually works based on your target audience is also a key element to audience research.
If you assume you know the audience and what they like, you will most likely have created a straw man in your head that isn’t very close to reality. Get to know who you are appealing to, and you will be better prepared to make a solid appeal.
You will be surprised at what small changes in your headlines, colors, images, and content appeal more to those you are targeting as ideal customers.
Look for those questions people are asking and the needs that aren’t being met. Keyword research will help you determine what immediate (short-term) content and evergreen (long-term) content need to get put on your content marketing editorial calendar.
Once you have done your research, you need to clearly lay out your strategies (content marketing strategy), define your goals, and establish your content calendar.
Running short on ideas for your content marketing?
Here’s a quick list:
- Tap into your team member’s knowledge and write articles based on their insights
- Don’t get so caught up with evergreen topic ideas that you miss the here-and-now of fads, hot news, and trending topics
- Find out what questions are being asked directly to your sales or marketing teams, and turn this into evergreen content. The more content you can create to answer real questions, the more valuable the content will be to real people. The average person is likely trying to look up the information before they ever get to the point of asking your team.
- Ask employees what support would be helpful. What are they continually telling customers that could be turned into a long-form piece of content or guide? Your employees can save time if they are able to respond to clients with a link to an in-depth content asset that answers their questions or solves their problem.
- Cover your customer pain points. You made your product or service for a reason, now you can cover some of the common issues people face that you solve. Describe the issue in detail, let your audience know they aren’t alone, and provide some of the solutions they can use to fix their problem. This will bring in qualified leads that are still in the awareness stages of the buyer’s journey.
Your content marketing strategy should be set to meet certain goals over specific time frames with accompanying deadlines. After completing the strategy, see if you’ve been successful in meeting your goals. Always have a clear strategy in place, so your team is on the same page and you have a larger purpose driving every piece of content, content marketing campaign, and CTA.
Make Sure Your Content Marketing is Working for You
While you don’t need to rely heavily on content marketing ROI as a way to determine the success of your content marketing, it is an important measurement to track as part of your overall metrics. Knowing how much return you are getting for your investment in content helps you understand where you should be investing more of your time and money.
Now that you have a better understanding of what content marketing ROI is and how you can calculate it, you’ll be able to track your return on investment over time and look for patterns in the types of content and content topics that are bringing you more revenue.
Special thanks to the WriterAccess freelancers who contributed to this post: Susan M., Kathy R., and Alethea M.
Sarah Jane Burt is Sr. Content Strategist at WriterAccess. For the past decade, she’s helped brands big and small, from tech giant IBM to the local plumber, tell their stories and create strategies for customer-driven content. When she’s not working on developing and implementing our content strategy, she’s writing blog posts that help demystify content marketing and strategy for entrepreneurs, small business owners, and enterprise content teams.