Tweets, likes, favorite and comments are all solid markers of content engagement, but they’re not very useful metrics for measuring content marketing ROI. So what is? Firstly, it’s important to remember that in the wild wooly world of content marketing, all metrics fall into one of two categories: relationship metrics and ROI metrics. Relationship metrics are the ones mentioned above; they measure day-to-day, piece-to-piece content engagement. [EDITOR NOTE: LINK TO RELATIONSHIP ROI PIECE HERE] ROI metrics are a bit trickier. These metrics tackle bigger picture issues such as brand affinity/brand lift, lead generation and lead nurturing.
Before we go any further, let’s tackle the big elephant in the room: results don’t happen overnight. It’s absolutely critical that you, your marketing team, and even your CEO understand that content marketing is a slow burn. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll be able to draw a direct line between a white load paper download on Monday and a purchase from that very same company on Wednesday. (Though if you do, that’s pretty amazing.)
Content doesn’t produce immediate results. Instead, you need to continually bring value to your reader’s day and cultivate a relationship based on trust before you should even begin to worry about measuring ROI. It’s also worth keeping in mind that sometimes the cost of calculating ROI outweighs the cost of not knowing what your ROI is. Numbers can be highly seductive. I once worked with a business that spent so much time measuring and re-measuring their content’s performance that they bypassed the most basic step: ensuring their material was worth reading in the first place. Obsessing over ROI but not covering the basics of content engagement is a bit like publishing a professional press release but leaving out the vital who, when, where, what and how information. You’re missing the proverbial forest for the trees. That said, when used wisely and judiciously, ROI calculations can be a valuable tool for tracking overall content marketing success. These are the metrics that matter most:
1. Brand lift. Brand lift is the increase in positive brand interactions as the result of your content marketing campaign; it quantifies a shift in perception, awareness or behavior intention.
How to measure: You can’t read your customer’s minds, so you’ll need a before/after exposure survey. For example, both Google AdWords and Buzzfeed survey their users about their respective products to track brand lift and purchasing intent.
2. Longevity. How long does your content continue to be consumed after its published? For example, some evergreen articles are intended to be read for months or even years to come; longevity metrics determine whether that’s truly the case. If your content is not being consumed for as long as you intend for it to be, that lowers your content’s ROI.
How to measure: Nearly every link-shortening tool will report the “half-life” of a typical link. If your content’s half-life is 12 hours, for example, this means that within 12 hours it will have received half of all its lifetime clicks.
3. Lead generation. As the name implies, lead generation measure the number of leads a piece of content generates. This metric is most relevant if your business is publishing a substantial amount of long-form content that’s aimed at B2B lead generation, such as white papers, ebooks, and original industry research.
How to measure: Counting leads is fairly easy, assuming you require the lead to complete a simple sign-up form before accessing your long-form content. Quantifying the overall quality of these leads is a bigger challenge. If you use a marketing automation program or other lead tracking software, analyze quality gradings. Are the majority of leads generated via your latest ebook high quality (and thus likely to convert) or lower quality (e.g., from outside your industry)? What percentage of these leads ultimately converted after one month, six months or one year? Tying content production to sales revenue is tricky, but quantifying quality lead generation is a start.
Erin M writes extensively on behalf of B2B companies to support their content marketing and thought leadership campaigns, and her clients range from major Fortune 500 companies to small business startups. When not crafting custom content solutions for her clients, you can find her adding stamps to her passport, scuba diving, or perfecting her secret cheesecake recipe.