By Arnie Kuenn
President, Vertical Measures
If you have created a culture of content marketing in your business, you’ve probably found yourself in a nice rhythm of producing content pieces. You know how to develop a strategy, map out an editorial content calendar, manage your internal team, and tell an interesting story. You’ve already learned how to “think like a publisher.” But knowing how to run a content marketing strategy isn’t the same as producing results. In the end, you want to make sure that your time, expenditures, and resources are being invested in something that pays off.
Know What You’re Investing In
You wouldn’t spend money on a client project unless you knew what pot it was coming out of and how much you had to spend. It may seem simplistic to say, but it’s vital to understand the “I” in your ROI. Know what you’re investing in when you create good content so you can see positive returns for your business, Here are some obvious and more subtle costs to consider when figuring out your content marketing investment:
- Internal team time spent creating and publishing content
- Any additional payments to designers, content producers, developers, etc.
- Promotional marketing costs including PR, social media ads, and other advertising
- Time it takes to follow-up on measurement and analytics
- Investments in planning and strategy creation & training
Be sure to include any and all investments you know you’re making so you can get a good picture of how much your content marketing is costing you as well as know what you’re getting in return.
If you’re just starting you’re content marketing campaign for the first time, you won’t always have a treasure trove of knowledge or data to use as a starting point for your content’s success. If that is the case for you, use subtle signs and indirect indicators to help you pinpoint what is performing and what is not. Some things that will show you this are:
- Facebook Likes, Shares, or Comments
- +1s on Google+
When you’re more established and you have a broader audience, you can then look at direct metrics and start tracking them as main elements that make up your content marketing ROI. The above listed signs are always great ways to know what’s working, but as time goes on, you will learn which of these indicators are more consistently producing as your success metrics.
Put a Number Value on What You Want
One of the best and clearest way to see the return on your content marketing investment is by setting up and tracking goals within your analytics program. You can assign an actual dollar value to the goals you want to reach. This is something often done for eCommerce obviously, but is also important for calculating less direct conversions. You can look at a lot of different elements, but the simplest value to use is your average sale value multiplied by your conversion rate.
Let’s say on average a sales contract from a website ends up bringing in $3500 in margin. Anyone who fills out a contact form is a lead, and leads become customers 5% of the time. In this example, the average value of a lead from a website contact form is $175.
Since you now know the value of a lead (or whatever goal you’re tracking), you can start to see what content produces the most leads. Say that one of your website visitors reads one of your blog posts, and then is compelled to fill out a contact form to learn more about your services. If we go off the example I listed above, that blog post has made you $175. You now have a dollar amount that you can measure up against the costs you’ve incurred with your content marketing.
Being able to give a value to your visitors means you can start to see how returns come from different content types or audience segments.
Go Deeper into your Visitor’s Actions
By following the process outlined above, you have a great way to start measuring your content marketing ROI. There are more ways to get into the details and have an even more precise look at what works and what doesn’t. You know that some of your content far surpasses others, so going past the surface level averages into the more in-depth metrics can really show you which content your audience is most likely to spend money on.
One example of this is what Joe Pulizzi of Content Marketing Institute calls a profitable customer action. This is action they take on your site by making a purchase, signing up for your newsletter, registering for your webinar, or any other action you may ask for. Most often, this customer actions happen when the visitor has been on your site for a longer period of time.
You’ll want to consider this fact when analyzing your ROI. Ask yourself: do customers that spend over 4 minutes (or whatever time is relevant to you) on my website convert more than someone under 4 minutes? After you know the answer to that, you can understand the returns of your content, since reading a piece of content keeps a visitor on your site longer…thus providing a higher ROI.
The biggest takeaway here is to find powerful indicators and also trust averages. Maybe a blog or video didn’t perform up to expectations for you, but if it’s the kind of content that usually performs well in the bigger picture, then don’t scrap it. Here are some more factors to help gauge content marketing returns:
Time on Page
Like I mentioned before, the time a visitor spends looking at your content can really show you what is working. Of course, it depends on your industry and audience as this can vary greatly. In some cases, when someone spends a long time on a page, they are really in depth with what you have to share and might read every word. Other times, high on-page time means the opposite: they don’t understand your content and are taking time to try and get through it. Make sure to relate this metric against your overall conversion rates to clarify if longer time on pages is positive or negative for your specific website.
Traffic source is truly vital for substantial content marketing ROI measurement. If you’re a brand that has relied on paid search advertising, organic search, referrals, or direct traffic to boost visits to your site, this can mean dramatically lowered costs for you to acquire leads. Even if you don’t see an increase in leads, if you can reduce your paid search spend in half per month and still get traffic from other means, you can measure that lost half in return on your content marketing investment.
Time on Site vs Average Pages
As a rule of thumb, the longer someone is on your site the more likely they are to convert. But you still must look at how this data coincides with your conversions. In some case, someone will come to your site ready to convert and spend a long time looking around your whole site at multiple pages. Maybe their interest is cooling off, so be careful to look at the metrics side by side.
Do you know the percentage of time that someone comes to a page on your site and immediately leaves? Bounce rates are a great metric, but be careful because a high percentage doesn’t always mean there is something wrong. Maybe someone came and found just what they were looking for on your blog and then left. The opposite rings true, however, for service/sales pages and eCommerce product pages.
New vs. Returning Visitor
If you do find you have a high bounce rate, there is a metric to help you understand that those people might be still coming back for more. When you’re determining your content marketing ROI, you need to look at why people are returning along with your conversion data. Maybe you find that when you have an increase in site visitors, you successfully are moving prospective customers through your sales cycle at a faster pace. They’ve become more familiar and trusting of your brand. Same goes for higher conversion with more returning visitors. You can track your increased percentage of returning visitors in your ROI.
On the other hand, returning visitors may be the ones coming to you only for more informational content and industry news like in the graph below:
In this case, ROI may not indicate direction conversion as much as continued value if that content is shared or linked, along with driving referral traffic and lower lead costs. Either way that it swings, it’s essential to track who your audience is and how they behave to be sure you’re positioning your content correctly for the kind of response you want to get.
Online data will always be important for your ROI, but make sure to look at what is giving you returns to your day-to-day business. Here are some examples we’ve come across:
- Customer service spends less time answering questions due to coverage on site
- Leads come in better qualified with less nurturing needed
- Less of a need to spend additional money on traditional advertising and other expenses
- Support calls lessen with how-to videos, resources lists, and articles
Challenges & Tips
Since measuring content marketing can sometimes be tough, you have to remember to be fair yet firm with what you choose to look at. If you find that your content marketing isn’t performing up to expectations, you need to understand that and then make the necessary changes to make your money go further. I recommend focusing on a few, most visible metrics so you don’t overlook the rewards that you are reaping in through your content marketing.
About the Author
Arnie Kuenn is the president of Vertical Measures and author of Accelerate! Content Development & Marketing to Grow Your Business Online. Vertical Measures provides search, social and content marketing services, designed to help businesses improve their online presence and obtain more traffic and conversions.
See Arnie Live!
Join Arnie in his session on “Improving Conversions Through Useful Content Marketing” at Conversion Conference Chicago, June 17-19. Follow Arnie on Twitter