By Scott Severson published June 14, 2015

A Simple Method to Measure Content Marketing ROI

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If you search online for “content marketing ROI,” you get close to 10 million results. The majority don’t provide anything particularly useful or actionable for typical marketers trying to justify their content marketing expenses to the CFO. So when I came across David Meerman Scott’s article on basing content marketing ROI on a Google AdWords equivalency, I was intrigued. I decided to run an analysis across our clients at Brandpoint.

First off, let’s get down our vocabulary. Many tactics make up the concept of content marketing, but we’ll leave that for another article. For the purpose of this analysis, we’re focused on the tactic of developing “on-site” content. Simply put, that means developing great content that lives on your website to attract, educate, and convert your audience. This content most commonly takes the form of a blog.

Scott’s article suggests measuring the value of your on-site content based on the organic traffic it generates and what that traffic would have cost through Google AdWords. We looked at a broad array of clients through this lens and measured the value of the organic traffic that we generated for them.

Here’s what the data shows about our average client:

  • Breaks even on its content expense within nine months, based on the value of the organic traffic
  • Sees a 200% or more ROI from that same content over 36 months (Again, we’re looking only at the value of organic traffic.)
  • Sees a 10-times lift in overall organic traffic to its site due to increasing its overall content footprint (It’s important to note that these clients were not regularly producing content prior to working with us, so a client who already is producing a lot of content would not likely see a similar lift.)

Here’s how you can do this analysis yourself using Google Analytics and Excel:

  1. Looking only at the organic traffic for a group of content assets, find the number of entrances to the posts over the measurement period.
  1. Use Google AdWords Keyword Planner tool to find the cost per click (CPC) for the primary keyword or phrase used in each piece of content.
  1. Multiply your organic entrances by the CPC for that primary keyword and repeat across all the content.
  1. Extrapolate the data using a linear extrapolation formula in Excel. (Organic traffic typically follows a shallow bell curve that a linear extrapolation evens out.)

This simple analysis is one way that marketers can justify their content investment based on concrete numbers. We get geeked doing the numbers because that’s who we are. But if you want to analyze the value of your traffic in a more turnkey way, several sites can help. One of the best is SpyFu.

While SpyFu’s main goal is competitive keyword research, you also can use the tool to measure the value of your own traffic. Here is some reporting for one of our favorite clients, a major insurer, and its consumer blog.

This chart shows its organic keyword growth, and the arrows indicate where additional, consistent, and focused content development began expanding the blog’s footprint:

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This chart shows its SEO traffic by month:

Estimated-Monthly-SEO- Value-image 2b

Finally, this chart shows the value of that traffic in dollars:

Estimated-Monthly-SEO- Value-image 3b

The only flaw with analyzing the ROI of developing on-site content in either of these manners is that it doesn’t tell the entire value story. This is really the first step. There are many other benefits of developing great content for your site beyond organic traffic. Here’s a list of some of those benefits:

  • More social referrals and engagement
  • Increased time spent on-site
  • Improved lead generation
  • Higher conversion rates
  • More inbound links
  • More closed sales

When you take into account those on-site content benefits, the ROI goes far beyond 200%.

So, what are the key takeaway messages from all this?

  1. If you’re looking for immediate results, you would be better off doing a pay-per-click search campaign on Google. (Note: We recommend that our clients invest in paid search as well.)
  1. Content marketing does pay, and you really can measure the return on that investment.

Content marketing is a lot like working out. You’re not going to see a payoff in a week, but if you commit to doing it regularly over time, you’ll see amazing results. Bottom line: There is tremendous ROI in consistently developing great content for your audience. And, unlike other forms of marketing, content marketing pays dividends far into the future.

Want to learn more about measuring content marketing success? Read CMI’s e-book on the topic today.

Cover image by Jeff Sheldon, UnSplash, via pixabay.com

Author: Scott Severson

Scott Severson is the president of Brandpoint, a leading content marketing agency that helps clients build their brand, educate consumers and drive sales. Scott is a passionate advocate for content marketing tactics, measurement and optimization, and has employed his digital expertise to a wide range of businesses.

Other posts by Scott Severson

  • Jarrett Byrom

    Good Idea. One thing I would consider in this method is to use a group of keywords related to the page instead of the primary because it is very unlikely one keyword is driving all the traffic. Also, I would cut the Adwords CPC cost in half instead of using the full amount adwords gives you because most PPC pros dont pay the full amount Google suggests because they can spend their entire budget for the keywords in a campaign at much lower bids and drive more traffic.

  • http://hashimwarren.com/ Hashim Warren

    The principle is sound, but the method you laid out isn’t.

    Yes, use Paid Media to get a grasp on the value of your Owned and Earned Media.

    But!

    Don’t get so granular. Adwords’ projected cost-per-click is notoriously bad. I don’t know a practicing ppc manager who relies on that data. There are a bunch of other problems with that approach, but this comment is already too long :)

  • https://inbound.li/ Gene Sobolev

    Great tips, Scott. I was looking at many ideas how to quantify content marketing ROI and yours seems the most concrete so far.
    However, SpyFu seems very inaccurate, do you have any other suggestions for similar tools?

    • Scott Severson

      Hi Gene- I can’t speak to SpyFu’s accuracy. I’m not aware of any tools that would do a better job than SpyFu on giving you an idea of the impact of your content. The manual method suggested is likely going to provide the most accurate data, but not everyone is going to want to do that level of analysis.

      • https://inbound.li/ Gene Sobolev

        Thanks, Scott. I’ll be on the lookout for tools and will let you know if I come across something better.

  • Scott Severson

    Hi Andrew- Measuring content marketing ROI remains one of the top frustrations of our industry.

    The article is offered as one way that the average marketer can show ROI to the C suite.

    I agree, and the article points out, that just looking at what the equivalent traffic would cost on Adwords does not come close to telling the whole value story.

    But it is one data point that can fairly easily show movement and ROI from producing on site content, (even if you decide to discount Googles CPC estimates). And that’s a great start for many content marketers!

  • MikeMathews

    Great ideas. I first used a similar method back in 1979 for attributing ROI for NPI comms, actually gained funding based on requested lead generation. In the 1980s the same method postponed a NPI for lack of funding and the product launched successfully the next year.

    Andrew Gloyns’ comment brings up the typical sticking point: complete ROI is difficult to track or measure when sales is not trackable, as is the case in much of the B2B businesses using multi-channel distribution. Do you have any suggestions for tracking content marketing ROI through a tiered in-house/outside sales/rep/disti/dealer sales channel?

  • http://www.painepublishing.com KDPaine

    What you’ve suggested is a good tool to determine comparative cost effectiveness, or in accounting terms a cost/benefit analysis but it is NOT ROI. Unless you are running a pay-per-click site, there is no financial return from clicks. If you set up conversion goals that are tied to sales of your product, maybe you could figure out the ROI, after taking in the attribution issues that others have mentioned So please remove ROI from your headline!

    • Scott Severson

      Good point KD, and technically speaking I agree with you that cost benefit analysis would be more appropriate.

  • Anthony GP

    This is fantastic! I now have the urge to stop everything and start doing this for our own content today. Thanks!

    • Scott Severson

      Thanks, glad you liked it Anthony