What is one of the biggest challenges facing content marketers today? If the blog traffic and conversions at CMI are any indication, measurement and ROI are two nuts that marketers are trying to crack. But this is no surprise. Justifying marketing spend has been a struggle since the beginning of time.
But content marketers face a more specific challenge because the payoff is not immediate. In fact, it typically takes at least 18 months before you see bottom-line results. If you are in an industry with a long sales cycle, it often takes longer to tie content marketing to revenue, making short-term ROI even more elusive.
As Scott Severson says:
Unlike other forms of marketing, #contentmarketing pays dividends far into the future says @scottseverson. Click To Tweet
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.”
How to Measure Performance to Improve Your Content Marketing
First things first: What are you trying to measure?
Regardless of whether you are getting started or trying to prove ROI on a long-standing program, you need to have consensus on what success looks like. This may seem obvious, but only 44% of B2B marketers, 43% of B2C marketers, and 30% of nonprofit marketers know what this is.
When you are getting started
Unlike traditional advertising where you can see the results quickly, it often takes at least 18 months to start seeing results from your content marketing efforts. This means that it’s tough – if not impossible – to show true ROI at the beginning or your efforts.It often takes 18 months to start seeing results from your #contentmarketing efforts says @michelelinn. Click To Tweet
Build your business case for content marketing
You first need to set the stage so your leadership team understands what you’re measuring (and agrees that is what should be measured) and knows that the results will take time. While there are many ways to build your case, here are few ideas:
Present case studies and examples of brands that are using content marketing to build their business – and be realistic about how long this will take.
I’m a big fan of our documentary, The Story of Content: Rise of the New Marketing, which explores the evolution of marketing and presents several interesting case studies. You can even download our screening kit to help you use the documentary to have the right kinds of conversations.)
Below is a video from one of my favorite brand success stories, but the documentary covers several:
- John Deere
- Jyske Bank
Help the leadership team realize that content marketing has benefits beyond revenue.
Appeal to the leaders’ sense of empathy: Do they like to be interrupted and have information shoved down their throats, or would they prefer to have their questions answered – when and how they want?
By sharing useful information and educating your audience, you are building a better customer who may be more likely to make more confident purchasing decisions, renew more often, and advocate for your brand.
Remind the team that the content you are publishing today will be found in the future – and will continue to drive traffic, subscribers, revenue, or whatever your goals are.
Just like a 401k, your investment in time and money for your content will likely not result in an immediate payoff, but the benefits that compound over time can be enormous.
If keeping things positive isn’t going to work, show your leadership that your competition is showing up while you are buried (or invisible).
Are there keywords you want people to identify with your brand? Do some poking around in Google and find those words where your competitor shows up – and you don’t.
Then type these keywords in for your management team and see their reaction. It’s a great kick in the pants to start the conversation.
A Nutshell Guide to Proper Keyword Research
Identify your short-term goals
If your team needs to have specific goals in the early stages, here are some ideas:
- Figure out what matters in the short term to your executive team before your content is able to tie to revenue. Even if these metrics are not technically ROI – they’re ROO (return on objective). For instance, do they care about traffic, social shares, quality back links, or email conversions?
- Consider justifying your program by comparing it to the costs of traditional advertising. While this study from Kapost and Eloqua is a few years old, I love how it compares the cost of content marketing and paid search marketing.
TIP TO IMPROVE ROI: If you need to justify the cost or your program in the early stages, make sure to budget for paid promotion of your best content (not your products or services) in search and social channels. Having this type of data can help you make better decisions on what to focus on in the future and show the team what type of results are possible.
BuzzSumo is a great tool to help you identify where to spend your money. You can look at all of the content on your domain by simply typing in your URL (minus the http://) or you can type in your domain as well as the general topic you want to cover. You’ll get a set of results that you can then sort by Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.
Click to enlarge
Once you have a bit of content and experience
After you have been executing content marketing a while, you may be asked to show more quantitative results. Again, you need to understand what success looks like in your organization and what metrics your leadership team cares about so everything can be tied to these.
While there is no one right way to do this, I suggest looking at costs/investment vs. benefits.
How much does it cost to create your content? This exercise can be easy or complicated, based on the level of detail required.
Quick method: If you are using freelancers, this cost can be somewhat easy to calculate. If you are using internal resources, ask people to track the time they spend on projects for a few weeks so you can understand where time is spent and then translate that cost to projects.
More detailed method: In this presentation, Making Better Content Decisions, Laura Creekmore details seven expenses as they relate to content, which is likely more than what you are considering:
- Percent of your ongoing audience research
- Time to come up with the idea
- Time to create one asset
- Number of people involved for how long and for what cost
- Time/cost for content structure creation and maintenance
- Percentage of any budget you have, including things such as hardware upgrades, training, travel, office supplies
- Time/cost for every person involved in the review/approval process (and consider how often you need to review)
You don’t need to get this detailed, but it is useful to start to understand what your content is really costing. Even if you aren’t doing these calculations to justify your overall program, having an understanding of this information can help you make better decisions on where to prioritize your efforts.
TIP TO IMPROVE ROI: Michael Brenner suggests one hidden expense in many organizations:
Sirius Decisions has reported that as much as 60 to 70% of content goes unused. Any content that never gets used is 100% waste. You need to not only track content production, but also usage.
In short, figure out what content isn’t getting used and stop producing that type of content immediately to reduce expenses.
Of course, you not only need to look at costs, but you need to look at the money your content is generating for your business.
You need to continue to do two things:
- Understand which goals are most important to your leadership team and report on those.
- Communicate that the benefit of content marketing builds a better customer, not just revenue.
Next, you need to associate the value to each of these goals.
For instance, one common goal of content marketing is building an audience/subscribers, which is something that can be measured. I like this explanation from Pam Neely in the article, How to Calculate Email Subscriber Value (and Why it Matters). She presents this simple equation (the blog goes into more details):
Month’s revenue earned from email list divided by number of month’s subscribers = revenue per subscriber
TIP TO IMPROVE ROI: As mentioned, the great thing about content marketing is that you likely have content created ages ago that is still contributing to your goals. Don’t only look at recent content but look at historical content as well. At CMI, we have many posts that are more than two years old that still drive substantial traffic and new subscribers. Take your analysis a step further, update and republish those popular pieces. From my experience, these pieces take minimal work, yet they bring in a fresh audience that converts very well.
TIP TO IMPROVE ROI: While the ideas above are great for getting you started and provide some quantitative suggestions on how to prove the worth of your program, here is another way to look at your efforts: What would the impact be if your content were not there?
Bringing it together in a report
Once you have your measurements down, it’s useful to keep everyone in the loop about the progress of the program. Here is a simple editorial status report that you can adapt for your needs. A couple of things to remember:
- Continue to report on the metrics that the team agreed are important.
- Only collect the data on which you will take action.
Click to enlarge
I’d love to hear from you. Does this help you measure your content more successfully? What other roadblocks are you facing?
(Editor’s note: This post is adapted from my contribution to Uberflip’s eBook, The Ultimate Guide to Content Insights.)
Want to keep up to date on content marketing trends and tools to persuade your leadership team? Subscribe to CMI’s free daily newsletter.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute