You’ve got a content marketing strategy, but is it working?
If you want to be a successful content marketer, it’s not enough to do what you think is effective—you need to objectively measure whether what you’re doing is effective or not, and then take the appropriate corrective actions.
Many marketers don’t understand what’s necessary in measuring and analyzing a content marketing campaign—and even if they do, they may have trouble interpreting the data.
In this guide to content marketing ROI, you’ll learn the potential payoff of a content marketing campaign.
What Works in Online Marketing survey, 40% of SEO agency respondents (114 out of 284) indicated that they were not sure about their content marketing ROI from on-site content marketing efforts, and 43% (123 out of 289) weren’t sure about content marketing ROI from their off-site efforts.
Clearly, many marketers find it challenging to measure content marketing ROI from their content marketing efforts.
When you’re first starting out, measurement and analysis can be intimidating, but data measurement and analysis are objective and complex. I’ve written this guide to help you better understand the importance of measurement and analysis—and how to do it effectively for your content marketing campaign.
Table of Contents
What is Content Marketing ROI?
First, let’s define ROI—it’s an acronym that stands for “return on investment,” and most marketers will tell you it’s one of, if not the most important metric you need to know to determine your campaign’s effectiveness (in content or for any other strategy). If your content marketingROI is positive, you’re doing something right – keep working to improve it. If your content marketing ROI is negative, you know that something isn’t working and it needs to change.
There are a few problems with ROI when it comes to content marketing, however:
- Content affects many areas. One of the reasons why content marketing is so powerful in the first place is because it doesn’t rest alone in any one area. It affects your domain authority and the amount of virtual real estate your website has, it facilitates social media marketing and email campaigns, and can be used for countless other channels—it can even be used for client retention in addition to or instead of client acquisition.
- Not all content effects are easy to measure. Some content benefits are terribly difficult to quantify. An increase in brand reputation can increase your conversion rates and may push users further along the buy cycle when they get to your site, but you can’t quantify these things with any degree of certainty.
- It’s a slow building strategy. It takes a long time to see the true benefits from content marketing. As you grow your strategy from nothing, you’ll almost certainly start with a neutral or negative content marketing ROI, which can only become positive after months or even years of effort.
Despite these weaknesses, understanding your content marketing ROI as well as possible is crucial, so I still highly encourage you to keep it as one of your top priorities for gauging campaign success.
Bonus: We released a separate article outlining how to compute your SEO ROI.
Why Measuring Content Marketing ROI is Important
Before I dig into the details of measurement and analysis, I want to explain the importance of analysis in the first place. Why is this phase of the process so important to the success and health of your content marketing initiative?
Setting and Measuring Goals
First, analysis can help you define, set, and eventually measure your content and goals.
- Defining success. There are many possible types of goals your brand can set for its content marketing campaign, and there’s no “right” or “wrong” way to go about it. For example, you could focus exclusively on building a better reputation for your brand, and work on getting featured in high-authority publishers. Or, you could focus on customer retention and drive your efforts toward your help and support content. You could focus more on generating traffic, or getting more conversions, or just reaching a wider social audience so you can attract more followers.
How can analysis help you figure out what SEO goals you want to set? When you’re first starting out, most of your goals will be speculative, or based on preliminary forms of research like market research or competitive research. But once you get rolling, you’ll have access to far more in-depth and brand-specific pools of data, which can tell you exactly how your content and SEO is performing. Here, you’ll be able to see where your strengths and weaknesses are; for example, if you see that your conversion rates are at an all-time high, but your traffic is lackluster, you can adjust your goals to focus on attracting more traffic. You’ll also have a baseline for comparison here; if you know you’re getting 1,000 website visitors a month with your current strategy, 1,200 next month is a pretty realistic target.
- Goal criteria. When you’re setting goals to measure and analyze, you’ll want to keep some important criteria in mind. The SMART criteria is always a good standby here, even though there’s some variability in what “SMART” can actually stand for (Wikipedia says they stand for specific, measurable, achievable, relevance, and time-bound). Your goals should be specific, so you can have an objectively comparable number for your data. They should be measurable, obviously, so make sure your goals are relevant to something you can measure in your analytics platforms. Make them achievable and relevant, so they’re actually going to matter for your brand, and set a limit when it comes to timing (give yourself at least a month to make any kind of meaningful progress). Once you know your goals, you can establish what you’re actually going to measure when it comes to content marketing ROI—and how you’re going to measure it.
- Ongoing development. Remember that the process of setting and achieving goals is an ongoing one. It’s something that should be revisited, modified, and adjusted as you gather more information about your campaign. For example, you might start with a goal of increasing traffic, and consistently move your targets up as you build more and more momentum, but as you reach a plateau, you may have to shift your focus or rein in your ambitions to hit more feasible, meaningful targets when you measure your content marketing success.
Identifying Successes and Failures
Experimentation in marketing is vital to the long-term success of your campaign. If you keep things too consistent or predictable, your campaign will end up becoming stagnant. Experiments, however, are risky; conceptually, you might identify them as strong opportunities for development, but in practice they may see very different results. Analytics is your tool to find out which of your experiments are working and which ones aren’t.
Depending on how you approach the problem, you can set up an AB test to compare two variations of a campaign independently. For example, you might launch two eBooks at a similar time and in a similar way to determine which one is more appealing to your target audience.
But you might also decide to simply change something about your campaign—such as targeting a new niche or ramping up the frequency at which you publish new content. In these cases, you’ll need to compare large swaths of data with others from a different time period.
In any case, analytics is the only way to know for sure whether one of your new strategies is working or not. Otherwise, you’re shooting blind, and you could end up wasting your time and money on strategies that aren’t effective.
When it comes to quantitative data for your content campaign, there’s no better general tool than Google Analytics. It will help you track almost any data point you can imagine related to your content or your site, and it’s pretty easy to use. It even integrates with a number of third-party dashboards. Best of all, it’s completely free—all you need is a Google account, and you can grab a tracking script to place within the code of your site. There may be other platforms that can serve your specific needs better, or ones that are easier for you to use personally, but Google Analytics can work for almost anybody, so it’s the most universal platform I can offer or suggest.
Throughout this section, I’ll be exploring the different areas of Google Analytics you can use to evaluate your content marketing campaign, where to find it, and what your key takeaways should be from the information you find. I’ve organized this section in broad categories of data—such as “traffic” and “conversions,” so even if you don’t plan on using Google Analytics, you can still learn about the key metrics you need to measure and why they’re so important. I’ll be exploring alternative and complementary tools in the final section of this guide, so keep these metrics in mind for those as well.
First, let’s take a look at traffic, the number of people who visit your site. Obviously, the more people who visit your site, the better—more incoming people means you’ll have more opportunities for conversions, and even if they don’t convert, you’ll at least build more brand familiarity. One of the primary functions of content is to attract new users in the first place, and you can use the Acquisition section of Google Analytics to see how well your content performs this function.
Find the Acquisition section on the left-hand side of the dashboard, and click into the “Overview.” This will give you a detailed breakdown of how many visitors have come to your site during the time period you’ve selected, and where those users came from.
There are four main potential sources of traffic here (you may also see paid advertising, or other peripheral routes), all of which tie back to your content in some way. You can view this from a high level, or click into each individual traffic “channel” to get more detailed information.
- Organic Traffic. First, take a look at your organic traffic. This is a measure of all the traffic your site has received from organic searches in search engines like Bing and Google. You can break this down by search engine, and look at the keyword used for each search (though Google doesn’t provide much keyword information through Google Analytics anymore), but the big number to pay attention to here is the number of sessions you received. If you’re using content as part of a search engine optimization strategy, this is the most comprehensive measure you can use to gauge its effectiveness. The more authority and visibility online you generate through your campaign, the higher this number will climb; just keep in mind this figure is also influenced by your search engine optimization efforts (the lines are blurry here). If you see this number stagnating or dwindling, you’ll have to readjust the keyword focus and authoritative strength of your content.
- Referral Traffic. Your referral traffic will give you another measure of your content’s specific influence. Referral traffic measures people who came to your site by clicking on an external link. Since many of your external links will be built in content you’ve submitted to off-site publishers (if you’re following our guide to building links), you’ll have clear insight not only into which publishers are sending you the most traffic, but what types of topics are generating the most visitors. Be sure to drill into this one, as it also includes referral traffic from links independent from your content marketing strategy. Take inventory of what parts of your documented content strategy are succeeding or failing, and make adjustments accordingly.
- Social Traffic. Next, you’ll want to take a look at the social traffic and social engagement you’ve been able to generate. As you might imagine, this collects all the inbound traffic you’ve received from your social media channels, such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn—and you can even look to see specifically which channels are generating the most traffic. From there, you can click into each individual platform and see what links syndicated on those platforms are responsible for what share of traffic you’re getting. It’s a fantastic way to gauge how your content is reaching the different segments of your social audience.
- Direct Traffic. Finally, we have direct traffic, which is a bit harder to dissect. Direct traffic is comprised of several different potential sources:
- Typing in your website address in the URL bar
- Clicking a link from an email
- Clicking a link from a chat software
- Clicking a link from a shortened URL (such as bit.ly)
- Clicking a link from a mobile social media app such as Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn (phone apps usually don’t pass referrer information).
- Clicking a link from a secure site (https) that leads to a non-secure site (http). Watch out for this, because some major publications, such as Entrepreneur.com, use https. So, if your site isn’t secure (http), then any referral traffic you get from it will actually show up in the “direct traffic” bucket in Google Analytics.
- Organic search (some of it, anyway). A study by Groupon found that up to 60% of traffic being reported as “direct” was actually organic search traffic. It’s not yet known why some organic search traffic is dumped into the wrong bucket, but it’s worth knowing about.
There’s no easy way to tell how many users who accessed your site directly did so because they’ve been exposed to your content in the past, but there are ways to evaluate how many visitors are new versus how many have been here before—I’ll be touching on that in a later section. Don’t write off direct traffic entirely, but it’s usually not as closely related to your content strategy as these other channels.
One of the lesser-known and utilized features of Google Analytics is custom reports. My favorite custom report shows full referring URLs for every referral visit, along with the destination URL on your website. So, for example, if a reader reads one of my Forbes articles and clicks a link within the article that takes them to a specific page on my website, Google Analytics allows me to see the URL of the Forbes article, along with the page on my website that the user landed on when they clicked the link:
This is actionable intelligence because it shows you which specific external assets/media are generating the most traffic, and to which specific pages. Furthermore, when compared to conversion data, it’s possible to see which external publishers drive the most conversions, allowing you to refine and optimize your future outreach efforts.
Follow these steps to set up this custom report:
- Log into your Google Analytics account and select your website’s profile.
- Click the “Customization” tab at the top of Google Analytics
- Click “New Custom Report”
- Click “Flat Table” when you’re asked to select the “type”
- Click “Dimensions” then select “Full Referrer” under “Behavior” as well as “Destination Page”
- Click “Add Metric” under the “Metrics” section, then add “Visitors” and/or “Unique Visitors.” Feel free to experiment with adding other metrics here as well, such as bounce rate or pages / session.
- Click “Save”
- Click “Add to Dashboard” (optional)
Visit your dashboard and you’ll see the report, or visit the “Customization” tab and then select the custom report name from the left side to see it any time.
Referring to the image above, I can see that I get a lot of traffic from Forbes articles that I’ve published; particularly ones that relate to social media and how to drive traffic to your website. More content on Forbes that covers these angles could be helpful in my content strategy.
Traffic is all well and good, but what is that traffic doing once it gets to your site? Are these people who are buying products from you, or just passersby who kicked the tires and moved on? Conversions will be able to tell you the difference, and it’s important to know exactly how many you’re getting—and how much they’re worth.
1. Defining conversions. First, you need to know what qualifies as a conversion and what doesn’t. The potential definition is pretty broad; any type of meaningful user activity could be theoretically counted as a conversion. By most standard definitions, a conversion would be considered to take place during a monetary transaction, such as a purchase, or an action that could potentially lead to such a transaction, such as signing up for a webinar or filling out a form.
2. Measuring conversions. Conversion opportunities are nice, but of course you’ll need to measure how often those conversions are made. Your site may have a feature in the backend to measure and analyze your conversion opportunities—especially if you use a common content management system like WordPress—so feel free to use that. Otherwise, Google Analytics has a useful section called Goals that can help you track almost any kind of conversion you can imagine. Head to the Admin tab of your account, and you’ll find Goals as one of the main options.
Here, you’ll be able to create a separate “Goal” for every conversion opportunity you have. Google is super helpful, and has a number of templates you can choose from, including “contact us” and “place an order,” which are two common variants.
Follow the instructions here—Google walks you through every step of the process. Then, you’ll be able to track all your Goals in the same section, or access Goal data on individual report pages. For example, you’ll be able to see how each segment of traffic (referral, organic, social, etc.) converts compared to the others.
Calculating conversion value
You can calculate exactly how much one of your conversions is worth. This is more straightforward for some types of conversion than it is for others. For example, if you have historical data on your customers’ past purchases, you can easily calculate the approximate value of a customer purchase. However, if you count a conversion as a lead, you’ll need to factor in the expected lifetime value of a client, your close rate, and other variables that could influence the full equation. The more precise you can be, the better, but an estimate is okay.
Calculating Quantitative Revenue
Once you have your goal tracking set up in Google Analytics, you can calculate the total revenue from your content marketing campaign in two separate dimensions:
1. Conversions as a measure of traffic value. First, you can use your conversion rate and conversion value to estimate the approximate worth of each new visitor. For example, let’s say you have a conversion rate of 2 percent with 1,000 monthly visitors and a $1,000 conversion value. You’d get 20 conversions, with a total value of $20,000. Therefore, the average value of a visitor to your site is $20. You can apply this math however you like; you can look at your site’s “average” visitor from any direction, or drill down to visitors from one specific channel or another (as long as you use the appropriate data sets for your variables).
2. Conversions as an indicator of content success. Don’t forget your content has the potential value to encourage conversions through calls-to-action. You can also measure specific Goals related to the calls-to-action your content supports, and use that information to determine how effective your content is at generating new conversions.
Accordingly, you may need to segregate your conversion efforts, measuring different Goals for each dimension. It may also be beneficial to work on conversion optimization as a strategy separate from content marketing, though the quality of your content (and your use of calls-to-action within it) can affect your conversion rates.
Calculating Quantitative Costs
Between knowing your traffic volume, conversion rates, and conversion value, you can sufficiently estimate the approximate value of your content marketing strategy—at least from a quantitative perspective (I’ll get into qualitative measurements in the next section). But don’t forget the other side of content marketing ROI—the amount you’re investing in your campaign and the overall content marketing budget you’ve set for your website.
Most of these factors aren’t measurable through a dashboard or analytics platform, so you’ll need to rely on your company’s own internal financial data. Take a look at the following:
- Agency & contractor spending. If you’re working with an agency or any contractors, calculating your costs will be simple. Agencies and contractors vary wildly on price due to different levels of expertise and different niches, but for the most part, their services are reduced to either an easy-to-understand monthly rate, or project-based payments. Set these costs aside, and combine them with your other expenditures (if you have any) to project a final cost for your content marketing efforts.
- Employee time and cost. When you’re doing some of the content marketing work yourself, or you’re relying on your full-time staff members to do the work, it’s easy to forget that these forms of effort are costing you money as well. If you have a full-time employee dedicated to content marketing, all you’ll need to consider here is their full-time salary, but it gets complicated when different team members are investing different amounts of time at different rates of pay. Do your best to reduce these hours of invested time and effort into a quantifiable metric—and include your own time as well (here’s a handy calculator to help with that).
- Tools and other resources. Finally, you’ll need to include the monthly costs for all the tools, dashboards, and services you subscribe to in order to make the magic happen. Think carefully here: Do you use any analytics platforms, syndication platforms, management tools, collaborative tools, or communication platforms exclusively for content marketing? Include their monthly fees in your total expenditures.
Collect all these sources together to estimate how much you’re spending on your content marketing efforts. This is a good opportunity to assess where you’re spending the most time and money, and you may find that you pay more than you thought you did. Your content marketing strategy should make more money than it costs.
Your all-in investment in content should, on average, pay off.
Finalizing Quantitative ROI
Now that you have all the information on how much your content campaign is objectively returning to you and how much you’re spending, you can estimate your campaign’s total quantitative content marketing ROI (that is, your content marketing ROI before taking qualitative measurements into considerations). Take the average value of a conversion (along with your conversion rate), and use that to estimate the average value of a site visitor.
Tally up all the visitors in a month that were influenced by your content strategy, and calculate a total value of those visitors. Compare this against what you spend in a month, and voila—you’ll have a rough figure for the ROI of content marketing (not including qualitative benefits).
If your content marketing ROI is positive, congratulations! You’re doing a fine job, and you should keep it up. Pay special attention to the areas of your content strategy that are performing best—such as topics, syndication channels, or formats that are especially valuable—and keep refining those.
If your content marketing ROI is steady or negative, you have some work to do (unless you’re just starting out with a new campaign). Take a critical look at where you’re underperforming, specifically, or where you’re overspending, and work to make corrections for subsequent months. You may need to aggressively experiment to achieve a positive change, but the worst thing you can do in a negative-ROI situation is nothing.
There is one additional caveat to considering your content marketing ROI, however; you need to remember there are less measurable, qualitative benefits to your campaign as well.
We hoped you have enjoyed this ultimate guide to measuring and analyzing the ROI of your content marketing campaign.
As you’ve seen, measuring and analyzing the quality and effects of your content marketing campaign isn’t exactly straightforward. There are thousands of potential variables, and the ones you need to examine for your campaign won’t necessarily be the same for anyone else. Measuring effectively depends on having a clear vision, with specific goals, and a general understanding of what “success” means for your campaign. If you need help getting started with a campaign from scratch, be sure to check out my in-depth guide on planning and launching a content marketing campaign.
Following the advice I’ve presented in this guide, you should be able to effectively track countless metrics important to the health and longevity of your content campaign, calculating your overall content marketing ROI and targeting key areas for development and improvement. The keys here, as with most marketing campaigns, are consistency and effort, so keep working hard toward measuring and achieving your goals with a robust content marketing program.
Ultimately, your content marketing goal will be to generate more more sales from your sales team as the result of the number of leads your content marketing work brought in.
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