Inbound marketing can refer to a lot of different, separate marketing strategies, but no matter how you’ve mixed or matched them for your own brand, they need to work together if your overall campaign is going to be profitable. Content marketing, search engine optimization, social media marketing, and other inbound traffic drivers can be separately optimized for peak performance, but what happens if collectively, your marketing strategy just isn’t paying off?
For many new, inexperienced, or experimental marketers, this scenario is a frustrating reality. You’ve followed the instructions, implemented best practices, and you’ve even seen some decent results—but no matter what you do, you can’t figure out why you aren’t bringing in more than you’re spending. If this sounds like you, there are a few common oversights you’ll need to check—and correct—if you want to make your campaign profitable again.
If you keep calculating a low, or even a negative ROI, your first job is to rule out the possibility that you’re simply miscalculating. Go over the numbers one more time to make sure you’re accounting for everything properly, and remember there are some factors that aren’t explicitly measurable—namely, brand visibility, recognition, and reputation value. If someone comes to your site, reads your content, and gets a positive impression of your brand, they’ll be more likely to convert in the future (and tell their friends about you). That’s objectively valuable, yet there’s no easy way to incorporate that into your bottom line numbers since there’s no clear transaction present. Do what you can to estimate these indirect values, and check your ROI again.
If you haven’t already, segment out all your individual strategies. There’s a lot of overlap when it comes to inbound marketing, and Google makes it even easier to blur the lines since Analytics can give you high-level aggregated reports covering all your bases. But remember that fundamentally, each of your strategies is its own separate entity, with its own separate costs and returns. See if you can identify a weak link in the chain—maybe social media isn’t driving as much traffic as your search rankings are—and eliminate it or reduce your efforts if it’s costing you a disproportionate amount of money. Just beware of chain reactions an elimination could cause—for example, ceasing social media activity could have a negative effect on your content visibility.
When calculating ROI, it’s easy to look at end results to ascertain the value of a given strategy, but don’t forget that the process you take to earn those end results is just as important. For example, you might look at a piece of long-form content and recognize it as a valuable traffic- and authority-builder, but how long did it take you to create that piece? If you spent a whole week on it, hitting frequent research dead-ends, and starting from scratch halfway through because you changed your mind about the topic, you might have invested more time in it than the end result warranted. Work to optimize your processes—see what you can do to spend less time and money on specific items, while keeping the quality of those items high.
Going along with the “process optimization angle,” look for key areas of your strategies that can be automated. For example, instead of manually visiting competitors’ sites and forums to look for content ideas, you can use an aggregated reader to bring them all in for you. Be warned, however, as automation is not always a good thing; don’t take a shortcut if it would mean a lapse in the quality of your work.
There’s always room for improvement, whether it’s in the presentation of your latest article or the time you spend reviewing your site’s backlink profile. To maintain forward progress and steadily inch up the ROI of your campaign, find something new to improve every day. It could be something big, like introducing a new contest on your social media profiles, or something small, like changing your editorial calendar workflow. The point is to keep making forward progress, so your ROI gets better little by little—it’s much more manageable that way.
This strategy has two potential benefits, depending on how much you currently experiment. Marketing experiments are valuable, but they’re also risky, so 20 percent is a good starting balance for most brands. If you don’t currently experiment at all, bumping up your experiments to 20 percent of your total efforts can give you new opportunities to add value. If you’re currently doing nothing but experiments, decreasing your experimental efforts can help you hedge your bets.
Finally, don’t be afraid to narrow your focus. Minimalism is a value to most inbound marketing campaigns. Reduce your target audience to only who is most valuable. Eliminate any social media platforms that aren’t giving you fantastic results. Go local instead of national with SEO. By focusing only on the factors and audiences that are most valuable to your brand, you’ll be able to secure a much higher content marketing ROI—and remember, you can always scale back up.
With these new steps in place, you should increase the amount of value you get from your inbound marketing strategies, decrease the amount you’re spending, or even better, a combination of the two. Your job as a marketing experimenter is never over, so don’t think you’ve topped out your ROI just because you’ve hit these steps once. Keep a close eye on your metrics as they develop further, and maintain ROI as your priority.