How to measure content marketing ROI is the number one challenge for in-house content marketers, business owners and content marketing agencies. In an increasingly crowded and confused digital marketing landscape, you need to know whether or not the money, time and resources you’re investing in content marketing are paying off.
There is no shortage of terrible advice out there when it comes to measuring content marketing ROI. Some so-called experts will tell you that the real benefits of content marketing are intangible. Others will encourage you to focus on the wrong metrics.
As one of the longest-standing content marketing agencies in the region, we have plenty of experience when it comes to content marketing ROI. We believe there are 3 crucial ingredients: goals, objectives and metrics. Start by identifying what these are for your business and you’ll set yourself up nicely for a content marketing strategy you can track, understand and defend.
Measuring content marketing ROI: 3 steps
So, let’s define what we mean by goals, objectives and metrics. The definitions here really matter. Objectives and metrics are both important, but if your content marketing strategy isn’t built around proper, tangible goals the ROI case is harder to make.
Our content marketing strategies always start by establishing goals. Your goals are the tangible actions you want users to take on your website or social media pages. Goals are not the same as objectives and they’re not same as metrics. We’ll get to both of those, but let’s talk about goals first.
Typical examples of goals would be:
- Buy Now
- Request Demo
- Start Trial
- Speak to Sales
- Download eBook
- Subscribe to Newsletter
- Like Page
All of these actions are measurable and result in a user giving you some useful information.
Ultimately, this is how content marketing works. You create interesting, useful and relevant content. You promote it in the right places so that your target audience gets to see it. And if you get it right, you can use it to drive these types of tangible, measurable actions.
By starting with your goals you can build a content marketing strategy with a strong focus on ROI. With so many options available in the digital marketing space, content marketers are, quite rightly, under pressure to constantly justify investment in their work. Strategies built around tangible goals are much easier to defend.
Your boss or your client might get an ego boost from keyword progression or more traffic, but those benefits are short-lived. New customers, new leads and a growing marketing database make a much more compelling case for long-term, substantial investment in content marketing.
But just as we need to understand what goals are, we also need to understand what they’re not. So, let’s talk about objectives and metrics.
Objectives shouldn’t be confused with goals, but they still have an important role to play in helping you measure content marketing ROI. Objectives are not actions by users, they are the broader aims you set out when putting your content marketing strategy together.
In our experience, clients often feel very strongly about a particular objective. It can be the main driver that prompts them to look at content marketing over other digital marketing tactics. Wanting to become a thought leader in your space or to improve your SEO are legitimate reasons for investing in content marketing. But they are objectives, not goals.
Other common objectives include:
- better conversion rates
- reducing reliance on PPC
- educating your market
- boosting engagement
- raising brand awareness
There should be a strong link between your objectives and your goals. And your objectives should influence the particular content marketing tactics you employ. But, they are not the endpoint. Content marketing strategies that start and finish with objectives are usually weak on ROI.
Objectives aren’t goals and neither are metrics. Metrics are your numbers. The data points you look at to assess how well your content marketing strategy is performing. If you’re not seeing the goal completions your boss had hoped for or you want a stat to convince your client that their objectives are being met, the answer will be in your metrics.
The particular metrics you track, record and obsess about will depend on the goals and objectives you set for your content marketing strategy. Common content marketing metrics include:
- bounce rate and pageviews on target landing pages
- average session duration
- traffic from organic search
- traffic from the other channels you’re using to promote your content
- interaction with high-value assets, such as a video
- email open rates
- engagement on social media.
You’ll build your reports with these metrics and you’ll use them to find ways to improve your strategy. They’ll show you where you’re going wrong and they’ll buy you more time. But your metrics play a supporting role when it comes to measuring content marketing ROI. Your goals are the main attraction.
Measuring content marketing ROI: 5 mistakes to avoid
Being a little pedantic when it comes to setting your goals, objectives and metrics will dramatically increase your chances of being able to accurately measure content marketing ROI. But there are still plenty of bear traps that you’ll want to avoid. Here are 5 common mistakes that make measuring content marketing ROI a lot harder than it needs to be:
1: Messing up your Google Analytics set-up
Google Analytics is an essential tool for measuring ROI on content marketing or any other digital marketing activity. It’s free, it offers enterprise level functionality and it’s supported by a vast array of help pages, training videos and certifications.
But one thing Google Analytics can’t do is turn back time. If you make a mess of your set-up before you start a content marketing campaign you could end up with unreliable data that you can’t go back and fix.
Here’s an example: you should always create a view in Google Analytics that filters out internal traffic. That’s you and your employees. Plus any agencies or other third parties that regularly visit your site, but will never become customers. You don’t want this activity polluting your stats.
When you create a Google Analytics view it only applies to sessions from that point onwards. It doesn’t backdate. So, if you only remember to filter out internal traffic mid-way through your content marketing campaign your data will be off and your ROI argument will be undermined.
2: Focussing on traffic before conversions
If you Google “content marketing ROI” you’ll get some great free advice on actions you can take to make your content marketing campaigns easier to connect to your bottom line. But you’ll also get plenty of stinkers.
A common bum steer is that you should start by focussing on traffic. That’s bad for your strategy and bad for your ROI case. Traffic comes after you establish what you want users to do. And after you’ve removed the barriers that will prevent them from doing it.
However you get traffic – it could be organic search, promoted social posts, AdWords or email – it won’t be free. You’ll spend time, money and resources building a strategy, creating content and promoting it to your target audience.
So, why do that only to have users bouncing straight off your landing pages? In the real world, you would never go out into the street promoting your grocery store with a loud hailer before you put up the shelves, priced up your apples and made sure the tills worked. If you did, you would have a store full of unhappy customers unlikely to bother you again.
The online world is no different. EY’s Digital Australia: State of the Nation 2017 revealed that 40 per cent of users would walk away from a brand that failed to deliver a high quality experience. Your content marketing needs to start by preparing your site to delight users and push them towards useful actions.
What are the goals? How do we make it more likely that users will complete them? Only when you’re good on both of those questions should you switch your attention to traffic.
3: Only targeting the bottom of the sales funnel
A really common gap we see in the digital marketing strategies of new and prospective clients is at the top and middle of the sales funnel. A lot of the time, businesses focus only on the bottom of the sales funnel – that’s the relatively small proportion of their users who are ready to commit right now.
Landing pages only talk about their specific products and services. Their blog is focussed on company announcements. And the only useful action users can take is a primary goal, such as booking a demo, starting a trial or buying a product.
To build a strong ROI case for your content marketing strategy you should establish goals and create content for different stages of the sales funnel. A Think With Google study in 2015 showed that 71 per cent of B2B buyers start their research with a non-branded search. They’ll make on average 12 searches before engaging with a brand. These users are much more likely to find your site if you create interesting content that answers their questions.
That means landing pages or blog content that prioritises useful, insightful information over pushing a particular product or service. Users in this research mode won’t be ready to speak to your sales team, but they might give you their email address to access more in-depth information on the same topic. This is where investing in high-quality eBooks or whitepapers and putting them behind lead forms can really pay off.
4: Sticking with a losing formula
A key role for your metrics is to act as an early warning system. Flashing red lights on your Google Analytics dashboard shouldn’t be ignored or you’ll have a tough time putting a convincing deck together when you need to show ROI.
Here’s a simple example, A lot of content marketing strategies use organic search to find the right users. With a 40 per cent increase in the use of ad blockers in the Asia Pacific region last year, that’s likely to remain the case. But if you’ve been blogging away for 2 months and your organic search graph is flat and miserable, then it’s time to give your strategy reboot.
There can be lots of reasons why blogging fails to lift your organic search metrics. You could be targeting the wrong keywords – either keywords that are dominated by much stronger competitors or keywords with little or no traffic.
Maybe the problem isn’t what you’re targeting but how you’re doing it. Blogging is competitive these days, which means your 300-word effort could be the equivalent of bringing a napkin to a pillow fight. A 2016 study of 1 million search results by Backlinko revealed that the average length of a page one result was 1,890 words. Sacrificing volume for a smaller number of heavy-hitting, cornerstone posts can turn that metric around, but only if you’re looking for it.
If you ignore your metrics or you don’t set them out clearly at the start of your strategy, you can end up backing a losing formula for too long. The only thing worse than doing that is pulling the plug too soon. This video is 3 years old now, but the message about unrealistic expectations still stands.
Stopping usually doesn’t just apply to a particular strategic approach. More likely to it will apply to content marketing in general. Your strategy failed the ROI test, so it’s not a matter of changing the tactics. It’s your client or boss consigning content marketing to the bin, along with earlier failed forays into SEO and PPC.
When we first started our business, we were introducing the new concept of content marketing to prospects. Now most prospects have tried content marketing in some way, either in-house or with another agency. If they’ve had a bad experience more often than not it’s because the tactics were wrong or the strategy wasn’t goal-oriented.
But sometimes it was because they stopped too soon. Content marketing takes time. Especially when a site requires a lot of work to get it ready to convert users. Or when you’re starting from a low base, with a new site or one with little or not search presence.
This is where softer goals, aimed at users higher up the sales funnel, can really help. Whitepaper downloads or newsletter subscriptions might not be life-changing, but they can be enough to keep the faith while your search strategy and nurture campaigns get up to speed.
The same goes for your metrics. If you can show evidence that engagement on key pages is improving or that you’re starting to make headway on target keywords, you can convince your client or your boss to back you for a bit longer.