How do you predict whether a content campaign will be worth it? It’s a constant battle: executive leadership and check-signers won’t approve a marketing budget unless they can be assured of a Return on Investment (ROI) of X%. Marketing departments continue to push to develop new marketing strategies, but without budget approval, their hands are often tied.

There’s clearly a disconnect between the two with regards to how to effectively measure marketing results in a way that makes both stakeholders and marketing teams happy. Content marketing is one area where this continues to be an issue.

Content marketing doesn’t always produce tangible results, but…

The frustration up until now with content marketing is that it can be difficult to directly correlate it to conversion and ROI. Someone may read an article on your blog…and then buy a product from you six months later. Was that the impetus, or was it something else?

And yet, leadership wants a clear-cut line between what it approves for your content marketing budget and results. Given that content marketing is often more of a branding exercise — meaning it contributes to overall brand awareness and perception but often doesn’t spur an instant transaction — can put you at odds with this need for tangible results.

Measuring ROI is possible

A lot of energy has been put into solving this “how do we measure content marketing” conundrum in recent years.The solutions sometimes require very technical finagling with analytics data, but for this article, we’ll keep it simple.

Before we dive in, realize that while your sales funnel is wide at the top and you may attract many people with your content, it narrows as leads move down that funnel, and so you’re left with significantly fewter qualified leads that turn into sales at the bottom of the funnel. We’ll talk in a bit about how to maximize who ends up in your funnel so that you see better conversion.

Let’s say your CLV is $10,000. You’ve effectively spent $1,000 to make $10,000, at a 10% cost to acquire that client. Not a bad ROI, right?

Let’s say the development and promotion of your content costs $1,000 per month. Historically, you get 1,000 visitors to a month’s worth of articles, and let’s say a conservative 1% (10) end up contacting you for a proposal for services. Out of those 10 proposals, one converts to a sale.

Now let’s say your customer lifetime value is $10,000. You’ve effectively spent $1,000 to make $10,000, at a 10% cost to acquire that client.

Not a bad ROI, right?

This is, of course, a theoretical example, and it clearly works in favor of businesses with high-dollar customer lifetime value. If you sold $2 widgets on your website, you might not have the same budget for your content development and promotion, unless you could make more than 500 sales a month to break even.

Establishing goals for content

Knowing you can establish ROI for content marketing is one thing. Preparing your content strategy to prove itself a worthy investment is another.

The key activity to start with is to establish goals for your content marketing efforts. Why are you bothering to create content? Are you looking to:

  • Increase sales?
  • Grow blog or email subscriber base?
  • Support a new product launch?
  • Improve search engine ranking?
  • Increase your social media following?
  • Attract inbound links?

While you’ll have one overarching goal (probably to increase awareness of your brand as well as to drive sales), each piece of content should have its own objective.

For example: you might publish a blog post, video, and white paper around the launch of a new product. Your goal for this campaign would be to establish awareness of the new product, as well as hit X number of sales over Y months.

Going back to what I said about content being an intangible: sometimes you need to measure something other than return on investment (ROI) to understand if your content is hitting the mark. Pay attention to the number of reads and shares, as well as comments and other engagement metrics so that you have a benchmark to measure against for future content.

Knowing, for example, that your Top 10 Secrets for Solving [Problem X] was wildly popular can indicate that you need more content in that same vein. On the other hand, a blog post about your latest company news that you promoted on Facebook but which saw very few shares and likes might tell you to veer away from that sort of content.

Keep your goals in mind as you create your content calendar, and be willing to modify it as you pay attention to metrics that indicate you need to shift your focus.

Multiple types of content = Better movement down the sales funnel

The secret to increasing your conversion rate is creating highly-targeted content that will really resonate with your audience. If you create too general of content, you won’t be speaking directly to your ideal customer, and you’ll waste valuable resources.

This starts by really knowing your audience. What topics are they researching that relate to your industry? How are your competitors serving this audience through content? Where are they leaving gaps in content that you can fill?

Beyond that, what types of content do they appreciate? Some people prefer long-form articles like this one, while others want content short and sweet. Still others will latch onto an ebook or whitepaper that dives further into a subject. And email newsletters are another source of information that can help you attract leads.

By creating multiple types of content, you can ensure that you appeal to the widest audience possible while still focusing on your ideal customer. And creating these different types of content simultaneously can be effective at reinforcing the subject.

Let’s say you are releasing an updated version of your software that has some new features. You could write a blog post that covers the updates and benefits of the new version. You could make an announcement in your email newsletter with a special offer for new subscribers. You could also publish a press release or pitch the media that covers your industry in the hopes of garnering some earned media. And finally, you could publish an ebook on “secret hacks” for the software that makes users even more productive.

By creating content on multiple fronts, all dealing with this product update, you’re reiterating your marketing messages about the software. You’re also giving that potential customer plenty of meat to chew on.

Let’s say a potential customer sees your tweet of your short-form blog post about the software and clicks to read it. She browses your site, but isn’t yet ready to buy, so she signs up to get your “hacks” ebook. Now she’s in your email system, and a few days later, she gets your special offer for the software. Now she becomes a customer.

Had you created just one of these different pieces of content, it might not have been enough to sway her to click that “buy” button.

Don’t overlook the ongoing reach of your content

The sort of bonus gift that comes with content is that it continues to market for you long after it’s published. While its biggest impact happens in the hours, days, and week after a post goes live, if it’s great content with targeted keywords, it may continue to stay at the top of search results for months or even years.

That’s why it’s so imperative that you focus on a keyword and subject and write really informative, useful content.

You can also use a WordPress plugin like Revive Old Post to automatically share older content. This is a great way to get exposure for articles you published with minimal effort. You can also create roundup posts where you group together several posts on the same subject and link back to previous posts.

Costs incurred with content marketing

When it comes to calculating ROI, naturally your expenses for content creation are going to come into play.

Certainly if you work with a content marketing agency, you’ll already know what you pay for content creation and promotion. But even if you write the content yourself or have it done in-house, there is still a cost for this. If your marketing assistant, who makes $25 an hour, spends 20 hours a month writing content, that labor cost is $500.

Realize that sometimes writing the content yourself isn’t the most time- or cost-effective strategy. What’s an hour of your time worth? How much would it cost to hire someone else to handle the content while you manage other aspects of your role?

Factor in as well any technology or software you use, such as email marketing software, as well as advertising expenses to promote the content online. You may also spend money for a graphic designer to create infographics or custom images. And if you also use video in your content marketing, there will be costs associated with video production and editing.

Naturally what you spend depends on how much you have. Certainly the smallest businesses with the tiniest budgets do as much of the content legwork as possible to save money. If you can afford to invest in some of these various components, however, you may see better results.

How much content is ENOUGH?

Some companies blog once a month. Others publish content daily. How much is enough for your content strategy?

The short answer is: it depends. It depends on those goals you’re trying to achieve. If you’re simply looking to stay relevant and drive brand awareness, one to two blog posts a week and a quarterly gated ebook or whitepaper may be sufficient.

If you’re starting a new blog and want to establish a foothold quickly, you’ll want to fire on all cylinders, not only publishing tons of content on your own site but also guest blogging on other sites that target your audience to spread your reach.

After a few months, you can assess your content analytics to see where you fall. If the more content you publish, the more visitors you attract, and thereby the more sales you make, keep it up. If you don’t see more content moving the needle on your goals, you can probably pull back a little.

The more consistent you are in publishing content, the more successful your efforts will be. Blog visitors and subscribers will come to expect that, for example, you publish new content every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. If you’re erratically publishing whenever you have time, you could annoy people and send them away. If the last post on your site was three months ago, new visitors will assume you’re not publishing anything new and will vanish.

What is a new client worth to you?

Rather than looking at content marketing as a transactional metric, consider it part of your overall efforts to brand your company and attract new customers.

Work backward from that customer lifetime value to determine what you can afford to spend on content creation and promotion. As your conversion rate goes up (since you’re now paying more attention to analytics of specific posts and tweaking topics accordingly), you can invest even more in content.