According to research from Hubspot and Smart Insights published in May this year, 71% of marketers in Europe are creating more content in 2015 than they did last year and one quarter of them are increasing their headcount just for content marketing. However, despite actually investing in new hires to create their content, the study also revealed that 68% of marketers still rate their content marketing as basic or inconsistent.

They are doing it without really understanding what content could and should be doing for them

A question of ROI

The findings don’t expand on what ‘basic or inconsistent’ means to these marketers, but I can hazard a guess. A third stat from the research says that only 39% feel that they are able to measure ROI from their content marketing (to the other 61%, we have a whitepaper you can download for free on content marketing ROI, just sayin’). I bet that a lot of those questioned as part of this research didn’t rate their own content because they felt it wasn’t ‘working’ for them, that they’re not getting any visible return on their investment. And I’d stick my neck out and say this is because they’re simply not doing it properly.

I believe that far too many companies have simply dipped their toe into the content marketing pool because they can see their competitors in there splashing around and getting noticed. They haven’t left behind their fears that it might be too cold, too deep, their trunks might fall down, and dived straight in. By that, I don’t mean that they’re not producing enough ‘stuff’ – the stats show that more content is being created than ever before. I mean that they are doing it without really understanding what content could and should be doing for them.

The beginnings of any strategy include aligning the KPIs you want to measure with your business goals

Strategic blogging is SEO

For openers, any content marketing efforts you undertake are not going to work unless you have a strategy. The beginnings of any strategy include aligning the KPIs you want to measure with your business goals, and this is where I believe the trouble starts. For many marketers, return on investment means a visible spike in sales. Content can get you there but it’s not going to get you there quickly. If it’s a quick fix you want (a boost in Google rankings or an influx of leads) you need to allocate budget to a specific SEO strategy and/or a PPC campaign.

Working in tandem with these things, a content strategy can prove effective, you’ve just got to give it time. At Southerly we began a targeted persona-led blog strategy in October 2013. After six months, during which time we were blogging three times a week, we started ranking at third place on page one of Google for a number of our target phrases (up from somewhere murky on page 2 or 3).

There are other metrics that you can positively influence with content marketing such as:

  • Open rates to enewsletters/email comms and click throughs to calls to action
  • Social media metrics (followers, views etc) and engagement
  • Web traffic and bounce rates

A measure of trust

You can also positively impact on brand awareness and trust, and your image as a thought leader, however measuring these things is harder. We’d recommend a survey at the start of any content efforts to get a baseline for brand sentiment, then again at least six months after everything is underway.

This approach can feel scary because it doesn’t always feel like there are tangible results. But measurement is possible – not only that it’s essential, you need to know what works and what doesn’t so you don’t produce a lot of something that doesn’t resonate with your audience. It can be very effective to have a content marketing strategy. You just need the courage to do it right.