Like most businesses, you’re likely spending money producing content on a regular basis for your audience(s) to consume via various mediums. It’s a sound component of any good digital marketing strategy, but one that can find itself under scrutiny when it comes to reviewing budgets.

If you’re using content marketing to reach customers, you’re in good company. According to the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) 2018 B2B content marketing statistics, 91% of B2B marketers use content marketing to reach customers. Furthermore, 86% of B2C marketers say content marketing is a key strategy.

However, while many know how important a part content marketing plays in an overall digital marketing strategy, justifying its worth can often be difficult – especially when purse strings are tight and the C-suite is looking for returns to justify investments.

The reality is that your key stakeholders may not understand all the nuances of your content marketing strategy, but they do understand ROI.

Maybe you’re using content marketing, but don’t actually have a set strategy in place. You’re not alone if you are. Indeed, according to the same CMI research mentioned above, 63% of businesses don’t have a documented content strategy. Which means they have zero chance of navigating a path to digital marketing success.

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Content Success & ROI Are Interdependent

First and foremost, it’s important to understand that while the ROI your content generates and its overall success aren’t one and the same, they are interdependent.

For example, let’s say you’ve written a blog post and it’s gained a ton of traction, garnering plenty of likes and enjoying lots of shares on social media. It would be fair to say said content was a success based solely on the number of people who consumed it and the level of attention it attracted. But does that necessarily mean it generated tangible ROI?

The answer to that last question all depends on what content marketing ROI looks like to your business. It could be easily argued that a blog post that’s been viewed by 500 people and generated $500 in sales has generated more ROI than one that’s been viewed by 10,000 people and generated $250 in sales – the numbers don’t lie.

What is an important consideration, though, is the potential future sales and increased interest in your business that the “more popular” blog post drove. While that can’t be measured immediately (unlike direct sales), it needs to be acknowledged.

Remember, content marketing isn’t a short-term game, and many campaigns start out with a negative ROI, but chances are they will inevitably improve as time goes by.

How To Measure Content Marketing ROI

Before You Begin, Measure Your Investment

Before you can even begin to try measuring your content marketing ROI, you need to understand how large an investment you’ve made in actually producing content.

Whether you produce content in-house or outsource to a professional content marketing agency, calculating the cost of content production is relatively easy. External content producers will usually charge a fixed rate per piece, while the cost of in-house-produced content can be calculated by identifying how long it takes to create and the salary of the person producing it.

But what about the other costs associated with content marketing?

For example, maybe you promote your content via PPC ads or boost blog posts on social media to afford more exposure. These additional investments absolutely need to be taken into account when determining the cost of your content marketing efforts. Again, they are relatively easy to calculate, with oodles of information about ad spending clearly outlined in all of the major platforms.

What Are Your Goals?

Another important aspect many people ignore (I’ve no idea why?) is defining goals for each piece of content they produce. Said goals are likely going to differ depending on the reason for the content’s creation.

For example, a piece of content may be produced to accompany a new product launch, attract new social media followers, announce a new business initiative, boost your SEO efforts, and/or generate direct sales. The bottom line is that unless each piece of your content has a SMART goal to accompany it, you’ll never be able to determine its true ROI.

While some of these goals might not necessarily have a dollar amount assigned to them (boosting SEO, attracting new social media followers, announcing a new business initiative) the direct sales goals definitely will.

Calculate Your Content ROI

With your total investment in a piece of content – and the direct sales you’ve generated as a result – known, you can calculate the ROI for a particular piece of content. The simplest formula for this (in my opinion) is the one used by Jay Baer of Convince and Convert:

“Return minus investment, divided by investment, expressed as a percentage”

For example, let’s say you spent $500 creating an eBook and generated $5000 in direct sales as a result, your ROI would be 900% [($5000-$500)/$500 = 9 (multiplied by 100 to get a percentage)].

If you generate more in direct sales than the piece of content cost to produce, it’s totally worth it – as in the above example.

Tumisu / Pixabay

But calculating the ROI of your content marketing efforts isn’t always clear cut. That’s why I’ve outlined a list of 7 metrics below that you should use to understand and report on content ROI more thoroughly and demonstrate how your content is performing.

1. Website Metrics

The majority of the content you produce is going to be published on your business website. Therefore, it stands to reason that website metrics are going to be a key factor in the overall content marketing ROI process.

But don’t worry if you’re not a Google Analytics expert. You only really need to focus on a handful of measures for now:

  • Page views
  • Downloads (both gated & ungated)
  • Unique visitors
  • Time on page
  • Bounce rate
  • Inbound links

Page views is the one you’re probably most interested in, but another I really like to track in Google Analytics is which pages my website visitors are landing on first. To do this in Google Analytics, click on Behavior » Site Content » Landing Pages. Your top-performing pages will automatically be displayed at the top.

You may notice an obvious trend, like every blog post you publish on a certain topic benefits from a substantial amount of traffic. Is it time to start publishing more of those kinds of posts?

When you’re feeling a bit more confident, you can start experimenting with the range of custom SEO reports you can create in Google Analytics, too.

2. Qualitative Metrics

While website metrics are clear and definitive, they are not the be all and end all when it comes to content marketing ROI. Qualitative data – while more difficult to measure – is another excellent metric you should be paying close attention to.

Look at how your blog posts and other types of content are being received by your audience(s). Focus on things like how many comments you are receiving on your blog and whether said comments are positive or negative in nature.

If you find that you are attracting lots of positive comments when you publish a particular type of content, again, ask yourself if you should be publishing more. The same goes for negative comments – is it time you reduced production of the posts garnering them?

There’s actually a very good chance your website metrics and qualitative data will tally. Posts with lots of comments will often have lots of page views and social shares.

3. Social Media Metrics

Closely linked to the qualitative metrics above are the insights you can glean from studying social media data.

How much reach are your posts enjoying? How many likes, shares, and comments are they receiving? Are they attracting the attention of any industry influencers?

Let’s not forget that social signals are increasingly tied to SEO, so these are insights you do not want to ignore.

But be careful! Don’t drown in social media metrics. There is an abundance of them and many will not be relevant to your content marketing ROI efforts.

The good news is that there is an array of tools out there to help you separate the wheat from the chaff and identify the social media metrics that really matter to you and your business. One of my favorites is SEMrush, with its bespoke social media tracker capabilities, which allow you to quickly and easily measure how your social media posts are performing and compare them to your competitors’.

4. Subscriber Metrics

Does your blog allow people to subscribe and get notifications every time you publish a new post? Such functionality used to be all the rage, but has, in recent times, fallen out of favor with the rise of social media and the habit of promoting blog posts there.

Nevertheless, many blogs still feature a subscribe option and if yours does, it’s another useful metric to track. After all, repeat visitors are worth their weight in gold – especially the ones who become brand advocates and customers!

So, if your subscriber count is steadily increasing, chances are you’re doing something right with your content. If it’s steadily decreasing, maybe it’s time to shake things up a bit and introduce some new content styles, subjects and flavors.

5. Email Newsletter Metrics

Despite all the other mediums out there today, email still holds its own when it comes to marketing, and content marketing is no exception, with regular newsletters continuing to be a stalwart of many business marketing strategies.

While it might not be as cool as some of the messaging platforms and apps out there, email continues to be an invaluable resource for businesses to reach their customers and prospects.

Again, there is a multitude of metrics that you can track with email, but I’d say to stick with number of opens, click-throughs, conversions and overall list growth/decline.

If your content is resonating with your audience(s), you should see consistently positive results from your email initiatives. If you’re not, you know what you need to do.

6. Thought Leadership Metrics

Can you measure thought leadership? Absolutely! Especially if it’s one of your biggest business assets.

Moz has a fabulous (free) tool to help you check your domain and page authority scores. This is invaluable in content marketing to help you see where you stand as a website and as a social media influencer. Not only that but Google takes such ‘authority’ into account in it’s never ending quest to create the perfect search engine algorithm.

And while it’s pretty hard to quantify, apps like BuzzSumo also enable you to calculate a bespoke score that represents your industry influence.

If you’re frequently invited to industry events and asked to speak, and consistently quoted in industry publications, it’s likely that you’re already considered an influencer in your industry. Track your likes and shares, and be sure to respond to any comments. Above all, feed your website and social media profiles with engaging content, it can create outstanding thought leadership – and therefore ROI – in hugely positive, if often intangible, ways.

7. Lead Generation & Sales Metrics

These final two metrics are the ones that your C-suite will be the most interested in. Leads and sales are where the dollars come from, so when your content starts generating them, suddenly it gets a lot of attention from above.

High-quality white papers are a classic example of content that is designed to generate leads.

An interested party gives up their email address in return for your latest insights. It relates to a subject they are very interested in or experiencing problems with right now, which makes this interaction very valuable.

You now have a warm lead for your sales team to work on nurturing and converting, all from a static piece of content that’s displayed on your website. It’s inbound marketing at its best.

The resulting sales are where you can really demonstrate the ROI your content is yielding. Tools like HubSpot make tracking your customers’ journeys easier than ever before. As they say, from the “first hello to happy customer and beyond.”

Being able to see that prospect A consumed three pieces of your content before they became a paying customer. You could even attribute the proceeds of the sale to those pieces of content using the aforementioned content marketing ROI formula.

Bess-Hamiti / Pixabay

Summing Up

Remember, content marketing ROI isn’t always clear cut. There are tons of metrics that can be quantified and tons more that can’t. It’s all about measuring what’s important to your individual business and justifying your content spending accordingly.

While you can put dollar signs on your success, content marketing is largely about attracting, engaging, nurturing and converting leads, all while establishing yourself as a thought leader and go-to brand in your industry.