According to a 2018 report by Content Marketing Institute, 86% of companies utilize content marketing to some degree. Of these, roughly 30% believe they are “mature” in their approach to content marketing. Still, even those with advanced content marketing functionality know that full integration into their overall strategies isn’t easy. One of the key challenges brands face is measuring the success of their content marketing efforts.
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In fact, only 39% of respondents reported that their team was “growing in ability to show results” from content marketing. Moreover, little more than half the survey’s participants reported having a “good,” “very good,” or “excellent” strategy in place for aligning their content marketing goals with their overall business metrics.
We’ll focus on how to determine the effectiveness of your content marketing initiatives.
Let’s dig in.
Step One: Nail Down Your Content Marketing Goals
If you don’t have solidly quantifiable content marketing goals, you won’t know whether or not they were successful. While the ultimate goal of content marketing is to spur sales and generate revenues, not every piece of content will directly impact these metrics.
Different content types and formats are best used for different purposes, such as:
- Generating brand awareness
- Enhancing audience engagement
- Nurturing engaged prospects toward conversion
- Maintaining engagement throughout your audience’s lifespan
The goal of the content at each of these stages is to get your audience to take the next step in their journey with your brand.
You should have clearly defined goals for every piece of content based on where it appears in the buyer’s journey.
- Content for Awareness: Impressions, clicks, clickthrough rate, search engine results
- Content for Engagement: Time on page, bounce rate, pages per visit, dwell time
- Content for Conversion: Soft conversions, hard conversions, social shares, lead-to-conversion rate
You’ll also want to assess the qualitative aspects of your audience’s engagement levels. Some factors to consider include:
- Referral source
- On-site navigational path
- Anecdotal information gleaned from actively engaging with audience members
Now, none of this information matters without context. The accumulated qualitative data won’t mean much without being able to compare it against your benchmarks. So, how do you nail down your content marketing goals?
- Aim to improve metrics that matter for a given piece of content (based on your current benchmarks)
- Assess whether an improvement in these metrics led to an improvement in metrics further down the content funnel
For example, say you get a piece of content ranked #1 on Google, leading to an increase in impressions and site visitors. Clearly, this content accomplished the granular goals you set for your awareness stage. Though if you’d only considered the “ultimate” goal of your content marketing initiatives, you wouldn’t be able to tell whether this specific piece of content had succeeded or not.
Step Two: Trace Your Content Marketing Results to Overall Growth
It’s also important to know whether the success of one part of your content marketing strategy leads to overall success for your business. Unfortunately, tracing this impact with absolute certainty may not be all that easy—or even possible. For instance, if a prospect clicks on a blog post then goes on to buy your product a week later, it’s hard to say with certainty how much the blog post impacted their decision (if at all). Maybe they also saw an ad for your product while scrolling through social media, or talked with a friend who recommended your brand over a competitor, or maybe they just had to wait for payday before they were able to purchase your product.
No one can know exactly what goes on throughout a customer’s path to purchase. But that doesn’t mean you can’t glean insight from the things you do know about their journey.
In the above scenario, for example, we can analyze the customer’s path to purchase after engaging with the initial content.
- Check out additional content?
- Sign up for your mailing list?
- Open and click through your subsequent emails?
- Make a purchase directly after engaging with a piece of content?
The more evidence you have from touchpoints leading up to conversion, the easier it will be to know how significant an impact your content marketing efforts had on their final purchasing decision. If we can say with relative certainty that an increase in search engine results led to an increase in traffic, which led to more mailing list subscribers and further engagement with your content and culminating in an increase in conversions, then it’s clear your content marketing efforts are paying off.
Step Three: Nail Down Your Costs to “Ballpark” ROI
Once you have a general understanding of your content marketing’s impact on your bottom line, you can better flesh out your content marketing ROI. To calculate return on investment in any scenario, you’d use the following formula:
(Net Revenues – Investment) / Investment
Here, investments may include:
- Salary/contract costs of content creators
- Cost of tools used to create and distribute content
- Cost of any paid promotion of said content
Calculating amount invested is the easy part; attributing revenues to your content marketing efforts is what’s difficult.
This is where Google Analytics—specifically, the Assisted Conversions metric—comes into play.
If a channel appears anywhere—except as the final interaction—on a conversion path, it is considered an assist for that conversion. The higher these numbers, the more important the assist role of the channel.
Note that your customers may engage with your content via different channels, and it’s vital that you have a decent idea of where and how that happens. Still, this method will allow you to automatically generate ballpark figures regarding the ROI of your content marketing efforts. There’s no need to spend time splitting hairs and coming up with the finite dollar amounts your content marketing initiatives generated.
What’s important is that you:
- See positive results attributed in some way to your content marketing efforts
- See incremental growth in these results as time goes on
If you start seeing improvements to your bottom line after making specific improvements—and you can say with confidence that these improvements are related—then it’s safe to say the changes were worth the investment.
Step Four: Look Past the ROI of Your Content Marketing Initiatives
Taking the above into consideration, you don’t want to make the mistake of seeing ROI as the be-all-end-all of content marketing success.
Your sales and revenues numbers tell only part of the story in terms of whether your content marketing initiatives succeeded or not.
Say, for example, a prospect devours your ToFu and MoFu content, but never ends up taking the final step to becoming a paying customer. This doesn’t mean your content marketing strategy failed. In this case, your ToFu content successfully enticed the prospect to take the next step in their journey. Unfortunately, they dropped off once they reached the middle of your content funnel—indicating a potential issue with your MoFu- and BoFu-focused content.
If you were to just look at the end result, you’d see that the prospect didn’t end up converting. It’d be easy to assume that your content marketing efforts were unsuccessful. But this is shortsighted, and likely inaccurate. If your content in any way got the individual to engage further with your brand, then it wasn’t a failure at all.
Secondly, chalking up an entire campaign as a failure based solely on ROI precludes you from figuring out what the problem was—and from recognizing what worked well within the campaign.
It’s here that those more granular goals come back into play.
A few examples:
- If you generated a ton of engagement with a piece of content but your audience didn’t engage further after consuming it, your follow-up offer may not have been strong enough.
- If your content generates a relatively low amount of traffic but most of those visitors engaged further, then you know your content is valuable, but may need more heavy promotion.
- If your followers devour every piece of content, but the vast majority never become paying customers, maybe your content marketing efforts aren’t the issue.
Content marketing success isn’t something to be experienced just once as a continuous plateau. Rather, success in content marketing is about continuously raising the bar to contribute to a lastingly strong funnel.
By looking at each piece of the puzzle separately and then working to see how they all fit together to form the bigger picture, you’ll be able to determine exactly where, how, and why your content marketing initiatives have succeeded—and what you need to do to start making improvements.