Tracking content marketing's return on investment (ROI) can be difficult. And I think Jay Baer from Convince & Convert has summarized it best.
"If you, as an organization, are measuring the effectiveness of your content marketing with something so rudimentary as website traffic, then I guess in your own land you are measuring content. Is website traffic the optimal way to measure the effectiveness of content? No, absolutely not. I think there’s a delta between what people think they should be measuring and what they actually should be measuring.”
If you're struggling with measurement, continue reading as I walk through the fundamentals to first determine if you're efforts are successful.
Fundamental metrics to measure content marketing ROI
As stated in the CMI's B2B Small Business Content Marketing: 2015 Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends, only 25% of B2B marketers say they are successful at tracking their organization's content marketing ROI.
Measurement should come at the beginning, middle and end of your content marketing initiatives. And nowadays there are nearly endless amounts of data points that you can measure--not that I suggest it! If you don't know what you're looking for, metrics can be consuming AND confusing.
Tools like Google Analytics or other proprietary systems are your best friend. Don't be afraid of leveraging multiple systems either. You might notice some discrepancies between each since the Internet is a wonderful and weird beast, but this approach will provide less biased insights.
Let's review some basic key performance indicators (KPIs) for your content marketing initiatives.
There are three important data points.
This is a very standard measure of how many individuals have viewed your content within a specific timeframe (usually 30 days). It's a great baseline metric to track to compare different pieces of content and trends over a period of time.
That said, not all unique visits should be weighted the same. For example, if you have the same amount of views for a white paper and a blog article--which is more valuable? A white paper is often gated, so the lead generation gleaned from that long-form piece of content might be worth more to your organization. Consider your end goals and use that to form context for metrics collected.
Where is your content being read? Optimizing for geographical locations will help you reach your target better, especially when you layer in local SEO tactics.
Or perhaps you discover you have a large audience in Germany--you might consider allocating budget and resources to translating your best pieces into German.
Just as important as what your audience is reading is where they are reading it. We're past the tipping point of mobile overtaking desktop usage (approximately 1.9M mobile users vs. 1.7M desktop users). It's imperative that you understand trends in how your content is being delivered to different devices. You can use this knowledge to help you identify the best design for improved conversion optimization. See: responsive design.
I suggest tracking three general metrics.
Bounce Rate/Time Spent on Page
One of the worst things that can happen is when a visitor lands on your page, but almost immediately leaves--usually because you didn't quite deliver on the value promised. This can result in a high bounce rate. (Note: single-page landing pages and/or microsites can have high bounce rates, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.)
Enter: time spent on page. Bounce rates coupled with time spent are a great indicator of engagement. Let's review two examples:
1. You spent hours creating a 30-page white paper. Over 16,000 unique visitors have landed on that page, but they're spending less than 1 minute on said page. Not great.
2. You created a one-page microsite with a simple visual that explains a key feature about your product. You have an 80% bounce rate, but people are spending 2-3 minutes on average digesting your information. Great!
As I stated previously, consider your overall goals for each piece of content to determine it's success. Quantity doesn't necessary outweigh quality.
"First, go to bat knowing what your business objectives are. If your content then ladders up to them, you can measure its impact where the client or executives need to see impact. Retweets, “likes” and comments don’t matter to business objectives. Sales, revenue and costs do. Design your content to affect those and you’ll keep the executives and clients happy." -Jason Falls from Social Media Explorer
Heat maps and click patterns
I highly suggest purchasing access to a tool like Crazy Egg to help you "see" how people really interact with your site. They have four basic viewpoints. A heat map tells you where people are clicking on your site; confetti helps you distinguish all of the clicks you get on your site segmented by referral sources and search terms; scrollmap indicates how far people scroll down the page; and lastly overlay, which allows you to see which elements on a page are most popular.
If you're not interested in a paid service, Google Analytics can also provide some of these metrics to help you track click patterns. Regardless of what tool you use, such information is critical to understanding what is relevant to your audience.
We already touched on unique visitors, but reviewing the correlation between visitors and the number of pages they visit is important. A high page view/unique visitor ratio is good! It's a sign that your audience is engaged and likely coming back regularly.
Regarding your digital content, it's a good measure of how far within the publication your audience may have gotten. Are 90% dropping off after the 5th page? These insights can help provide direction around how to create content in the future.
The next two metrics gauge whether your content solicited a specific reaction or response from your readers/audience.
The beauty of social media is that everything has become a two-way conversation. Absolutely don't make the mistake of restricting it or discouraging it. Your audience and users are your best advocates, so if they're engaged enough to openly discuss your content--consider it a success!
Now, every piece has the vulnerability to turn negative. Just be ready to respond in a meaningful manner if this happens. You can still gain insightful knowledge and feedback from the attitudes and pain points of your customers and prospects.
What better way to find new eyeballs for your digital content than social sharing? Make it as easy as possible for folks! --like one click, easy. The reach of your content can expand exponentially, and at a very quick rate. There are many great tools and widgets available to help, but consider checking out AddThis, which allows content to shared across the most popular social networking sites.
But what about content marketing ROI?
Above, I detailed many of the appropriate KPIs that your small business should be tracking to determine overall effectiveness. Now, let's tie in some dollar signs and calculate ROI in three steps.
One quick thing to note: Content marketing ROI is calculated at the program level and then rolled up.
1. What was your overall investment?
- Multiply the number of hours per month needed to create the content by the hourly pay rate of your employee or independent contractor or freelancer.
- Multiply the result of step #1 by your overhead rate (includes rent, insurance, utilities, etc. and is often 50%) [
- Add all other costs associated with your project (design fees, hosting fees, subscriptions, software, etc.) You can allocate them to one content program specifically or amortize them monthly and spread across each content program.
EX: 40 hours per month billed at $40/hour to produce a corporate blog, multiplied by a 50% overhead factor. Add an additional $1k for design, $100/month for hosting and $100/month for miscellaneous fees. =$3,600 per month
2. What was your return?
- Multiply your leads per month by your conversion rate, average lifetime customer value and average profit margin.
EX: Assume you get 25 leads per month from the corporate blog. With a 20% conversion rate, you'll generate 5 new customers. Their average lifetime value is $3,000 each with 30% average profit margin. =$4,500 per month
3. What is your return on investment?
- Subtract the investment from the return. Then divide by the investment.
EX: $4,500 - $3,600 = $900; $900/$3,600 = .25; ROI = 25%
While this is a fairly simple breakdown, sometimes you don't have all the correct data points. Instead, you might need to use a correlation approach. To help, track:
- Whenever anything changes (including PR, website updates, new email campaign, etc.)
- Multiple revenue data points (total leads, new customers, average order size, total revenue, etc.)
- Look for patterns (when total revenue increases, so do the number of blog comments and shares)
This isn't an exact science, but it's better than doing nothing!
Measuring is absolutely necessary for any successful content marketing strategy. Do you have any additional KPIs that you track that are important to your organization or another way to measure ROI? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!