Originally published Sept. 26, 2018. Updated April 14, 2020.
People are always looking for ways to evaluate and measure the success of their content marketing program. It’s a conversation we have with our prospects and clients on a regular basis, and in those conversations, two alternate viewpoints often drive the discussion:
1. Data rules. If a content marketing tactic doesn’t have a clear number attached to it, then it has no value, and investing there isn’t worth it.
2. Data drools — or, numbers surrounding content are just vanity metrics. The core benefits content provides are the result of positioning your key subject matter experts as thought leaders, building trust, empowering your sales team, and becoming a valuable resource for your audience.
Each argument has validity but also its own shortcomings. The truth is, the way you measure your ROI is directly tied to your overall content marketing goal. Different goals are achieved by using content in different ways, and understanding your effectiveness requires you to measure different metrics.
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No matter what your goal is, though, you’re going to need to consider both perspectives when you’re measuring the ROI of your content marketing program if you want to see the full picture of your success.
Establishing measurable and attainable goals is crucial for every marketing and business effort. If you can’t tell your CEO, CMO, or CFO what success looks like in 12 to 24 months, it’s going to be difficult to justify starting a content initiative. The anticipated goals should paint a picture that validates the cost of content marketing.
That’s what makes the quantitative approach so appealing: Focusing on the data-driven impacts of content theoretically allows you to reverse-engineer break-even points, anticipated ROI, and timetables for success.
Some key metrics to track if you’re taking a quantitative approach to measuring content marketing ROI include:
Combined, these metrics illustrate how your content is helping your company grow. Metrics like traffic, shares, and time on site can reveal how well your content is resonating with your target audience. You can use this information to set a baseline and then set monthly or quarterly percent-increase goals to ensure you’re always improving.
Another quantitative metric your content influences is your website’s SEO and visibility on search engine results pages. The more optimized, high-quality content you create, the more value you can deliver to your audience — and that means more opportunity to earn backlinks, appear in relevant searches, boost your site’s authority, and create paths for new audiences to discover and engage with your brand.
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On an individual level, comparing these metrics can also show you which specific articles, headlines, and topics are driving the most results. Consistently analyzing and using this information can help you refine your content marketing strategy and make data-driven decisions about future topics.
Content marketing is a long-term initiative, and you should consider this when measuring its impact. The results likely won’t blow you away in the first three to six months. In fact, many companies halt successful content programs because they tie results too closely to metrics and fail to consider the big-picture implications.
For example, lead generation is a crucial metric (it’s one of the biggest KPIs for our content marketing team), but evaluating our entire content effort in the short term against direct lead generation initiatives such as PPC, purchasing email lists, or outbound prospecting won’t always fully represent content’s impact here.
The leads we generate through content are consistently more educated and less price-sensitive, and they move more quickly through the sales cycle — all signs that our content is working. These are also signs that we wouldn’t see if we only looked at the total number of leads generated.
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Not to mention the fact that focusing on your website’s organic search rankings over time can reduce the need for paid content amplification and PPC altogether. And what about the content you publish externally? A huge component of content marketing is growing your audience through a guest-posting strategy that gets your message in front of targeted audience members in relevant online publications.
For those off-site posts, you probably won’t have access to the same analytics you do for your own website content. Even though your off-site content contributes to the same objectives your on-site content does — driving qualified traffic, building authority, and earning backlinks — it can be harder to measure quantitatively. That’s why it’s important to remember that, while most of these metrics can gauge online circulation and reach, they don’t always tell the whole story.
Most digital marketing strategies need to generate enough dollars coming in to cover the dollars going out, plus the costs of delivering your products or services. If the dollars don’t match up with your content marketing efforts, you may think the initiative isn’t a good fit.
The problem with applying this mentality is that content provides value to your organization beyond generating leads and sales. In fact, for many, leads generated through content are just one part of a larger, more holistic picture of success.
Here are some less measurable but still significant ways content can impact your organization:
But the benefits don’t stop there. Content can also improve investor relations, serve as marketing ammo for other campaigns, keep your brand top of mind with your audience, and fuel your talent recruitment and training efforts.
Measuring the results of your content efforts isn’t an exact science, and there are many moving parts in building trust, strengthening relationships, and creating opportunities. Here are some situations where only looking at content’s impact from a qualitative perspective can lead you astray:
Measuring the quantitative and qualitative ROI of your content isn't easy. This step-by-step guide can help:
At Influence & Co., we’ve put a simple process in place that helps us overcome the mystery factor. If our content came up during a phone call or external interaction, or if our gut tells us content improved the quality of that conversation, we mark it down.
We assign sales and conversion assists to our content team and to specific articles we publish, and we set goals for our marketing team around generating new business while understanding there’s ROI beyond those origination efforts.
It’s not a highly detailed approach, but it shows us where and how often our content is showing ROI on a month-over-month basis — even outside the friendly data mines of HubSpot and Google Analytics. It also helps our team continue to create high-impact assets based on feedback from our sales reps from their conversations with leads and partners.
You’ll likely never be able to definitively answer these what-if questions. However, you can be certain that the more often you publish, provide value to prospective clients, and lead the conversations happening in your industry, the more opportunities will come your way.
Content marketing is a complex and increasingly influential marketing and branding tactic. But many leaders and marketers still struggle to identify the impact of their content marketing program when looking through the narrow scope of either qualitative or quantitative metrics.
To fully assess content marketing’s ROI for your organization, you need to evaluate key metrics while keeping its qualitative influences in mind. And with a clear and detailed picture of your content’s reach, you’ll be able to fine-tune your initiative and unlock its full value.