How to track the Return on Content Marketing

Content marketing has been around for a long time, but the digital age transformed it into what we know today. Businesses started competing for online space, and experts started asking questions about how to improve their position online.

Content marketing has been around for a long time. It had a strong presence throughout the 20th century, although it came to a brief standstill in the 1940s and 50s when advertising took over the media. But what transfigured content marketing to what we know today was the beginning of the digital age. With the spread of the internet throughout the world, the average Joe could now create a website, share content, and market their products for pennies on the dollar, breaking the monopoly that the advertisement industry once had over the media. 

Seeing this extraordinary potential, businesses started competing for online space, which transformed the internet into the global phenomenon that it is today. And, as the online market gradually saturated, experts started asking questions: 

What will bring me closer to customers? 

How to increase my online exposure and reach more and more potential buyers? 

How do I obtain a better position than my competitors?

If you ask the same questions today, every marketer will give you the same answer: create high-quality content!  Safe to say, we’ve come to a point where surviving without a powerful content marketing strategy is mission impossible. 

However, what quickly turned into a race to produce more and more content just as a means to an end led to a big problem. Most businesses didn’t know how to track the return on content marketing, which made them question its impact. 

Even today, this is still a major issue. CMO reports that 65% of marketers can’t quantify the impact of their content marketing efforts. Leaving this issue unresolved results in one of two outcomes. Either your company will fail to position itself on the market, losing valuable business opportunities, or you’ll spend more than you can afford, which is not sustainable.

To prevent this, in this article, we’ll explain how to track the return on content marketing and share 6 metrics you should follow!

Content Marketing ROI: What Is It?

In the context of content marketing, ROI (Return of Investment) is an indicator, usually a percentage, that shows how much revenue you’ve gained from content marketing compared to how much you’ve invested. This number is, of course, directly tied to your revenue, meaning it’s absolutely important, but it’s not the only one you should concern yourself with. 

Tracking the return on content marketing can also be expressed in terms of page views, shares, visitors, engagement, time spent on the website, and other indicators. These metrics paint a better picture when it comes to understanding your customers or clients so you can make them a more compelling offer. 

Now, before we continue, we want to make a distinction in the language we’ll use, so you know exactly what we’re talking about. 

Whenever we use the abbreviation “ROI”, we’re talking about this one number that is directly tied to your revenue. This is useful because you can then compare what portion of your total income is generated by content marketing, which reveals how financially dependent your company is on content marketing. 

On the other hand, when we talk about tracking the “return on content marketing,” that includes all the other metrics that will help you understand your customers, increase brand awareness, have better conversion rates, and position your brand with authority and trust. And, while these metrics do not have a direct impact on your revenue, they’re essential in the long run. 

How to Track the Return on Content Marketing?

To understand how to track the return on content marketing, you need to know the standard ROI calculations and the most important metrics for content. Let’s start with the ROI.

Basic ROI Calculations

To be able to identify the factors that affect your content marketing ROI, you first need to know how to calculate it. 

In its simplest form, ROI equals the gains from investments minus the costs of investments, all divided by the costs of investments. 

ROI = (Return / Investment) x 100 , where Return = (Gain from Investment - Costs of Investment)

Unfortunately, even laid out like this, it still might be hard for you to quantify the gains and costs of investments. But, don’t worry, we’re not done yet!

The gain from investments can be calculated through your SDR metrics. Once you decide on a specific timeframe (from weekly, monthly, or yearly reports), check how many leads were generated from content marketing and how many of them were converted into customers or clients. Another way to calculate the gains is to consider the increase in traffic and social media engagement, then try to estimate how much of that corresponds to the increase in revenue and add it as gains. 

Pro Tip: Conduct surveys and/or focus groups with participants that match your target persona to get a better understanding of their behavior prior to making a buying decision. Knowing customer statistics for your company (example: How customers heard about your product/service?) can give you the percentages you need to calculate your content gains. 

Calculating the costs of investments is a much simpler process. Here, you need to add all the costs that go into producing content. To give you an example, content production costs might include: 

  • salary of the content marketer, 
  • costs for promoting content, 
  • subscriptions to software and tools, etc. 

What Affects Content Marketing ROI?

ROI can be affected by many things, but the utilization and performance indicators are the two biggest factors. This means that you can predict ROI by knowing exactly how the content is going to be used (for what purpose) and how it performs. The metrics we’ll discuss further in the article directly reflect the content’s performance. 

Key Content Metrics That Matter

While ROI is an important number, it can be misleading, especially when it’s interpreted without context. To give you an example, let’s discuss one of the most important factors that affect ROI - utilization.

The content on which companies spend millions of dollars needs to be used, otherwise, you’re wasting money. Not using content might result in a low ROI, not because of content quality, but because it’s never viewed or downloaded. Some reasons for this include not knowing the target audience, failing to nail search intent, having a bad keyword strategy, or failing to match the content with the company’s activities. In 2015, Marisa Kopec from Sirius Decisions wrote that statistics focused on B2B marketing organizations revealed that 60-70% of produced content remains unused. Therefore, ask yourself: What is the purpose of this piece of content? Is it to reach a new audience, to support a product release, or something else? The answer to this question will help you evaluate the content’s performance based on the following metrics:

Traffic Sources

The first pieces of information regarding your content marketing performance come from tracking traffic sources. This metric tells you which channels are driving customers to your website. Google Analytics is the top choice for the majority of businesses when it comes to tracking traffic. 

Traffic sources are organized into four groups: direct traffic, referral traffic, organic search traffic, and campaign traffic. In most cases, content production is aimed at increasing organic search traffic, although it can also be focused on campaign traffic. 

Consumption

Consumption metrics are considered basic metrics, and they are usually the starting point for tracking the return on content marketing. By looking at consumption, you’re tracking how many people visited your website (as opposed to traffic sources that tell us where those visitors come from ), shared your content, or interacted with it in any other way. 

Based on this, consumption metrics typically include:

  • Page views;
  • Number of pages per session;
  • Average time on page;
  • Unique visitors;
  • Downloads;
  • Clickthroughs (emails and social media);
  • Open Rates (email).

Retention

Just as the name suggests, retention metrics measure how much time a visitor spends on your website, on average. In other words, these metrics reveal how effective your content is at retaining your audience’s attention. 

You should pay attention to the following retention metrics:

  • Bounce rate;
  • Returning visitors vs. new visitors ratio;
  • Unsubscribe rate;
  • Blog subscriptions;
  • Number of followers (social media);
  • Number of visits/days since last visit.

Retention metrics are usually a lot lower than consumption metrics, so if you see low numbers, don’t panic! 

Together with the consumption metrics, with time, you’ll be able to tell whether your content is inspiring, engaging, and resonates with your target audience. Of course, this has a lot to do with the content’s purpose, so think about that when determining how important retention is for a specific piece of content. For example, sometimes, the purpose of an article is to promote a product, which means retention might not be important if visitors are clicking the link to buy. 

Engagement

Consumption and retention metrics measure engagement more generally, while specific engagement metrics allow you to not only quantify engagement but make a qualitative estimation, usually through sentiment analysis. 

This will tell you:

  • how interested your readers are in your content; 
  • what they think about it;
  • what’s their attitude toward your brand in general;
  • how invested or loyal they are;
  • and what they need from you.

Engagement ratings have an overlap with retention metrics, but a big part of them are the social media metrics which are unique. You should track the following engagement ratings:

  • Average time on page;
  • Session duration; 
  • Referral traffic; 
  • New vs. returning visitors; 
  • Number of comments and likes (social metric);
  • Sentiment analysis on comments (social metric);
  • Social media shares (retweets; shared post; video shared; etc); 
  • Follower growth; 
  • Clickthrough rates.

Lead Generation

B2B businesses focus a lot of attention on lead generation metrics, especially when it comes to content marketing. The reason for this is simple: content marketing is a powerful tool for bringing a new audience to your website, which in turn generates more leads and increases clickthrough rates. Therefore, it doesn’t come as a surprise that there are a lot of marketing automation platforms for tracking lead and conversion rates, which are the two biggest lead generation metrics.

These automated tools will help you track how many new leads are generated per day, week, or month, and where they are coming from. 

Sales Generation

Finally, the last group of metrics that are most closely related to your revenue are sales metrics. They offer valuable insights when combined with the other metrics and might reveal just how valuable your content is for the final stage of your sales funnel. 

The sales metrics you should track include: 

  • Revenue per conversion;
  • Time to purchase;
  • Value of successful acquisitions;
  • Contract size.

Pro Tip: Compare the sales metrics for leads who consume your content vs. those who don’t to better determine how much value your content marketing adds to the sales rate.  

Before You Go…

Tracking the return on content marketing can be challenging as it is not always a straightforward process. As we’ve seen in this article, some aspects of content marketing are relatively easy to measure, while others, not so much! Our advice is to start with the basics - the metrics included in almost all automated marketing platforms, and work your way from there. 

Hopefully, with the knowledge gained from our article, you’ll gradually add more elements to your content marketing reports and become a true master in developing impactful content that drives sales. In the meantime, keep learning with our insightful blog pieces! Follow the link to see what we have in store or subscribe to our newsletter to make sure you don’t miss out on new articles.

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