But one of the problems people often face is knowing whether it’s working. You or your team have put in the hard hours writing blog posts, creating email campaigns and engaging with people on social media, but how do you know whether it’s all been worth it?
The problem is not a lack of information; the problem is knowing which information to track. Should you care about the number of likes, followers, comments, shares, page views, email signups, purchases, or something else?
If you’re not sure, don’t worry—you’re in the majority. A 2016 Content Marketing Institute report found that:
- Only 30% of B2B marketers say their organizations are effective at content marketing.
- Only 44% even know what content marketing success or effectiveness looks like.
So in this tutorial, you’ll learn which content marketing metrics to track and how to calculate a content marketing ROI (return on investment). We’ll take it step by step, starting with defining your content marketing goals so that you can decide what to track. Then we’ll look at different metrics you could use, how to calculate costs, and how to determine the ROI. We’ll finish with a reality check, looking at some of the things you can’t measure.
By the end of this tutorial, you’ll be equipped to measure the success of your content marketing efforts, decide what’s working and what isn’t, and make sure your business is getting the most bang for your content marketing buck.
1. Define Your Goals
The first step in determining whether your content marketing is working or not is to define what “working” means to you. In other words, what are your goals?
As the following chart from the Content Marketing Institute shows, there are a variety of different reasons for doing content marketing.
Depending on what your goal is, you may want to use very different metrics. For example, if your goal is “sales”, then the metric is pretty clear: how many sales did you achieve as a result of your content marketing? But if it’s “lead generation”, then you might want to track the number of people who signed up to your email newsletter or in some other way registered interest in your products. If your goal is “engagement”, then maybe you want to track the number of comments, shares or likes your posts achieve.
These are just a few quick examples—we’ll go into more depth on different metrics in the next section. For now, you just need to define the objectives of your content marketing, so that in the next section we can assign the appropriate metrics to them. For more on this and how it fits into a broader content marketing strategy, see Lauren Holliday’s tutorial:
2. Content Marketing Metrics
So once you’ve decided what’s important to you, how do you measure it?
Marketing consultant Jay Baer provides a good framework for thinking about content marketing metrics in his article for Ceros:
- Consumption metrics
- Sharing metrics
- Lead generation metrics
- Sales metrics
Let’s look at each of those in more detail.
This type of metric is simply about measuring how many people are reading or watching your content.
So if you run a blog, it could be a simple measure of traffic, like the number of page views or unique visitors—although other measures like “average time on page” can also be useful. If you produce YouTube videos, you’d track the number of views, and if your content marketing involves Facebook posts, Tweets or other social media posts, many platforms provide ways of measuring the “reach” of your posts.
One of the big advantages of content marketing over traditional advertising is that people often share your content, giving you free publicity and recommendations. So these metrics look at how often people are sharing your content on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and other sites.
This is about starting to convert readers or viewers into customers. Personally I don’t much like the metaphor of a “sales funnel”—it seems too industrial a way of looking at human beings—but the basic idea is that you attract leads into the top of your funnel, process them as they fall down the funnel, and spit them out at the other end as paying customers.
So the “lead generation” metrics capture how effectively your content marketing is attracting people to become leads, or potential customers. Generally people become leads when they express an interest in hearing more from you, so the metric here could be the number of people signing up for your email newsletter, filling in a contact form, or signing up to a free membership area of your site.
If your content marketing is heavily social media based, you could look at things like follower counts here, but keep in mind that you’ll need a very long funnel to convert a Twitter follower into a paying customer. The more direct the contact you have and the firmer the expression of interest, the better.
If you want to know more details about the sales funnel (without my slightly skeptical commentary), see this tutorial:
OK, this is where we start dealing with dollars and cents. When people finally decide to buy from you, you can track how many of those purchases were a result of your content marketing.
For example, you can track clicks through from your emails to your website and see how many of them result in sales. Similarly, in programs like Google Analytics, you can see how people navigate through your site, and how many of your eventual customers came from your blog.
You might want to track the dollar amount of revenue derived from content marketing, or your metric could be a percentage conversion rate—how many of your viewers and readers become paying customers.
While this framework is useful, it doesn’t cover every metric out there. For example, the goal of your content marketing may be to increase your website’s authority, and in that case you may want to measure your search engine ranking for certain keywords. And as I mentioned earlier, if you’re looking for customer engagement, you may be interested in things like blog comments or social media conversations.
So use these ideas as a starting point, but don’t be limited by them. There’s a lot of data available to you, and the most important thing is to align the metrics you choose to the objectives you’ve set out.
3. Define the Costs
It’s common to look at page views and social shares, but don't forget to add up the costs of all this content you’re creating. That’s the “investment” on which we’ll soon be calculating the return.
If you’re hiring freelancers to create the content for you, then those costs will have to be measured, of course. If you’re producing it yourself, or getting members of staff to create it, then you’ll have to factor in the time spent.
For example, if your marketing manager gets paid $1,000 a week, and she spends 10 of her 40 hours a week on content marketing activities, then content marketing is costing you $250 a week. If you’re doing it yourself, you’ll need to estimate how much your own time is worth and perform a similar calculation.
Don’t forget to bake in all the associated costs like hosting fees for your blog, monthly fees for those cool social media management tools you’re using, money you spent on hiring designers, general office overheads, and so on.
4. Calculate Your Content Marketing ROI
To calculate the return on your investment, you simply look at the money you’ve earned from content marketing as a percentage of your costs. Here’s the ROI formula:
ROI = (Revenue − Cost) / Cost
So, for example, if you’ve earned $1,000 from content marketing, and it cost you $800 to produce, then your ROI would be:
ROI = ($1,000 – $800) / $800 = $200 / $800 = 25%
You could calculate the ROI for your content marketing as a whole for a certain time period, or if you have good enough data available, you could calculate it for particular channels or even specific pieces of content.
Of course, depending on your objectives and what you’re tracking, your metrics may not have a dollar value. If that’s the case, it can still be useful to calculate ROI to make sure you’re on track, but what you’ll need to do is assign a dollar value to the metric.
After all, you’re tracking it because it’s worth something to your business, right? So you just need to decide how much.
For example, if you’re tracking lead generation, you could look at some past statistics from your business to see what each lead is worth. You might find, for example, that 10% of leads end up converting into paying customers, and that those customers end up spending on average $100 each.
So the value of each lead in that case would be $10 (10% of $100). If you gained 50 new leads, then, the “revenue” number you’d plug into the ROI formula would be $500 (50 x $10).
5. Embrace the Unknown
You’ve probably heard that famous old saying:
“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half.”
It originates from the days of print advertising, when there was almost no way of knowing which people had seen your ad in which newspaper or billboard, and how many of them became customers as a result.
With content marketing on the internet, of course, there are many more ways of tracking your customers’ behavior and measuring your success. We’ve looked at some of them in this tutorial, and there are plenty more metrics out there—we’re awash in data these days.
But don’t let the abundance of data fool you into thinking you can know everything. Sometimes, people will read your blog post or watch your video, and although they find it incredibly useful or entertaining, they’ll take no measurable action whatsoever. No comment, no signup, no sale. The data will show a potential customer lost.
Later on, however, when they come across your company again, they’ll have a positive reaction to it, due to the conscious or unconscious memory of that great content you provided in the past. And on that occasion, or maybe the seventh or the seventeenth time they come across your content, they’ll finally take action. All of that content they saw before that will show in your stats as having been ineffective, but it led to a result in the end. Again, this is something traditional advertisers knew very well: that’s why ad campaigns are so repetitive.
So the final thing to remember about measuring the success of content marketing is that some things simply can’t be measured. When you put articles or videos or other content out into the world, the results can be unexpected.
As well as getting new customers in unexpected ways, you may also find yourself being invited to speak at conferences, or getting quoted in newspapers, or attracting new business partners, all on the strength of a good article you wrote. The intangible benefits of building authority and brand awareness can be very powerful.
Our Envato Tuts+ data analyst, Michael James Williams, has recently explained some of the other ways in which data can be misleading in a fascinating series of articles. I’d recommend reading them:
- What “Avg. Time on Page” Really ShowsMichael James Williams03 Mar 2016
- When a Bounce is Not a BounceMichael James Williams01 Mar 2016
- Why a High Bounce Rate Isn’t Necessarily a Bad ThingMichael James Williams23 Feb 2016
In this tutorial, you’ve learned how to measure the success of your content marketing. You’ve seen why it’s important to start by clearly defining your objectives and ensuring that your metrics are aligned to those objectives.
We looked at a variety of different metrics to use, and covered how to calculate your content marketing ROI. And finally we covered some of the intangible and unexpected benefits of content marketing.
Here’s one last thing to keep in mind: content marketing is a long-term strategy. In the beginning, it can be very difficult to get any attention, but as you do it consistently for months and years, you can start to see a snowball effect, as you gain more followers, and those followers share your content with other people, gaining you even more followers.
So don’t panic if you find yourself with a negative ROI in the first few months—that’s completely normal. It may take a year or more for your efforts to bear fruit. As with any business project, you’ll want to see a measurable effect eventually, but be patient in the early days. The most important thing is that your chosen metric or metrics are heading in the right direction, and that you use the results to understand which types of content work best with your target audience and give them more of that content.
I hope this tutorial has helped you. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment, either here or in the forum.