If someone asked you if customer service affected the bottom line, you’d probably choke on your coffee before asking them, “Are you serious?”
Everyone knows good customer service has an obvious influence on profitability. Customers buy from brands they know, like, and trust. If your staff isn’t friendly, people won’t like your company, probably won’t trust you, and definitely won’t buy from you. It’s common sense.
And yet, if you were asked to specifically track the return on investment (ROI) of a particular smile or attentive phone call, where would you start?
Content marketers face the same dilemma in the digital realm. Whether the medium is social media platforms, a blog, or sales pages on the company website, owners want to know the ROI of content marketing.
A good content marketer understands the power of content to engage the customer and compel them to action (making a purchase, donating to a cause, and so on). A great content marketer can prove it works and why the investment is worthwhile.
The owner of a business may not “get” content marketing, but even a technically disinclined leader understands cold, hard numbers.
If a content marketer can track the ROI of their activities through key performance indicators and prove the value to decision makers, they’ll find themselves instantly more influential and less often on the defensive during budget conversations.
Before you hang your head in defeat, it’s time to let go of the idea that you can’t track the intangible impact of content marketing. Quite to the contrary.
Thanks to website analytics and social media metrics, nearly everything is measurable. And that’s just the beginning of the good news.
Because of the wealth of data at our fingertips, it’s easy to get distracted by volume metrics (aka “vanity metrics”) without connecting the dots to a larger story. The trick is to understand the difference between content that is consumed versus content that creates a customer.
Use the Right Measuring Stick
Certain metrics and key performance indicators allow you to figure out the ROI of content marketing. The four main metrics are:
- Consumption metrics
- Sharing metrics
- Lead generation metrics
- Sales metrics
Before digging into each type, it’s important to clarify the end goal:
The mission of content marketing goes beyond visibility. It’s about leading a prospect toward making a purchase.
This perspective allows us to see content marketing metrics through a big picture lens that keeps ROI in mind.
As we review these metrics, you’ll see this creates a win-win:
Content marketers are equipped with the tools to create quality content AND he best key performance indicators to prove value to leaders.
Every customer begins as a consumer of your content. It’s important to deploy a basic analytics solution that measures the following:
- Website traffic
- Page views
- Video views
- Document views
By themselves, these volume metrics don’t mean much. To provide context, ask (and answer) a few questions:
How do your consumption metrics match up to the competition?
This helps establish your position in the market and indicates what you might need to change. You can leverage best practices of competitors to improve your metrics and learn from their mistakes.
Do consumers come back for more?
Every one-hit wonder aimed for greatness and missed. If consumers visit your content and don’t come back, find out why they don’t stick around.
What actions do consumers take after absorbing your content?
If you wrote a killer headline and provided solid value in an article, what does the consumer do next?
To start measuring these consumption metrics, we recommend using Google Analytics. Here are some resources to help you get the most from the data that Google gives you:
- How to Setup Google Analytics
- Google Analytics Resources for Beginners to Advanced Users
- Understanding Your Website’s Story Through 3 Basic Google Analytics Reports
- A Crash Course in Google Analytics for Anyone Who’s Sick of Feeling Like an Idiot
Besides measuring popularity, vanity metrics do little more on their own than boost egos. However, as part of the bigger picture of content marketing metrics, it’s important to measure the following:
- Social media (retweets, favs, likes, shares, +1s, pins, etc.)
- Email forwards (people who read your email and forward it to others)
- Inbound links (traffic from other websites, blogs, etc.)
Sharing metrics are valuable to measure for each piece of content because it confirms if the material is relevant and helpful. By sharing your content, consumers are endorsing your message and recommending your brand.
Define the relevant business value of sharing metrics and avoid the hype. Avoiding this distraction puts you in a strong position to communicate the importance of social to leadership.
A quick, final word on sharing metrics: MAKE IT EASY
Provide standard sharing buttons on all content.
Don’t include sharing buttons for every single platform. It looks desperate and cluttered. Know the top 3–5 social media channels your customers use and provide those sharing buttons.
Make infographics easy to embed.
If someone is going to go through the trouble of including your content on their site and sharing it with their audience, remove any potential barriers to the process.
Incorporate social proof.
When an avid fan tweets a rave review, add it to your content. If someone read a white paper you created and shared a Facebook post on how it improved their business, quote them on the sales page.
Create quality content.
This seems like a no-brainer, but there is a lot of crappy content out there. A monarchy still needs staff and subjects to rule a sustainable kingdom, but content is still king.
If you’re looking for tools to measure social media analytics, here are some fantastic resources:
Lead Generation Metrics
Sales is a game of numbers. Specifically, a game of volume and percentages.
For content marketers this translates into answering two questions:
- How many people consume the content? (volume)
- How many of those people become legitimate leads? (percentage)
To answer these questions, a content marketer can measure a few simple data points for each piece of content:
- Completed forms
- New email subscribers
- Free trial conversions
- Content upgrade conversions
Much like consumption metrics, lead generation metrics need a benchmark to compare against. Context defines value.
The best place to start is to use Google Analytics to establish relevant goals. Comparing the performance of lead generation metrics for each piece of content to the goal and to data trends will tell you if content marketing activities are on the right track.
NOTE: Consistent failure to meet a particular goal may imply the goal itself needs adjusting.
Start by measuring something and adjust course as needed after enough time has passed to prove a trend. While an agile business is able to react quickly, rash decisions made on incomplete assumptions are rarely successful.
Whichever tools you’re using to acquire leads should have built-in methods of tracking metrics. However, here are a few we recommend:
When business owners see dollar signs coming in they start to smile.
Basic sales metrics should include the following:
- Online sales. Any transaction facilitated by an e-commerce solution, regardless of the product type.
- Offline sales. Whenever customers purchase goods or services in a brick and mortar location.
As a content marketer the key question you’re trying to answer for clients and leadership is: Did this content make us any money?
Offline transactions via a POS system (register, kiosk, etc) have native reporting functionality. Online solutions have similar reporting, but if you’re just getting started here are some basic options:
Making the Case for Content Marketing
Tracking sales volumes and trends alongside other metrics helps content marketers make valid connections with ROI implications.
If there isn’t a direct link between sales metrics and consumption, sharing, or lead generation metrics, look for trends.
Identify correlation relationships and communicate logical connections (e.g. revenue spiked when a specific article when viral).
Here are some quick tips for tracking metrics across all categories:
- Track everything over a long period of time. The longer the period of time, the stronger the trend and the conclusions drawn from it.
- Note where anything changes. Trends are useful because they educate on past performance and predict future performance. Awareness of inflection points increases the accuracy of reviewing and forecasting activities.
- Track every available data point. A random metric might seem irrelevant at a moment in time, but in retrospect the context of a larger picture will indicate the significance. You won’t know if something is important until it’s measured.
Calculating the ROI
This is the number every decision maker wants to hear. However, avoid attempting to calculate ROI at a top level. Trying to conjure a master ROI formula is a fool’s errand. The ROI of content marketing is the sum of it’s parts. Calculate at the program or campaign level.
Each piece of content has an individual ROI based on format, type, channel, audience, etc.
Before calculating the ROI, you need to understand the variables.
Hang in there, this math is your friend.
- Labor. The cost of staff time involved in content marketing activities for a given program, campaign, or content item.
- Overhead factor. Website hosting fees, software, depreciation, IT, etc., distilled to a monthly fee.
- Lead. A consumer who is likely to become a customer.
- Conversion rate. The percentage of leads who make a purchase and become a customer.
- Average lifetime customer value. The value of what an average customer will purchase for the lifetime of their relationship with your brand.
- Average profit margin. The average difference between the cost of goods sold (or services) and the revenue generated by the given good (or service).
Finally, here are the steps to calculate the ROI of content marketing:
- Calculate the Investment (Labor + Overhead)
- Calculate the Return (Lead x Conversion Rate x Average Lifetime Customer Value x Average Profit Margin)
- Calculate the ROI (First, subtract the Investment from the Return. Second, divide by the Investment.)
Remember the Mindset
Content marketing is a means to an end. As a creative at heart, it’s easy to get caught up in the craft of making great content.
Remember, great content isn’t the end game. Your mission is to establish a great brand as a result of creating great content and marketing it well.
This post was adapted and expanded from a Slideshare presentation by Jay Baer titled “A Field Guide to the Four Types of Content Marketing Metrics”.
It’s impossible to prove the ROI of content marketing if you never have the time to write the content. Since you have enough on your plate already, let us write the content for you. You talk. We write. It’s that simple.
If you’re not ready to start outsourcing your blog just yet, check out our 5-part email course. It’s totally free, incredibly actionable, and it will help you turn your company’s blog readers into paying customers.
KC is a writer, dad, coffee addict, and LEGO fan. He hosts the Dad Life Rules podcast, works as a social media consultant, and writes for a Top 30 ranked ministry website (ChurchMag). With an MBA from ASU, KC is a lifelong learner and has enough books to start a library.