How the Heck Do You Calculate the Return from Your Content Marketing Program?

Content Marketing Return

Does the content your company churns out help to generate revenues? Or is it just busy work?

While the marketing gurus tell you content is a must-have gizmo in the B2B marketer’s tool belt, sometimes the return on investment (ROI) feels a little squishy.

To avoid the squishiness — the feeling that your money and effort is going to waste — you need to set up your content marketing program on a firm foundation. And the keystone of that groundwork is your goals. Without objectives, you cannot measure results. That means you have no way of knowing whether your content is helping your business.

To understand this concept, let’s look at some content marketing tactics, their goals and the metrics for monitoring them.

Guest Blogging

Goal Assessment

With guest blogging, you’re writing articles that you plan to publish on other organizations’ websites. Goals for this tactic range from building a reputation for thought leadership to increasing traffic through search engine optimization.

backlinks from content marketingOne of our client’s guest blogging objectives is to generate increased organic traffic to their website that will convert into leads. We’ll call them Company Z. When we publish an article for Company Z on a third party site, we also negotiate for a link back to their website. This process helps to increase their web traffic in two ways.

First, Google’s algorithms spot the backlinks from third-party websites pointing to Company Z’s site and reckon they must be steering people to some valuable content. As the website proves its link-worthiness, it gradually climbs up in Google’s search engine rankings, making it more likely people will find it and, thus, increasing organic visits.

Second, some people click on the links in the off-site articles and come directly to Company Z’s website.

Metrics to Track

For measuring this program, we start with the big picture — how many articles are published each month and the number of unique sites posting them. That’s a useful measurement for whether we’re making progress in implementing the plan, but we need to dig deeper.

So next we look at the average ranking of the website’s URL for queries: Is it moving up in the results, and is it, therefore, more likely to attract people?

That puts us a step closer but still does not get to the ultimate goal.

organic web trafficFor that, we track the increase in organic traffic sessions (the result of moving up in the search results) and the increase in referral traffic (from those direct links).

The cherry-on-the-cake metric, however, is tracking the increase in organic keyword conversions in Google Analytics. We compare that statistic to Company Z’s investment in content to determine their ROI.

Note that if the goal had been thought leadership, the measurement and tracking process would have been entirely different. But that’s a subject for another blog post.

White Papers and E-Books

Goal Assessment

The goals for white papers and e-books can be to:

  • Generate qualified leads
  • Outline how to solve a problem and gently lead the reader to your company’s solution
  • Add to status as a thought leader
  • Build brand awareness
  • Do all of the above

Metrics to Track

If your goal is to attract leads, it’s easy to measure.

You create a landing page that convinces people to give you their contact information in exchange for  downloading the white paper. Then you quantify the number of leads generated using your marketing automation software, such as Marketo, Pardot, Eloqua or HubSpot.

Of course, you don’t just want leads. You want marketing qualified leads — those in the market for your product or service.

Some of the leads that you receive will fit that category. They’re eager to solve their business problem right now and have the resources to do so. Others will never be ready, for instance, students and competitors. The remainder is not prepared to buy YET.

That means you need to nurture this last bucket of leads until they are warmed up and ready to go. You can do this with e-mail marketing. If you’re scoring your leads, you’ll have a good idea of when they are ripe for a salesperson to pursue them.

The number of leads is an early indicator of your campaign’s probability of success. However, the total number of marketing qualified leads you generate after nurturing them is the final measure of what you’ve achieved.

Compare the number of marketing qualified leads to the cost to create the white paper or e-book plus any other associated expenses. For instance, you may have invested in pay-per-click ads and content syndication to promote your content.

If your goal is brand awareness, thought leadership or to convince as many people as possible that you understand their problem and can solve it, you probably will not gate your content. Without a gate (form to fill out) your content will attract more readers.

Instead of measuring leads, you’ll keep track of how often people read and share it, and how well it performs in search-engine rankings.

From Goals and Metrics to a Calculated Return

Do you see how your goal affects both how you implement a tactic and how you measure it?

Given this reality, before you start a content marketing initiative, define your goal. Then determine how you will measure its effectiveness. Track all the expenses related to your program. Once the campaign is live, assess your results versus your investment to calculate your return.

About Paul Mosenson

NuSpark Marketing Founder, Chief Lead Generation Strategist and Online Media Director An experienced B2B and B2C marketer, Paul has been helping clients generate leads and grow their businesses for over 25 years. Paul helps plan and optimize marketing and lead generation programs.