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Content Marketing ROI: Tracking The Elusive Beast

Studies show marketers are spending more on content marketing this year. Obviously they believe the return is worth the boosted investment, but how do you know for sure? It’s not always easy to measure ROI, because the results can be intangible and develop gradually over time. That makes it hard to prove dollars-and-cents value for a content marketing campaign.

And of course not every campaign has a direct sales goal, making tracking ROI all the more elusive.

In 2012, HubSpot reported marketers who allot more than half their lead generation budget to inbound marketing saw an average cost per lead of $135, whereas those who spent the majority of their budget on outbound efforts paid $346 per lead. That’s a whopping difference. But while cost per lead is an important number, you can’t judge the success of a content marketing campaign by one metric alone.

HubSpot went on to note that the top three inbound channels out-performed all outbound techniques, with impressively low costs:

  • Blogging, 52% below average.
  • Social media, 45% below average.
  • SEO (organic search), 38% below average.

While that’s good news in the aggregate, it doesn’t tell you how you’re doing. You need to know the “engagement return” -- what’s working and what needs correction -- before you launch your next content marketing campaign. You also need to know the financial return on your marketing investment.

Calculating the financial side.

It’s not hard to figure out what you’re spending on each content marketing campaign – as long as you’re entirely honest. The tough part is definitively relating sales conversions to online triggers. Stephen Bateman offers an excellent, detailed guide to determining your costs for content production and delivery, to help identify true ROI.

These days, you can amass enough web-based analytical data to thoroughly overwhelm yourself. And just because you can’t attach a financial value to some content marketing benefits doesn’t lessen their value. Things like brand awareness, community-building and reputation reinforcement -- yours or your company’s -- all contribute toward customer desire to do business with you.

Zeroing in on what matters most.

You can measure virtually anything -- new and repeat visitors, length of stay on your site, number of pages visited, lead generation, sales funnel progress, dollars spent by customers and dollars spent by you to acquire them.

You can track long-term loyalty and identify dollar-specific customer lifetime value -- something that’s often overlooked by harried marketers and business managers, even though it’s an important business indicator. We all know it costs less to retain a customer than to recruit a new one.

The key is to remain focused, identifying the metrics that are most relevant to your long-term business goals and specific campaign goals. After all, you can’t possibly know if you’ve achieved results unless you know what results you wanted. That means you have to start with the end in mind.

What are you trying to accomplish with this content marketing campaign? How will you know if it was successful? The answers point to your most relevant metrics, whether they’re direct conversions or more like “progress points” along your sales funnel:

  • Building brand awareness – measure traffic, page views, bounce rate, time-on-page and social sharing.
  • Building brand perception – use surveys, focus groups, etc. to solicit feedback.
  • Lead generation – measure content downloads, subscriptions, contact form submissions and overall lead generation stats.
  • Engagement and loyalty – measure opt-ins to your blog or enewsletter, repeat site visits and social media sharing.

Keeping it Real Time

With data available in real time, you can evaluate ROI of a specific content marketing campaign while it’s still in progress. If it’s lagging, you can modify elements to improve performance. Another way to ensure you’re getting the strongest possible return on every content marketing campaign is to track the quality of your content so you can continuously fine-tune it. You can’t expect a good return with poorly produced or inappropriately distributed content.

Although the vast majority of businesses are using some type of content marketing to inform prospective customers about their business and products, many of them suspect things aren’t going as well as they should. If you take the time to implement well-targeted metrics and tracking processes, understanding content marketing ROI will be far less elusive.

Topics: content analytics - content marketing - content marketing tips - content marketing strategy

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