Content Marketing ROI: What Doers And The C-Suite Need to Know

March 5, 2014 Hana Abaza

Content marketing is all the buzz and rightly so. It can be incredibly powerful, but (and there’s a big “but” coming) your success hinges on quality execution and diligent measurement so you can continually iterate to improve your content marketing results.

When you’re looking at establishing a baseline for how your content marketing efforts are performing and communicating your content marketing ROI to your executive team, according to Joe Pulizzi, there are three key questions that need to be answered:

  1. Is it converting customers?
  2. Is it saving us money?
  3. Is it helping with customer retention?

While your CEO might not care about the details in every analytics report, you need to know what to measure so you can answer these questions. But sometimes it isn’t easy to pick out the metrics that matter. There are a ton to choose from, but at the end of the day, remember that you need to report on results, not activity. Too often, marketers get caught up in reporting vanity metrics. For example, number of visits is good to know, but looking at it in a silo doesn’t tell you much in terms of how your content is affecting your bottom line.

Generally speaking, there are two sides to the equation when we’re looking at content marketing performance. First, we need to know how the content is resonating with your audience (read: potential customers) and second, we need to determine the overall impact on sales and subsequently your bottom line.

How Your Content Is Performing

The first set of metrics we’re going to look are indicative of how well your content marketing efforts are resonating with your target market, audience, buyer personas (or any other way you choose to label the people that are consuming your content!)

1. Increase in Social Sharing

Do they like it enough to share it? This should be one of the questions you ask yourself when publishing any piece of content. Would the person reading it be likely to share with a friend or colleague for whom it's relevant?

2. Decrease in Bounce Rate

Do they get there and stay? Bounce rate can be indicative of a few things. If its high, it might be because the person on the other side of the screen didn’t get what they were expecting when they landed on the page. Another reason why bounce rate might be high is the quality of the traffic. On the flipside, if your bounce rate is decreasing, chances are your content and distribution channels are probably hitting the mark.

Note that bounce rate can vary, but generally speaking 60-70% is average.

3. Increase in time on site

Time on site is another metric that speaks to the level of engagement. How much time are people spending on your blog or content Hub? Are they scanning an article and leaving after 30 seconds or do they find enough value to read the full post and perhaps search for additional content like videos, eBooks and more? One key factor to increasing time on site is the quality of your content, but another is ensuring that your content is cross discoverable, meaning you can surface relevant content for your audience to consume while they’re still there.

Pro Tip: Creating long form content or video content is a great way increase time on site, provided your they are compelling enough to keep people interested!

4. Increase in pages per visit

Similar to time on site, pages per visit also speaks to the discoverability of your content and how much more your audience can get from one visit. Once they’ve finished reading (or watching) are you pointing them to another piece of content that they might be interested in? At the end of the day, the more engaged people are, the more likely they are to turn into customers when the time is right.

5. Search Engine Rankings

As your content marketing efforts increase, tracking the increase in search engine rankings as well as your ranking for particular keywords is important. This is where being focused and having a keen sense of exactly what kind of content will resonate with your readers is important. The more people link to your content the better, but the last thing you want is to rank for a term that is totally unrelated to your business or your audience.

Pro Tip: If it’s unrelated to your business, but still of great interest to the people that will ultimately buy from you, that's a different story. It's okay to broaden the scope of your content topics as long as they’re all still resonating with your target market.  

Once you can determine how well your content is resonating with your audience, let's look at how well it's converting them to actual customers.

How Your Content Marketing Impacts Sales

Every piece of content you create is written for a different purpose. Content that is created to be shared (like this infographic) or encourage comments (like this controversial post) is different than content that is written for lead generation and sales. Even then, content that's written for lead generation has to be targeted to the right stage of the funnel.

Either way, there needs to be some sort of call to action so you can initiate the sales process and start to fill the top of the funnel. If generating leads through content is one of your goals, measuring CTA performance, key conversion rates and sales metrics are all essential.

1. CTA Click Through Rate

This is the percentage of people that land on your content and then click the CTA.

I could write a book about CTAs (which I’ll start working on after I finish this one) but when it comes to measuring their effectiveness, one of the metrics you need to know is CTA click through rate.

Generally, its easy to get an aggregate number but a bit a trickier to get your CTA click through at the individual content level. If you’re using an Uberflip Hub, this is easy to do. Simply login to the application and go to your metrics dashboard to take a look at not only how the individual CTA is performing but also how the CTA placement is working for you. For example, you can see below, we have the same CTA placed on this blog post and this video. But when we look at our metrics, I know the CTA associated with the blog post is performing at a higher clickthrough rate (4.3%), so I might choose to send more traffic to the post rather than the video.

   

 

2. Visitor to Lead Conversion Rate

The percentage of visitors that become leads as a result of consuming of your content.

In addition to click through rate you also need to know how well your CTAs are actually converting leads. Getting someone to click on a link CTA is one thing, but having them opt in to a free trial or demo request is an entirely different beast – and one you need to measure and optimize religiously in order to impact your bottom line.

First, define what a lead is for your organization. Perhaps it's simply a contact that fills out an offer for content (this would be a very top of the funnel lead) or maybe it's a free trial signup or demo request.

For example, we look at people who sign up for a free trial as leads. They’re not customers yet, but they have the potential to be. So we take unique visits to our content Hub and see what percentage of those ended up clicking on a CTA that resulted in a free trial. We also drill down to see which individual content pieces are working. 

In other cases, you might simply be looking at the percentage of leads that get funneled to your sales team as a percentage of visits to your content.

3. Increase in Lead Quality

When Jon, our Sr. Director of Business Development told me that the quality of leads coming through uberflip.com was skyrocketing, it was music to my ears (I secretly did a little dance when no one was looking). The right content has the ability to attract the right type of customer, which isn’t always easy to do. For example, if you’re reading this, you’re probably either a customer, a potential customer, or at the very least someone who is considering content as part of their overall content marketing strategy.

Bottom line? At the end of the day, I would rather have only you reading this article than 20 other people who don’t fit into the above categories, because you are far more likely to become a customer (and if you’re ready to pull the trigger, start here).

4. Increase in Lead Quantity

So many people mistake this to mean that we have to increase overall traffic, but what will likely be more impactful is increasing the visitor to lead conversion rate we talked about above. If you can do this in conjunction with a bump in traffic, even better. Increasing visitor to lead conversion should ultimately happen at two points. First, at the point of your content - for example, they read the post and then take action. Second, at the point of sign up.

For instance, if your people are clicking on the call to action, but then dropping off once they get to the signup form, you know that the problem may be with the form and not the content or CTA.

Pro Tip: While content can be an excellent foundation for all of your marketing efforts, it is only one part of your marketing efforts. Make sure it works with in conjunction with your sales site, paid channels, partnerships and anything else you may be experimenting with!

5. Lead to Customer Conversion Rate

The percentage of leads that eventually become customers.

Leads are great, but customers are better. Understanding the percentage of visits that convert into actual customers from your content is a direct indicator of how your content marketing efforts are impacting your bottom line.

This can be easier said than done and might depend on a few factors. If you’re primarily focused on obtaining customers via your website through a “no-touch” model it's a bit easier. If however, your model dictates a longer sales cycle where you’re feeding leads to sales then you need visibility into how many deals your sales team is closing.

Pro Tip: This isn’t the only place where it's integral for sales and marketing to work in tandem. Your sales team can be an great source of content ideas and by providing great content, marketing can help enable the sales process.

When you’re looking at your lead to customer conversion rate, you might benefit from looking at it through the lense of a cohort analysis (if you’re not sure how to do this, my predecessor Neil Bhapkar wrote a great post that walks you through the ins and outs of cohort analysis).

6. Shorter Sales Cycle

The length of time it takes to turn a prospect into a customer.

I don’t think I have to sell this one. Good content that helps your sales team answer any product or non-product related questions can help expedite the process and shorten the overall sales cycle. Shorter sales cycles mean that we have the bandwidth to talk to more prospects, ultimately leading to more customers.

7. Lower Cost Per Lead

The amount of money it costs to generate one lead.

Here’s the one that speaks directly to ROI. Generally speaking, content marketing can boast a lower cost per lead than many paid channels. But there is still an investment, which you can maximize (if you’re a smart content marketer) by recycling content and expanding distribution channels by using your content in different formats.

According to a report published by Kapost and Eloqua, the cost per lead that comes from your marketing may initially be on par with what you’re currently seeing, but can drop up to 80% within the first 5 months. In addition to this increase in ROI over time, you can also expect that your content marketing will be anywhere from 31% to 41% lower than your costs for paid search depending on the size of your company.

Pretty compelling reasons to incorporate content marketing into your overall marketing plan, if you ask me.

8. Customer Retention (or Churn)

Retention refers to the percentage of customers you retain. Churn is the percentage lost.

Customer acquisition is not the only reason to write content. Some of your content should be written for your customers, which in turn helps boost retention. This metric will be specific to your company. For example, if you're a SaaS company like we are you probably keep a pretty close eye on your churn rate. If you’re services based, you might focus more on retention.

Qualitative Indicators That Your Content Marketing Works

1. Increase in customer awareness

Ask anyone and they’ll tell you that I’m a self-professed numbers geek. But there’s something to be said for the qualitative measures of content marketing performance. Increasing the overall awareness of your brand by providing a great content marketing experience can go a long way toward impacting some of your other metrics and raising the profile of your company and your team. Good content can also be used as a platform for additional exposure through media and PR efforts, that can also boost awareness.

2. Feedback from customers and prospects

Feedback can come in a quantitative form (consider this: every time someone shares your content it can often be considered an endorsement of you and your company) and in qualitative ways. Listen to the comments, emails and social media communications to see what people think about your content. This is a great place to gauge whether or not they like what you’re putting out there and get additional topic ideas that will hit home.

If It Don’t Make Dollars, It Don’t Make Sense

Content marketing ROI is going to become more important as content marketing platforms become more sophisticated. Like all online marketers, content marketers need to be accountable for meeting and exceeding ROI expectations. The metrics we looked at in this post can tell you whether or not your content marketing is performing and guide your decision making, but at the end of the day it has to have a positive impact on your bottom line.

So how do you calculate content ROI? There’s no magic formula. Calculating content marketing ROI is just like calculating ROI from any other channel.

Take the dollars invested, including writers, content marketing software, paid distribution channels (yes you can – and sometimes should – pay to distribute your content) etc. Then determine the uptick in sales that resulted from your content marketing efforts, and voila. So, it might look a little something like this:

While I completely made up the above numbers, you can see that once you start to scale this for a larger company, the higher the sales point the better your ROI will be. The other thing to note, as mentioned above, is the long term benefit of content marketing. Stick with it and you’ll reap the rewards of a kick-ass ROI over time.

Answering The Top 3 Questions The C-Suite Wants To Know

So, how do you put this all into a digestible format for your executive team? Trust me when I say they don’t want a print out of your Hub Metrics or Google Analytics report. Start by answering the three questions we talked about at the beginning of the post (I know, that seems like a long time ago).

1. Is it converting customers?

Take a look at your lead and customer conversion rates. Be prepared to show your executive team how many leads are getting funneled to your sales team and how many customers have come as a result of your content marketing.

2. Is it saving us money?

Take your content marketing ROI and compare it with your ROI from other channels. Provided you’ve hit the mark with your content strategy, you’ll likely see a decrease in the cost per acquisition and overall ROI with your content efforts.

3. Is it helping with customer retention?

Is your content helping customers? Better yet - is it impacting customer retention or reducing churn? While this one can be a bit tricky because there are so many factors that impact retention, keeping your customers engaged with you through product and content will contribute toward increasing that retention rate.

Hopefully by now you feel confident in your ability to measure content marketing performance and communicate it to your executive team. In the meantime, if you have any questions, let me know in the comments or drop me a line on Google+ or Twitter.

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About the Author

Hana Abaza

As Director of Marketing, Hana focuses on creating an incredible brand experience while combining it with a metrics driven approach, allowing Uberflip to truly understand its customer's needs.

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