When proving the direct return on investment generated from a digital strategy, it is easy to mistake content marketing as less ROI-positive than other tactics.
Take paid search, for example. You put money in, you see the sales come out. The direct return is easy to forecast, track and prove. Because content marketing doesn’t track in such a straight-forward, direct way, its profitability is often overlooked – and wrongly so.
According to Hubspot’s yearly round-up of Content Marketing statistics, marketers who prioritised content efforts in 2019 were 13 times more likely to see positive ROI. As a result, 70% of marketers are investing in content marketing, Not doing so, therefore, wields the potential to leave you trailing behind your competitors.
How to report on content marketing ROI
1. Deciding what KPIs indicate ROI for your content marketing strategy
One of the most common mistakes made with content reporting is looking at it through the same success metrics as other channels.
Obviously, if you’re reporting on bottom-of-funnel channels like paid search, it makes sense to focus straight away on enquiry numbers (lead generation) or online revenue (eCommerce). However, reporting in this exclusive way for content totally discounts the top-of-funnel role it has to play in the user journey. It puts a short-term lens on a powerfully long-term opportunity.
Whilst it is worth incorporating big-picture conversion rates in your content reporting, you should also consider the so-called micro-conversions that feed into those end goal numbers. Ask yourself: what are the stepping stones that a user may use along their way to that final conversion?
Often-overlooked but still crucial content marketing performance indicators are:
- Increasing the number of eyes on the site – You need to know that people are seeing what you’re posting. Start by looking at impressions in Google Search Console (obviously impacted by strong keyword rankings) and also incorporate pageviews, users and sessions from Google Analytics. In particular, it’s a very good sign if your content is driving new users to the site, as that demonstrates the role content plays in widening the net.
- Increasing your database/potential remarketing audience – If you are able to get a user onto the site using a content piece to pique their interest, you can then use other channels to funnel them to conversion over time. For example, you can use a content piece that focuses on encouraging email sign-ups as its main CTA, therefore allowing follow-up emails to nudge them to convert when they’re ready.
- Driving customer engagement with your brand – If your content is driving a strong time-on-page, good scroll rate, embedded link interactions and social media shares, then it’s most likely doing its job. There’s a reason why search engines like to rank content pieces that perform well with these ‘soft’ metrics. So, while they might not seem like the most integral to an ROI-focused strategy, they are pivotal early indicators that you’re on the right track.
2. Setting up content marketing performance dashboards
A limitation of content marketing reporting is that out-of-the-box data analysis tools like Google Analytics aren’t set up to prove the value of content.
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Content is not a stand-alone tactic. It always feeds into every other channel and makes their performance better. For example, paid ads will perform better if fueled with good multi-channel content. Despite this, last-click attribution models are more likely to place conversion credit with paid or direct traffic sources, as those are most often the ones to finally push customers over the line.
What’s more, content performance metrics and conversion data aren’t even housed in the same part of GA as each other, so it can be hard to tie the two together.
That’s why, to get to the crux of your content marketing performance, we recommend setting up customised dashboards and reports. We use Data Studio for this, but other reporting platforms can work just as well.
This is the best way to get all your content marketing metrics together in one easy-to-track place. It is also the best way to get really granular in your reporting, through setting up filters and customising metrics to actually reflect the content marketing work you’re doing.
Top tips for creating content performance dashboards:
- Pick and choose the metrics that matter most to individual content pieces. These may differ from content piece to piece, so don’t be afraid to create customised reports/pages dedicated to the aims and outcomes of specific content projects.
- Set-up filters to categorise content pieces. Through creating custom categories grouping content pieces by topic, author, objectives or even completed optimisations, you can really hone in on what works and what doesn’t. In Data Studio, this can be done using custom Dimension Fields.
- Incorporate Google Search Console Data, not just Google Analytics. What happens before users click on to your website is just as insightful as what happens afterwards. In your dashboard, adding in Search Console metrics like impressions and click through rates for target terms and pages can be invaluable for demonstrating visibility trends over time.
How to forecast the potential impact of content marketing
If you are looking to invest in ROI-focused marketing, you will no-doubt be wanting to quantify what results you can expect out of different strategies. The impact of content marketing is notoriously difficult to forecast, meaning that strategies can often fall down at this hurdle. But it is certainly possible.
Forecasting content marketing outcomes come down to working out what you’re going for and breaking that down, stepping stone by stepping stone.
The best way to explain this is through a hypothetical example. Take a lead generation brand that wants to drive bookings of their event venue space as our example. Their revenue comes from bookings, so that’s what will ultimately prove ROI to them.
Step one is to work out the content benchmarks…
Their current benchmark is that content pieces drove 2,500 users to the site over the last year. Of those users, 25 made a booking (1%), equating to £1,500 per booking (£37,500). Looking at Search Console, we can see that the organic click-through rate for these content pieces was 1.3%, from over 192,000 impressions.
Step two is to identify where the gaps are that your content project is looking to fill…
A. The existing content is not very action driving. The proposed CTA-focused solution aims to double the booking rate to 2%, meaning that content will drive an additional 25 bookings – generating an additional £37,500.
B. The existing content has poorly optimised metadata. The proposed metadata optimisations aim to boost the click-through rate to 2%, driving 3,840 visits instead of 2,500 and thus 38 enquiries, generating an additional £19,500.
C. The existing content doesn’t cater for valuable search terms. The creation of new content (hypothetically ranking in the top 3 for these terms) would boost impressions to 250,000, clicks to 3,250 and therefore enquiries to 32, meaning £10,500 in extra revenue.
Content marketing is all about optimising for those micro-conversions and the nuanced success metrics at different levels of the user journey. As the above forecasting demonstrates, improvements made to ‘softer’ metrics have definite potential to influence the ‘harder’, bottom-line figures.