Measuring content marketing ROI: Part One

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Last updated: March 2023

‘Content is king’ – that’s what marketers have been shouting from rooftops for the past decade, and with good reason. There’s no shortage of great (and not so great) content out there, but what exactly is it doing for your business?

Most importantly, how do you measure and demonstrate its success against your goals and content marketing objectives?

It’s tempting to begin producing content, syndicating and sharing it because it’s accepted that you need some sort of content strategy. But engaging in any type of marketing without a clear understanding of your end goals is a dangerous exercise, not least because it makes it very difficult to demonstrate what your company is getting in the way of return against all your efforts.

‘Success’ in marketing means different things to different people, but all too often success in the eyes of managers and stakeholders comes down to the bottom line. The importance of having clear content performance metrics in mind before starting on any campaign is paramount: knowing where you want to get to, makes it a lot easier to show progress along the way.

In the first of our series on content marketing ROI, we’ll discuss different ways of quantifying success, beginning with how setting clear objectives can help you to obtain the holy grail of content marketing- a proven return on investment.

What success looks like: setting clear content objectives

What is the end goal of digital marketing? Most businesses would immediately say ‘generating sales’, but on reflection there’s so much more to it than that. The smartest businesses have many goals besides driving sales, including (but not limited to):

  • Lead generation and nurturing prospective clients
  • Building brand awareness
  • Demonstrating thought leadership
  • Improving search rankings

There are of course many more worthy objectives, and if you wanted to be a reductionist about it, you could say that all of these are simply means to the same end: tactics that contribute to the final goal of – well, driving sales.

This is true in a sense, but if you really want to get the most out of your content marketing campaigns (and your marketing in general), it pays to consider these distinct goals carefully, as it will be much easier to demonstrate success, or failure, at a granular level.

It’s also worth saying that too many objectives can make things difficult in terms of tracking success, and staying focused on what your business needs. Usually, three or four clear and measurable objectives are enough to keep things centered and relevant.

To that end, let’s take a look at each objective in more detail.

Lead generation and nurturing prospective clients

If driving sales is a sprint, then lead generation can be considered a marathon. Instead of getting your customers to sign on the dotted line, lead generation is about identifying potential customers and making them aware of your products or services. Lead generation also goes beyond this by seeking to cultivate a long term relationship with your potential client.

Lead generation is especially important for businesses with more complex offerings. This includes professional services (such as accountancy, for example) and ‘big ticket’ items that people spend a lot of time mulling over, such as buying cars or home appliances. These longer term purchasing decisions call for persuasive types of content, strategically delivered throughout the buyers journey, that place you as an expert in your field, like producing e-books, white papers, case studies, instructional guides and in-depth opinion pieces that help build confidence around a tricky purchase decision.

Lead generation via content marketing is carried out mostly by writing something juicy, like a handy how-to guide, or a report, that potential customers really want to read. It should be optimised to be found by potential searchers, who then download, watch or interact with your content- in exchange, more often than not, for their contact details. This type of ‘gated content’, where visitors must provide an email address to access a white paper, for example, is a popular strategy for generating leads. It’s also easy to create objectives for: measurable metrics such as downloads, email sign-ups, clicks and other interactions, which can be set and reviewed regularly.

Clever businesses tie their website, and its content, to CRM systems that automatically track all these interactions and associate them with new leads or contacts, making objectives easy to define and measure (we’ll have more on this in Part Two of this series).

Building brand awareness

If we take a step back from lead generation, we get to brand awareness. Brand awareness is exactly what it sounds like: it’s about making potential customers aware of your existence and, crucially, differentiating your brand and your offering from that of your competitors.

In today’s crowded marketplaces, there are plenty of businesses whose offerings are similar, if not identical, to yours. And if that’s the case, what’s to stop your potential customers from reaching out to a competitor instead of you? That’s where brand awareness comes in.

The end goal of brand awareness is to make consumers associate your products or services with your business. The most obvious examples of brand awareness are cases where products attain the status of a ‘generic trademark’; that is, when a branded product becomes synonymous with the generic product name. When you talk about ‘sellotape’, ‘hoover’ or even ‘Googling’, you’re using a trademarked name that has become part of our daily lingo- generic trademarking at its most successful.

Setting objectives and measuring brand awareness can be tricky. It’s easy enough to have an aim to ‘increase brand awareness,’ but you need to be specific about what you mean when you say this, so that you can measure it properly once you’ve started your content campaigns.

It might be better to break down these objectives into different customer groups, for example:

In 2018 we want to raise awareness of our brand amongst female web users over the age of 50’.

This is a much more specific objective that can be measured in a number of ways, using different metrics and methods like social listening- more on that later. Demographics are important when they are properly segmented, and with brand awareness this is particularly so.

Demonstrating Thought leadership

Thought leadership is an offshoot of brand awareness where you position yourself as an authority within your field – a ‘go-to’ guy (or gal, or organisation) who can always be relied upon to enrich our collective understanding of a given topic. Thought leaders don’t just recycle what’s already been said: they set the tone of the conversation and provide new insights on the regular.

Thought leadership doesn’t mean telling people that you’re experts in your field – you have to put your money where your mouth is and prove it. The best way to do this is to regularly publish thoroughly researched, high quality content that answers questions and says something new and interesting – which, of course, is easier said than done.

Some of the most influential thought leaders come from the world of tech: Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, and Bill Gates are all prime examples. Moz’s Rand Fishkin dispenses a weekly dose of expertise as part of their Whiteboard Friday initiative, making him a bona fide thought leader in the world of digital marketing. Organisations can be thought leaders, too: Adobe’s CMO web magazine is an industry leading digital marketing resource in its own right.

For the rest of us mere mortals, thought leadership is usually achieved via outreach marketing. Publishing on industry websites is a great way of adding your two cents to the wider conversation and positioning yourself as an authority.

Creating objectives that relate to thought-leadership again, are a little tricky, as this is another fairly intangible goal in terms of what you get back for your efforts.

It’s not impossible however, and you may want to look at what your aspirational competitors are up to to get an idea of what you should be aiming for as well. If, for example, you want to be the leading light in video marketing, then have a look at what others are doing- are they uploading new how-to videos every week to their Youtube channels? Do they get watched thousands of times, and shared around? If so, then your objectives could be as simple as ‘seeing a growth in audiences watching our video marketing tutorials’, or something similar.

Again, it’s easy enough to measure these sorts of stats and relate it to a growth in awareness of your brand as a thought leader in your field.

Improving search rankings

These days, any marketer worth their salt understands the importance of search rankings. Search rankings can make or break a business – in highly competitive niches, falling onto the second page of results can often spell disaster.

We’ve already written a lot about the importance of SEO, and looked in detail at the tools available to make life easier, so we won’t go into the finer points here – suffice it to say that publishing a steady stream of relevant, useful and well-researched content – both onsite and offsite – is a surefire way to give your website a boost in the rankings.

As with the others, search objectives should be clear and measurable, so simply saying ‘I want an improvement in my search rankings’ isn’t enough, and will lead to confusion and disappointment when it comes to reviewing progress.

Better objectives might be ‘I want to see an increase in search rankings for five of my top ten focus keywords’, or ‘I want my website to rank on average in positions 1 to 5 for my main focus keyword’.

Increasing sales

Of course, generating sales isn’t the be-all-and-end-all of content marketing – but it’s still pretty damn important. If your content is designed with sales in mind, then demonstrating ROI is a pretty straightforward affair, as long as your website tracking is in order.

In its purest form, sales content – such as a well-written landing page, a promotional email or a social media profile page – can directly contribute to an increase in revenue. For instance, our client Washware Essentials gained a 20% year-on-year uplift in sales and an astonishing 652% uplift in ROI thanks to our recent content audit and copywriting campaign.

The simplest way of generating sales directly from content is to include a strong call-to-action that leads to a product page – or better yet, let your readers buy from the content page itself.

Aiming for success

By now, you should have a fairly good idea of what you want to get back from your content marketing efforts. The best content often achieves not just one, but two or even three of the above objectives simultaneously.

When you’re drawing up your content strategy, try to segment your content according to what you want to achieve. By keeping your goals in mind at the briefing and writing stage, you stand a much better chance of fulfilling your ambitions, whatever they may be.

It’s all very well having clear objectives in mind – but how do you tell whether you’ve attained them? In the second part of our guide, we’ll give you seven key metrics that you can use to achieve your content goals, whatever they may be.

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Magnus Linklater SEO Consultant

Author: Magnus Linklater

Magnus is an SEO specialist and online marketing professional with over 25 years of digital and traditional marketing experience.

As the founder of Bespoke Digital, Magnus has worked on technical site audits and content marketing campaigns for hundreds of clients and regularly writes about SEO strategy, tips & tricks.

Find Magnus on LinkedIn

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