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How to measure content marketing ROI

5th Mar 2015
Managing editor MyCustomer.com
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With content marketing budgets rising rapidly, the onus is on marketing directors to demonstrate that these dollars are being designated to the right discipline.

However, research from the Content Marketing Institute has revealed that less than a third of organisations believe they are successful at measuring the return on investment of their content marketing efforts.

Of course, this problem isn’t unique to content marketing - ROI measurement is problematic across the entire marketing discipline, despite growing demands for measurability. As Richard Armstrong, CEO and co-founder of Kameleon, notes: “Measuring campaigns is a difficult concept. If there was a set of numbers that truly showed marketers how well they were doing in their campaigns it would revolutionise the industry. Revenue may show the short-term impact, but it doesn't take into account the long-term effects such as consumer loyalty.”  

However, there is no question that there are some challenges that are specific to content marketing measurement. And as it is rising in prominence, these need to be addressed.

“Many businesses are using content marketing to raise their profile and build awareness and this has historically been a difficult thing to measure,” says Sarah Gavin, European marketing director at Outbrain. “Despite a huge increase in the volume of content marketing, it still remains a fairly new form of marketing for many brands. As such there are no defined metrics for how to accurately measure the ROI of content. The content marketing industry has also been fairly fragmented, with different tools and technologies making the implementation and tracking of campaigns overly complicated.”

If content marketing is to continue to gain prominence in the marketing mix, businesses will have to get a better grasp of ROI measurement in order to ensure that money is being wisely allocated.

So, with that in mind, what advice can the experts share?

Costs

To accurately evaluate your content marketing ROI, you first have to be able to calculate your costs. Content marketing can be divided into five areas where costs are accrued:

  • Planning. These are the strategic costs associated with establishing business goals, identifying business goals and generating personas. These tend to be one-off costs.
  • Ideation. These are the costs associated with generating a flow of ideas such as mapping buyer journeys and identifying the kinds of assets that will be required. Again, these are largely one-off costs.
  • Production. These are the costs associated with creating the content and the editorial plan. These are recurrent costs that will be incurred on every new content campaign.
  • Distribution. These are the costs associated with generating traffic, leads and sales through the promotion and nurturing of the content. Again, these will be recurrent costs.
  • Measurement. These are the costs associated with the evaluation and optimisation of the content.

With the production and distribution being the two main contributors to costs, it is worth drilling down into these particular areas.

Stephen Bateman, director and co-founder of Concentric Dots, has outlined some useful ways of how to evaluate the costs of producing content.

 “Let’s assume your company decides to invest three solid, 600-900 word, blog posts per week, sourced either from experts, or from members of the senior team. A solid blog post takes an average five hours to research, write, and edit.

“Let’s assume that the average annual earnings of a solid blogger (external or on the senior team) is £45,000 annum. If that person works 45 weeks in the year and 48 hours per week their hourly cost is £45,000/2160 hours = £20.83 per hour.

Hourly expense of solid blogger = £20.83 (NB this includes no charges or overhead). Therefore, the cost of one blog post is equal to £20.83 x 5 = £104.15. The annual cost of blogging at this frequency is £104.15 x 3 blogs week = £312.45 x 45 weeks = £14,060.45 per annum (not including overhead).”

Having produced the content, there is also the matter of promoting and nurturing it, whether this is vial activity on social media or through paid promotion via the likes of Google AdWords. Bateman has the following advice for working out promotion costs.

“For the sake of this costing exercise let’s assume two members of your team spend 90 minutes on content promotion per workday, each. Let’s assume that the average annual earnings of a social media / community manager (internal or agency) is £40,000 per annum

Hourly cost of that person is £40,000/2160 hours = £18.52 per hour (without charges or overhead). Therefore, the cost of promoting content is £18.52 x 1.5 x 2 (people) x 225 days = £12,501 per annum (in this case there is no paid content promotion).”

Using these approaches to evaluating costs in production and promotion, as well as adding in costs for measurement and reporting and so on, you can then arrive at a good idea of what costs you are accruing and what activity you need to produce in terms of leads, sales, etc to ensure that you get a positive return. And this brings us to the next stage.

Setting up analytics to estimate your returns

At its most basic level, the principle behind identifying the value of content marketing is identifying and segmenting users who have viewed particular content, categorising their previous familiarity with your brand, and then understanding that user’s behaviour by comparing it to those who have not been exposed to this content. However, while this sounds straightforward, but this type of analysis can be difficult if you’re not sure what you’re looking for, and how to set up analytics to determine that outcome.

“If you want to measure your content marketing ROI but in a way that gets you the most actionable results, you should plan how you’re going to distinguish the users exposed to your content, then track and compare them with users who haven’t,” advises Tom Wood, director at onebite.

“Google Analytics (GA) can help with this; however, most people believe that GA set up finishes once you have implemented the JavaScript. This is untrue - social media links, campaigns, blog posts and other web collateral on your website needs to be tagged properly or viewers of the content will appear as direct traffic, which does not give you insight into how well a piece of content is going. Additionally, content URLs need to be stripped of parameters otherwise they appear multiple times – making the data much more difficult to collate.”

“To counter this, before beginning any campaign or uploading content onto your site, spend a few hours configuring Google Analytics and ensure that all pages and links are properly tagged and tracked – the results will be well worth the investment of your time.”

By conducting analytics into who is viewing your content, you are able to see not only the quantity of people viewing your content but also make qualitative judgments as to whether you’re targeting the right people. This makes judging the ROI of your content much more reliable, says Wood.

“If you want to make the most out of analytics, use content grouping on GA. This is a fantastic tool that allows you to create buckets of site pages and analyse them together rather than separately – making it quicker and easier to make a judgment. It’s pretty straightforward to set up, but depending on the size of your site you may have to implement some additional coding to get the content grouped properly.

“If you’re an ecommerce site then, on a basic level, you can group category pages, product pages, and content pages rather simply. However, if your content is generated at a campaign level, then this allows you to put together content groups for upcoming campaigns in advance. Grouping categories, landing pages or blog pages that form the basis of your content marketing campaigns means you can single out the performance of the content and measure it across benchmark categories that are not linked to your campaign.”

Wood emphasises that to fully understand the analytics you generate from your content, you must first have a complete understanding of who you are trying to target, and most importantly, all the steps that a user might take before becoming a fully-fledged customer. This means not just measuring the bigger pieces of content but also the smaller content interactions that happen on your site, such as newsletter signups, content engagements or any other user actionable functions on your site.

“Once you’ve started to measure these actions, you are able to set goals and start building a more accurate view of what your user looks like.”

Holistic approach

In terms of a more holistic approach, Danyl Bosomworth has composed a simple matrix of ideas to help set KPIs or metrics, providing a useful framework to help select the best type of KPIs for different markets. This model covers the full range of measures covered from hard sales vs softer engagement metrics.

“Using these different types of measures is even more important for companies with long purchase or repeat purchase cycles, such as automotive, furniture or maybe PCs – and certainly for B2B businesses,” he suggests. “The longer buy cycles require the need to demonstrate ongoing engagement.”

The three measures it covers are:

  • Commercial measures: These are the harder business or commercial measures and what usually takes the longest to be demonstrable. These are the measures for the senior managers although they may well also need to know about Likes! Think audience share, sales, leads or at least clear indicators from people such satisfaction ratings or % that fed back. Remember that these need to be incremental and ideally attributable to your content marketing. 
  • Tactical measures: These include the views, clicks, interactions with your content – so involves the social shares such as Likes and Tweets. You might also use link shortening tools to help measure. These are hard indicators that your content is visible and worth sharing – so very key.
  • Brand measures: These are easier for bigger brands or where there’s less competition, simply because the tools seem to work better in that space. Think brand or key-phrase mentions, sentiment, share of market mentions over competitors and certainly site traffic. These are the bigger needles to get moving and often require a bit more momentum.

Armstrong provides some final brief rules of thumb for ROI measurement.

“In a nutshell, marketers need to put a number on it,” he says. “By clarifying the objectives that need to be achieved prior to planning the creative and distribution, they will ensure that the overall campaign is quantifiable.

“Don’t wait until the end of the campaign, real time insight is vital to optimise and make adjustments whilst the campaign is still live.

“Ensure all communication activity is trackable against the objectives. On social for instance, free tools such as Google, Facebook and Twitter analytics provide a wealth of information on how your content is being consumed and whether those targets are being hit.

“Measurement needs to be tailored according to the objectives of the content. If a content programme targeted at brand awareness is implemented, brands need to be looking beyond content consumption metrics such as video views and page views.”

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