Written by by Shafqat Islam, CEO and Co-Founder at NewsCred, October 6, 2016
When it comes to their biggest challenge, most content marketers are in agreement: They’re struggling to measure ROI.
At NewsCred’s conferences and workshops, that’s the question people most often ask us: “How can I measure the effectiveness of my content?”
And that’s understandable.
For many years, marketers based their success on metrics like pageviews and impressions. This was primarily due to the fact that we were limited by the technology and measurement tools available at the time. As the industry evolved, it became clear that those metrics were a better indication of vanity metric-boosting ad spends, rather than quality or brand growth. Over time, we entered a new era of marketing focused on engagement. Marketers turned to metrics like attention and time-on-page, to better determine content effectiveness.
Now, marketers are looking for even more proof that their content is leading to real business results. When meeting with CMOs and defending their content budgets, marketers are under increased pressure to deliver hard metrics and prove that content is driving real business results that the CFO or CEO cares about.
Due to this demand, and the ability to better track the customer journey, we’re moving into an era of performance measurement. All content marketing will be tied to achieving business goals – and marketers will be able to measure the ROI on their work.
At this point, there is a clear connection between content marketing and consumer behavior. The articles people read and the videos they watch ultimately influence their buying decisions. The average person engages with 11.4 pieces of content before making a purchase, according to Nielsen.
At NewsCred we’ve found that people engage with about 20 pieces of content before converting to customers. And prospects who have read our blog, attended a webinar, or subscribed to our newsletter are twice as likely to take a meeting with us.
We’ve been able to determine this because we have the systems in place to measure ROI on our content marketing.
The good news is that you can, too. And you don’t need to be a content marketing company.
You just need to determine your business goals and set up systems to track the related metrics. (Even more good news: You can do this without needing technical support or purchasing new analytics programs.) This will require a bit of upfront work, but once those systems are in place, you’ll be able to definitively state how well your content marketing is working.
By using this step-by-step roadmap as your guide, you’ll be able to set yourself up for true content marketing success that you can measure.
Step 1: Choose Your Business Case
Since the goal of content marketing is to measure business results, you first need to define what you hope to achieve.
- Brand Equity: Are you looking to build brand awareness, and use content to help early stage prospects find their way to your website? Or are you interested in improving brand health, and want to create content that will change the way your digital audience feels about your brand?
- Conversions: Do you want to quantify the number of prospects who became customers because they’ve built a relationship with you through your content?
- Loyalty: Are you hoping to engage and inform existing customers through content, with the ultimate goal of retaining them?
Step 2: Determine the KPIs to Measure Your Business Case
This chart details KPIs that align with each business objective.
Over time, as you map your content against these KPIs, you’ll get a better picture of your buyer journey. You’ll see what pieces of content were most effective in working towards your goals, which should inform the content you create.
Now, take a look at each of the business cases and the relevant KPIs to measure.
Business Goal: Brand Awareness
KPIs to Measure:
- Paid vs. Organic Search Traffic
- Paid vs. Unbranded Organic Search Traffic
- Social Shares + Followers
- Organic Search Share of Voice
1. Paid Vs. Organic Search Traffic
Most marketers have experience using paid search, and are well-versed with its pros and cons. On the upside, paid search delivers results – fast. Once you launch a search engine marketing (SEM) campaign, you see the return almost instantly. You can easily predict your ROI based on your spend. And you’ll always see results – no matter how amazing or mediocre your content. Hence, you don’t need to rely on an all-star content-creating talent or an expensive agency to produce articles, videos, or infographics on a regular basis.
On the downside: SEM traffic is only as sustainable as the dollars you put against it – your traffic will drop the minute you reduce your spend. As a result, SEM becomes very costly over time, as marketers keep feeding the machine.
Content marketing, on the other hand, is a long game. It has a compounding effect, but that means it will take months before you see the true ROI.
Unlike SEM, content marketing requires a substantial upfront investment. You need to spend time creating high-quality content (e.g. long form articles, explainer videos) that will capture your audience’s attention. Once you release the content, you’ll see some results, but the true payoff will come months later.
Over time, your content will be indexed and start showing up in search results. If your content is compelling, users will stick around and engage with more of your content – and you’ll start building relationships with them. Eventually, your content-driven traffic will outpace your SEM traffic.
And the best part is, you own all of it.
How to Measure Paid Vs. Organic Search Traffic: If you rank highly for a topic, find out what would be the equivalent AdWords spend to drive the same amount of SEM traffic for that topic. Compare the spend with the search traffic your site receives from paid search advertisements, versus traffic due to a high organic search ranking.
Here’s an example to illustrate the point:
Suppose an airline – let’s call it “Cloud City Air” – spent $100 in paid search advertisements around the term “Cloud City Air beach destinations,” and received 200 visitors as a result of that spend. Each visitor, then, cost the airline $.50.
But in comparison, say the airline also received 300 visitors via organic searches for “Cloud City Air beach destinations” – because they had a highly ranked, SEOed landing page filled with great articles, beautiful images, and travel deals for sunny getaways. Those visitors cost the airline $0 in search advertisements. But the airline could value those visitors at $150, based on its paid search spend.
2. Unbranded Paid vs. Unbranded Organic Search Traffic
In the exact same manner, compare your unbranded paid traffic to your unbranded organic search traffic.
Any visitor that searches your brand name already knows where they want to go. (For example, people searching for “NewsCred” or “NewsCred Insights” are looking to engage with us.)
Unbranded organic search traffic is important to calculate so you can learn about the people who didn’t know where they would end up.
They had a question, asked a search engine for direction, and that interaction brought them to you. (For example, some people come to NewsCred after Googling “content marketing companies” or “content marketing software.”)
By seeing how well you rank on those unbranded organic search terms, you’ll have a better sense of how much you’re saving in SEM dollars.
3. Social Shares + Followers
Brands should also track their social follower growth against their total number of shares.
Marketers often get enamored by the latter, but the more valuable metric is an increase in social audience. These are people who are opting in to future content from your brand. If both are increasing, this indicates that your organic social shares are reaching the right audience – and building it among those new people.
4. Share of Voice
Share of voice essentially measures how much your brand or product is talked about compared to your competitors for a specific topic.
If you’re not working with a tool or agency that calculates share of voice, you can set up Google Alerts to track your mentions against your competitors, and tally your PR hits in key publications. In addition, you can also use social trackers to measure the volume of conversation around your brand versus your competitors.
Business Goal: Brand Health
If brand health is your objective, you’re measuring how your audience feels about you.
KPIs to Measure:
- Repeat Visitors
- Social Likes + Followers
- Offsite SEO
- Articles Viewed
- Engagement Rate
- Average Engaged Time
You’re probably very familiar with these metrics, so we won’t go into detail with the first seven. When measuring them, it’s important to do so through the lens of relationship-building – as in, nurturing people who will become loyal to your brand and always have it top-of-mind. Remember, 96% of people visiting your site aren’t actually ready to purchase from you, according to Social Media Today, 2014. So you need to think of creative ways to continuously bring prospects back to your site so that when they are ready to purchase, they choose you.
We will take a deeper look at average engaged time, though. Your ratio of time on site compared to pageviews could mean different things:
When deciding your goal for average engaged time, consider which one will best measure against your larger business goal.
Business Goal: Conversions
KPIs to Measure:
- Cost per lead, opportunity, deal
- Total conversions/e-commerce checkouts
- Percentage of leads sourced by content marketing
Let’s take a look at how we do content marketing at a content marketing company.
At NewsCred, when we think about conversions – a major KPI that helps us prove our revenue impact – we look at conversions across our entire sales funnel.
We start by looking at intent: Are people taking actions that indicate they want to start building a relationship with us? For example, are they going from our Insights blog to our main domain, NewsCred.com, or vice versa? Or are they repeatedly downloading or engaging with our content over time?
We then look at how they’re opting in to engage with us on a deeper level. We don’t count newsletter subscriptions as leads, for example. Instead, we require that subscribers have to fill out one additional form with more information on who they are (including job title and company). This enables us to score our leads and work to keep them engaged over time with more content: newsletters, webinars, events.
Throughout this process, we’re also measuring relevancy. We work with our sales teams to align on our definition of a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) to ensure that those people matter to our sales team.
And we evaluate how our content marketing channel compares to our other channels, and how it works with or performs in comparison to events, AdWords, sales outbound, and referrals. We look at the number of deals closed and compare cost per opportunity and deal against our other channels. The trick is to measure how content marketing is growing and improving over time.
With enough data over time, you can create a predictive model and start to estimate how much you can expect in deals when compared to your pageviews.
You can also take a bottom-up approach to measuring conversions.
Though this method is manual and time-consuming, it can give you great insight into individual customer journeys. You’ll be able to see the pieces of content that influenced the buyer to take further action before ultimately converting. Once you’ve analyzed numerous lead journeys over time, you’ll be able to see what content was most influential in nurturing and converting leads. You can use that data to inform your content strategy. The approach below works if you have Marketo and Salesforce in your marketing stack, but a similar principle would work with other marketing automation tools as well.
Here’s a step-by-step look at the bottom-up process we use at NewsCred:
- Inspect every deal that closes in Salesforce and for each, note the closed won amount.
- Find the corresponding lead in Marketo.
- Look at the lead’s Activity Log.
- Filter on “Webpage Visits” (or “Interesting Moments”).
- Record each piece of content that was touched.
- Note if the first touch in the activity history was a piece of content.
- Take the total deal amount from Salesforce, and divide by number of pieces touched.
- Attribute the amount from step 7 to each piece of content equally. This is your multi-touch attribution value.
- If first touch was a piece of content, assign the Salesforce amount in full to that piece of content. This is your first touch attribution value.
(Don’t feel like doing this all manually? NewsCred’s content marketing software allows you to track content journeys and the impact of content on leads, opportunities, and deals. Out-of-the-box, it can even tell you the dollar attribution for each piece of content.)
Business Goal: Loyalty and Retention
Companies can enjoy incredible economic benefits when they retain customers.
“Fully engaged” customers (those with a strong attachment to the brand, or brand ambassadors) deliver a 23% premium over the average customer in share of wallet, profitability, and revenue. And boosting customer retention by 5% can increase profits by as much as 80%.
Retaining customers can also increase your bottom line for the following reasons:
- Lower acquisition costs: Existing customers require less promotion, and therefore a smaller sales force.
- Repeat customer revenue growth: Customers spend more over time.
- Lower operating costs: Long-term customers make fewer demands on admin and servicing.
- Customer referrals: Loyal customers bring in the right new customers and low/no cost.
- Premium pricing: Satisfied customers are less price-sensitive.
Unfortunately, companies aren’t great at retaining customers. Most lose 50% of customers every five years. That disloyalty stunts company growth by 25% to 50%. Content can play an integral role in retaining customers. Customer loyalty increases with the frequency of your interactions with them. As you’re creating content to work across the customer journey, be sure to have assets and a distribution plan to retain existing customers. KPIs to Measure:
First, figure out the percentage of your clients that read your content. (Use your marketing automation platform to do so.) Look at that cohort and then measure the following against customers who don’t read your content:
- Renewal/Churn Rate
- Upsell Rate
- Average Order Value/ACV
At NewsCred, we’ve found that the clients who engage with our blog are more loyal and have higher renewal rates: 33% of our clients subscribe to our blog, and of those, they:
- Have a renewal rate that is 41% higher than that of our overall client base (95% vs. 67%).
- Are 33% more likely to be upsold (23% vs 17%).
- Pay 24% more in monthly recurring revenue than the average client.
While it will take some time and effort to set up the systems to measure these KPIs, in the long run, you’ll have a much better picture of how well your content is performing against your business goals. You’ll be able to put actual numbers against your objectives, measure performance over time, and optimize your program accordingly. And with that data, you’ll be able to request larger content marketing budgets from your CMO and get more buy-in across your organization.