They say content is king, but measuring the value of that content to your organization's bottom line can be problematic. Sure, it's easy to add up views, shares, and Likes, but deciphering how those numbers translate to dollars is far from simple. And yet, this valuation process--calculating the impact of your content and its ROI as well as linking content marketing efforts to business results--is crucial, say the experts, especially if you want to convert more users into paid customers.
Creating quality content is vital for brand awareness and lead generation. Tallying site traffic, click-throughs, and downloads is relatively quick and painless. But what happens after that piece of content is consumed? How long did the user remain on your site or app? And if he didn't purchase or sign up for something on the first or second visit-or if he never shared your article, post, video, tweet, or other piece of content with others-did that content prove to be a waste of effort and money?
The big hurdle that content marketers are currently facing is determining what happens to leads following the first interaction. Previously, content has been regarded as a top-of-the-funnel marketing endeavor. Today, however, businesses must consider how they can leverage that content-from the top to the bottom of the funnel-in order to convert consumers and earn their repeat business.
"Every content marketer in 2016 should be able to point to a piece of content and say, ‘This content generated this amount of value for the company,'" says Blaise Lucey, senior content strategist at Bitly. "But this can be a challenge, because it's ?really an effort that spans sales and marketing departments, along with operations and even finance."
Ask Daniel Burstein, director of editorial content for MarketingSherpa, and he'll tell you that measuring content marketing ROI remains a challenge for several reasons. "Content marketing is a unique mix of branding and direct-response marketing, with a little word-of-mouth thrown in for good measure," says Burstein. "Also, most customers take complex, multichannel journeys to purchase, and it's difficult to get a complete picture of steps that happen before the one that leads to final purchase. While not having a total effect on purchase, content marketing may have had some effect."
Adding to the difficulty is the fact that many marketers haven't implemented the right technologies-including marketing-automation software, analytics tools, and customer relationship management (CRM) platforms-to enable proper measurement across channels.
"If you don't have your content set up properly for identifying interactions, you won't be able to demonstrate revenue impact," says Ken Wincko, SVP of marketing for PR Newswire. "Also, you need to have the processes and reporting in place to be able to track who is consuming what and when-and how that is impacting the buying process."
But perhaps the biggest problems of all are not measuring and valuing the right things.
Example 1: Many companies have created a Facebook page to keep up with the social media-minded Joneses. But if your customers don't prefer to communicate with your business via Facebook or don't use Facebook at all, "those metrics are meaningless for your company," Burstein says.
Example 2: If you want your audience to read your blog post and immediately go to your product page to subscribe for a $100-a-month service, and you set this as a goal to measure ROI, "you are going to fail," warns Vahagn Aydinyan, digital marketing manager for TTAG Systems.
Yes, traditional metrics such as hits, return visits, SEO results, content consumption numbers, bounce rates, and content popularity on social media are important here. But to more thoroughly evaluate whether or not your content is successful in driving ROI, Aydinyan recommends scrutinizing numbers that reflect content's impact on brand awareness and customer support as well as lead generation. In other words, focus on micro versus macro conversions.
"Instead of measuring how much cash your content marketing brought you this month," Aydinyan continues, "maybe it's better to measure how many leads you collected, did it increase the number of website visitors, was your content useful for your target segment, and did some of your right-drafted content appear on the first page on Google under targeted and relevant keywords."
Lucey agrees. "If you're focused exclusively on measuring metrics like blog views, social share, followers, and web traffic, the team is going to work hard to get as much traffic as possible. Businesses have thought of content as a way to get in front of potential customers, but not as a way to nurture customers once they've interacted with that content," Lucey notes. "Businesses should instead measure qualified content leads and what those leads do next."
To underscore the importance of determining the right key performance indicators (KPIs) for your content marketing efforts, consider PR Newswire as a case study. The company recently shifted its KPI measurement focus to include elasticity of content performance (how the content converts instead of the number of views or downloads), velocity (when and how it is consumed and the next steps taken), and contribution to pipeline and revenue. The results have paid dividends.
In 2015, PR Newswire performed a test on single-channel promotion of a white paper versus a coordinated multichannel approach. Using advanced analytics, content downloads were shown to increase more than fivefold, and the conversion rate rose 48%, demonstrating improved efficiency. The company then implemented this practice across the board, resulting in an incremental increase of 166% in qualified leads and a 360% lift in closed deals year-over-year.
Share of voice--a measurement of the percentage of all online content and conversations about your business versus your competitors--is another overlooked metric of value to apply. "Share of voice can be tied to increased brand value and conversions, reduced churn, and greater customer satisfaction," says Chris Riley, content strategist with Fixate IO.