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April 8, 2014 // 11:00 AM

Content ROI Is a Myth

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unicorn-rainbowAs a profession, marketing has evolved a lot over the past 5 years. Previously, when asked to justify our marketing budgets, we used to squirm in our chairs and mutter something about “brand awareness.” Today, marketers want to measure the ROI on every tactic and channel they use.

Figuring out the ROI of content, in particular, is hard and often misunderstood.

In a recent study we conducted with SmartInsights, the top challenge for marketers was measuring the ROI of content. According to Driving Content Marketing Success45% of European marketers cited measuring ROI and producing enough quality content as their top challenge.

Understanding the return on tactics like PPC, SEO, and online advertising can be a lot easier; you can roughly work out your return for each dollar, euro, or pound spent. For example, with PPC it could be:

  • If I spend €100 on PPC, I’ll make €250 in sales.
  • If I increase that spend to €1000, I’ll make €3000 in sales.

Working this out for content, however, isn't so straightforward.

Could it be that measuring the ROI of content is difficult because marketers aren’t sure what they should be measuring?

The Indicators of Content Success

Trying to measure content in the same way as PPC, SEO, display or any other marketing tactic is wrong. Creating content is not, on its own, a marketing tactic. In fact, measuring content by placing a single monetary value on it will mean a lot of companies fail before they even get started. The value of content is solely dependent on how you intend to use it and the goals you're trying to achieve.

A typical marketing funnel can be broken out into three sections -- top of the funnel (TOFU), middle of the funnel (MOFU), and bottom of the funnel (BOFU). How content is used across each of these sections and the goals for that content will differ widely.


Using Content to Power TOFU

Content being used for a company's TOFU strategy should:

  • Help to grow your audience on social channels and get them engaging with the content you publish.
  • Encourage people to spend time on your site, getting them to read your content and visit additional pages.
  • Increase your traffic from organic channels, and get them to take an action on your site that shows you're attracting the right kind of people.

There's no one metric to answer all of these questions, though -- you're going to have to look in a lot of different places to find the real value of TOFU content to your strategy. Below are some tips on how to answer the important questions.

Q. Are people on social engaging with your content?

Is your audience on Facebook growing and are they engaging with your content? You can get this straight from Facebook Insights. Your engagement is probably a lot less since they changed their newsfeed


You can also look at the same kind of data from Twitter analytics; you can see clicks on links, retweets, favorites, and replies. 


LinkedIn also released updated Company Page analytics last summer. The updated analytics can give you a sense of how your posts are doing, where your followers are coming from, and show you performance trends across defined periods of time.


They have also recently added more tools to help analyze the performance of your content with a content marketing score and trending topics site.

Q. What is the performance of the content you’re adding to your site? 

Looking at your marketing analytics can give you an idea of how the content on you're site is performing. Is it attracting people into your site (visits), what's the initial impression of that content (bounce rate), do people stick around to read that content (time on page), and are people clicking around to read more of your pages (page views).

HubSpot can show you the performance of that content across your entire funnel (what we call closed-looped analytics), and Google Analytics can be a nice complement, as well, to look at some of those valuable TOFU metrics.

Q. Is content helping you to increase visits from inbound channels?

Producing quality content should help to increase the visits you generate from inbound channels. This is another strong indicator that your content is starting to produce positive results.


Q. Are people taking an action on your site that indicates they're the right type of people?

There is no point in attracting visits from inbound channels if they're not taking any action on your site. This action could be signing up to your newsletter, viewing a particular page on your site, or converting into a lead (contact). 

To measure this, look at your visit-to-contact rate over time (and broken out by channel); are a certain % of your visitors turning into leads/contacts, and how does this change over time?


The above metrics can start to answer some of the important questions around the performance of content at the TOFU stage. It's impossible to put a single metric on this. Instead, you have to look across a variety of metrics.

Using Content to Power MOFU & BOFU

Content being created and used for a company's MOFU and BOFU strategy should:

  • Educate people in your funnel about your product and how it can solve their challenges
  • Create opportunities, pipeline, and sales for the business

Q. How many people are opening your emails, clicking on links, and moving through your workflows?


Most marketers will tell you that open and click rates are not the right metrics to measure email performance by. Although I do agree with this, they can still provide a proxy to determine if you're sending the right content to the right people. 

If you have lead nurture workflows set up, you'll want to know if the people in that workflow are engaging with that content, and if it's successfully moving people through your funnel.

For example, at HubSpot we have lead nurture workflows set up to convert people into marketing qualified leads (learn more about marketing qualified leads here). We want to know how the content in each email is performing in terms of the clicks it’s generating (click rate), but also how many people became an MQL after reading that content. 


Q. Is your content helping to generate opportunities, pipeline, and customers?

You can start to measure content at this stage of the funnel by the number of customers it creates.


For me, looking at customers generated by a piece of content may be doing that piece of content a disservice. There are so many reasons that a lead may not turn into a customer. The content may have done its job perfectly; it got that person to take action and led to a discussion with your sales team, but it never turned into a sale. This could be because that person's budget was cut or their project was delayed.

Instead you can look at the number of opportunities and pipeline that was created by a piece of content. This would give you a better sense of how it performed, and it's how we measure the performance of our MOFU/BOFU content on my team at HubSpot.

The Content ROI Myth

That’s a lot of metrics, right? And we could have gone through a bunch more! The long and short of it is however, that there is no single metric you can show your boss that will categorically give the ROI of the content you produce -- myth busted!

There are, instead, a multitude of goals and metrics associated with content, which vary dependent on what marketing channels are distributing the content, and where that content is being used in your marketing funnel.

Trying to figure out the ROI of time invested in content is the right thing to do, but you need to clearly define the goals of your content, align these across your funnel, and choose the metrics that are going to serve as indicators of your success. Doing this will give you a better picture of how content is performing across your funnel and what areas may need to be improved upon.

You also shouldn’t forget that measuring your content by just the hard metrics will also miss the magic metric that Doug Kessler calls 'Ripples' -- “All the good things that happen when you produce something that resonates with an audience. These include invitations to speak, guest blog, interviews, meet great people, and help others with their projects. Stuff very few people measure but really generate value.”

Learn more about the Ripples in our free download of “The Life of a Remarkable Piece of content.”

guide to intermediate marketing analytics


Topics: Analytics Content Marketing

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