How to Use Data to Tell the Story of Content Marketing ROI


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How do you measure the value of good content and create a report to demonstrate its worth? That’s the question dogging nearly every marketing department. You know how much inbound/content marketing can impact your business, but proving the ROI to the higher-ups can be a challenge. When convincing managers and CEOs to allocate funds to content, you don’t need words – you need numbers and compelling ways to explain the connection between those numbers and your company’s bottom line.

Here are a few of our favorite numbers.

Did you know?

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  • Per dollar spent, content marketing generates more than three times the number of leads than paid search does. (Kapost/Eloqua, 2012)

  • Content marketing costs between 31% and 41% less than paid search, depending on the organization’s size. (Kapost/Eloqua, 2012)

  • Website conversion rate is nearly six times higher for content marketing adopters than non-adopters (2.9% vs. 0.5%). (Aberdeen Group, 2014)

However, the most compelling numbers won’t come from general statistics. They’ll come from your own data, and your competitors’ data.

Finding and leveraging your own numbers

When choosing which metrics and data to show the executives, keep one thing in mind:

How does this number relate to profitability?

If you can’t prove a correlation between a number and conversion, retention, or lifetime value, you may want to leave it out and focus on those with clearer connections. Some correlations are harder to prove than others, such as email open rates, number of Facebook followers, and page views. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ever share these, but it does mean you’ll have to dig to find the links between pageviews and social media activity and conversions, which in the end is harder to relate to value.

In other words, you don’t just need numbers. You need to embed those numbers within meaningful contexts.

  • How does your content improve sales opportunities?
  • Did a content marketing campaign affect how warm and informed the leads were by the time they made it to sales?
  • Did a content marketing campaign increase the number of leads?
  • Did a content marketing campaign decrease the overall number of leads but increase the number of sales-qualified leads? (Notice that even “bad news” can be contextualized as good news – fewer unqualified leads allow sales reps to spend more time with people more likely to convert.)

If you don’t have your own data, can you gain access to a competitor’s data (a competitor with a vigorous content strategy)?

The ROI connection

While you may not be able to account for the entire buyer’s journey, from the first time one of your blog posts catches a prospect’s attention to their first purchase, you can get a partial picture by measuring how many people come to the lead form after consuming content. All you need to do is set a browser cookie and track when someone fills out the lead form after viewing your content. (It can trace this even if there is a one- or two-month interval between events.)

But, you don’t want to stop tracking with first purchases. Content marketing can and should be used to support the entire buyer’s journey, from attracting the right customers to converting them, onboarding them, helping them find success with your product or service, and delighting them (aka developing them into enthusiastic brand advocates). Each of those efforts contributes to increasing retention and customer lifetime value (LTV).

Social media metrics

While social media and content marketing are sometimes treated as different things, they really only work when they’re integrated and support each other. Your job is to show how they support each other and how both work together to produce better results.

One thing you can do to make the case for the value of your social media presence is to do a sentiment analysis. This helpsdetermine not only how many people are following you and #talking about you, but also whether what they’re saying is positive or negative. Then, you can compare your sentiment analysis to that of competitors. Tools like PeopleBrowsr make it easy to find allmentions of your brand, industry, and competitors; analyze sentiment; and compare the number of mentions before, during, and after campaigns.

Did you know?

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11 Content marketing metrics that should be in your report

These metrics are the most important in terms of showing the connections between content marketing and conversions. Look at these metrics on a per page, or per sets of pages, basis — and don’t forget to segment each by type of access: mobile, tablet, and desktop.

  1. Bounce rate – A high bounce rate means that searchers are landing on your site but not finding what they’re looking for. A high bounce rate could also indicate that searchers did find what they’re looking for and don’t need to continue looking around. (It all depends on the context of the page in question.) Bounce rate can be a great reason to invest more in the quality of your content (and possibly re-evaluate your keywords).
  2. Time on site & number of pages viewed – Together, these will correlate to conversion rates. This KPI study by Moz found that by increasing pages viewed and time spent on site, you can increase conversion rates.
  3. Unique visitors – Unique visitors is the number of individuals looking at your website during a given period (essentially, it’s your traffic minus return visitors). It’s a good metric to help determine whether marketing campaigns are working, but it’s by no means a measure of your success.
  4. Returning visitors – Returning visitors already have cookies from your site, which is how your analytics engine knows they’re returning. These loyal brand-followers are important indicators of the value your site provides, which can correlate with churn, retention, and LTV.
  5. Landing page views – This measures which pages are attracting your traffic and can help you learn what your viewers are interested in, as well as point you in the direction of which pages to optimize for conversion.
  6. Total leads – Get this number by tracking your lead-gen forms, CTA actions, sales calls, and other sales-related KPIs. These may include free trial signups, newsletter subscribers, etc.
  7. Organic leads – Leads that come from organic search traffic, referrals, and social media (e.g., your inbound marketing campaigns) almost always cost less to acquire. When calculating the number of leads, be sure to segment them by their origin so you know who came from searches, who from referrals, and who from social media.
  8. Assisted conversion paths – The last “click” before a conversion often gets all of the credit, ignoring the earlier events, especially blog posts and content that are more educational (and aimed at the top of the Sales Funnel) in nature. These early events are incredibly important for attracting potential buyers;with cookies it’s possible to track a lead’s progress from first sight to final conversion and track the content’s ultimate value.
  9. Inbound cost-to-acquire (CAC) – Inbound leads are supposed to be substantially less expensive than outbound leads, but you’ll still have to prove it. Finding your CAC number requires careful tracking and includes product cost, research, development, and marketing (e.g., everything you need to convince a customer to buy). Next, divide the total costs of acquisition by the number of new customers within a specific period of time. The goal is to find out how much money you make from your customers (LTV) in relation to how much money it takes to acquire them.
  10. Inbound lead close rate vs. paid/other lead close rate – Are your organic/inbound leads warmer than outbound leads? Do they take less time and sign up more readily? They should.
  11. Newsletter and/or email campaign open rate + conversion tracking – Open rates are good, but it’s the connection between those open rates and ultimate conversions that you want to show.

When displaying these metrics, there are four types of data relationships you’ll most likely use.

  1. Charts that show trends over time.
  2. Charts that show correlations.
  3. Charts that show comparisons.
  4. Charts that show ranking.

For showing change over time, such as unique visitors and returning visitors, bar charts, line charts, and volume charts (like line charts, but they show volume) are incredibly useful.

Scatter plots work well to show correlations, such as time spent on site and conversion rates.

Comparisons can be shown with bar charts or line charts.

Rankings and bar charts go together like peanut butter and jelly (where the jelly part is clearly better).

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