Marketing tactics don’t die. How many times have we seen “SEO is dead?” That’s ridiculous. It’s not dead, it’s just evolved into something else.

And nowadays SEO is inextricably linked with content marketing. At least, it should be…if you’re doing it right.

Content marketing has firmly established itself as one of the ‘buzz’ topics in the digital marketing arena lately, and for good reason.

If you can juice up your marketing materials with relevant, targeted, and valuable content, your efforts will be rewarded in the forms of elevated brand value, increased traffic, and tremendous returns on investment.

But … How Can You Tell if it’s Paying Off?

Ultimately, bigger impact and more traffic lead to higher audience conversion rates which, in turn, translates into bigger profits.

This is the end goal. This is what makes it all worthwhile.

But – when we delve beneath the high-level surface speak – what constitutes a genuine ‘conversion’ and not simply an ‘engagement’ on your content?

In other words, how can you truly measure your content marketing and its return on investment?

Breaking Down the Metrics

One of the most fundamental questions to ask yourself when evaluating content marketing ROI is what your underlying business goals are. What are you hoping to achieve with the campaign?

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Your answer to this will influence the metrics on which you focus.

Some of this data might be pretty straightforward to capture; other data will be more complex, and provide a more detailed picture of content performance.

Here are some of the most important core metrics to consider in the game of content marketing:

  • Cost of Production
    • Whether all of your content is created in-house, or whether you outsource some or all of it to agencies, keep tabs on what these marketing expenses are costing your business. Consider whether they’re scalable.
    • Monitor overheads and costs of internal versus external production to ensure content creation is organized as cost-effectively as possible.
  • Cost of Distribution
    • Your distribution methods probably vary – and will continue to do so – as increasingly novel ways to share content are developed.
    • Ask yourself what you’re spending, both literally and in terms of time, for handling your social media posts, disseminating and boosting content, using influencers and any other techniques you apply.
  • Increased Revenue
    • More often than not, revenue increase will be your golden metric. It will be the primary benchmark against which you measure the long-term viability of your content marketing strategy.
    • Once you’ve calculated some of the variables mentioned above, plug them into the following equation, then ask yourself how much revenue would decrease if content marketing efforts ceased:

ROI = (Revenue Generated / Cost of Investment (i.e. production + distribution costs)

x 100

Other important things to watch:

  • Time Spent on Webpage and Scroll Depth
    • Tallying up these two measurements helps give you a better idea of whether readers are actually reading your content once they’ve landed on your page, and for how long.
    • The more they read and the longer they engage with your material, the more it’s resonating with them, and the more you’re likely to want to replicate this style of content in the future.
    • Google Analytics is one of the best ways to get answers to these questions and is used by all B2B content marketing professionals who are serious about crunching vital stats. If you’re after an even more advanced version of this content tracker, check out this post on micro-level custom tracking techniques, complete with the code you’ll need to put it into action.
  • What Would It Cost Through Google Adwords?
    • The Content Marketing Institute has a useful and concise step-by-step guide on how you can do this yourself and, in turn, help justify your content marketing investment.
  • SEO
    • Which keywords are generating the most leads? Honing in on this will help direct your future content marketing efforts.
    • SpyFu is a great resource for searching for your competitors’ more profitable keywords and using them to your advantage.
  • First Contact to Purchase Time
    • Measuring how long it takes prospective customers to make a purchase from the time they first see your content helps you assess how effective your content marketing strategy performs over time.
    • This is not always possible, though; a handy trick: use retargeting.
      • Specify an audience specifically for only that content, give the cookie a very short life – a few days, maybe – and send them to the same landing page you would ordinarily use, but use your UTM parameters to specify short time span.
      • Do this as a test, then do a similar test with longer time spans and measure the difference in conversions.
    • Viral Potential
      • This approach distinguishes between external traffic coming in from referrals and social media versus internal traffic generated by your own platform.
      • Establishing this can help show you which content will perform best on social media and should, therefore, be prioritized and pushed. Use this basic equation to determine this useful metric:

((social shares) / (page views) + 1)

  • Level of Audience Interaction
    • The number of online likes, shares, tweets, comments, clicks, downloads, backlinks and reviews you can harness all help to get people talking about your brand.
    • Determining which of these impact your bottom line sheds light on your content marketing strategy’s overall success.
  • Time Reading
    • It’s no good getting people to just land on your page if they bounce right off again a moment later. You need people to spend time engaging with your content so that it’s absorbed and retained.
    • One of the best ways of gauging whether this is happening is by tracking how many minutes visitors spend reading a particular piece of content. (You can see each page’s average session duration in Google Analytics.)
  • Loyalty Rates
    • Readers who return time and time again to your content are worth more than one-off hits. Working out what content attracts a returning crowd tells you a lot about your marketing approach.
  • Content Longevity
    • Depending on its nature, some content passes its sell-by date almost before you’ve clicked the ‘publish’ button. Other content endures for much longer. Appreciating the shelf life of your content reveals how long you’ll benefit from its presence.
    • This can be measured in a number of ways, including views, subscriptions, comments and so on over periods of time.

And of course, don’t ignore typical social media metrics:

  • Social Shares
    • Obviously, quantity matters. The more your content is shared naturally on social media, the more you can pat yourself on the back.
    • Of course, there is a difference between content created and the platform it lives on…if you’ve got great content but it’s not getting shared, there may be a fundamental design flaw. A low share count doesn’t necessarily determine content quality, and a high share count doesn’t necessarily indicate content marketing success.
  • Audience Engagment
    • According to research, most people spend most of their time on 15 or fewer sites or apps. If your ideal customer is on LinkedIn but your content can only be found on Facebook, there’s a costly disconnect.
    • Do some research before implementing your content strategy – where are your customers spending their time?
    • A simple way to find this out might be to simply go to major social media platforms and search for your competition. How well are their customers engaging on Facebook? On LinkedIn? On Twitter? And so on.

The above metrics are tangible and invaluable for measuring not only buzz and traffic but, more importantly, the impact your content is creating.

Gathering this data and evaluating its essential trends takes time, so prepare to wait it out and don’t expect results overnight.

Given that solid content marketing strategies are one of the most powerful tools at your disposal for impacting your bottom line, trust us when we say the wait will be worth it.

About the Author: Rahul Alim is the CEO of Custom Creatives, a Digital Marketing Agency in Los Angeles, CA focused on effective Website Design, SEO, & Lead Generation.  To find out more about Rahul Alim, connect with him on LinkedIn.