This post comes with a spreadsheet for calculating content marketing ROI. Get it here.
Content ROI seems to be a bit of a mystery for a lot of marketers. Ask any marketer how they’re measuring the success of their content, and you’ll get a bunch of answers like social engagements, reach, or SEO. You might even hear answers for more bottom-line impact like sales or leads generated. This is actually a great start—we have metrics all throughout the funnel. Now comes the tricky follow-up question: “How do you prove that your content is a good investment?”
Quickly searching for “content marketing ROI” provides few helpful answers. The results of that search offer a few key recommendations:
- Determine the amount of money you’re spending on content. If you’re not spending cash, measure the value of your hours
- Find out how much money you’re making from that content
- Use the ROI formula to get your ROI
Sounds easy, right? If you’re like me, you’ll breeze through step one, get to step two, and pause: “wait, how exactly am I supposed to find out how much money I’m making from my content?” And that’s where we uncover the toughest questions when it comes to measuring content marketing ROI: the question of content marketing attribution.
Let’s face it, the rest of the ROI formula is pretty straightforward; the real tough part is figuring out the revenue your content is generating for you. This is something that’s been on my mind a lot—whether I’m developing my own content strategies, or working on a client’s, this topic inevitably comes up, so I decided to take a shot at providing a solution. In this post, I’ll provide a ways you can more accurately attribute value to your content marketing, and, in turn, calculate a more accurate ROI.
There’s a lot in this post, so here are some quick links if you want to skip ahead
Let’s start with the basics.
The Basics: What is Attribution?
Marketing attribution is the process of assigning value to user interactions/touchpoints that contribute to some desired outcome. Essentially, this boils down to figuring out what portion of your total revenue comes from each of your marketing activities.
In the case of paid channels, that’s pretty straightforward. Often, your ad campaigns will be focused on campaigns that can generate revenue, and so you can measure revenue generated from the visitors who clicked on your ad.
Looking at the above diagram, there’s really no other way to attribute the revenue. Users clicked an ad, and they purchased. That ad directly generated that revenue for you. However, it’s rarely that simple. More likely than not, visitors may visit your site a couple of times by other means before finally clicking an ad and making a purchase:
In this case, you know that the ad was likely not the only contributing factor to the customer’s purchase. Your email and search campaigns likely contributed too, so you’ll want to make sure that part of this sale counts towards the amount of revenue generated from search and email, so you can properly determine ROI.
Luckily, Google Analytics has pretty robust tools that help you calculate the portion of revenue each of these channels generated (if you’re unfamiliar, check out multi-channel funnels in your conversion reports). However, there’s no straightforward way to attribute value to specific specific pages (whether they’re blog posts, product pages, or something else).
Google Analytics has some features that can give you parts of the picture, but not quite the full deal.
- Reverse goal path tells you which pages are most likely to precede a conversion, so you can see whether a content page may have contributed. However, this only lets you see three pages back, which doesn’t always provide insight—if you have a checkout process longer than three pages, you’re out of luck.
- Page value is an improvement, showing you Google’s estimated value of each page on your site. However, page value only attributes value to pages if they’re viewed in the same session as a conversion. In the previous example, none of the content pages would have been attributed any value.
- Multi channel funnels allow you to attribute value across sessions, but only to channels. So while this is an excellent tool for identifying whether email, ads or search are worth the investment, this feature doesn’t shed any more light on which pages actually contributed.
So how can we attribute value to our content to calculate content marketing ROI? Here are a few ways I’ve found to be effective. Let’s start at the top (or if you like, skip to the bottom) of the funnel.
Attributing Value of Content at the Top of the Funnel
If the goal of your content marketing efforts is to build brand awareness, improve brand visibility, or otherwise reach a wider audience, you can determine the value of your content by calculating the opportunity cost of paying for the traffic that your pages have generated. For example, if your story drew in 100 users, and you would normally have to pay $200 in ads to draw in that number of users, the value of that particular page would be $200.
To calculate this, we’re going to be using some paid metrics to measure organic performance. In this example, we’re going to measure the value of your organic search traffic. Specifically, for all content pages, we’re going to find the queries where the page was shown as a result, and actually resulted in a click. We’re going to total the value of those clicks (using suggested bid) to get the total value of that content page.
Step 1: Get click data
First, we need to determine how many clicks your content pages earned from each query. Head to search console (if you don’t have this set up, go do it! It’s an immensely useful tool) and head to search analytics.
Select “Clicks” as your metric.
Then click the drop down menu under “Pages”, and select “Filter pages…”
At the prompt, enter a URL pattern for your blog content. For example, if your stories are stored in the /blog/ subdirectory, enter “/blog/”.
From there, scroll down to the very bottom of the page and download your data. By default, this will give you the last 28 days of data. If you want more, change the date range using the date range filter on the far right of the filters bar.
This will give you a CSV file with the number of clicks and impressions for each query, as well as the click through rate and average position. What we’re interested in is the click data, but we’re not going to use that just yet.
Step 2: Get value of clicks
The next step is to find the value of each of these clicks. Conveniently, there’s lots of software out there that can provide metrics like suggested bid or average CPC, both of which are great starting points for determining the value of a click. I personally like to use keyword planner in Google Adwords and use their suggested bid metric. From the CSV file you downloaded from Search Console, copy the queries column and paste the list of queries into your selected software, and export the resulting data.
Now, for each query, you should have the number of clicks on that query from Search Console, and the suggested bid or average CPC from Keyword Planner or something similar. All that’s left is to multiply suggested bid/CPC with number of clicks for each keyword, then summing them up. Here’s what your spreadsheet might look like:
This gives you a dollar value of your content marketing based on the opportunity cost of having to pay for that traffic. Substitute “Revenue from content” in the formula below with the opportunity cost you just calculated to get your content marketing ROI.
Now, before you start running around the office telling your colleagues, there are some caveats you should know about (of course there’s a catch!):
- The example above gets you the value of all your content pages. If you want to find out how individual pages performed, you’ll need to repeat these steps, filtering for an individual page instead of all blog pages at the beginning of this process. If you have a lot of pages, this could be tedious.
- The example uses suggested bid, which isn’t the most accurate measure. Using estimated CPC from a tool like SEMRush might be more accurate, but at the end of the day, we’re using estimated measures here—take the results with a grain of salt. If you’re determined to find a more accurate way, create ad campaigns and bid for each keyword you rank for to get a more accurate suggested CPC.
- Most importantly, these numbers don’t represent revenue generated from content. If you’re using this method to calculate ROI, remember that this isn’t an amount of money you’ve made off your content. Rather, it measures how much you would have paid to otherwise purchase this traffic through search ads, so don’t get too trigger happy just because this number is really attractive.
This is all great for getting the ROI based on opportunity cost, but what if your content is more focused on driving sales or generating leads? There’s real money involved in this scenario—so how do you accurately attribute those dollars to your content efforts to find ROI? Let’s take a look at another way.
Whew, thanks for sticking it out with me for nearly 3,500 words! I’ll keep this conclusion quick. Remember, you don’t have to use just one method. We covered a top of funnel method, and a bottom of funnel method. For your content efforts, you can (and should) use both methods to evaluate performance at each stage of the funnel.
Don’t forget other functions of content. Here, we’re measuring the value of content in influencing sales, but your content can have other functions. Maybe it helps with post-purchase satisfaction. Maybe it speeds up your sales process. Don’t take this ROI as the end-all-be-all. Recognize the other functions of content, and keep that in mind—just because something doesn’t directly drive sales doesn’t mean it’s not valuable.
Finally, don’t be discouraged with poor initial results. Content is a long-term game, and you’ll almost always start with negative ROI due to the high up-front investment. The flip side to this is that the long term investment is typically very low. Due to this, your content ROI will naturally improve over time. Your will continue to contribute to your goals, but not requiring much more investment. That’ll directly improve your ROI.
That’s all, thanks a ton for reading. If you have questions about this post, the template, or anything marketing analytics related, don’t hesitate to give me a shout.