Debunking the myths of content ROI

zeusMany marketers struggle to understand the real value of content marketing. The main reason is that nobody seems to have a clear idea on how to measure the ROI of content. A recent study by the Content Marketing Institute and the DMA has shown that only 7% of UK B2B content marketers rated their ROI tracking as very successful. 21% said they didn’t track it at all.

It seems that that vast majority of content marketing professionals don’t really believe in the ROI of content, otherwise they would be tracking and reporting it more vigorously. So is this just a wild goose chase? Does content ROI exist? Or should we treat content marketing as a long term branding exercise with largely intangible benefits to sales teams?

Well, there is a case for ROI. The main problem is that implementing and measuring it can be rather complex. There is a  myth circulating that there is some sort of simple formula that will not only calculate, but actually deliver ROI as well. Let’s debunk this myth. There is no simple way of getting return on your investment into content. However, there are a few smart ways of doing it.

ROI graph1

1) Start with an audience-centric design

ROI is driven by data. Everybody gets that. So, before building your content plan start collecting as much data about your audience as possible. This will help you measure success when implementing your content marketing plan. Ryan Skinner from Forrester Research calls this audience-centric design.

What it means is that instead of thinking up their content strategy in the boardroom brands must first get their research right. The content marketing plan is not about the company, it’s about the target audience. The more you find out what your audience likes and dislikes, the higher the probability that your content plan will hit the ground running.

2) Define short-term and long-term goals

It is astonishing how many content marketers either skip this step or revert to formulaic “KPIs”. The CMI research quoted above shows that 61% of B2B marketers measure content ROI by website traffic, which is easy to measure, yes, but only a contributing factor to determining success.

Many of course use a combination of traffic, leads, sales, search ranking etc. Most of these are used because they are familiar. They all add value in the review process, but some of the most important criteria are often forgotten. For example, only 32% of marketers consider customer feedback as a success criterion when this should be a key factor. Yes, it’s more difficult to measure, ie. more labour intensive, but a content strategy that ignores the feedback from humans is not going to deliver maximum value to any brand.

ROI graph 2This is not to say that the criteria listed in the CMI survey aren’t valid. Of course your board wants to know whether your content strategy delivers more or better leads, is saving costs or resulting in more sales. However, these should be mid- to long-term goals.

A successful content marketing campaign starts off by creating real engagement with your target audience. Once a brand hits that sweet spot it’s all about using this powerful tool and converting it to achieving business goals, whether it’s increasing sales, improving reputation or raising the profile. Now it’s about getting the call to action right.

3) Get the call-to-action right

We’ve seen brilliant content campaigns that fail at a simple hurdle: they forget what they want their audience to do. There are usually two main kind of failures. Number one is the lack of a clear path to action. This is where brands simply fail to map out their content to a conversion funnel. As a result the audience may enjoy and interact with content, but there are low incidences of consumer action.

Eyetracking2-Results call to action

Data-driven design: using eye-tracking technology to optimise call-to-action


Number two is bad design. Curiously enough many sites are putting aesthetic considerations first, which is admirable from a web designer point of view, but negligent from a marketers standpoint. The design of each landing page should be focused on call-to-action. In a really useful article Graham Charlton, chief-editor of Econsultancy, explains why the design should be based on data not intuition or convenience.

4) Realise the compounding value of content

Your content will keep giving. Tom Tunguz from Redpoint describes this as the “compounding return of content” in an article on SaaS marketing. “Like a bank account that starts out small and earns incremental gains, but over time becomes quite large, content marketing efforts require consistent investment but ultimately can yield enormous results”, he argues. This is of course true for any brand.

Partly, this can be optimised with good SEO practices, but it also means that you can seed content multiple times. We at Kontenthaus usually amplify the same piece of content 12-30 times a year – depending on how successful it has been. It’s important to make use of all amplification tactis – both paid and organic.

For example, every day we retweet a link to an article that’s at least a month old. We also promote the same story on a regular basis, maybe with different headlines or intros. It’s a simple technique that works and doesn’t add to your costs. What you’re doing is increasing the ROI of your content.

It’s not an ad campaign, it’s a marketing strategy

There just isn’t a simple formula for content ROI and the sooner brands understand it and are able to communicate that internally, the sooner they can focus on creating a successful content marketing strategy that keeps paying back. Content marketing delivers compounding value over time if done right. Brands have to be in it for the long-term to reap the true benefits. So stop treating it like an ad campaign. It’s a long term marketing strategy.