Like many brands, content marketing likely makes up a good portion of your overall digital marketing strategy. As such, you've likely allocated a significant amount of your budget to your content marketing program, to the tune of 26 percent of your overall marketing budget (up to as much as 40 percent of it).
But is this a wise investment? Are you getting the return on the budget and resource investment you'd hoped for?
Whether you're gung-ho about the value of content marketing and eager to justify its worth, or still a bit of a skeptic, there comes a point when every brand needs to determine if it's actually working. Here's what to look for, so you can make an informed decision about whether to keep the program humming or adjust course.
What does success look like to your organization?
In the early stages of developing a content marketing program, it's important to set your sights on what your organization's specific definition of success is. Aim to determine a few metrics you want to focus on, like an increase in page visitors and engagement, a decrease in bounce rate, or perhaps search ranking, share of voice, etc. Then gather the baseline numbers for where these are currently, and where they've been over the last three-, six- and 12-month markers.
With the big-picture metrics identified, you can zero in on a few measurements that are tied to specific pieces of content or campaigns. You might compare visitors' time on a page, social media shares or click-through rates.
Or you might drill down further to see which calls to action are being acted on and what is supporting conversion rates. From this data, you'll be able to decipher which types of content and topics are best supporting your organization's overall goals.
Something else to keep in mind when it comes to conversions, however, is while content can affect conversions, it is typically used more as a lead-generation tool. So set high goals, but also do so with realistic expectations.
Pro tip: In addition to tracking your specified metrics on your own, you can also use Google Tag Manager to gather the data you need.
How much time do you have to invest?
With the goals and success metrics in place, the next natural question is, "How long do we give this program to start generating results?". The answer is, it depends.
It depends on the budget, time and resources you've allocated. The frequency and amount of content you're creating, and ultimately, how much runway you have.
Most well-optimized content marketing programs will start to deliver results within 90-120 days after launch, so don't expect to see anything immediate. It's never too soon to start tracking metrics against the KPIs you've set, but give the strategies time to play out so you can get the most accurate picture before you make any hard and fast decisions. Generally, three months is a good amount of time to give a campaign.
At this point, you should be able to see whether you're starting to get traction. If your numbers are looking positive, keep at it. If not, try adjusting a few elements (like changing your primary content vehicle or focusing more on SEO). Then give it another three months before evaluating further progress.
After approximately six months, you should have a fair amount of data to start to calculate the ROI on your content marketing program. Look at what it's costing you in terms personnel time and salary, digital advertising, hosting, etc. vs. the benefits it has delivered, such as new subscribers or customers, growth of existing customer relationships, referrals, sales, and so on. Looking at your cost-to-revenue ratio can tell you a lot about whether content marketing is going to yield you quality results in the long run.
Keep in mind, with content marketing, it often takes longer to see success. In fact, it takes approximately 19 months, on average, for content marketing to begin to surpass other marketing approaches like paid search.
But, content marketing also has a compounding effect --as the audience builds, so too does the effectiveness. According to a report by Kapost, "after 36 months, content marketing generated 31 leads per $1,000 spent, 3.3 greater than the nine leads for paid search." It's the companies that commit to it over the long term that reap the rewards.
If you're at the stage where you need to decide whether content marketing is panning out for your organization, start with defining success, choosing the measurements that really matter to your business and mapping out a timeline you'll follow to check in on KPIs. You've got to give your content program enough time to gain traction before you start evaluating its success. Once you do, the numbers won't lie and you'll be able to decide whether to double down on your efforts or switch up your marketing mix.