Content marketing was barely on the radar of most marketers as recently as 2012 per Google Trends, but interest and adoption have skyrocketed since then.
According to research reported by Curata, 88 percent of B2B marketers are using content marketing, and 75 percent plan to increase their investment in content marketing this year. The Content Marketing Institute puts adoption at 93 percent. And Seth Godin has called content marketing “the only marketing left.”
But content marketing is a significant investment. It’s impossible to calculate a meaningful ROI figure without an accurate accounting of both the “R” and the “I.” Is your organization capturing all the costs involved?
The Three Ps of Content Marketing Costs
Pratik Dholakiya, writing on the E2M blog, identifies four types of production and promotion costs: writing, design, distribution, and “miscellaneous.” A simpler yet comprehensive approach is to detail the three Ps of content marketing costs:
People: Tally up all the “people costs” of producing the content: writing, layout, and graphic design for text or image-based content; recording, editing, and animation for video. Include employee time and agency/consultant time (if applicable), and factor in project management as well as actual production time. Also, include internal and/or external costs for organic social media promotion.
Paid Promotion: Factor in any direct costs for distributing or promoting content, including search ads, social media ads, native advertising, content amplification, and influencer marketing fees.
Processes: In this category, capture any costs incurred in the workflow from ideation to promotion, including any tools used (keyword research, competitive intelligence, content planning, project management, landing page creation, video/image editing, social media management, writing tools, etc.). Include labor time for any non-production resources used (e.g. subject matter experts interviewed or consulted with), industry analyst time, third-party research costs, and any artwork, photography, or fonts purchased.
Just as capturing all costs is vital to measuring content marketing, so is recognizing all the “returns” on those investments, both financial and behavioral.
The most common metric used to demonstrate ROI is sales revenue. This is easy, however, only in limited circumstances, such as:
Gated, Top-of-Funnel Content: White papers, reports, assessment tools, checklists, and other content assets that are “gated” behind a contact form can be tracked and tied directly to later sales.
Direct Response Email: Similarly, email clicks that lead directly to a download or purchase can be tracked and correlated with the resulting revenue.
Low-Cost Impulse Purchase: Blog posts, social media updates, or other content that results directly in a purchase transaction is the easiest to account for—though not a common scenario in B2B sales.
Middle-of-the funnel content such as product data sheets, customer case studies, and FAQ pages are often crucial in moving prospective buyers past the interest stage, but are notoriously difficult to assign a return to as they are rarely gated or lead directly to a purchase.
Bottom-of-the-funnel assets (e.g., “how to use” videos) can be difficult to evaluate, but tracking visits using funnel visualization and reverse goal paths within Google Analytics can help identify any direct linkage between this content and a lead conversion or sale.
Particularly in B2B marketing, where content rarely leads directly to a sale, non-financial metrics of content performance are critical. Understanding these measures helps content marketers determine which content is resonating with sales prospects, and which assets or topics miss the mark.
Two key non-sales metrics are reader engagement and content longevity. Here are simple and more advanced ways to measure each.
Engagement: Are your potential customers spending time with your content and absorbing your wisdom? Or hitting and bouncing?
The simple check is to look at the average time spent on each page, or dwell time, in Google Analytics. This can be misleading, however, particularly for pages with low numbers of total visits.
A better metric, also in Google Analytics, is Content Bottom. As noted in the E2M blog post, “This is the time taken by readers to reach the end of the piece from the time they start reading it. If this number (in seconds) aligns pretty well with the Time to Finish…then the content has steam.”
Longevity: Is your content brilliant but ephemeral, like exploding fireworks? Or does it have staying power, continuing to generate interest and provide value for days, weeks, or even months?
For long-term content, again, Google Analytics offers a simple way to measure longevity by looking at Behavior > Site Content > All Pages > any specific page.
But Analytics only captures content visits in days as the shortest time interval. Not all your content will have a half-life of a day or more, and not all of it is even published on your own site.
A better metric for this type of output is content half-life, which again the E2M post notes “is defined as the time in days (or hours) over which the number of click throughs to a post reduces to exactly half of what it was when first published and distributed. If a brand consistently produces information that hits half-life in 30 minutes flat, then it is better to re-think strategy.”
Content marketing isn’t going away, but CMOs and their staff are under increasing pressure to quantify the value. That makes understanding what works, and what doesn’t, more important than ever.
And that understanding requires a firm grasp of both the total costs of producing content as well as the returns, both in terms of financial and brand value.
For example, should you repurpose content from that expensive white paper into an infographic, a presentation, and a few blog posts? Well, if the white paper itself was a big flop, no—repurposing will likely only produce a string of mini flops. But if it was a hit, then by all means proceed.
Considering all the costs and benefits of each major content investment will help CMOs and content marketing directors make better decisions about allocations and produce higher quality content.