Measuring the return on investment (ROI) of content marketing is challenging. Achieving that goal requires marketers to advance through several stages of measurement maturity.
I’ll never forget the first time I had to prove a content marketing campaign moved the needle. We’d spent a few thousand dollars on a whitepaper, and our VP of Marketing wanted to know if it was worth it. We scrambled to crunch data in spreadsheets manually, export leads out of HubSpot into Salesforce, and chase down sales reps to document where and when our whitepaper had influenced their pipelines.
Some digital duct tape and several late nights finally resulted in an answer—we were pretty sure that our whitepaper influenced some revenue based on anecdotal evidence. You can probably guess that wasn’t good enough. Our content marketing operations were too immature to accurately tie our efforts back to revenue. Many content marketers are still in the same boat.
A January 2021 Contently survey of 530 marketers revealed only 36 percent of us are satisfied with our ability to measure the success of content. These measurement insecurities are rampant because the ROI of content is so hard to measure—but not impossible. Contently’s Content Maturity Model is a step-by-step framework for content marketers looking to advance their measurement capabilities in four simple stages: Crawl, Walk, Run, and Fly.
1. Crawl Before You Walk: Build an Audience
The first stage—Crawl—is where you lay the groundwork for content operations and learn to measure the essential key performance indicators (KPIs).
Biggest challenge: Establish creation and measurement workflows
Crawl is the first and most fundamental stage in Contently’s maturity model, but in many ways, also the hardest to overcome. At this stage, you’re building content measurement muscles, listening to your audience, measuring, and adjusting your strategy accordingly.
But your biggest challenge will be building internal processes for the first time and establishing an internal reputation. Content teams usually start siloed, and content creation happens messily in tools like email, spreadsheets, and word processors. The creative team isn’t yet communicating well with the operational team, making publishing a challenge. And that’s if the content gets approved by senior leadership, who don’t always prioritize approvals.
In an attempt to break those silos, countless conversations are happening simultaneously to document personas and a buyer’s journey to build an effective content strategy. Content that does get created isn’t organized or tagged and is often lost on individual drives.
Overcoming these challenges requires mastering workflows that break down silos. Documenting a strategy that maps content to business priorities will also be vital for establishing an excellent internal reputation.
Important KPIs: Basic audience signals
You want to start by measuring the most basic KPIs from Google Analytics and social media platforms to determine whether or not you’re hitting a chord with your target audience, including:
- Audience Reach: Measure unique visitors, website visits, and page views. Your goal should be to reach 1,000 unique visitors a month.
- Audience Engagement: Measure average attention time, finish rate, pages per session, return readers, and social shares, likes, and comments. Aim for an average attention time of 30 seconds or more.
- SEO Effectiveness: Measure the number of keywords you rank for and your search impressions. Your first threshold should be 50 ranked keywords.
You’ll need tools like Google or Contently Analytics to measure audience-related KPIs and tools like Semrush or Moz to measure SEO effectiveness. It would be best if you met the initial goals for each KPI we’ve outlined before moving forward to the Walk stage.
2. Walk Before You Run: Generate Leads
The second stage—Walk—is about getting the engaged audience you built in stage one to take action, typically by filling out a form for things like newsletter signup, eBook download, or contact us page.
Biggest challenge: Connecting new measurement tools
Lead generation is one of the most critical aspects of developing your content maturity model, but it’s also the hardest to measure. That’s because you’ll need to integrate multiple tools for the first time.
Those integrations will be worthless without meaningful data. To capture that, you’ll also need to implement a system for mapping and tagging content according to your strategy.
For example, Contently’s content strategy for The Content Strategist includes pillar topics like strategy, digital transformation, storytelling, ROI, and trending topics. Every article is tagged and mapped to one of these pillars for accurate measurement.
Once you’ve set up your tagging system, you’ll need to connect the tools you use to measure audience signals with the marketing automation system you use to manage incoming leads.
When you start generating leads, you’ll probably be faced with scaling your content marketing operations. Leadership will likely be so excited about all those quality leads that you’ll need to produce more quality content. You’ll need a visible content calendar that’s updated in real-time and processes for requesting, creating content, approvals, and finding freelancers.
Contently is an end-to-end content marketing platform that does all this for you, including creating request forms for internal teams.
Important KPIs: Lead quality and competitor comparisons
In the Walk stage, your priority will be measuring leads, lead quality, and how well you stack up against your competitors. Those KPIs should include the following:
- Leads: The number of people taking a conversion action necessary to your company, whether it’s a completed form fill or another initial step. You’ll want to aim to generate at least 75 leads per quarter.
- Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs): The number of people who filled out a form and met your marketing team’s qualifications to move further down the funnel. Those qualifications are different for every company but might include demographics, interests, or a number of touch points with your content. At least 25 of the leads you generate each quarter should be ready to talk to sales.
- Lead Engagement: How many emails are opened per reader, pages visited, articles read, or how much time is spent with gated content.
- Share of Voice: SEO and social signals that compare how well your audience engages with you versus your competitor’s content.
Marketing automation tools like Mailchimp, HubSpot, or Pardot can easily count leads, track their engagement, and score them for qualification. To go deeper, tools like Contently Docalytics or Adobe can measure how leads interact with gated content, and social intelligence tools like Contently Storybook or Buzzsumo can keep track of your share of voice in comparison with competitors.
A lot of content marketing departments stop here, and that’s okay. However, if you’re after the content measurement holy grail, you’ll want to move on to master the first stages of attribution.
3. Run before you Fly: Map content to revenue
Learning to Run in stage three showcases how that Crawl and Walk work impacts your company’s revenue.
Biggest challenge: Staying on top of the data
Measuring content’s impact on revenue means effectively adding another tool to the mix—your company’s customer relationship management (CRM) tool.
This will allow you to track MQLs after they’ve made it to sales and attribute the revenue generated from closed deals back to your content marketing efforts.
By this time, you’ll have a lot of places you’ll need to keep track of data—audience analytics tools, marketing automation tools, SEO tools, social intelligence tools, and now a CRM. You’ll need to work with operational teams to accurately collect and reflect on that data regularly to inform and optimize your content strategy as you go.
Important KPIs: three ways to measure content value
The most accurate picture of revenue in the Run stage can be painted with a combination of three KPIs. SEO value is a KPI Contently has pioneered and should be tracked along with lead value and single-touch attribution.
- SEO Value: How much organic traffic is worth based on how much a competitor would pay to replicate it with search ads. Aim for $5,000 in SEO value a month. The benefit of SEO value is the ability to capture the value of content without tracking its impact on sales, which is hard for marketers haunted by legacy CRMs with poor data hygiene. It also predicts the importance of content ahead of time, whereas attribution can only look back at ROI.
- Lead Value: The number of organic leads times the historical cost per lead generated with paid advertising. Aim for $10,000 in lead value a quarter.
- Single-Touch Attribution: Measures content value by attributing 100% of a closed deal to one content marketing effort, usually the first or last touch. You’ll want to see at least five attributed sales every half. The downside to single-touch attribution is limiting, particularly in B2B companies with many touch points across the buyer’s journey. However, it’s straightforward to implement and essential to graduating to multi-touch attribution.
Each KPI alone isn’t enough to convince anyone of content’s impact on revenue. But when you factor in all three together, they provide a much more holistic foundation for moving on to the final stage in our Content Maturity Model.
4. Fly: Attribute revenue to every piece of content
The final stage of the maturity model—Fly—is idealistic and should only be attempted after the first three stages are firmly established. To get there, you’ll need to master multi-touch attribution. This means accurately calculating the value of each piece of content, not just those that reach the customer at the first and last stages of their buyer journey.
For example, your multi-stage attribution model might give equal credit for a sale to the marketing efforts at the first and last touch points but a different amount of credit to touch points in between. The most accurate models must also effectively weigh efforts outside content marketing, like digital advertising or events.
In a series of interviews with many CMOs and marketing leaders, Contently found that multi-touch attribution is ideal, but it’s tough to implement and rarely achieved. This is usually because the cost of implementing new technologies and integrating them with existing tools is high. Add that to the cost of hiring and managing the expertise it takes to stay on top of all this data, which gets very expensive.
The complexity of doing this inside large enterprise organizations can be a years-long adventure. It would be best if you had a ton of business functions to be in sync, good data hygiene across all measurement tools, and executive support.
If you’re not ready, it can pull teams away from creating content that delivers value to your audience. We recommend it only be attempted after the first three stages of this model are firmly established.
Contently can support you in advancing your content marketing operations through the Content Maturity Model from Crawl to Fly. Schedule a custom demo today, and take the first steps towards growing your content program.
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