Let’s face it; content marketing is changing and this affects the way you budget for it too.
Although there’s no single way to correctly budget for your content marketing activities, one thing’s for sure: you need to keep up with all the changes.
From tracking the right metrics, to connecting content performance to business impact, and even communicating your budgeting needs to executives, these are a few of the things to know as a content marketer.
Which is why we’ll do our best to explain why you need to be smart and effective regarding your content marketing budget, in order to get the results you want.
Let’s start by seeing how content marketing has evolved lately.
Content Marketing: Old vs. New Way
In order to gain a better understanding of how you should budget for content marketing nowadays, it’s imperative that you understand how that field has evolved over the past few years.
After all, with not enough knowledge on how things are done today, connecting the dots to see how content drives business impact won’t be easy.
Before we look at how content marketing used to be done – and still is done – by many companies, we should mention that there’s nothing wrong with most of the ways we’ll talk about.
It’s all a matter of optimization and being updated with the current state of things, for content marketers to keep their seats at the table.
Let’s break them down one-by-one.
The first aspect worth looking into is keyword research.
The old way of conducting keyword research consists of finding the right terms to target based on metrics like:
- Monthly search volume
- KD (keyword difficulty)
- CPC (cost per click)
And many more factors like the right SERP and search intent.
The main goal is to find the keywords that will attract the biggest number of targeted organic visitors, by creating content around them.
All with the end goal of making them convert (by buying something or booking a demo), or simply raising awareness about something.
Although the old way of doing keyword research works (when looking at it from a strictly SEO perspective), content marketers now need to dive deeper into things and understand the audience behind each search query.
This can be done through a customer research in order to answer questions like:
- What type of websites does the target customer visit more often?
- What podcasts do they listen to?
- What social media do they use?
- What words/phrases do they mostly use in their social media bios?
All of which can give marketers a good idea of what their target audience is and what they should do to target it more efficiently.
Obviously, SEO content still works to a certain degree, but what can content marketers do better?
Especially in the SaaS industry, it’s no secret that SEO content is saturated.
For many years, marketers have been heavily reliant on this type of content to drive traffic, and a large portion of their SEO budget has been allocated to its creation.
If we just type “best accounting software” and have a look at the top search results, we can see a great similarity between search results, in order to satisfy search engines.
So how can businesses stand out from the crowd?
In our opinion, this can be done by combining different types of content in your strategy.
Instead of pouring all their focus and resources into SEO content, marketers now need to focus on original content and product-focused content too.
Original content aims at creating content that’s unique that will increase your authority in your field, without trying to satisfy search engine algorithms (think of surveys, contrarian content, data storytelling, and more).
On the other hand, product focused content aims at helping users learn more about a product or service, by highlighting its benefits and solving any problems they might face with it.
Ideally, a content strategy should include all three types:
Instead of focusing on just one, whose benefits can be limited.
Content quality and quantity
While it may seem obvious that quality should be more important than quantity, this isn’t always the case with how many marketers faced content.
With how things used to be – and often still are – done, content marketers were obsessed with content quantity and numbers were a priority.
In fact, this was often done at the expense of the content’s quality, which didn’t generate the best results.
Actually, HubSpot reports that publishing 16+ posts per month gets 3.5 times more traffic than companies that publish less posts.
But is organic traffic enough to get valuable results that make sense for a business in terms of new revenue?
Ultimately, this is something content marketers should really think about in order to keep their seats at the table.
The new way of doing content involves prioritizing content quality over quantity, because quality matters when it comes to getting results that drive business impact.
Ideally, content marketers should find the right balance between the two, but quality should always have the edge over quantity.
Even when it comes to sacrificing organic traffic, it’s often preferred to have less people consume a piece of content, if they’re more valuable as a target customer.
The funnel stage is something almost all content managers take into consideration.
But how is it done differently now?
In the “old way” of doing content marketing, whether a piece of content was:
- TOFU (Top of the Funnel)
- MOFU (Middle of the Funnel)
- BOFU (Bottom of the Funnel)
Was heavily taken into account in order to identify the stage a piece of content was at during a customer’s journey.
Nowadays, things are done differently.
Simply identifying the funnel stage isn’t enough, since mapping the search intent as well as the lifecycle stage are vital, in order to be present in all of the customer journey stages.
Organic clicks will always play an important role in the world of content marketing, and specifically SEO.
However, the ways of measuring their effectiveness have evolved.
In the old way, marketers were mostly interested in the number of organic clicks blog-wide.
This means tracking the organic clicks made in the whole blog and deciding whether the content efforts have been successful or not.
On the other hand, although content marketers are still interested in organic clicks, they try to separate them by:
- Search intent, and
- Lifecycle stage
This will help you dive deeper into where each click’s coming from and how effective it is in terms of converting.
For instance, if the most valuable organic clicks come from content with commercial intent, then more focus should be given to it.
View to Lead Conversion Rate
Another factor worth examining is the view to lead conversion rate (VLCR).
Let’s see how it has evolved lately.
The view to lead conversion rate basically shows us how well a website generates interest in something (like a product or service) among its visitors.
For example, if 100 people read a SaaS’s blog post and 2 of them book a live demo, that’s a VLCR of 2%.
Although this metric is great to track, why stop there?
In the new way of doing things, content marketers shouldn’t just focus on the view to lead conversion rate, but also the lead to customer conversion rate (LCCR).
In other words, what percentage of the leads actually convert to paid users.
Following our previous example, if out of the 2 users who booked a demo only 1 became a customer, that would be a LCCR of 50%, considering there were 2 leads in total.
This allows content managers to have a more rounded view of how well the content performs from an ROI perspective.
New leads & New Customers
Paying attention to how many leads and customers content marketing generates is essential, but stopping there isn’t the most optimal way.
In the old way of doing content marketing, most marketers would track how many leads were generated and often how many of them converted to customers.
However, not keeping track further of that stage doesn’t allow marketers to have an all-around view of their content efforts’ effectiveness.
What they should ideally do in the new way is also keep track of the LTV (Lifetime Value) of each customer.
In other words, how long does someone stay with a business after becoming a customer?
This is especially useful for SaaS companies that use a subscription model; tracking whether a user’s LTV is one month or one year is crucial when examining the effectiveness of content marketing.
Plus, marketers should consider whether there are specific pages, sections or categories that are the most important and should therefore be treated differently, instead of simply looking at the blog as a whole.
Last Touch Attribution
Converting users, to leads and ultimately to customers, is essential.
But how do content marketers monitor this journey?
For a long time, content marketers were only interested in the last touch attribution.
In other words, it’s the point that’s given the final conversion credit.
For example, if a user:
- reads a blog post
- subscribes to a newsletter through it
- then signs up for a webinar through the newsletter
And they decide to buy a service, all the credit goes to the last touchpoint before the sale (which in this case is the webinar).
The problem with this process is that it’s limiting; marketers don’t have a full understanding of where the user first came from, in order to be able to keep optimizing the whole journey.
Needless to mention that the conversion credit doesn’t go where it’s often due.
Alternatively, marketers (and not only) need to know all the touchpoints someone goes through to become a lead and then a customer.
They should focus on a multi-touch attribution process in order to understand the steps someone took to become a customer.
In other words, they should know when content has a direct or indirect impact on a business, but we’ll talk about this further on.
As we mentioned previously, looking at the interest the blog receives as a whole isn’t enough.
This is actually the old way of doing things, where marketers would measure metrics, like the organic clicks, on a blog-wide level.
As you can imagine, this doesn’t provide enough information as to exactly what works and what not.
This is why content marketers should take a step back and dive deeper into things.
They should know specifically which pages, sections, and topics generate the most interest, in order to focus further on them.
Ideally, almost anything a business does should have the right ROI (Return on Investment).
Obviously, the same thing applies to content marketing which often requires a hefty investment.
In many cases, ROI was a taboo subject.
Because the path from content to income isn’t necessarily direct or rapid, marketers have typically found it challenging to assess and manage ROI (return on investment) from content marketing.
Unlike pay-per-click ads, content marketing is a long-term effort, and attribution can be challenging to define.
Currently, in most cases, ROI is a top priority and managers want to see proven results from their content marketing efforts, not only in terms of organic traffic and awareness, but also in actually driving business impact.
This means that whatever’s invested into content marketing should have a positive ROI.
For content marketers, this means doing and recommending actions that will drive revenue to a business, instead of simply attention.
Therefore, content performance should be directly connected to business impact to keep – or even request more – budget.
Especially in these times when many companies pull back with activities with hard-to-prove ROI, and expect from content teams to do more with less, direct business impact from content marketing becomes a top priority.
However, in order to effectively measure the performance of content marketing, it’s worth saying that content can be either directly, or indirectly connected to business impact.
Let’s dive deeper into this.
Direct vs. Indirect Content Impact
As we mentioned, in several cases content may not be directly related to driving impact (like generating revenue), but it may be indirectly related to it.
And in other cases there might be a direct connection between content and business impact.
The question is:
How can content marketers measure this impact and why should they do so?
The answer to the former part of the question refers to the fact that the direct or indirect impact of content should be measured, in order to make the right decisions and adjustments for optimal performance, by tracking the right metrics.
The answer to the latter part boils down to the fact that content marketing is now more performance-based and its ROI should be clear.
Let’s begin with a few words about direct content impact.
Direct content impact
When we talk about direct content impact, we mean the impact of content on certain business metrics that can be directly attributed to it.
For example, let’s assume that a customer’s journey begins by searching for frame.io alternatives on Google.
They then click on one of the top organic results, by MarkUp.
Image Source: Markup.io
After going through the list of alternatives, they decide that MarkUp is the best choice for them, and click on the CTA at the end to sign up for a free trial.
Image Source: Markup.io
This is a clear case of direct impact that content can have on a business, since the conversion can directly be attributed to the blog post.
However, things aren’t always that simple; the customer journey is often rather complicated and the content team might not get the credit, like in the case above.
This happens when we have indirect content impact.
Indirect content impact
Earlier in this guide we saw how multi-touch attribution is the new way of doing content marketing.
Obviously this process is far more complicated when it comes to attributing the impact of content on certain business metrics, if not attributed at all; this is what we call indirect content impact.
Therefore, even if the first stage of a customer’s journey began from a piece of content, the credit might not be given to the content team, so justifying the investment in content marketing or requesting more budget is harder.
Let’s see an example of a multi-touch customer journey.
A user searches for “what is live streaming” on Google and clicks on a blog post by Dacast to get the information.
A few weeks later, the same user searches for “how to put a live stream on your website” on Google.
Once again, they come across Dacast’s content and decide to click on it.
After a few more weeks, the user has moved in their lifecycle journey and searches for live streaming platforms on Google.
Although Dacast’s search result isn’t the first, the user decides to click on it because he’s visited the website before and is now familiar with the brand.
A few days later the user decides to attend a webinar by Dacast on the topic of live streaming from a website.
This means that Dacast’s team most likely now has the user’s email address.
Dacast’s sales team reaches out to the user since they have their email address and have seen them visiting the website, through a tool like Clearbit.
A sales representative now passes the prospect to an account executive.
After a demo and some follow-ups, the executive manages to turn the prospect into a paid user. The new customer source on the CRM is labeled as Warm Outreach.
Although the journey above is completely hypothetical, it’s very close to reality, especially for SaaS companies.
We can actually notice that 4 out of 6 touchpoints were due to the company’s content marketing efforts, but the credit was given to the sales team.
In a nutshell, this is how indirect content impact works and it affects what content marketers can ask when it comes to their budget, as well as what they can do with it after securing it.
But, how can content teams ensure that the customer journey is tracked effectively, throughout all the touchpoints?
This is by no means a simple process, but some of the most prominent things to be done include:
- Setting up Google Analytics and Google Search Console
- Setting up goals in Google Analytics and events on Tag Manager
- Using product analytics tools to provide data on a product level (e.g. lead to customer, LTV)
- Assigning values in Google Analytics for new leads acquired, to know the cost of each customer.
- Utilizing cross-team collaboration to shorten the feedback loop between departments (e.g. marketing and sales), regarding what’s working and getting insights into content’s contribution to pipeline.
- Conducting customer research to identify potential touchpoints not reported in the CRM.
All in order to ensure a company’s content marketing performance is at the most optimal level.
However, it’s worth noting that how content performance is measured, is (or should be) heavily dependent on the content program maturity level of each company.
Let’s have a closer look at this.
Content Marketing Performance by Stage
Like we mentioned, content marketing performance should be evaluated differently based on the stage of the company, as well the maturity level of its content marketing program.
For example, if we take the scenario of companies A and B, with:
- Company A, being an established public company with a strong focus on sales and less on content
- Company B, being early-stage but very content-led with a heavy focus on content marketing activities from day one
Then each of those companies is interested in different metrics and will thus evaluate content marketing in a different way.
Here’s how each stage should face content performance.
A company in its early stages when it comes to the maturity of its content program, should take various things into account that will lead to more important business outcomes, like:
- Publishing velocity (how often it’ll publish content)
- Organic impressions
- Number of keywords
- Position distribution
- Organic clicks
- Organic CTR (the percentage of organic impressions that turn into clicks)
- Backlinks from active outreach (considering passive backlinks are harder to acquire in this early stage)
The metrics above are valuable enough to determine the success of a content marketing activity (like SEO) in its early stages.
Once it has matured, a company should ideally monitor other types of metrics.
Considering a company has been doing content marketing relatively successfully for a while, it doesn’t make sense anymore to evaluate performance solely on the number of organic clicks or the publishing velocity.
The company should go a step further and dive deeper into the business impact each of those metrics has, so besides all of the ones we mentioned previously, it should also monitor:
- New leads
- New customers
- View to lead conversion rate
- Lead to customer conversion rate
- The new MRR generated (especially for SaaS companies)
- Passive backlink acquisition (now that the company is more established for people to link back to it)
- Social shares
- Referral traffic
All of which provide a company that’s found content-market fit enough data to evaluate its content performance on a business level.
Let’s take things a step even further.
Assuming a company has been doing content marketing for a long time and is beyond the content-market fit level, it has to go even deeper into things regarding the metrics it tracks.
Besides all of the metrics in the previous stages, the growth stage also includes:
- Engagement metrics (for example the experience of users when visiting a blog)
- Actual ROI
- LTV:CAC ratio
- Assisted conversions
- Direct traffic (due to brand recognition)
- Brand value
- Thought leadership
Each of the metrics above is suitable enough for a mature company (in terms of its content program) to monitor and take the necessary decisions, in terms of budgeting for example.
So far, it’s clear that the stage definitely affects what metrics should be taken into consideration, in order to evaluate performance and connect it to business impact.
After all, that’s what executives that aren’t directly involved with marketing are mostly interested in, right?
Metrics Executives are Interested in
Executives like CFOs who are primarily interested in seeing the ROI of any investment, need to be convinced by CMOs that a certain content marketing activity is worth investing in, like SEO.
This means that the CMO should be able to speak the CFO’s language (or any other executive’s for that matter) and know which metrics executives are interested in.
Those metrics typically include:
- The new MRR (or revenue in general for non-SaaS companies)
- The number of new customers
- The number of new leads
- The lead to customer conversion rate
- The view to lead conversion rate
- The LTV (on a blog-page-section-topic level)
- The ROI (on a blog-page-section-topic level)
- The LTV:CAC ratio (on a blog-page-section-topic level)
- The assisted conversions
These are the metrics that executives are mostly interested in, so it’s the CMO’s or the Head of Content’s responsibility to evaluate them and effectively forecast their performance.
At this point, it’s worth noting that content marketing activities can be divided into two categories; mandatory and optional.
Mandatory are the activities that are directly or indirectly connected to the metrics we saw that executives understand, when it comes to content marketing performance.
Of course, what’s mandatory and what not may be different for an executive and a person in the content team for example, but when it comes to budgeting what’s mandatory to the executive is what matters the most.
Optional activities aren’t directly or indirectly connected to the metrics executives understand and can be added to further improve the effectiveness of content marketing, but aren’t necessary.
For any activity, what’s important to remember is that it should be correctly communicated to executives, as well as what’s at stake.
Last but not least, since we’re talking about budgeting, which in itself isn’t easy, it’s imperative that you keep the following in mind, in order to connect content marketing activities to business metrics:
- Overestimate how much you’ll need in order to not ask for more money further on.
- Refer to your total budget as “investment” instead of “cost” or “expense”, to avoid negative connotations.
- Include a few optional activities as these are the ones usually cut out, thus leaving you with the mandatory ones.
- Focus on what will be lost, instead of what’s going to be earned (for example a certain activity affects the new MRR)
- Label your activities as mandatory and optional.
- Budget for future activities that aren’t yet visible to show your business sense.
Of course, when receiving a certain budget for content marketing, it’s imperative that you forecast the projected ROI and communicate it the right way.
When doing that, you should keep in mind that:
- No forecasting model is perfect
- Traffic can be used to make a forecast, but the focus should be on revenue
- Different scenarios should be presented (optimistic, realistic etc.)
Plus, the fact that you should present something executives can understand and speak their own language, regarding how content marketing will be connected to positive business results.
All with the end goal of getting your desired content marketing budget!
Budgeting is by no means an easy task; neither when you’re creating it, nor when asking for it.
Especially when it comes to content marketing, the key is to understand how marketers can convince executives that it will be connected to business impact, by measuring the right metrics and using the right language.
Of course, this is after marketers get a good grasp of how content marketing has evolved.
However, as long as you’re confident in the quality of your work and your team, budgeting for content marketing might be easier than you think, if you keep the right things in mind!