There are not that many taboo topics in digital marketing.
But content marketing ROI (return on investment) is definitely one of them, primarily due to the uncertainty surrounding it.
Basically, the old approach said, “Okay, your organic traffic grew by X%, and average rankings reached X position after publishing [insert number] high-quality content pieces.”
Great, but how much business can we generate from it?
That’s where it lacked certainty, and it has to change.
So, today, we would like to share some insights on how to make your ROI estimations translate into business results.
What is the ROI of Content Marketing?
Content marketing ROI is a metric that reflects the proven results of content marketing efforts and their business impact.
See anything unusual in that definition?
Well, it doesn’t reflect what’s actually on the internet—the “classic” content marketing ROI formula.
So, what’s wrong with this formula?
It’s not useful for several reasons:
- Content marketing investments take longer to deliver profit.
- Consequently, you may see negative ROI, which doesn’t mean your investment is no longer profitable.
- It only draws attention to a return from a specific marketing effort without representing the bigger picture.
What is the ultimate bigger picture?
The link between content marketing and its impact on business.
So why hasn’t this been discussed before now?
Content marketing ROI has always been a taboo topic among content marketers because it is an “uncertain” metric, as mentioned earlier.
However, when the recession hit, the scrutiny around ROI increased.
As we discussed in our piece about content marketing during the recession, after millions of dollars were poured into SaaS content marketing in the preceding years, economies entered a time of financial uncertainty.
55% of marketers say the recession affected their marketing activities in 2023.
New hires froze.
Budgets became limited.
Planning became short-term.
Consequently, businesses turned to sustainable growth to preserve their resources.
So, naturally, ROI was also hit and the perception of it changed.
Here’s how we at Minuttia see these changes (using a few examples).
In other words, there should be a clear gain reflected in content marketing ROI, which also means that you’ll have to do a complete overhaul of how you calculate this metric.
Let us share our approach in comparison with others to help you transition from what you’re used to doing to the new method that reflects the current reality.
But before we do that, let’s review the reasons why you should calculate content marketing ROI.
Why Measuring Your Content Marketing ROI is Important
There are four reasons for measuring ROI, conditioned by the current changes in content marketing.
Let’s break them down.
Reason #1: You connect your marketing efforts with business goals
For 74% of marketers, search engine optimization either remained the same or became more important to their content strategies in 2023.
These were the results of the Minuttia x Superpath 2023 State of Content Marketing report.
At the same, most respondents shared they reported only on traffic as the leading content marketing KPI.
Business impact and generated revenue were the top priority only for a few.
Parse.ly’s 2022 Content Matters report reflected the same picture.
53% of organizations said their content efforts weren’t tied to their organization’s revenue.
According to this report, most content marketers weren’t even planning their strategies with specific goals tied to business impact.
And yet, the survey still showed that for those 27% who tied content marketing with business performance, the need to produce more content to increase revenue is growing.
So, calculating ROI with business impact in mind helps ensure exponential growth of your digital marketing strategy in general.
Let’s move on.
Reason #2: Unmeasurable goals become measurable
Let us start with an example here.
We went through several 2023 content marketing reports, and the top ones—by Semrush, CMI, and Parse.ly—listed brand awareness among the top content marketing goals last year.
Generating revenue hasn’t collected that many votes.
Take a look.
But is it actually possible to measure brand awareness?
And most importantly, how can you show stakeholders there’s actual profit to be made from maximizing brand awareness?
To answer this question, we need to look at the most common brand awareness KPIs.
Here’s what we were able to gather from different sources.
We can also add results from brand recognition surveys here.
And still, none of these key performance indicators will reflect the business impact, e.g., how many potential customers your sales team can convert.
Chima Mmeje, Senior Content Marketing Manager at Moz, confirms the complexity of measuring brand awareness, saying that it requires a more “nuanced” approach.
Here’s what she suggests.
- “Look beyond likes on social media and track engagement metrics like comments, shares, and sentiment. High engagement often correlates with strong brand awareness.
Track branded searches because the more popular your brand, the more people are doing navigational searches.
- Check PR and media mentions and the quality of the sites the mentions are on. More media mentions suggest increased awareness of your brand
- Use attribution modeling to track customer touchpoints from the first interaction until the sale. It tells you which channels and content are driving conversion
- Use Moz’s Brand Authority to measure the overall brand strength of your website. It measures the value and perception of your brand in the market, taking online and offline signals into account.”
Most of these suggestions hint at the necessity to calculate ROI with your business goals in mind and tie brand awareness KPIs to business objectives, vagueness becomes certainty.
In other words, you get to see whether or not you are setting profitable and tangible goals.
Let’s talk about that more.
Reason #3: ROI shows where you should put your investment
What are the most profitable strategies in content marketing?
Here’s what the data says.
However, this data is generalized and cannot be assigned to every business.
That’s why tracking ROI for every content marketing and content distribution channel is so important.
Think about it.
Advertising placements may not be as effective in B2B content marketing as they would be, say, in e-commerce content marketing.
At the same time, email marketing and email newsletters can work great for both.
If you see that this channel has little to no impact on your business, it may be your cue to switch to something more tangible.
In other cases, you may only need to adjust your strategy.
For instance, in a Nielsen report from June 2022, an automotive brand got 26% more impressions by simply optimizing its media allocation.
Regarding content marketing ROI as a budget optimization method for your strategy is especially important considering last year’s content marketing budget cuts.
Our 2023 State of Content Marketing report alone showed that 31% of B2B marketers saw a budget decrease.
Speaking of budgets, tracking the ROI of content marketing can help you convince stakeholders to provide additional funding for your marketing team.
Reason #4: Business execs need proof of profit
As we mentioned earlier, ROI used to be a taboo content marketing metric, mostly due to the lack of confidence in ROI measurement.
Nielsen’s 2023 Annual Marketing Report reflects this attitude perfectly.
When asked how confident they are about measuring content marketing ROI, from 1% to 100%, the marketers surveyed averaged 54%.
The breakdown of ROI confidence percentage by channel also reflects general reservations.
Image Source: Nielsen
The inability to calculate ROI that reflects tangible results could be one of the reasons why content marketing budgets got slashed in 2023.
Back in 2022, Nielsen also reported that businesses were depressing their content marketing ROIs in the wake of the recession, which was also reflected in our survey (see the previous section).
They were doing it because they saw no clear impact from content marketing activities.
So, to make sure content marketing efforts matter to your stakeholders, they need to see a clear profit from them.
When business execs see that you spend over $100K on content marketing outsourcing, they want to know what they get in return.
How much MRR does your content creation strategy deliver?
How many leads did your latest webinar generate?
What is the lead-to-customer conversion rate?
These are questions to which your calculated ROI can and should provide concrete answers.
How can you ensure you get those answers?
We’ve prepared a step-by-step ROI calculation guide for you.
But first, let’s analyze why existing ROI attribution models aren’t the best choice for the task.
Attribution Models Insufficiencies
Marketers use various models to attribute value to content performance.
In general, attribution helps clarify which content marketing activity was the most effective in terms of lead generation and conversions.
However, at Minuttia, we found that most of the existing “textbook” ROI attribution models don’t answer the difficult question—what business impact has a specific content marketing effort delivered?
Let’s review each attribution model individually to explain what we mean.
Model #1: First-touch attribution
The first-touch attribution model gives 100% credit to the content marketing effort that brought a visitor to your piece of content.
This attribution model can show you the medium that brought a lead in the first place.
Yet, at Minuttia, we find it somewhat lacking when it comes to the bigger picture.
While it focuses on the first touchpoint, this model entirely ignores the results of the whole content marketing campaign and brand-consumer interaction that followed after the initial contact.
In other words, this attribution model is unable to determine what ultimately drove the revenue and which content marketing effort impacted the bottom line.
Let’s discuss the next model.
Model #2: Last-touch attribution
The last-touch attribution model assigns full credit to the very last content marketing activity that brought a new sales opportunity.
Compared to the previous model, this one shows you which effort was the last touchpoint before the conversion happened.
However, you can’t be 100% sure a customer didn’t decide to buy earlier, somewhere at the mid-funnel stage.
So, while you analyze the last touchpoints, you may miss the real revenue driver.
The next model greatly differs from the first two.
Model #3: Lead conversion touch attribution
Lead conversion touch attribution assigns credit to several content marketing touchpoints that generated and converted a lead.
At first glance, this model might seem like a good solution for attributing ROI to content.
Yet, it still oversimplifies things.
As you focus solely on content marketing efforts driving the most conversions and revenue, you don’t get a bigger picture, where other touchpoints play a role in the conversion, no matter how small.
Let’s continue with the next model.
Model #4: Linear attribution
The linear attribution model assigns even value to all content marketing touchpoints that lead to a conversion.
Like the previous model, this one is a multi-touch attribution model in that it focuses on several touchpoints.
In this case, on all of them.
It might seem fitting since it covers all bases and, therefore, allows you to attribute ROI to every piece of content in a campaign.
However, it’s still not good enough.
Even though you take all touchpoints into account, it won’t mean that all of them ultimately have a business impact.
Let’s move on to the next model.
Model #5: Time decay attribution
Time decay attribution assigns most credit to the content marketing effort that drove the conversion and less effort to the touchpoints leading to the conversion.
Essentially, it assumes that the value of the “lesser” touchpoints decays over time.
The touches closest to the conversion are assigned greater value.
You already see the controversy here, right?
Not only does it not recognize the initial touchpoint but all content marketing efforts up to the conversion get less credit.
How about the last model on our list?
Model #6: Position-based attribution
The position-based attribution model assigns the most value to the first and last touchpoints and less credit to the touchpoints in between.
It is also known as a U-shaped attribution model.
The problem with this attribution model is that it blindly assigns value to the first and the last content marketing efforts, not taking into account that they might have had little final impact.
Besides, the engagements between the first and the last touchpoint are completely disregarded.
Alright, you may ask, so what would be the most efficient way to calculate ROI and attribute it to content?
You will find everything you need in the next section, plus some insights into how we do things at Minuttia.
How to Measure Content Marketing ROI
As you remember, the “common” ROI formula hardly works since it doesn’t connect content performance to business goals.
So, instead of oversimplifying things with a straightforward calculation, we offer a more holistic approach to estimating content marketing ROI.
Our process is a bit more involved, but it lets you effectively attribute ROI to your content efforts.
Let’s break it down.
Step #1: Choose the correct business metrics
If you remember, in the first section we touched upon the problem of measuring the ROI of organic traffic.
Yes, organic traffic reflects your content marketing success.
But are your business executives interested in it?
While they appreciate your hard work, they need tangible results from it.
And, with all due respect, the increase in organic traffic does not reflect how much revenue your business gained.
So, which business metrics do executives want to see?
Here are some examples.
If you think about content marketing activities with these metrics in mind, their nature changes (e.g., keyword research turns into customer research with deeper insights into the target audience).
Take a look.
These are just a few examples, but you can already see the shift in the perception of the common content marketing activities and metrics.
Thus, you get a clearer understanding of how to attribute ROI to each content marketing activity.
Connecting content marketing efforts with business impact metrics also allows for more effective content marketing budgeting.
At Minuttia, we assign to each activity a specific metric, which the activity affects once it is completed.
- Content writing impacts new MRR
- UX design brings new leads
- Paid socials also affect the number of new leads
Here’s an example of how we plan a budget for our clients with business impact in mind.
As you can see, in this template, we have:
- A content marketing activity
- A business metric it affects
- Its priority (mandatory or optional)
- Explanation (if necessary)
- Execution frequency
- Total investment
This is one way we project the business outcomes our clients can expect from our content marketing efforts.
However, the next two steps are necessary for the correct budget and ROI calculation.
Let’s take a look.
Step #2: Run a content audit
First comes a content audit that helps you identify where your content performance needs improvement and allows for effective prioritization of content marketing activities (e.g., which types of content perform better).
Content audit is a mandatory activity at Minuttia.
Before discussing the ROI, we review our client’s content inventory to understand what works and what doesn’t.
The results of the audit ultimately impact the budget and ROI.
How does our content audit differ from what other agencies do?
First and foremost, we abide by the following principles:
Keeping up with these principles allowed us to develop a content audit system that minimizes common limitations, such as overreliance on vanity metrics (SEO traffic, word count, bounce rate, etc.) and SEO tools.
Here’s what this system looks like.
You can read about the entire process in our content audit guide.
However, we want to draw your attention to one important aspect of it—ROI forecasting (the last step in page-level recommendations).
This aspect is what separates us from our competitors, and it allows us to communicate the value of what we do and the potential of our work to generate business impact.
To execute this step, we build a tool called Forecasting Machine.
Next, we do a monthly breakdown by selected metrics:
- Organic traffic
- New leads
- New customers
- Projected revenue
- Cost per lead
- Customer acquisition cost (CAC)
- Lifetime value (CAC ratio)
- Projected earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA);
Using this data, we can calculate estimated ROI.
Here’s an example of the final result.
As you can see, there is a clear connection between the B2B content marketing activities we perform and the business impact they invoke, helping stakeholders see the tangible outcomes of our services.
Content audit and ROI forecasting also help us determine the activities that have more potential to generate revenue.
Let’s talk more about that.
Step #3: Prioritize content marketing activities
Just to remind you, the first thing we discussed in this section was choosing the right business metrics and those in which business execs are most interested.
You can also consider these metrics when prioritizing content marketing activities for a more optimal ROI evaluation.
At Minuttia, we first break down all content marketing efforts into the following:
- Mandatory—directly connected to the business metrics executives understand.
- Optional—you can use them to either improve the performance of the mandatory content marketing activities or implement them as an experiment.
You can also categorize using direct or indirect ROI attribution.
- Direct content impact—content marketing efforts that directly impact business metrics.
- Indirect content impact—activities that can be attributed to business metrics indirectly or not at all.
How you prioritize your content marketing efforts can impact the ROI projection and budgeting since stakeholders will be primarily interested in the activities that bring more business to them.
However, it doesn’t mean you should overlook content with indirect impact.
Of course, such content requires a multi-touch attribution approach to customer journey since it’s not directly linked with a specific metric, and justifying its impact on ROI can be more challenging.
You can learn more about tracking content with indirect impact in our guide to developing a content marketing budget.
Let’s move on to the final step.
Step #4: Choose a tool to report on content performance
When calculating ROI, you need accurate data that reports on the activities in your content marketing pipeline.
Most of our competing agencies go for the mix of Google Analytics, Search Console (to track website and blog content), Ahrefs/Semrush (to track domain authority, organic performance, and backlinks), HubSpot (or any other CMS), and some others.
However, we found that these analytics tools, although effective, don’t measure the impact of your content marketing strategy on larger business goals.
So, using Looker Studio, our team at Minuttia developed the Content Impact report.
Here’s how it works…
And here’s what it looks like.
Here, we have a modeled report on our client’s organic performance with all the necessary benchmarks and metrics, including total clicks, total impressions, click-through rate, content piece clicks, content update clicks, clicks by deliverable, and so forth.
Next, we connect organic performance and conversions in the Conversions tab.
It reflects total sessions and breaks them down by deliverable and by month, along with the number of pages, and conversions by day and month.
Finally, we summarize all website pages and events to show how many sessions and conversions each of them delivered.
It not only helps make an accurate ROI projection but also makes it easier to communicate the effectiveness of your content marketing strategy.
Now Over To You
Modeling and measuring content marketing ROI can be quite a quest, but given the current business and marketing world reality, it is no longer an optional task.
However, given that the old ROI attribution models no longer work, content marketers need a new approach that links content marketing efforts to business impact, which is exactly what we showed you in today’s guide.
And if you still need help with calculating ROI and making sure you approach your content marketing processes holistically, we’d be happy to help.