Measuring return on content: It’s simpler (and more important) than you think
Here are some steps you can take to avoid the consequences of neglecting attribution in the mid-funnel.
Marketers are investing billions of dollars in content marketing efforts every year, and yet many have a very weak understanding of the return they see on such investments. According to the Content Marketing Institute, a third of B2C marketers (PDF) don’t even measure their return on content. That figure grows to a staggering 47 percent among B2B marketers (PDF).
This lack of accountability is a stark contrast to the data-driven strategies that the same marketers are meticulously applying to their lower-funnel activities in search and display. Why the difference? Well, according to the Content Marketing Institute, 45 percent of B2C marketers who don’t measure their content ROI cite the top reason as “we need an easier way to do this.” That same response tops the list of reasons given by B2B marketers, right alongside “no formal justification required.”
The simple fact of the matter is that many marketers aren’t tracking return on content because they’re intimidated by what they perceive to be a seriously complicated undertaking. Or worse, they’re not even trying because their superiors aren’t asking, which suggests that they’re OK with not properly understanding and optimizing their content budgets. These marketers are at risk of having their content marketing budgets cut altogether by skeptical superiors who don’t see the return.
Don’t reinvent the wheel
Ultimately, tracking return on content in the mid-funnel – where content marketing drives consumers from awareness into the stages of consideration and engagement – isn’t all that different from tracking ROI in the lower funnel. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Rather, marketers need to commit to understanding these mid-funnel activities and get smart about how they monitor activity on the content being circulated by their brands.
In tracking return on content, there are two key areas where marketers should focus:
Two key engagement metrics to consider when it comes to content are time spent and scroll depth, but these measures should not be approached in silos, where on their own they can provide false positives. For example, a person might open a piece of content and walk away from the computer, driving up time spent but never engaging with the content. Meanwhile, if a person opens a piece of content and scrolls rapidly to the bottom, there’s a good chance they never actually read the content and were instead seeking something else on the page.
Fortunately for marketers, they now have the ability to look at a content completion rate that compares the amount of time a person spends on a page against the amount of time it would take an average reader to consume the content (a measure made popular by Medium), cross-referenced with scroll data. This more-holistic approach allows marketers to confirm with greater accuracy which pieces of their content are driving meaningful engagement with their audience.
When it comes to conversions, marketers can lean on their expertise in media attribution when gauging return on content. Using similar methodologies (e.g., tagging exposure), they can determine which pieces of content lead to specific actions within their standard lookback window. This doesn’t always have to be a purchase. It could be something more basic, such as reading a piece of content on a company’s blog and later navigating to look at products, register for an event or sign up for a free trial.
Test and learn
While it might be a relief to some marketers that their organizations don’t require them to track return on content, two problems arise in that scenario:
- Without understanding the real-world value of content marketing, executives are likely to target these budgets for cutbacks when cutbacks are required.
- More importantly, if marketers can’t connect their content marketing efforts to business outcomes, they will never be able to properly optimize their content, not to mention their media spend across the full funnel.
Brands, especially those in the direct-to-consumer and e-commerce spaces, spend a ton of time optimizing their landing pages and websites to improve their use of imagery and calls to action. Those very same principles should be applied earlier in the funnel as well. It’s not a matter of just creating content and blasting it out there. As with advertising and landing page elements, marketers need to take a test-and-learn approach to their content, and they can do so efficiently.
Think about content testing the same way that studios think about TV show pilots. The studio makes one episode and tests it with a small audience screening. At that point, the episode might be taken to a wider audience and ultimately be developed into a full show – or it might be put on the shelf. In short, the studio won’t invest more deeply if the content doesn’t resonate.
In this same vein, marketers have the opportunity to test and learn with their content by posting it on owned properties and monitoring activity based on a smaller audience. The content that resonates (according to the metrics described above) is where marketers should then double-down with their paid efforts, as well as in future content creation initiatives. Done right, marketers should even be able to identify which content tends to influence higher-value purchases among consumers.
In short, there’s no good reason for marketers today to not have a handle on the effectiveness of their content marketing efforts. The metrics are simpler than many think, and the consequences of neglecting attribution in the mid-funnel have wide-ranging implications for optimization efforts across the entire customer journey. It’s time, as an industry, to get serious about measuring return on content.