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What is the ROI of content marketing: Is it worth my time?

10 mins read

Marketing ROI is complex but proving the ROI of content marketing is even more complicated. 

As such, 65% of marketers admit they can’t quantitatively demonstrate the impact of their marketing, which isn’t all that surprising as 43% of them don’t even attempt to measure it. Yet, according to the same study, higher-performing marketers measure content performance more often as 67% of high performers measure content regularly while only 23% of the least successful have their sights set on metrics.

So, even though working out content marketing ROI isn’t easy, it’s worth doing. If you track what works, you know what works and you can do more of it. Simple. 

Plus, with a third of our marketing budget spent on content, on average, there’s a lot at stake when it comes to proving content ROI. That’s why we’ve put our heart and soul into writing a monster blog post that covers everything from the golden ROI formula you’ll need to the other important things to consider. 

Key takeaways

  • Content marketing ROI demonstrates how much revenue is gained from content marketing activities. 

  • In an ideal world, all content teams would track ROI as it provides a direct link between content creation and revenue, appeasing bosses and helping to form best practices. 

  • To calculate content marketing ROI as a percentage, use the golden ROI formula (or our Conversion Calculator at the bottom of this blog post). 

  • Your ROI percentage is a great overview but other metrics will help to add context, explaining your big wins and greatest challenges in more detail. Yet, marketers should never underestimate information overload and only pick a handful of metrics to measure for a given piece of content or campaign. 

  • Content marketing ROI is complex and a lot of data slips through our fingers. Conversions don’t always happen directly in a non-linear journey and other, intangible benefits like brand perception and authority will help push results in the long run. 

  • Although ROI is tricky to definitively measure, we do have some hold over it being able to control our content creation costs and undying focus on conversion. Content managers need to consider ways to make creation more cost-effective as well as ways to implement strategy, reason and logic to create high-converting content. 

What is the ROI of content marketing? How to measure content marketing ROI and why it’s worth it

What is it?

Content marketing ROI is how much revenue you gain from content marketing activities. Like calculating any other form of ROI, we want to see what’s left over when we minus all the costs involved. Here’s hoping that there is something left as this is what we call a return. If there is nothing left, or worse yet, there’s less than what you started with, this is a sure sign to switch some things around.

Why’s it important? 

ROI is important as it provides a direct link between content creation and revenue, often acting as the final push for executive buy-in. Basically, if you can prove that your blog, email, video or social campaign pushes profits—you’re in. 

Aside from impressing your boss and buttering up your colleagues, ROI is important because it allows us to evaluate our processes and form new best practices

Taking the time to analyse how profitable our content efforts are can help us to realise shortcuts, prioritise the most lucrative content formats and improve our insider knowledge of what works for our audience. 

For department managers, calculating ROI can also be helpful for crafting team KPIs and understanding how particular content departments are performing. 

How to do it

On the face of it, calculating content marketing ROI is easy. 

You need to account for the costs it takes to create and promote content versus how much your company makes from it. 

Just because content is made in-house, doesn’t mean it's “free”. When we calculate content costs, we need to think of the labour costs of hiring and paying a content writer, a videographer, a social media marketer or whoever else is involved in creating content. 

Importantly, you also need to factor in how much it costs to promote a piece of content. So, if you spend time sending it out in an e-shot, sharing it on your social profiles or sticking some advertising dollars behind it, you’ll need to also make this a part of the equation. 

All of this is better explained as a formula. The golden ROI formula, as we like to call it. To see content marketing ROI as a percentage, do the following: 

Return - Investment / Investment (x100) 

As an example, if you spend £400 creating a content campaign, £300 promoting it and make £2,000 as a result, your ROI is 185%. That’s quite a tidy return on investment. Here’s how we worked it out: 

2,000 (Return) - £700 (Investment) = 1,300 

1,300 / 700 (Investment) =  1.85 

1.85 x 100 = 185

This formula will give you a definitive, big-picture answer about ROI. However, there are many other content marketing metrics to consider to gauge how your campaign or specific pieces of content are performing. Some of these include: 

  • Avg. time on page
  • Unique visitors
  • Bounce rate
  • Page views
  • Traffic sources
  • Engagement rate
  • Conversion rate 

Each metric provides a different insight, whether that’s proving how effective it is at making people click the call to action or how useful it is to the reader, causing them to digest the entire thing.

Rather than using a formula to view these, hop into Google Analytics instead. Navigating your site’s dashboard is easy and will instantly spit out the right results, so long as you’ve set it up correctly. 

Top tip: Use data parameters on Google Analytics to see if your content is performing well over time and proving to be a constant source of revenue. Marketers who only track metrics monthly or to another rigid parameter may miss their total revenue that comes from a piece of content. 

Playing around with Google Analytics is fun and provides valuable insights to your organisation. That said, you don’t have to measure every metric. Instead, just pick a group of metrics that make sense for that project. 

Metrics should provide some context for your overall ROI percentage. They shouldn’t be something that you obsess over and end up getting bogged down by. 

At Digital 22, we know some pieces of content like quick explainers are better to skim read while other, more technical texts take some time to mull over. That’s why we never directly compare client to client avg. time on page because, for some, this isn’t as relevant as others. The same goes for all other metrics. 

Even the most important metric in most marketers' eyes—conversion rate—yields different benchmarks for different industries. After all, it’s easy to make someone click on a free tool or download. It isn’t so easy to get the right person to book a sales call, schedule a demo or something similar. 

Is ROI all that matters? Considering the intangible and long-term benefits of content

The convoluted world of content and how it seems to change site to site leads to the question: is ROI all that matters? 

And the answer is just as intricate. 

Content is a long, winding, non-linear journey that isn’t so easy to measure. Sure, working out your total ROI will give you a good indication of how well your writing is being received but it doesn’t account for indirect conversions that are almost impossible to track. 

Customers do convert—but we don’t catch the data

In Google Analytics, you’re able to see data for a single session, seeing if a visitor is converted in the Behaviour tab. However, this doesn’t account for people who read your content, take a break and revisit only to convert later.

This conversion is still a result of content—but the data doesn’t prove it. 

Think about it. How often have you visited a website, a social page or cast your eyes over some other form of content, only to think about it for a few days before eventually taking the plunge? Probably very often. 

According to Google, 53% of shoppers always conduct research before buying to make sure they make the best possible choice. Other research cites major purchases are dwelled over for an average of 79 days, meaning shoppers take more than two months bobbing and weaving between different websites before they commit. 

So, it isn’t impossible to think that many of our sales happen outside of a single session. 

Customers do convert—but not on that piece of content

It might also be the case that some content pieces aren’t necessarily designed to force users to make a decision. Isn’t this the whole point of inbound marketing? Writing with an inbound approach means segmenting content into different stages―awareness, consideration and decision—to match the user’s emotional state depending on where they’re at in the buyer’s journey.

We’d expect a decision piece of content to convert. But an awareness piece of content? Not so much. 

Awareness and even consideration content catches customers in their early stages. They’re just not ready to buy yet and they might decide that they never will be. These users might spend seconds on the page before clicking on a hyperlink, a button on our website header or let’s face it, they might just navigate somewhere entirely different on the internet. And that’s cool. 

Top tip: If you’re not already familiar with writing content according to the user journey, conduct an audit of existing content first. This way, you’ll know which category most of your content sits in and which type of content you need to create more of. 

Expert content creators now create content in clusters, all focusing on the same topic. Known as topic clusters (what else?), this way of grouping content is the next evolution of SEO. Writing specific, shorter pieces of content that all point to a pillar page helps you to rank for different variations of keywords and become the ultimate authority on a topic. But this strategy has real benefit for buyers too. 

Topic clusters let buyers browse topics (and related products and services) at leisure, with no pressure to buy right now or buy from us even. Yet, in giving users this sense of freedom, they often end up choosing us, at some point down the line. 

For this reason, content is a long game and one that’s hard to track using data.

That’s why other metrics like bounce rate or pages per session can help to demystify user behaviour, proving that at the very least, our short and sweet content is keeping customers on our site. 

You can also track where visitors are coming from on high-performing content pages using Google Analytics. It might be the case that a low converting content piece is useful after all, directing users to a page that pushes them over the edge. 

To find this out, head to Google Analytics and review referral traffic by navigating from the landing page report to Secondary Dimension and click through to Acquisition > Source/Medium. This filter will show pages your visitors originated from, gleaning insight into whether your awareness content is serving its intended purpose and contributing to revenue after all.  

Although this sounds easy enough, the skill of master reporting is knowing when and what to check. You’ll need to have a clear strategy behind content and an incline of its greater purpose, as well as a deep understanding of Google Analytics and other data tools (Databox, HubSpot’s analytics dashboard and others included). 

Customers do convert—but as a result of earned media

Perhaps the hardest part of calculating ROI is understanding earned media. Earned media (publicity you’ve gained as a direct result of content) is compelling to customers, showing other organisations and individuals endorse you. 

The piece of content combined with a recommendation is a powerful way to get users to convert.

However, it’s hard to know when someone is singing our praises. 

Checking tools like Buzzsumo to see if content has been shared on social media is a start. But you can also check the number of backlinks a piece has gained using a tool like Moz’s Link Explorer

Getting picked up by Google, in theory, is also a form of earned media (and is often a result of earned media too, with the more links in your neighbourhood, the more chance your content will win). 

And who better to advocate your answer than the oracle itself? Checking your position in search (using something like Semrush’s position tracking tool), seeing if you’ve won featured snippets or appeared in answer boxes are great ways of explaining why you’re hitting so much traffic and how your brand is performing overall as a thought leader, all thanks to its content. 

Harder yet, is understanding how content is shared and perceived offline. 

To do so, marketing and sales teams may need to put their differences aside, remove silos and conduct manual research organising events like customer focus groups. How many of them received a word of mouth recommendation? Did they receive a link to a blog post from a friend?

Top tip: You can review the impact of brand content and brand recall ability through tools like Brand Lift surveys that ask online users to recall your brand’s advertising amongst other competitors. 

More and more tools are being developed to help you measure the impact of your content. We’ve seen this recently in social listening where tools can track when a brand name is mentioned online. 

Yet, there's no clear way, no content marketing ROI for dummies, no step-by-step guide to measuring content performance. Proving content marketing ROI can and can’t be done, depending on how you look at it. 

To some, ROI is all that matters, usually those holding the purse strings. To others, ROI helps but it isn’t the be-all and end-all of understanding content. 

How to make sure you see a return on your content marketing investment. Is it worth my time? 

Whether you’re laser-focused on that ROI figure or you’re more relaxed about its role in the wider content ecosystem, it’s still important to understand how you can make content creation most effective. 

As we know from the content marketing ROI formula, cost and conversion are the key things that sway the final sum. Lowering content costs and keeping conversion at the forefront, is a simple way to guarantee good ROI. 

Use experienced writers

Using seasoned writers, whether in-house, freelance or at an agency will help to keep ROI in reach. Why? Even though more experience equals more expensive, it’s often cheaper to hire an expert in the long run. Not only will they write faster but their work will be of better quality, requiring less time spent fixing errors and less embarrassment if content goes out prior to polishing. 

Using experienced writers lowers costs by keeping content creation effective. It also prioritises conversion by trusting content will be compelling, follow best practice and never cause visitors to turn off as a result of silly errors and spelling mistakes. 

Top tip: Using a project management system with in-built time tracking like Accelo can help teams forecast content creation time and work out an average task length. In doing this, you can set expectations for content cost. 

Have a content strategy 

Without a strategy, content pieces are castaways floating in unknown waters. The time (and therefore, cost spent creating them) is in vain as they rarely get any human or automated attention. As a result, they can’t convert as there’s no one there to click the button. 

As we mentioned earlier in this blog post, topic clusters are a surefire way to put a content plan together and make sure your content can sit alongside friends and find ready and willing readers. 

Embrace automation, templates and tools

To protect the cost of creating content—no matter who you employ—automation, templates and tools allow us to save valuable time, shaving off precious minutes and seconds before we get to publish. 

So, go wild with social media scheduling tools, Canva branding and building blogs in helpful editors like HubSpot so that you can have tidy templates ready to go. Say yes to Grammarly (there’s a reason why they seem to appear everywhere you look. Give in to other tools like headline analysers, Hemingwayapp and Clearscope.  

These “quick fixes” and speedy shortcuts won’t make your content look cheap or uncared for either. If anything, they’ll boost conversion by making everything look cohesive, grammatically correct and professional. 

Repurpose existing content

We all have that one piece of super long content that we’re endlessly proud of. For us, it’s our inbound marketing resource. But that doesn’t mean we have to babysit it and never share its value outside of its four walls. Instead, spread the knowledge packed within the piece in other shorter segments. Write follow-on blogs, emails and social media posts. You could even make engaging videos

In doing this, content creation is quicker and more cost-effective. There’s no research time involved. From a conversion perspective, it makes sense to repurpose the content you’re proud of as you know it already performs well. 

By keeping cost and conversion in mind, you can regain some control over ROI, even if the whole thing seems like an image out of focus. 

Remember, there is such a thing as getting lost in the numbers and experiencing information overload and it’s what puts so many marketers off the idea of measuring performance in the first place. So, keep the key elements of the golden ROI formula in your mind and use tools to help lighten the load. 

To start, find out your ROI as a percentage without doing any of the mental maths. Click the link below to use our Conversion Calculator.