The Biggest Challenges of Measuring Content Marketing ROI

Taking a new laptop or other treasured purchase out of its packaging feels incredible. That’s why unboxing videos have become a phenomenon on YouTube. Hordes of those types of videos showcase the unwrapping of everything from children’s toys to Casper mattresses. And the videos are getting tons of views.

Opening your shiny new object is a huge payoff to months of research, social media queries, and studies of online reviews. It’s never been easier to research a purchase, and marketers now clamor to make sure you see their name first—in display ads, through paid search, or even in your friend’s Facebook post.

As a result, content marketing—or the content consumers are exposed to as they learn about products—is experiencing huge growth. Paid search and mobile spending continue to grow 25-40% a year as customers search for relevant information including blogs, reviews, videos, whitepapers, apps, and more. All of that is content provided by an ecosystem of companies, experts, aggregators, and even customers themselves.

And though there is some disagreement on the precise definition of content marketing—particularly whether it includes paid media—its impact can’t be denied. In fact, 76% of marketers say they’re spending significantly more this year on content marketing.

With that expense comes heightened expectations and concern around performance. Some 56% of marketers doubt that content marketing has real effect, and only 26% feel they are able to track their content marketing ROI.

So, how do we bridge the gap between budget and bottom line?

By getting a sharp estimate of the sales driven by content marketing to make a reasoned case for funding it. Understanding which content drives sales allows us to shift allocation and boost sales.

If the majority of your marketing and sales happen online, you can use good, free tools like Google Analytics to measure the contribution that different types of digital content make toward driving conversion. Although it’s difficult to track consumers across devices, the results allow a better view of how clicks become online sales.

For those of us with significant offline sales, there are three challenges to assessing content marketing ROI, all of which are addressable.

1. Knowing whether reading reviews lead to purchasing products

For example, determining whether a consumer who reads a product review online is led by the review to purchase in store can be difficult. But marketers can identify digital behaviors that lead to offline sales. For example, a car dealership could use online-scheduled test drives as an indicator of future sales. Keep in mind, however, that content CTAs shouldn’t feel forced or overly “salesy.”

2. Understanding external effects

The second barrier to measuring content ROI is controlling for external effects (like weather or a competitive price increase that drove your sales).

To help understand these factors, Google search volume often provides a helpful proxy measure. For example, sales of an agricultural product spike whenever there is an outbreak of a fungus that attacks wheat. Quantifying and subtracting that sales lift allows for a better read on the effect of content marketing efforts.

3. Separating traditional advertising’s effect from that of content marketing

For marketers spending meaningful amounts of money in more traditional channels, like TV, there is no substitute for a more formal analytical approach. With traditional media, content marketing, and external events affecting sales, analytics companies can create models that isolate the impact of each.

With increased computing power, those models have become more affordable and widespread. Over 60% of advertisers use models to inform marketing allocations.

Adding content marketing impressions to these marketing models can measure its ROI. Just as current models can help us understand whether a print ad helped drive sales more than banner ads, we can measure whether YouTube instructional videos contributed more to sales than banner ads.

* * *

Many people in the research phase of an upcoming purchase would say none of the marketing affects them, attributing the final success of the purchase to their own ingenuity of finding the right information.

However, the statistics for content marketing’s impact don’t lie, and the right tools can quickly get to these truths.

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