As more budget flows toward content marketing (12% of budgets on average according to a 2012 study by Ad Age), inevitable questions have arisen about its value and how to measure impact.
The good news is that plenty of data and metrics exist. The bad news is that marketers are already awash in data and often suffer from too much noise, not enough signal. Careful planning can help ensure that measurement is meaningful and provides insights for decision making.
Here are three things to consider as you create a measurement plan for your content marketing initiatives:
1. Where Are You Measuring?
Will you measure at the program level, the content level, or both? If you are being asked for an ROI number, measuring at the program level makes sense and is fairly straightforward.
Measuring the ROI of a blog, for example, can be done by calculating the investment (number of hours multiplied by an hourly cost that includes overhead, plus costs for design, hosting, etc.) and comparing it to return (50 leads generated per month multiplied by lead conversion rate, average lifetime value and average profit margin).
However, if you want to understand which content types, topics, authors, or formats to focus on, or if you want to measure financial impact of different types of content, you will need a more granular analysis of each piece of content you create. Measuring at this level is decidedly more complicated.
The first step is to create a system for organizing content, including a content identification number, tracking tags, and descriptive tags such as content topic, content type or format, author and/or other criteria that will help you pinpoint the magic formula.
Keep in mind that there is a limit to the number of records an Excel sheet can hold, so if you are creating a significant amount of content, you will need a database.
2. What Counts As “Content”?
Let’s say you write a blog post. Then you tweet it out. Is the tweet a distinct piece of content? Or is the blog post the only piece of content?
This is only one example of the difficulties inherent in defining “content,” and there is no right or wrong way to do it. The point is that how you define content will impact what and how you measure, the data sources required, and in some cases, the way metrics are defined.
Using the example of status updates versus pages, let’s take a closer look:
– Status Updates (example: a tweet or a Facebook post): Engagement and exposure metrics can be tracked via social channel data; many social media management systems also provide this type of data.
Keep in mind, however, that the exposure and engagement metrics used for a status update are not defined in a way that is consistent with metrics used for pages.
Conversions (leads and even transactions) generated by individual status updates can also be tracked through Google Analytics, provided that you use a URL with campaign parameters (example of source/medium/campaign) and a call to action in the update.
– Pages (example: a blog post): Visits, conversions, and engagement metrics such as time spent can be tracked through Web analytics programs.
Some data about page sharing is available through Google Analytics (however, this data is incomplete since Facebook and Twitter sharing are not covered).
If you are using a sophisticated CRM or marketing automation solution, you may be able to track which content was consumed by prospects and customers across multiple touch-points. (Note: Be sure to clarify how data is collected in whatever system you are using. Measurement is never perfect, but you should at least understand where the holes are.)
It is possible to group status updates with the content those updates link to (much like a Google AdWords group) for measurement purposes. This can only be done if there is a link from the status update to content that exists on an owned media property.
In order to create groups like this, you must use URLs with UTM parameters (example: www.example.com?utm_source=yahoo&utm_medium=link&utm_campaign=FathersDay). Free tool: URL tracker/manager
3. What Is Your Content Supposed To Do?
If you have a structured content marketing plan that outlines who each piece of content is designed for and what it is supposed to do, creating an effective measurement plan is a much easier task.
For example, your content marketing plan might include a group of content items such as a “How To” Ebook designed to create awareness among prospects in the early phases of consideration. Goals for this type of content might include:
- Exposure for the brand or product
- Sharing and engagement (which creates additional exposure)
- Conversion to an email subscription or event (for future nurturing of a prospect who may become a lead someday).
Awareness content is doing its job when it accomplishes these goals, so measuring mentions of the Ebook, retweets, reach of the Facebook post about the Ebook, and soft conversions sourced to the Ebook are appropriate metrics.
Other types of content call for a different set of metrics. For example, content designed for prospects who are in the preference or purchase stage will likely require measuring the hard conversions generated by that content (for example, a demo request or a price quote).
The important thing to remember is to stay focused on the goal of the content and the measurement plan will flow naturally from there. Once you have this laid out, you can create a realistic plan to use the data you can get and to get the data you don’t have.
Of course, perfect measurement is not possible. For example, you will not be able to fully capture the reach of an infographic that was shared across multiple social platforms.
And this leads to the last (and perhaps most important) consideration: What is your tolerance (or the the tolerance of the person you will be presenting your data to) for imperfection? If low, you may want to stick to numbers that are more defensible, even if these numbers don’t fully make a compelling case for the value of content.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.