“Show Me the Content Marketing ROI!”

Content marketing is getting more respect these days, but it still often faces an uphill battle in the board room or the C-suite. Many don’t perceive it as being capable of delivering the same kind of tangible return on investment (ROI) that other media initiatives can.

I’m bullish on content marketing because I know it works both for SEO as well as for building reputation by delivering the content via other channels like email, social etc. But I also know that content marketing sometimes needs defending. So here’s what I tell people who ask me to “show me the content marketing ROI”:

Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day

There’s no question that it takes time and money to assemble a body of content sufficient to be “interest-bearing” in terms of generating leads, traffic, or other behavior desired by the business. Successful content marketing empires accrue their value over time.

How much time should be allocated to accomplish this goal? I’d venture a minimum of six months to one year. How much money? Such a figure depends on your ability to staff, hire, recruit, or crowdsource sufficient suitable content. You can keep costs down by intelligently repurposing everything you create, but you’ll still have to pay somebody to create the content you will be serving out.

How much content will you need to accumulate to reach “critical mass”? While there are no benchmarks I’m aware of that specify a threshold, I would offer that 50 articles (with unique URLs) is a reasonable goal. Many successful B2Bs may get fewer than 100 visitors a day, but if they make the most of these visits, their lead flow can begin to generate sufficient income to begin turning a cost into a profit center.

PR Matters

Content marketing can give you a voice and a “pulpit” (or at least a soapbox) to frame your vision of the world. Publishing a regular flow of thoughtful, helpful content shows the public that you’re a thinker and a helper.

Publishing interesting content also matters to the press, which scans Twitter and other social media for story ideas, and has long used the Web to source “authorities” to comment on current events. Becoming visible as an online subject matter in your own community will increase the chances of major media pickup. Content marketing is no substitute for a good PR agency who can place your message before millions. But it can multiply the positive effects of any existing PR or media outreach effort you have in place.

Storytelling Matters

Never before has there been such a range of choices to convey stories and ideas. Blog articles, SlideShare presentations, videos, podcasts, e-books, infographics, and webinars can be highly effective, and relatively inexpensive to produce. Telling your story well means thinking about the “native” possibilities resident in each form of Web media.

Producing effective Web media content gives you an opportunity to create an emotional – as well as intellectual – bond with your target audience. Managing the production of content (which is typically a highly collaborative process) has been made much easier due to the advent of cloud-based editorial management tools.

The Long Tail Matters

Most content you produce won’t “go viral,” but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t serve an important purpose: driving traffic, over time, from searchers searching not on page one of Google, but on page three or five.

Such traffic is low-volume, but can be very high-quality (after all, these people wouldn’t be on page three if they weren’t passionately interested in a topic (or perhaps being paid to research one). My team regularly sees qualified leads drop in from articles that we had thought had “dropped off the radar screen” (or at least the primary Google SERPs) long ago. Such “long tail” traffic is low in volume, but sometimes very high in quality.

Crafting “evergreen” articles catering to this kind of long-tail search behavior can provide a steady flow of relevant, targeted traffic over time.

Don’t ignore the long tail; it matters.

Audience Intelligence Matters

Nobody sells content marketing projects as “audience research projects,” but maybe they should. You can develop keen insights by studying the way different audience segments or personas interact with pieces of content you create. Such insights can be plugged back into the editorial process. If they’re truly eye-opening (for example, suggesting a hitherto ignored marketing segment that could be catered to), they can even lead to new products, campaigns, ads, and branding concepts.

How much are you paying now for audience research? While traditional methods are still important, content marketing –used with analytics – can drive real innovation at a comparatively low cost.

In the new SEO landscape, you need great content not only to promote it in an attempt to get it ranking well in the SERPS, but also because it builds the reputation of your domain as a whole.

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