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I was making the transition from journalism to marketing, my first big
epiphany came from a caveman cartoon. The cartoon was in Moz co-founder
Rand Fishkin’s Slideshare on Why Content Marketing Fails, which has over 6 million views and does a fantastic job illustrating why many companies struggle with content marketing ROI:
Some marketers expect content revenue to have a linear path. You make
content, people click on it, and then—BOOM—they immediately buy
something or fill out a demo request form. After all, if our search ads
work that way, shouldn’t content work that way too?
It doesn’t, but that’s not a bad thing. Content is all about building
trust and loyalty with people so that when they’re ready to buy
something, you’re their first choice—driving continuous demand and
making the sales process much easier.
This is why we invest so much of our marketing budget in content at
Contently. The vast majority of people don’t just read an article like
this and request a demo. But they do come back and read something a few
days later, then sign up for our newsletter or attend a webinar. When
the time is right, they request a demo to learn how we can help.
While content conversion doesn’t follow a linear pathway, you can chart these stages to tie your content to revenue.
I’ve found it’s easiest to tackle content marketing ROI when you
chunk it into three stages. The best place to start is at the upper half
of the funnel, where you can map how your audience turns into
1. Audience growth
At this stage, you’re trying to make a damn good impression on your
target audience in hopes of converting them to the next stage. You want
to build awareness, trust, and an overall positive brand sentiment
through helpful, entertaining content.
Most marketers are comfortable with the key metrics at this
stage—they’re the ones Google Analytics shows you default: unique
visitors, return visitors, time on site, pages/sessions, and scroll
depth. Social metrics—shares, comments, likes—come into play here too.
We’ll talk about how to maximize audience growth in a bit, but some
content marketers tend to stop here. That’s a mistake because if you
want to drive revenue from your content, you need to inspire people to
take an action.
To drive more action, you want a strong SEO strategy that’ll bring in
the right type of readers. For instance, we focus on ranking for
keywords like “best content marketing platforms,” “how to write a white
paper,” “enterprise content marketing,” “content marketing for banks,”
and “b2b content marketing funnel.” These keywords are likely to attract
people who are good customer fits for Contently.
You also shouldn’t be afraid to use paid distribution to reach more
folks who fit your ideal customer profile. It’s a great way to grow the
top of your content marketing funnel. It’s getting more effective, too,
since paid content distribution costs are down 34 percent since March.
2. Content leads
A lot of marketers call anyone who downloads their e-book or attends a
webinar a “lead,” but I find that misleading—particularly to your sales
team. Just because someone downloads an e-book doesn’t mean they’re
ready for a sales call. It’d be like if you downloaded Tinder and
immediately got a passive aggressive voicemail from a wedding planner.
These things take time.
I prefer to call these folks a “content conversion” or “content
lead.” They’ve taken an action that’ll allow us to build a deeper
relationship with them. Trust doesn’t magically build after one article.
But if someone starts reading your newsletter every week, or attending
hour-long webinars, or takes an educational course you made, that person
is much more likely to become your customer in the future.
Your job is to make it as easy as possible for people to convert into
content leads. Give them a few different options. For instance, we’ll
offer free content resources each week on a blue bar across the top of
our blog. Right below it, there’s a sticky button to subscribe to our
Once a month, we’ll also target each visitor with a prompt to sign up for our newsletter using Sumo, which converts at almost a 3 percent rate.
We also include a content offer unit on the right rail. We’re a tech
company, so we don’t need to sell ads, but we can still put that white
space to good use.
If you want a B2C example, Marriott does a great job of using smart UX on its popular travel mag, Marriott Bonvoy Traveler, to maximize conversions.
(Disclosure: Marriott is a Contently customer.)
Here, you want to track both the number of content conversions as
well as the rate your visitors convert to one of your content offers.
Google Analytics conversion goals are a great tool to do this. (Check
out Andy Crestodina’s guide for more.) And you need to properly nurturing content leads through a marketing automation platform until they become sales-ready leads.
3. Sales-ready leads
Next, you want to nurture your content leads until they become
sales-ready. What is a sales-ready lead? Someone who’s raised their hand
and asked to learn more about your product, usually by filling out a
form on your website.
At this stage, you want to nurture your content leads with a drip
campaign of relevant content. If someone signed up for a webinar on
content marketing ROI, follow up with additional articles, case studies,
and product videos that cover the topic. Feel free to include a
call-to-action to talk to sales. You want to make it easy to convert—but
only after you’ve delivered valuable content.
Once those leads hit sales, you can drive a massive amount of
additional ROI through a strong sales enablement strategy. That’s the
topic of a whole other blog post, which you can read here.
To tie content to revenue, track your conversion rates at each of
these three stages and map how content flows downstream until someone
becomes a sales-ready lead.
Say we drive 100,000 unique visitors at the audience growth stage.
Based on our conversion goals, we know that 1 percent will sign up for a
webinar or another content offer, while another 2-3 percent will sign
up for our newsletter. This translates to 1,000 webinar sign-ups and
2,000 newsletter sign-ups.
Next, via our marketing automation platform, we look at the rate at
which our webinar attendees and newsletter subscribers convert to demo
requests. Our model shows that for every 100,000 visitors to our blog,
we’ll generate 80 demo requests.
Then, to get all the way to revenue, you just need to understand how
much each sales-ready lead is worth to your business. Say that your
average deal size is $100,000, and each lead converts to a sale at a 5
percent rate. In that scenario, each demo request adds $5,000 in
weighted pipeline, and those 80 demo requests are worth $400,000 to your
The great news about content marketing is that when it’s done well, you’ll see compounding returns over time.
Most marketing is fleeting. Spend $500 on ads today, and you’ll have
to spend again tomorrow to see the same results. But spend $500 on a
piece of great content today and it will drive continuous traffic and
leads for free—by ranking well for search, getting shared on social,
engaging website visitors, and increasing newsletter engagement.
As I wrote last month, this phenomenon is called the compounding returns of content.
Even as your monthly investment in content remains flat, the results
will compound over time. And if your content marketing funnel is set up
correctly, that audience growth will translate into sales.
There’s never been a better time to build your audience. Engagement
with branded content is up 16 percent right now, and people are eager
for insights and thought leadership that will help them overcome new
challenges and do their jobs better.
Help them overcome those challenges while following the guidelines here, and you’ll build a content marketing machine that’ll deliver compounding revenue for years to come.
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