Content Marketing, 2014-06-August-REVS-COST.jpg"How do we measure the return on our content investment?

This question made a lot of sense 4-5 years ago. What we today call “big data” was in its infantile stages. Data collection was robust, but costs were high and usability was poor. Expenditures related to content were roughly 3 to 4 percent of marketing budgets and users weren’t used to the idea of companies producing content. Simply put, most of us didn’t really want or care to measure the results. The ability, desire and necessity of measuring content value just wasn’t there.

With content marketing expenditures increasing to approximately 30 to 40 percent of corporate marketing budgets, content marketing initiatives need to be grounded in repeatable and informative data structures. In short, as the budgets grow, so does the need for attribution and accountability.

Understanding how to assign attribution and accountability is where things get tricky. However, it doesn’t get tricky in the way most might think.

Return is Tangible, Cost is Not

If your content is on the web, you can measure how effective it is. Developing robust KPIs can be challenging, but consultants and agencies have teams of professionals to help make sense of it all. It turns out measuring return is tangible. It is the investment that can be difficult to measure.

Most companies know the resources they’ve devoted to content marketing. It’s generally a line item in a budget. But that shows how much money your organization is spending on content, it doesn’t tell anything about how successful a particular piece of content is. It tells you if your content efforts have succeeded or failed but offers very little insight into how to course correct or grow. Beyond that, keeping track of where that content is reused both inside and outside of your ecosystem can get very messy.

Normalization is the Key

Unlike content marketing as a whole, most individual pieces of content aren’t a line item on a budget. Instead of knowing how much money you spend producing a piece of content, you want a consistent and normalized measurement of the production effort.

The formula

(Quantitative) + (Qualitative) = Value
(Resource) / (Reuse) = Investment
Value / Investment = ROI

  • Value: Start by grading your content against qualitative best practices. Is it comprehensive, accurate, discoverable and on brand? If you follow best practice, your content is more likely to return better results. Then measure quantitatively. Getting to the right balance of KPIs like conversion, influence or engagement is tricky, but today the formulas are consistent and proven. Instead of using those numbers to assess value, use those numbers to determine a grading value that uses the same scale you used for your qualitative measurement.
  • Investment: Standardizing investment measurements vary from organization to organization but most simply, they should measure resources and attributable costs by equating them to a level of difficulty. If you have ever gone through any agile user story sizing exercises it is very similar. In fact, you can use that very same measurement to assess production capabilities and efficiencies. If you understand the effort it takes to produce content not only can you determine success, you can quantify resources.

It is important to make a distinction between reuse and reach. Writing a blog post and tweeting about it isn’t reuse. It is merely a method for increasing reach.

Reuse is a change of format. “The Language of Content Strategy” is a great example of this. The book is an exercise in XML based content production. The idea behind it was to create a book, a blog and a deck of cards from a single piece of content. If you ever get to hear co-author Scott Abel speak about the project, it is very entertaining. We would give that content initiative a top score for reuse. Essentially for just about the same cost as writing a book, they were able to produce three artifacts. That is reuse. Remember when measuring reuse to grade it not count it. Have you noticed a theme?

Value and Accuracy Takes Time

Since the attribution model compares content value across a particular team or organization, the valuable insight can only be achieved once you understand your highest value content and your lowest value content. Then you have something to compare future content efforts against.


When you first start measuring, look for significant fluctuations or anomalies. Is there something strange about the content, the production process or the measurement technique? Over time, the attribution model will achieve normalcy, the production process will become clearer and the difference between high and low ROI will become apparent. Over time, the effect on the customer becomes significant.

Title image by Jake Dobkin (Flickr) via a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license