How to Fix Your Broken Content Marketing ROI

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How to Fix Your Broken Content Marketing ROI

It’s the secret fear of every marketer: You’ll sink thousands of dollars into this content marketing thing… and see no results.

Or there’s an even scarier scenario: You have already sunk thousands of dollars into this content marketing thing. You’re not seeing any results.


Before you start seeing red, finish this article. What looks like negative ROI for content marketing can often be turned around. And if your content really is not pulling its weight, there are several easy fixes.

Want to get an in-depth explanation for how to calculate, measure and fix content marketing ROI? Get a free copy of our ebook, ROI or RIP: The Lean Content Marketing Handbook for SMBs. There’s a vault of tested ideas in there from 15 major content marketing experts. It’s like getting thousands of dollars in free consulting, available whenever you are.

What is ROI?

First thing we have to do is to lay down some definitions. Fortunately, all we really need is one: ROI.

ROI – as you probably know – stands for Return on Investment. It’s a calculation used by financial people to determine if you’re getting as much out of an activity as you’re putting into it. Calculating ROI is basically about distilling your work and everything your work generates down to dollars and cents.

This is how ROI is calculated:

ROI = (return – investment) / investment

“Return” refers to what you earn from your efforts. In ROI calculations, return is measured only in dollars and cents, not in Twitter followers or email subscribers or anything else.

“Investment” refers to the value of your time while you do your work plus the overhead of your business. I’m calling “overhead” everything from advertising costs to keeping the lights on.

How do you quantify marketing results?

The first problem you’ll to run into with ROI calculations is how to figure out the value of the “return”. It can be especially hard to assign a dollar value to social media assets. For example: What is a Twitter follower worth to you? What would you actually pay to get a new email subscriber? To answer those questions, and to quantify all your other efforts, you’re going to need four things:

  1. Accurate tracking systems

  2. An agreed-upon value for all your results

  3. A detailed understanding of your sales funnel

  4. An inventory of all your content and all your content marketing tasks

Content audits

This kind of analysis is done so often for content marketing that there’s a term for it. It’s called a “content audit”. A content audit is similar to an SEO audit, and there’s actually a lot of overlap between the two. But while an SEO audit only looks at how your content is doing in the search engine rankings, a content audit goes several steps further.

Content audits look at SEO rankings, social media presence, website usage, sales funnels and personas. Then they review how effectively each one of those areas is generating ROI. If you’re not sure your content is actually getting you results, a content audit is the best place to start. It’s a time-tested way to figure out what’s working and what’s not working in a content marketing program.

Some companies do a thorough content audit every year. It takes them anywhere from one day to two weeks to complete the audit, depending on how detailed a job they want to do. You don’t need to go for the two-week version unless you’ve got a large and very complex content marketing program. But it might be a good idea to give you and your team 3-4 full days to finish a content audit, especially if you haven’t done one in the last year.

If you’re lucky, the fix for your broken content marketing ROI will be crystal clear after you’ve done your content audit. Hopefully, you’ll also have time to do one of the most critical parts of a content audit, which is creating a plan for how to apply what you’ve learned. Until then, you won’t really be in a much better position.

Don’t forget the call to action

Sometimes companies will complete a content audit, clean up their tracking and sales funnels, but still miss a major success factor for content marketing ROI. They’ll forget about the calls to action.

It’s critical to add a call to action to every single piece of content you create. You want to move your reader (or visitor, or watcher, or attendee) along to the next step in the sales cycle. The whole point of content marketing is to move the prospect toward buying. That’s why we’re creating all this content, instead of doing old-school advertising.

If you ever took a marketing course, flash back to AIDA: Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action. That old model still applies to content marketing. While you’re doing your content audit, take some time to view all your content assets through the lens of AIDA. Ask yourself: “Does this piece of content move the buyer forward?” If the answer is no, the odds are very high you’ve also just discovered some content that’s not delivering on its ROI.

Use your content audit to make hard choices with confidence

It’s good to discover what’s not working, but it’s even better to have the confidence to cut what’s not working. Then take the freed-up time and money you had been using on those loser tactics and apply them to what’s really generating ROI.

This is one of the best outcomes of a content audit. Once you have confidence in your tracking and you know you’re valuing small results correctly, it’s way easier to kill what’s not working.

As marketers, we love to hear about best practices. Our default setting is to follow them. That’s good – until you’ve tried those practices, done your tracking work, and know for sure those “best practices” just aren’t your best practices. To simply keep doing things because “you’re supposed to” is a sure recipe for bad content marketing ROI. So use what you learn from your analysis, and be confident in the decisions you make from it.

Two examples of how to fix content marketing ROI

To give you a clearer, more concrete idea of how all these ideas might play out, let’s take a look at two examples.

  • A small B2B design firm

  • An online sports gear retailer

The design firm

This company’s biggest problems are tracking phone calls and tracking progress through a sales cycle that is sometimes several years long. The design firm has an active website with a blog that is updated twice a week. They send direct mail pieces and email updates. They have active social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, SlideShare, and Pinterest.

Their marketing manager is not sure the blog is pulling its weight. Each full-time designer is required to write one post every month. For some designers, it takes them nearly a day’s work to write the post. Their billable hours for that day could be earning the firm $600. But the manager also realizes the blog helps SEO rankings and it creates good content for the email updates. The blog also lets them present themselves as thought leaders, which definitely helped to land a major account earlier this year.

Because it’s hard to track phone calls, much less which content marketing work actually impresses clients, the manager fundamentally has a both a tracking problem, and a problem with calculating the value of each element of content. Are the blog posts worth $600 of a designer’s time? Is anyone more likely to hire the firm after they’ve seen the direct mail pieces?

To reduce the content marketing overhead, and thus increase the content marketing ROI for the firm, the manager needs to answer these questions:

  • Could the blog be cut back to twice a month or once a month, and still have the design firm maintain its image as a thought leader?

  • Have any of the direct mail pieces ever directly resulted in a new account?

  • Of the last ten new accounts they got, how did those clients find them?

  • What information did those new clients see that helped them choose the firm?

  • What kind of results would it take to justify bringing senior staff to a major upcoming design conference?

The sports retailer

This company has an easier time with tracking than the design firm does. They do get phone calls, but only about 5% of their orders come in via the phone. They also don’t have a multi-year sales cycle. From what their data shows, it usually takes three months or less for someone to see enough of their content to buy.

The sports retailer’s biggest problem is getting more of its social media followers to become buyers. The staff is great on social media and loves making YouTube videos. This work does generate a ton of exposure for the company, and they think they’re at least breaking even on it. But for all the traffic they get, the actual dollar results are disappointing.

This marketing manager needs to figure out some ways to boost the calls to action so more viewers turn into buyers. They also want to try to convert more of their Facebook fans into email subscribers, because they know an email subscriber is worth seven times more than a fan.

The trouble is, there is no extra budget, so both of those efforts are going to have to come out of their social media budget. The marketing manager has to figure out a way to take some resources away from social media while still preserving sales. Which specific tactics should she cut?


Hopefully that’s enough to frame out the idea of ROI for you, and to give you some concrete examples of what you could do to improve your company’s content marketing ROI. It is admittedly a big topic for one blog post. If you want to know more details, do check out ROI or RIP. We also published another report on content curation ROI that might help you incorporate more curation into your content marketing. It’s a great way to reduce some of your overhead costs.

Are you happy with your content marketing ROI? What’s worked for you in terms of improving it? How about leaving us some of your insights in the comments.

If you want to get 30 effective techniques to master content marketing along with valuable insights from 10+ influencers like Mark Schaefer, Rebecca Lieb, Lee Odden, Jason Miller or Ian Cleary, download our free eBook now!

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About the Author

Pam Neely
Pam Neely has been marketing online for 17 years. She's a serial entrepreneur and an avid email and content marketing enthusiast with a background in publishing and journalism, including a New York Press Award. Her book "50 Ways to Build Your Email Marketing List" is available on Pam holds a Master's Degree in Direct and Interactive Marketing from New York University. Follow her on Twitter @pamellaneely.
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