Maximizing Your Content Marketing ROI
Having worked with startups for over a decade, I’ve seen people try a lot of creative things in content marketing. The truth is, content marketing is partly creative, but it’s a lot more methodical than most people realize.
In 2022, I gave a webinar to some of our 100 clients at Draft.dev about maximizing the return from your content marketing efforts. In this piece, I’ll share the content marketing framework I outlined there maximizing your ROI over the long term.
While most of our clients at Draft.dev are developer tools companies, these tips are relevant in other contexts as well, so I hope this helps you as you attempt to get the most from your content marketing this year.
Framework for Maximizing Content Marketing ROI
Marketing is more science than art. While there is certainly some creativity in it, the highest performing content marketing teams tend to be analytical and data-driven in their approach. This four-part framework offers you a set of repeatable processes that you can bank on to drive predictable results.
1. Defining Success
To have a successful content strategy, you need to define what success looks like.
One of the first questions we always ask our new clients is what are their goals for their content and these are some of the responses we hear most often:
- Garner 10,000 page views in the next quarter or so
- Rank among the top three results for five of their 50 target keywords
- Generate 500 qualified leads a month
- Answer 20 support tickets a month with content
- Create collateral that helps close “X” new sales deals a month
All of these are good, specific goals that will tell the kind of content you need and, with a few follow-ups, allow me to gauge the strength of your funnel.
But they’re also very different goals and it’s impossible to chase all of them at once without a massive budget and team behind it. If you’re a smaller company or startup, you probably don’t have those kinds of resources and you have to prioritize the goals that will help you most at this point in your journey.
One way to prioritize them is by estimating their payback period. For instance, generating page views is great for awareness but, generally, views don’t translate into sales immediately.
Content is a long-term effort that typically takes 12-24 months to drive revenue. If you want quicker ROI, consider content like sales collateral that helps convert leads into customers.
In general, the fewer goals you have at a time, the easier it is to track and hit them. This is not to say, however, that you can’t get inventive with your goals. I once had a client, a series A startup, tell me that they simply wanted to own every keyword in their niche. This was what they needed to showcase progress during their next funding round.
As long as you have a goal in mind, you can justify (or not) the ROI on it. Without one, you can cycle through as many agencies or marketing initiatives as you want, but you’re just flying blind.
2. Design a Content Plan
The next step is to take your goals and design a plan for the pieces of content you write. Most of our clients tend to have a goal in mind (ex: page views) and they come to us for content planning and creation.
Typically, we’ll ask them questions around where in the funnel they’re trying to drive conversions. This tells us what kind of content is likely a better fit for you.
As a rough rule-of-thumb, the higher up the funnel your prospects are, the cheaper it is to produce content for them and the greater the payback period for that content.
Thought leadership pieces are a chance for your company to give its take on where the industry is heading and key trends within your space. These are best suited to the awareness stage of the funnel.
They aren’t very good at triggering purchases, but they can be powerful assets that help drive interest in the brand, shareability, and backlinks. What’s more, you only have to create a few of them to get good results.
Pieces based on keyword research are another way to build awareness for your brand or product. For instance, if your product is a better version of SQLite, but nobody knows what it’s called, you could go ahead and write really good content around how to use SQLite and plug your tool at the end.
Your target keywords ideally have to be a mix of high-volume, high-intent, and low-competition search terms.
Keyword-optimized content helps drive page views and improve your domain authority. It also gives you an opportunity to showcase industry knowledge and push along prospects at the consideration stage of the funnel.
This is similar to keyword research, but a little less predictable. By going out to places like StackOverflow, Reddit, different Slack groups, and other community forums, you can glean insights from the discussions happening there.
This is a great way to discover new content ideas and real-world problems that nobody else is writing about. Community research helps improve audience consideration for your brand, especially around topics that aren’t being addressed by other companies.
This is any kind of content that helps your sales or marketing teams close deals. It targets prospects who are at the bottom of your sales funnel (e.g. people who’ve completed a free trial of your product) and gets them to purchase your tool.
A good example of sales collateral is something like an integration guide or tutorial for your product and other frameworks.
This can help an engineer go from “this seems cool” to “this might actually work for me.” It can also help eliminate resistance from engineering stakeholders when the primary buyer is the IT head or a business lead.
Sales collateral works pretty much opposite to the way thought leadership and keyword content does. It’ll help you close deals but won’t bring in any new traffic. This is why good content strategy involves a mix of different content-types for different situations.
Augmentative documentation also targets the bottom of the funnel and is very similar to sales collateral, but more in-depth. A good example of this is a step-by-step guide that demonstrates how a product might work in practice.
For instance, if you have a code coverage tool that integrates with different CI/CD platforms, languages, and frameworks and you need to show the integrations between these things, building out a detailed tutorial can help you do that.
This kind of content lets engineers test out your product for themselves before they buy into it or maybe even discover it as they’re researching related frameworks and tools.
Bear in mind that the kind of content you produce, the reach you want to achieve, and the budget you have to commit are all related. Reaching more senior business leaders at a high volume is extremely hard. On the other hand, reaching a high volume of junior staffers with content can be relatively cheap because there’s a greater search volume for junior-level keywords and junior-level content is much cheaper to create.
3. Publishing and Promoting Your Content
A lot of clients tend to underestimate this bit. The amount of time spent and resources spent publishing and promoting your content can be difficult to nail down.
There are three main channels to publish and promote your content:
- Social media and email newsletters
- Community forums and blogs
- Search engines
The channel you use has to be in line with the stage of the funnel you’re at. Public channels like Twitter, Reddit, LinkedIn, and Hacker News are naturally more top-of-funnel and offer broader reach.
On the other hand, if you’re sending out content as DMs, support responses, or Slack messages in your community, it’s usually aiming towards the bottom of the funnel.
The first step is to create a checklist of where each piece needs to be published and how. Once you have the checklist in place, it’s a good idea to delegate the rote work of actually publishing and promoting it to a junior member of the team or even a freelancer.
You can also put some money behind it, either by promoting a piece on social media, running ads to a piece, syndicating it, paying for backlinks to it, or contributing to a newsletter, depending on your budget.
It’s worth noting that there are plenty of ways to organically get backlinks without a cold outreach to various webmasters, such as contributing to HARO or via guest posts.
And finally, don’t be afraid to repromote a piece on your personal and company social media channels every so often. Social media algorithms often limit the organic reach of a post to a certain percentage of your followers. Reposting it can help you reach a wider audience every time you do it.
4. Tracking and Iterating
If you want to maximize ROI on your content, you have to a) track your current ROI and b) iterate profitable practices.
Here is how some of our clients track their ROI.
A long-form piece of keyword-based content can cost you around $2,000 to produce. Let’s be generous and say it brings you 100 email signups, 3% of which convert to paying customers. You know from your internal data that the customer lifetime value (CLV) for your SaaS product is $1,000, bringing the lifetime value of that piece of content to $3,000. This means that your ROI for that piece is $1,000.
Now there are plenty of caveats here in that you could run paid ads to it or spend time refreshing it, both of which will carry additional costs and revenue. But if this is how it shakes out, you can do content all day long.
The only catch is that it takes a while to build up enough content and data to get you these numbers. And if you’re on a funding cycle and have to demonstrate results in six months or so, it’s a good idea to be flexible in how you target your prospects, such as via sales collateral and BoFu content.
Let’s say your sales team has 10 leads stuck at a certain technical question that your team doesn’t know how to answer and they’d like content around it. You create a piece of sales collateral which solves that query for 30% of the prospects, who in turn become customers. At a CLV of $1,000, the lifetime value of that sales collateral is now $3,000 and your ROI $1,000.
The difference is, it’s a lot faster to prove content ROI like this than if you’re using keyword-based, ToFu content that your leads will take time to discover
There are a few different tools you can use to track result metrics. Google Analytics and Search Console are two that you should absolutely have installed. Other essential ones include an email capture tool like Mailchimp, a CRM tool like HubSpot or Salesforce, and a social scheduling tool like Buffer or Sprout Social.
Other add-on tools that can help include keyword ideation tools like Ahrefs and Semrush and user behavior analytics tools like Hotjar.
Finally, you need to update your content to improve its performance over time. Typically, developer-oriented content starts to get out of date within two or three years and by five years, it’s practically useless in most cases.
Keeping it relevant can mean either refreshing it to add in new keywords and information or even completely rewriting it if you want to keep ranking for a particular keyword.
You can also pay attention to the tactics that have helped you rank for certain keywords and then ideate topics in a similar way to repeat that success. I’d recommend reviewing your published content on a quarterly basis to see what needs to be revised, repromoted, and so on.
Yes, content marketing can take a while to start showing a return. But if you are consistent and use an established framework, that ROI is practically guaranteed.
I’d love to hear what you think. Find me on Twitter to continue the conversation.
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