How to Think About SEO and Content Marketing ROI

Content Marketing Agency Tips and Best Practices

At a recent SEO conference I attended, a marketer started his presentation by confessing that his firm had published over 1,600 articles in six years as part of an SEO program but that more than half of that published content had averaged less than 500 page views per article.

He was very disappointed in these results.

But, to my way of thinking, many people might be very happy with these results. 

It got me thinking about ROI on Content and where folks go astray when they contemplate whether an SEO or content marketing program is working.

What’s the PPC Equivalent for This Poor-Performing SEO Content?

Think about the economics on this. The speaker’s company was publishing on average more than one new article per workday, so this SEO program was clearly an important strategic initiative. Did this content marketing and SEO campaign deliver good results or was it a failure?

OK, let’s just say we value the creation of a single article at $200.

If you ask many people “How much does it cost to create a single page of website content?” I think you’ll find that $200 is a reasonable estimate of the cost for one page of website content. Sure you could pay much more for longer, higher quality content or you could pay less for shorter content. But, for this quick analysis, let’s roll with $200 for the average cost for a website article. In this case, it equates to paying a full-time content writer about $40,000 per year pre-benefits, which seems somewhat reasonable.

So, for the 800 “poor performer” articles that averaged less than 500 page views (let’s assume for this analysis that they averaged 250 page views), we are talking about a cost of $160,000 to get 200,000 page views.

Looking at it from a pay-per-click (PPC) perspective, it’s the equivalent of paying $0.80 per click to drive somebody to a page on your website. Many PPC programs end up spending more money per click than $0.80, so I think the point here is that even the poorest-performing content from this SEO program was relatively cost-efficient.

This is even more likely when you take into account that each page of good SEO content you add to a website drives traffic not only to that new website page but it also increases the likelihood that other pages on the site will receive increased organic SEO traffic. (This is because large authority sites get a lot of respect from Google and other search engines, so the more good content you add, the better. In fact, many SEO experts argue that there is no such thing as a point of diminishing returns in the SEO business.)

Your ROI on SEO Content

Of course, while it’s interesting to compare the costs of SEO versus the costs of PPC, you really should look at your ROI on Content.

If you pay $200 to create a new website content page, your goal should be to generate more than $200 in business profits from that effort.

Notice that I said profit, not revenues. As a quick aside, I hear people say “We spent $100,000 on that marketing program, but we got $200,000 in incremental new closed business from it. So it paid off for us in a big way.” Wrong. If your profit margin for your business is only 20% then that $200,000 in incremental revenues only generated $40,000 in profit. So, in this case, you spent $100,000 and got back $40,000, which means you just lost $60,000 of company money. Had you just burned a big pile of 600 $100 dollar bills in front of the building, you’d have made the exact same contribution to your company. Key takeaway here: always calculate digital marketing ROI on profits, not on revenues.

So, while this conference speaker, the one who told us about why it was so bad that he didn’t get many page views for half his content, was very disappointed in results, it didn’t seem to me like he was giving us the full story on his content marketing ROI.

What to Do When Half Your Content Doesn’t Do Well

When half your content is not doing well, it might be tempting to say: “Let’s not make content like that bottom half anymore.”

Yes, there are ways to improve your content marketing outputs.

But wait. If half your content doesn’t do as well as the other half, this is not a brilliant discovery. Whenever you sort a list using a performance metric, the bottom half of the list will do worse than the top half of the list on average, assuming they don’t all perform exactly the same.

Basic math aside, the bigger problem here is that you cannot predict which new SEO or content marketing pages will do well. (Keep this on the down-low, but as much as we think we know our audiences, we marketers are often completely surprised by what works and what doesn’t work.)

Let me repeat: it’s very difficult to predict which outputs from your content marketing and SEO programs will be big contributors to your organizational objectives.

Amplify Your Good Stuff

And this is where the conference speaker and I finally found some common ground.

Given that we cannot predict content ROI a priori, his main recommendation was to constantly monitor which of your content pages was performing well for you and back your winners.

Whether you measure this by ROI or by page views, you need to track your best-performing website content. When you have an emerging winner, use content amplification and content promotion tricks to put the pedal to the metal and accelerate.

In the speaker’s example, he paid $250 for social ads to promote one high-performing website article and received over 1,500 shares and 100,000 page views. Remember my $0.80 PPC-equivalent calculation above? In this social advertising example, the PPC equivalent for one click is just one quarter of a penny! Wow.

In short, this particular speaker decide that his past approach of trying to promote every new piece of content equally was flawed. He shifted budget away from promoting every new article and started only promoting his best content. Once he did this, his SEO and content results went through the roof!

Keep Your Eye on Your Content ROI

If you leave this article on content marketing ROI with one takeaway, it’s that you can never “set it and forget it” with an SEO or content marketing program.

Good digital marketing professionals and good digital marketing agencies like ours are constantly looking at metrics and identifying ways to accelerate getting into positive ROI territority.

To do that, you have to constantly sort out what’s working well. Then, see a) if you can replicate that success, and b) if you can invest smartly to amplify and accelerate that success. When you see an emerging winner, give it what it needs to be orders of magnitude more successful.

In other words, whatever you do, don’t treat all of your content alike and view it in aggregate. Don’t get into crank-out-content mode and lose track of performance against goals. That’s what the digital marketing rookies do, and you are way better than them, aren’t you? Absolutely.

Need a fresh look at your company’s approach to digital strategy, SEO strategy and/or content marketing strategy? Get in touch with Walker Sands and let’s start the conversation.

Have thoughts or questions on SEO ROI or content marketing ROI? We’d love to hear them. Leave a comment below. Thanks.

Ken Gaebler founded Walker Sands as a full-service marketing firm back in 2002 with the goal of creating an exceptional ..read more

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