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How long does it really take for content marketing to work?

By |Last Updated: December 16, 2020|7 min read|

By far the most common question we hear from prospective clients is, “Does content marketing really work?”

We get it. In the fast-changing digital landscape, it can feel like you need quick results in order to keep up and stay competitive. In that sense, the initial stages of content marketing can be frustrating. Your content may be awesome, your personas and goals well-defined, and your keywords well-researched — but you still may not see the results you want immediately.

But that doesn’t mean content marketing doesn’t work. It just means that content marketing takes time to work.

So exactly how long does it take for content marketing to work?

While the actual amount of time will depend on your individual business and circumstances, for a small to medium-sized business, a strong content marketing strategy generally takes between six and nine months to yield real results.

What are strong results for content marketing?

A content marketing strategy isn’t effective if it isn’t delivering the results you want. That’s why you need to be able to critically evaluate your content’s performance using concrete, measurable standards.

We recommend setting goals using the S.M.A.R.T. framework: Specific, Measurable, Attainable/Actionable, Relevant, Timely.

But what metrics would indicate that your business is staying competitive?

You could start by using industry standards for reference — but industry standards may not account for variance between individual companies. For instance, a huge and well-established brand would have a very different definition of success from a freshly minted startup.

Ultimately, you want to work towards achieving S.M.A.R.T. goals that make sense for your brand. To do this, work backwards from a key business goal to determine

Here’s a step-by-step example of how you might set S.M.A.R.T. goals based on your company’s revenue needs:

  1. Identify how much revenue you’d like your content marketing to generate. Let’s say you need to make $120,000 in the upcoming quarter — within 3 months.

  2. Calculate how many sales you need to hit your revenue goals. If your average sale is $10,000, then you need 12 sales — or four sales per month.

  3. Use your conversion rate to determine how many sales-qualified leads (SQLs) you need. If 10% of your SQLs will convert into paying customers, then you need 120 SQLs — 40 per month.
  4. Determine how many marketing-qualified leads (MQLs) you need. If 50% of your MQLs will eventually convert into SQLs, then you need 240 MQLs — 80 per month.

  5. Figure out how many leads you need in general. Keep in mind that anyone who converts on one of your offers counts as a lead, meaning that not all of your leads will be qualified. For this example, let’s say that you’d need 600 leads, or 200 per month, in order to eventually generate 80 MQLs per month.

  6. Work out how much traffic your site needs. If your visitor-to-lead conversion rate is 2.5%, then you’ll need 24,000 visitors per quarter — 8,000 per month — in order to reach your revenue goals.

Once you’ve broken down the process, you can begin building your content strategy around each metric.

Note that overall revenue is just one possible goal that your business could pursue. You can adjust the list to meet other critical goals as well; examples may include:

  • Driving three additional sales through email marketing
  • Increasing downloads of a high-converting content offer by 50%
  • Hiring five more employees to grow your business
  • Ranking #1 for a difficult but important keyword

Why does it take so long for content marketing to work?

Whether you’re just starting out or want to double down on generating high growth rates, you’ll first need to focus on building a strong foundation for your content marketing efforts.

The ultimate goal of content marketing is to generate high organic search volume. But quite simply, your readership numbers won’t change overnight.

Looking for a more detailed explanation of why? We love this video by Matt Cutts, a one-time top Google software engineer:

The short version is that Google (and other search engines) keeps an index of website pages. It catalogs this information by sending bots to crawl through the internet every so often.

So when you search for a particular keyword on Google, you’re really searching Google’s index of site pages — not every one that’s ever existed. And the Google algorithm, which determines what pages to recommend first, relies on over 250 factors including SEO, domain age, keyword competition, and content quality.

In short, the Google algorithm favors more established websites that have been consistently publishing reliable content.

That’s why it can take six to nine months before your content strategy will really start paying dividends by generating a sustainable increase in organic traffic.

What can I do to boost my content marketing in the meantime?

While you’re patiently biding your time and waiting for your results to kick in, here are six steps you can take to lay that foundation for long-term success.

1. Build your buyer personas

Your product can’t appeal to everyone — but there’s always going to be someone out there who needs what you have to offer.

To maximize your ROI, direct your marketing spend toward these prospects. Check out our best tips on how to make your buyer personas work for you.

2. Identify what makes you unique

No matter what industry you’re in, chances are you’re facing strong competition in the market. To stand out, you need to understand and capitalize on why people want to buy from you by crafting a strong mission statement.

3. Create strong content

Sure, you can create a lot of low-quality content in a very short amount of time — but crappy content doesn’t generate leads. To turn your website into a lead-generating machine, you need to commit your resources to crafting content that’s actually fresh and useful.

4. Implement lead-nurturing workflows

Most people who are visiting your website for the first time won’t be ready to buy yet — but that doesn’t mean they won’t be ready to buy eventually. Until then, keep building trust with your leads.

The best way to do that is with automated lead-nurturing workflows that drive leads through your marketing funnel with little effort from you day to day. For more details and campaign ideas, take a peek at our blog series on lead nurturing.

5. Track your performance

Once you’ve set your buyer personas and goals, you also need to come up with a way to track those metrics. To keep it simple, consider using an automated marketing platform like HubSpot — it’ll let you store your ideas and monitor your performance in one accessible, centralized location. (Sprk’d can help you with the onboarding and training process!)

6. Increase your reach

You might be producing the best content in the world, but what’s the point if nobody knows about it? In addition to content creation, you need to be actively promoting your content.

Don’t just rely on organic search either (optimizing for SEO and focusing on hot-button issues) — you can also leverage platforms like social media, email marketing, and content syndication.

Trust the content marketing process

Content marketing is a little bit like dating. The first time you go on a date, you’re not making any commitments upfront — you’re simply deciding if you’re interested in meeting the other person again.

Before committing to an actual relationship, you’ll want to take your time to build trust with the other person first. Likewise, it takes time for your content to begin gaining traction on search engines, and for your brand to develop a stronger standing among actual users.

Remember, content marketing is not a one-time fad. It might be thrilling to see an immediate spike in traffic, but that won’t necessarily lead to long-term growth. Content marketing is a business-long practice designed to drive sustainable results.

Interested in finding out how content marketing can transform your business?

We love hearing from people who are passionate about their work and their community — contact us now to learn more about the Foundation Formula™, a four-week deep dive into what really makes your business tick!

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