One of the most common questions we hear at Sprk’d is, “How do I know if my content marketing strategy is successful?”
To which I will always reply, “How do you define success?”
When you’re running a business, it’s easy to get caught up in the neverending stress of needing customers and revenue now. And it’s even easier to get frustrated at a strategy like content marketing, what with its reputation for not generating immediate results.
But that doesn’t mean you should be waiting indefinitely for your content marketing to deliver. And it definitely doesn’t mean you can’t track your strategic performance at all.
In this post, I’ll address your deepest concerns about whether content marketing even works — and what you can do to ensure you’re on track to meet your goals.
What is content marketing?
First off, because I’ve seen various definitions of content marketing making the rounds, I’d like to make sure we’re all on the same page about what the term really means.
According to Hubspot, “Content marketing is a strategic marketing and business process focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience, and ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”
This is different from inbound marketing, which refers to a complete methodology of earning your customers’ attention without interrupting their user experience. As such, inbound can involve non-content tactics like website design and event marketing.
Basically, content marketing is an essential part of all inbound marketing — but not all inbound marketing is content marketing. At Sprk’d, we offer content creation packages tailored to the specific needs of your business.
Are your goals S.M.A.R.T.?
You can measure your strategy’s success by whether you’ve met your business goals.
And I don’t mean vague goals like “make more money!” or “get all the customers!” (If your business made $1 more than it did last year, it technically made more money, but would you really consider that successful?)
Set better goals by using the S.M.A.R.T. framework:
- Specific: What do you have to do? Who’s involved? What constraints might you face?
- “Grow our list of email contacts”
- “Generate qualified leads”
- Measurable: Can you quantify your return on investment? What specific criteria do you have to meet? Ideally, you should provide a number, a percentage, or a measurement against a preexisting benchmark.
- “Grow our list of email contacts by 100 people”
- “Generate 50% more qualified leads”
- Attainable/Actionable: How are you going to achieve this goal? What specific tasks/actions do you need to do? Further, this action must be within your company’s capacity to do — for example, if your company employs only 5 people, producing 10 pieces of premium content a month is simply unrealistic.
- “To grow our list of email contacts, we will create a new piece of premium content every month.”
- “To generate more qualified leads, we will craft a 4-step lead nurturing email campaign.”
- Relevant: Your goal must address a core priority for your business. For instance, growing your list of email contacts doesn’t make sense if you aren’t planning any email marketing campaigns.
- Timely: When do you expect to meet your goal? No matter what, your goal cannot continue indefinitely — it needs a deadline.
- “Grow our list of email contacts by 100 people by the end of August.”
- “Generate 50% more qualified leads every month, for the next three months.”
By consistently setting S.M.A.R.T. goals, you’ll be able to establish reasonable expectations for what you should be achieving, how you should be achieving it, and when it should be achieved by — all key factors in evaluating whether your content marketing strategy is moving your business in the right direction.
Still, you may be wondering what timeline to use when setting S.M.A.R.T. goals. Specifically, when will your content marketing strategy see a return on investment?
How long does it take for content marketing to work?
This is, understandably, the most frequently asked question in our industry. Usually, what people really want to know is: Is it worthwhile to invest time and resources in content marketing? (Spoiler alert: Yes, it is.)
Depending on the industry you’re in and the campaigns you’re running, your timeline may vary. But generally speaking, it can take six months to a year for your content to gain long-term momentum.
Your results may ebb and flow initially. But your business is (hopefully!) in it for the long haul, so your marketing strategy should be a long-term practice too! In order for your content marketing strategy to be sustainable, you have to build a strong foundation first.
So don’t get distracted by immediate spikes in traffic — and, conversely, don’t be discouraged if you see a drop in traffic. During the first few months, you simply won’t have enough data to conclusively determine the success of your overall strategy. Make minor adjustments to individual campaigns as needed, but stay on course with your content output.
No matter what, to drive strong content marketing results, you need a clear strategy and consistent execution. Within a year, you should be able to see a general upward trend.
6 ways to give your content a short-term boost
Still, there’s something to be said for instant gratification. If you’re looking for quick wins, here are six things you can do for a shot in the arm.
1. Syndicate your content on reputable platforms
Publishing your content on an industry website with strong reach and credibility will boost your authority, qualified traffic, and relevant inbound links.
Most websites will not accept directly self-promotional content, but you can still use the byline to show off your expertise in your industry. Include a call-to-action to check out more of your work, and readers who found your content helpful may take the initiative to click through.
2. Launch an email campaign
If you have a strong email contact list, this is a great opportunity to continue nurturing a relationship with people who are already engaged with what you have to offer. Presumably, people gave you their email addresses because they want your updates, making them a ready audience for your latest piece of content!
3. Use targeted paid ads
Using tools like Google AdWords or social media, which allow you to define your target audience, you can reach more people who fit your buyer persona profiles. Better yet, these ads are usually pay-per-click, meaning that you’re paying for only qualified traffic — and you’ll also get to set the budget for each campaign.
4. Reach out directly to your sources
When creating your content, did you cite the work of a major thought leader? People are usually flattered to be referenced, which means it’s worth reaching out directly to your sources — email them directly, or tag them on their favorite social platforms to get their attention. You may get a traffic bump when they share!
5. Share with a relevant community
Many communities now have public social media groups where like-minded individuals can congregate. If your content addresses the needs and interests of a particular group, share it on their page.
An etiquette note, though: It’s bad manners to carpet bomb these groups with your content — particularly if you haven’t been active in the community before promoting yourself. It’s called social media, after all… not my personal free advertising media.
6. Build legitimate links
Many content creators don’t take the time to ensure their older content is up-to-date. Find relevant resource posts and outdated articles containing broken links, and email the creators to let them know — and of course, suggest your post as a replacement! Many people will be grateful for the heads-up, and the inbound link will boost your SEO.
While it’s important to get the word out about your content in the short run, the most effective content marketing strategies are ultimately focused on generating long-term results. Refining your content distribution efforts goes hand-in-hand with consistently producing useful content — don’t neglect one for the other.
The best content marketing strategies are built on a solid foundation. Get started with the Sprk’d Foundation Formula™ — a month-long deep dive into your business goals to set you up for future success.