What Is It?

Content marketing return on investment, or ROI, is a ratio of the return of your content marketing campaign in whatever units are important to you (usually currency), divided by the cost in the same units (again, usually currency). While the units must be uniform in order to create a dimensionless number to draw comparisons, inputs can include other units of measure — like staff hours — that are converted to a currency unit.

It’s pretty simple, so why does it feel so hard? Probably because many times even a successful content marketing campaign is hard to reduce to a currency result. This is particularly true for campaign goals and metrics like brand awareness, sentiment, share of voice, or net promoter score.

It takes time for success in these areas to translate to a clear revenue win. It can be even harder if your developer marketing goal is related more indirectly to revenue, such as getting more developers who influence purchases to build apps with your API or simply join your developer portal.

Why Calculate ROI?

When the outcome seems to depend more on your perspective than a clear “fact,” calculating ROI can seem foolhardy. It’s not. Besides the likelihood that it is probably a requirement to report this out, there are some purely personal, organizational, and professional drivers to motivate a robust ROI calculation.

  • Self Interest. Marketing is a cost center. Cost centers are vulnerable to cuts of all kinds. That is, unless you can prove that your spend led to top line, bottom line, or other benefits.
  • Organizational Interest. It’s important to know how to spend your organization’s marketing dollars wisely. An ROI calculation gives you a dispassionate way to assess what was valuable enough to repeat or further invest in, and what should be abandoned.

Bear in mind, ROI calculations do require assumptions, so treating them as “facts” is a step too far. However, noting assumptions with the conclusions that the calculation points to is helpful to illuminate the next steps.

  • Professional Pride (or Curiosity). I mean, don’t you want to know? Which experiments worked and didn’t? What decisions paid off and why? What did you learn about your process, your assumptions, and your market?

An ROI calculation helps assign a value to your activities, which can aid in drawing conclusions about the strategy and tactics employed in your content marketing campaigns. A little rinse and repeat, and you just improve. And, so do your campaigns.


The details of content marketing campaigns drive exactly what goes into the ROI calculation. The measurement of campaign return places a burden on constructing a campaign that can be tied to a revenue or other currency return. For digital marketing campaigns, this means setting up conversions that are trackable and connected to a currency measure. This can include:

  • Registrations. With a clear picture of the buyer’s journey, you can estimate how many registrations are required to get to one purchase. Assign a currency value to each registration.

You don’t need to know which person purchased, or even if a user directly purchased, just how many registrations occur before a purchase is made. It doesn’t have to be causal

  • Downloads. Whether it is content or an API, the same that is true for registrations is true for downloads. If you don’t have that correlational data, use the current campaign as a way to gather it.
  • Engagement. This can be comments in a developer forum, questions answered or asked in a developer portal, views of a tutorial video, or links clicked in a white paper. Again, use past campaigns if possible to estimate a currency value associated with activities that precede a sale. Alternatively, this is your opportunity to assemble that data.

The inputs can be tracked more easily because you know how much was paid for the elements of your content marketing campaign. What elements should you include? Consider the cost contributions of the following:

  • Content. One way or another, you paid for content. Either it was content as a service, or you covered staff time to create content. Make sure to include all in-house content creation costs including copy editing, technical editing, staff time spent proofreading, and image creation. For internal staff, make sure to include overhead.
  • Distribution. Costs here might include fees to distribute on a particular media site or platform, and your own digital team’s loaded costs for time to code content or design and build landing pages.
  • Promotion. Include the cost of paid campaigns and other costs like preparing creatives.
  • People. If not already included from the above three inputs, estimate the cost of the loaded time for all the people responsible for content creation, production, digital distribution, tracking and promotion campaigns.

Reporting: It’s All in Your Tone

The reporting strategy for your content marketing ROI is as important as the report itself. Construct a report that includes assumptions and hypotheses and how they were tested. Make sure to lead with what was learned, what worked, and what need not be repeated.

Include recommendations for the next campaign. Then, walk the reader through a deeper dive in your data for those interested. Much of your report audience won’t get past the executive summary, so choose the highlights and takeaways carefully.

Crushing It

One can face an ROI calculation with trepidation or enthusiasm, but one way or another, it has to be done. Ground yourself firmly in your professional pride and curiosity, and ask questions about your campaign that help you and your organization improve. Use ROI as a dimensionless tool that helps you gather data, correlate presale activities with sales, and make comparisons that let you turn campaign hits and misfires into future successes.