If you only go to the coffee shop twice a year, the barista won’t remember your name. That seems obvious, but people often don’t apply the same logic to content ROI (return on investment).

Here’s a regular pattern: A business owner wants to do something to raise his or her profile, generate some new website traffic and find new ways to connect with people. He or she starts blogging or making more regular posts to a social-media account.

But soon the pressures of business pile up and the blog is only updated once a month. Twice-daily Instagram posts become twice weekly. Then they stop altogether.

And suddenly the business owner is back to square one.

The easy excuse: “My content doesn’t work. It’s a waste of time. It’s not effective.”

But the truth is that content creation has a dramatic effect on a business—just not instantly in almost all cases.

Content ROI: You Have to Have Content

I spoke to a business owner a few weeks back, and he asked about the return on investment (ROI) for content. It’s a great question. In the Two-Brain Business model, we encourage everyone to track everything and use data to make decisions.

That’s easy to do with some things, such as ads and staff.

Is this employee generating well more than double his wages in revenue? Did this ad spend result in new clients?

When evaluating content ROI, it’s not always easy to see the results. In some cases—like a lead magnet tied to a mailing list—you can determine if the content generated a large number of leads that became customers. Balance the cost of production and distribution against revenue, and you can determine the monetary value of that piece of content.

For other pieces of content—regular general blog posts, love letters to clients, free gifts to subscribers—the ROI isn’t always measured in money.

For example, a helpful blog post might raise your status in the mind of a potential client, a love letter might result in greater client retention, and a gift might impress a client. General brand awareness, customer satisfaction, and perception of value are more difficult to measure than sales, but they’re very important.

You can find other ways to measure content ROI for things like this—but only if you have content. 

If you don’t produce consistent output, you won’t see any results no matter how hard you look.

A Deeper Look at Content ROI

What’s the power of one isolated blog posted to a seldom-updated site?

Nothing. If you didn’t win the lottery and write the single greatest blog post of all time, a lone post is essentially a waste.

“That nondescript guy wants a cup of tea.”

And what’s the power of a carefully crafted post in a series of posts that offer real solutions to common problems and are all linked to other pieces of great content? What if those pieces of content have calls to action? What if one of the posts becomes a top resource and lands on Google Page 1?

“The wonderful and inspiring Mrs. Jennifer Smith is here for her steaming medium mug of dark-roast coffee, with just a little room for cream. She owns the bakery down the street, and she’s back for the second time today. She always tips well, and sometimes she brings us cookies. I’m heading over to pick up a loaf of her fresh bread at noon.”

Content production is part of building authority. It establishes expertise and improves the reputation of your brand. It also creates relationships. It’s a part of your identity. It makes your website and social-media platforms sticky, rich destinations where people go for info. Then they bounce around, and eventually some find a product or service they’d like to buy.

Can you measure the content ROI of pieces that build your brand?

Yes, but you might not get a dollar value right away.

Building Brand and Authority

An example: if a gym owner regularly posts instructional content, it’s much more likely his or her clients will come to regard the coach as an expert. That increases confidence in the business, and it provides an opportunity to sell personal training and other services.

Expertise isn’t established with just one post, so it might be a while before the owner actually sees a sale. But when he or she does, it’s likely the result of 10 pieces of content, not just one. In marketing, the Rule of Seven suggests potential clients need seven interactions before they’ll take action.

Another example: A nutrition business might send out recipes to a mailing list for months. One night, a person on the mailing list has friends over for dinner and prepares a recipe created by the nutrition business. It’s a hit, and one of the guests asks about the amazing healthy dinner he or she just ate.

What happens next?

That recipe could result in two new clients. Those statistics might not be obvious because the dinner-party guests came to the business essentially through word of mouth created by content. But that doesn’t mean you can’t measure this sort of thing.

You just have to look deeper.

Do this: Ask every new client how he or she heard about the business and log that info. Use it to help find the value of your content and determine what else you should produce. 

In this case, several people said they loved a recipe they tried at a dinner party, and the business owner knows that recipe production is creating clients.

To illustrate content ROI (return on investment), a hand slides an SD card into a monkey-shaped piggy bank.

Your media fills your content bank, and content drives web traffic.

Other Basic Metrics

Despite the fact that content is sometimes several steps removed from actual sales, you can measure its effect as part of a complete brand-building strategy. Here’s how:

1. Overall Web Traffic

If you’re producing a constant stream of content, your library is always growing. Your site might have started with 10 pages of content, and after two years it has 200.

That growth will be reflected in overall website traffic—especially if you’ve carefully created great content that helps people and answers common questions. You’ll see similar growth in social-media followers.

A great content strategy should result in overall increases in website traffic, increased time on web pages, and more clicks from one piece of content to another (lower bounce rates). As your content library grows, you should see more new visitors who hit your site through an ever-more-diverse collection of search terms. And repeat visitors should come back because you’re always posting great stuff.  

Do this: Check your web traffic. Is it increasing every month? If not, are you producing enough content? When you produce more content, does your web traffic increase? When you produce something, are you providing internal links to other related content?

2. Individual Page Traffic

Truly amazing content—your greatest hits—will regularly appear in your top pages every month even if it was posted years ago. This is like writing a hit song and collecting royalties for the rest of your life.

Perhaps that blog on how to clean a barbecue has become a high-ranking page on Google, and every month it’s funneling 500 people to your site.

The content ROI on that barbecue article is incredible, and the post is going to keep doing its job even if you’ve forgotten about it.

In fact, many people forget to find their high-performing pages and then use them to their advantage. For example, one of our clients saw regular traffic to an old post and realized that the page was ranked high in Google—yet the page had links that led to out-of-date content and services.

By adjusting the call to action on that page, the client gave visitors something else to do—something that might result in a conversion.

You can and should track traffic on your site and see if great content is leading people to products and services or encouraging them to join your mailing list.

Do this: On days when you publish new content, see if your web traffic increases. If not, are you promoting that content on social media? Regularly check your top pages for any period of time and see if some old posts are getting a lot of views. If they are, make sure they’re linked to other parts of your site.

3. Social Media Clicks

Standalone social-media content is the stuff you produce solely for Facebook, Instagram and other platforms. Its success is measured in views, likes, comments, shares and responses to your calls to action. I’ve written about how to evaluate social-media content in “Metrics That Really Matter on Instagram.”

But the content on your website needs to be shared on social media as well in an attempt to get people off social media and onto your site. In this case, social media is a signal: It tells your audience that the content exists and gives them a chance to engage with it or share it.

The best possible result: a click from social media to your website, where a person sees your brand, your products, your services.

Do this: Check your social-media stats. Are people clicking through to your website? And check your website stats. Are people coming to your website through social media? If not, consider the kind of content you’re posting, as well as its presentation. If you are seeing incoming traffic, what’s causing it? Find out and create more content in the same vein. 

Start Creating Now, Then Evaluate

Regardless of how you evaluate your content, you have to have content to evaluate.

A half-hearted commitment to content won’t last, and you’d be better off directing your efforts elsewhere.

But a dedicated, carefully planned stream of content is like a snowball rolling downhill. It will gain momentum, and your site will have more authority—a critical element of search-engine optimization (SEO). 

In a recent post on the Two-Brain Business website, Chris Cooper said “advanced content experts” are those who have produced over 500 pieces of content.

Imagine if your website had that much great content. You’d have more web traffic, you’d rank higher in searches, more potential clients would find your knowledge, and your current clients would regard you as an absolute authority. You might even become one of the go-to internet resources in your area of expertise.

But for that to happen, you need to produce content.

If you produce 50 pieces of content a year—about one per week—you’ll have 500 in a decade. A veritable library. You’ll also have a huge web presence and a thriving business. You can accelerate the time frame by producing more faster.

So here’s a metric to measure right now if you’re interested on content ROI:

How many pieces of content have you created this week?