26 October 2022 |

Addressing the elephant in the room: content attribution

By Tracey Wallace

Content marketing attribution is a hot topic because well, marketing attribution in general is a hot topic. 

Attribution is hard. And the plethora of point solutions across the internet all take their “fair share” of attribution credit, making it really difficult to understand exactly what is driving revenue for your company. 

That’s what happened with Facebook and paid media, and why performance marketing and even growth marketing to a large extent were such sought after hires between 2010 and 2020. Then, Apple forced a 7 day attribution window and suddenly, Facebook didn’t look as profitable as it once did for a lot of businesses. 

Now, that doesn’t mean that Facebook advertising is a bad idea. It just means that exactly how much return any business could say was due to Facebook and Facebook alone was inflated––for a very long time. 

It makes business sense why tools like Facebook, and any marketing tool, would inflate their attribution windows. It makes it look like *their* tool drives the most revenue for your business, which means you’ll invest more time and money, and they’ll make more money. 

People do this, too. I remember at one company I worked at, our partner marketing team took credit for nearly all marketing leads that were generated. Their attribution methodology was that anything that involved a partner at all was partner marketing generated. 

For me and my content team, that sucked. Suddenly none of our content leads were counted as “content leads” because we always interviewed at least 1-3 partners. We didn’t want to produce content in a bubble after all, and that ended up biting us back internally. 

As you progress into more leadership roles, understanding attribution and channel diversification will become more and more important. There are several benefits to understanding it well:

  1. You can argue more resources and headcount, and use data to back it up 
  2. You can talk in the language of your VPs and c-suite, who use attribution down to revenue numbers to make a larger portion of their decisions. 
  3. You can poke holes in other people’s strategies, ask better questions, and understand marketing better across all channels. 

In other words, you become a leader faster when these are the numbers you can speak in, measure, report out on, and more. You even protect your team better and build your team faster when you can speak in these numbers, and teach them to do the same. 

The most important one is this: How much revenue does content drive for our organization? 

This is the main question your c-suite will care about, and you need to begin tracking it ASAP. It was back in May that I started adding content download forms to our blogs here at Klaviyo. Today, all of them have a content download form on them––and we’re driving more leads and MQLs through organic content than ever before. 

That’s no accident. 

I knew as soon as I joined the company that I’d soon be asked how much revenue content generated for the business—and that without lead generation I’d have no way to answer it. 

That’s because there are two types of attribution for content:

  • Content direct: This is revenue generated directly by content, in which a lead downloaded content on their own accord (usually first touch attribution here) and later became a customer. Content drove this lead. 
  • Content assist: This is revenue generated by activity outside of content say, sales or the paid media team. This can be through first-touch or last-touch attribution models. But, content played a role in converting this lead––either they downloaded content after sales reached out, or the paid media team used a downloadable asset in a campaign. These are all content assists. 

Now, typically at a B2B organization, your content assist revenue is going to be much higher than your content direct revenue––but it’s far harder to measure. 

That’s because lots of folks are fighting for that revenue metric, because most other organizations in marketing and sales have to prove their value via revenue. This is how the c-suite speaks, and how a lot of organizations keep their jobs. 

It’s also because a content assist looks at a multi-touch attribution model, and those are finicky at best––and completely unreliable at worst. 

Don’t start here with content attribution.

Start with content direct revenue. You’ll need gated assets to do this. Here’s how:

  • Build a Google spreadsheet that measures traffic to your blog
  • Build content download forms to drop on your blog, or webinars, or whatever it is that your company has that is valuable to offer and can get folks to exchange their email. 
  • Track net new leads to your system via content downloads. 
    • What is the conversion rate from sessions > content download? This is something to call out in report outs to your boss.
  • Be sure you deliver an automated email to those folks that gives them the content they wanted. Then, build a lead > MQL nurture stream that works to try and convert that lead into whatever your company defines as an MQL. We’ll cover this and other acronyms in a moment. 
  • Measure how many of your content leads turn into MQLs each month. 
    • Is this higher or lower than overall lead > MQL conversion rates? This is something to call out in report outs to your boss. 

Now, technically, you could stop here. And depending on the CRM tool your company uses, and how advanced (or not) your marketing funnel is, you should. Because from here, you should be able to get general conversion rate metrics from your marketing team on how well the average MQL converts to a closed won opportunity, and what the average MRR or ARR or just revenue is, too. 

Those generalizations can be applied to your MQLs, too, and you can easily back into directional content revenue generated based on how many MQLs you generate. 

For instance, say you drive 300 MQLs per month. And on average, your company closed 15% of all MQLs at about an average of $200 MRR. That’s directionally 45 closed won accounts, which means your team is driving roughly $9,000 MRR. 

That’s a pretty dang good start. 

But, if you’re like me, you’ll also want to see if content has a material impact on lead quality, the sales cycle, and overall revenue. 

For instance, maybe on average MQLs close at a 15% rate at $200 MRR, but maybe for your organic channel those averages change to 30% and $500 MRR. And trust me, different channels like organic, paid, direct, social, etc––they all have their own close rate averages. 

Content will be the same. And you can’t boast about your numbers and earn more resources to do more great work NOR can you uncover what isn’t working and fix your content machine until you have a baseline of what your content is doing behind the scenes. 

So, you want to connect content directly to revenue. This can be hard at a lot of organizations, even impossible. If you are using a tool like Hubspot or Salesforce as CRMs, though, it should be possible. You likely just need to find the right folks on your team who can help you set it up. 

All right, so you’re tracking MQLs your content has directly generated already. Now, let’s go deeper. Typically, the lifecycle stages are laid out like this (This is how Hubspot as a CRM tool does it):

  • Subscriber: a contact that has opted in to hear more from you by signing up for your blog or newsletter.
  • Lead: a contact or company that has converted on your website or through some other interaction with your organization beyond a subscription sign up.
  • Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL): a contact or company that your marketing team has qualified as ready for the sales team.
  • Sales Qualified Lead (SQL): a contact or company that your sales team has qualified as a potential customer. This stage often includes sub-stages that the sales team works within. 
  • Opportunity: a contact or company that is associated with a deal (e.g., they’re involved in a potential deal with your organization).
  • Customer: a contact or company with at least one closed deal.
  • Evangelist: a customer that has advocated for your organization.

You should be able to track your content leads all the way through the funnel––and understand how folks who download content progress through each stage, at which rates, and how that compares to other channels. 

Now, keep in mind, content isn’t a channel. It’s an asset. Your content numbers are likely included in the direct and organic channels already. The point isn’t to turn content into another channel, but to report on its effectiveness to move leads through the funnel–ideally quicker than they would move without it, and at a higher close rate (suggesting you’ve increased trust and educated them on your company’s value throughout the process). 

Now, you’ll need to work with someone on your team who understands your CRM and can help you set up a report so you can track these numbers and begin reporting out on them. Marketing leaders at smaller start-ups should be able to do that for you. At larger start-ups and companies, there is typically a marketing operations person or team, or a lifecycle marketing person, or a data analyst who can help. 

If none of those folks exist, tap your paid marketing person. Performance teams typically have to report on how paid is driving revenue, and need to build even more in depth dashboards, using similar (but more disparate) data. They should be able to help or point you in the right direction. 

But, I will say, you don’t even need to go as deep as understanding conversion rate through all of these stages. What you really want is this:

  • Blog sessions > content lead (download)
  • Lead > MQL
  • MQL > Customer
  • Total customer spend / MQLs to get average customer spend by content direct MQL 
  • Total customer spend / content leads to get average customer spend by content direct lead 
  • Total customer spend / blog or content sessions to get average customer spend by content direct sessions

Now, you know how much money every session to your site generates for your brand. And even better, you know this number conservatively. That is to say that because you are not taking content assists into this, and because content assist typically make up the majority of a content programs revenue generation, the numbers you present for how much revenue content is generating the company are conservative at best. 

This is typically enough to gauge your success on, build OKRs off of, and build a case for more headcount or resources if that is what you want. Directional data like this tells a powerful story, and far too many content organizations don’t use it to tell theirs.