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Content ROI examples: How to nail your reporting strategy with HubSpot
This article is an intervention. Whether you realize it or not, most of us digital marketers have been reporting content ROI with HubSpot the completely wrong way. (I did, too.) This is the first article in an ongoing series.
Editor-in-Chief, Speaker, Host of 'Content Lab' Podcast
August 28th, 2020
Earlier this week, I had an epiphany.
I was sitting at my desk, drinking pumpkin spice-spiked coffee in my aggressively air conditioned living room (now makeshift home office) with a "pumpkin festival" candle lit. As I clutched my mug in my hands, I desperately pretended that was not a sweltering day August, but rather a chilly day in late October.
Let a girl dream, OK?
The day prior, I had been chit-chatting with Jordan Benjamin — an all-around good guy, in addition to being a HubSpotter. Periodically, he and I like to catch up, talk shop (and talk beer).
I showed him some examples of the different types of reporting I like to do as IMPACT's editorial director, we walked through different parts of the reporting tool I had questions about, and so on.
Then, at some point, I said the following:
"I find it funny that we always strongly advise everyone who has HubSpot Marketing Hub to understand that the tool is not your strategy. It's a tool to implement a strategy you develop independently, outside of the platform.
You can't look to HubSpot to tell you what you should blog about, how often you should send emails, or what actions and/or content should be contained within a workflow. That's not the purpose of HubSpot.
But, when it comes to reporting, all bets are off. Most people just open up the tool, tinker around with the data available in the various standard reports, let their eyes glaze over at the custom reports, and allow 'data Jesus take the wheel.' Yeah, we have some idea of what we should be looking for, but there is no strategy — we just dive right in.
In fact, I'd wager it's the one part of the tool where people think they don't need one, which I totally understand. I'm not sure anyone has a good handle on what reporting is really supposed to look like anyway."
So, there I was, sitting at my desk, right? Unabashed seasonal creep beverage in-hand, mentally replaying this little conversation I couldn't let go of.
Then it dawned on me that I was right. And that's a huge problem.
When it comes to content ROI reporting, many of us don't know what we're doing
Much like the building of a nebulous, ambiguous, "what it looks like depends on who you ask" content strategy, the act of reporting is an absolutely essential act most of us digital marketers, content managers, and other various marketing leaders have as a core responsibility.
We have a few critical problems, though, that we all need to admit out loud:
We don't know what success looks like with reporting, other than other people thinking we're not screw-ups and our strategies are actually working.
Heck, we don't even know what our reports are supposed to look like. Should it be a spreadsheet? A PowerPoint presentation no one will read?
...or how often we should be running and delivering reports. Weekly? Monthly? Hourly? By the minute?
...or what data points we should include in reports to show that yes, beyond the shadow of a doubt, our work matters and helps our respective companies (or clients) grow. Yeah, your traffic grew, month-over-month, but is that it?
I remember when I first got started with inbound marketing. For years, I would often fire up HubSpot and wait for the numbers to tell me what to do. I'm not even kidding, I would just play around with the sources report and other automated reporting areas, hoping the data would tell me exactly what to do.
Then, I would crank out some weekly and/or monthly reports that highlighted some wins — traffic spikes, increases in particular sources (especially organic), and so on. And I would cross my fingers and hope that, hey, my bosses would agree. We were doing well, and the work I was doing mattered.
This is not what reporting is supposed to be like.
You need a proactive content ROI reporting strategy, not a passive one
Unfortunately, I'm not sure how many of us realize that.
I know I didn't for a really long time. And that's what we're going to fix starting with this article — the first in a series I will be writing about how to do tactical reporting for your company's content marketing efforts.
But our content ROI reporting with HubSpot journey begins together with us realigning on what reporting is really supposed to be.
If you related to my Liz of Inbound Marketing Yore's passive approach to content ROI reporting, wherein I left it up to HubSpot to tell me what to do, I want to say two things to you:
I understand why you're doing what you're doing.
You can't do that anymore.
Just like you need a strategy for your content, you need a comprehensive, thoughtful strategy for your reporting.
Content ROI reporting isn't a single document you generate once a month or once a week for your bosses. Reporting is something you should be doing constantly, tailored to different audiences, using different formats, and types of communication.
So, how do you do that? How do you create a comprehensive, multifaceted content ROI reporting strategy, with HubSpot in your back pocket, as your automation and reporting platform?
You need these two things for an absolutely killer content ROI reporting strategy
If you're a HubSpot Marketing Hub user, I need you to hear me when I say this. There are two completely non-negotiable things you need in place in order to have an effective content ROI reporting strategy.
Without these two things, your reporting will 100% fail, and there is a serious chance the lifespan of your content marketing strategy will be short, with a high degree of likelihood that your boss will pull the plug on what you're doing.
I'm not being dramatic, I'm just being honest.
1. Understand that the #1 thing you need to show is that your content makes money
This foundational understanding is critical to your reporting strategy, because it is what should drive you. Yes, traffic matters. So does lead generation. But, like I said during my keynote last year at IMPACT Live, your content needs to make money. That's the whole point, right?
Just like Boiler Room led to XXX, which segued into the Fast and Furious saga for Vin Diesel, your qualified traffic needs to generated qualified leads, which then need to close into deals. If you just have the traffic and the leads, but no closed deals to show for your work, something is seriously wrong, and you should realize that.
2. You need HubSpot Marketing and Sales Hubs connected and talking to each other to get reporting right
If you've only got the HubSpot Marketing Hub, with its limited traffic and lead reporting, you have a massive reporting gap. Without HubSpot Sales Hub or the CRM connected to it, you will never be able to prove that your content is making you money.
Period. Full stop.
You simply can't do it. Here, I'll use a recent content ROI reporting example of my own to show you what I mean.
We have an internal Slack channel our sales team uses to share recently closed deals. That way they can shout out everyone who helped close the deal, and we can all celebrate together. A few days ago, IMPACT sales all-star Melissa Prickett shared this update in that channel:
Immediately, I was intrigued, so I replied:
I know, I know. I've redacted everything, but what she linked there was the specific HubSpot CRM contact record for our point of contact, which included a lot of personal information, heh.
After a little digging around in the contact record, I replied in the thread with the following, for the entire company to see:
Isn't that cool? I was able to showcase to the entire company, in a way that celebrated the hard work of other colleagues, how our content had quite literally made us money.
You can only see this if you have both HubSpot for marketing and sales.
If you only have the marketing platform from HubSpot, you will never have access to this kind of data. But when you have your marketing and sales automation platforms connected to each other, this is the kind of powerful, unimpeachable content marketing ROI reporting that's possible.
Sales also benefits from this interconnectivity, by the way.
When you have HubSpot Marketing and Sales Hubs, they have access to this lead intelligence — what pages, blogs, and videos a prospect has viewed — before the first sales call.
How to develop a content ROI reporting strategy with HubSpot
Now that you have those two prerequisites in place, let's dive into how you actually create your reporting strategy.
1. Step away from HubSpot
That's right. The first thing you do to create your content ROI reporting strategy leveraging HubSpot is to ignore the tool entirely.
Just like you don't touch the blogging tool until you have a content strategy and know what you're writing about, or open up the workflow tool before you know exactly what you're building, you're going to leave the reporting tools in HubSpot alone.
2. Define your reporting audiences and their individual content ROI reporting needs
Your content ROI reporting will not be a single document.
Instead, your reporting strategy should be holistic, with an understanding that you have different internal audiences who need to know different things about your content at different times. Their individual needs will dictate the substance, format, and cadence of your reporting.
For example, here are the content ROI reporting audiences I've defined for myself, here at IMPACT:
Leadership (both company and marketing team leadership)
The entire company (not excluding the two above groups)
My leadership audience reporting is based on preset key performance indicators (KPIs) that are directly tied to company goals and initiatives having to do with more standard marketing metrics, like website traffic growth. (We have a complex marketing team. So, our director of demand generation, with whom I work very closely, owns the metrics around qualified lead generation.)
My revenue team audience is a bit softer in the metrics we're looking for. They're more concerned about understanding what content is being produced and when, as well as knowledge of content pieces that perform well. By "perform well," I mean content that attracts qualified traffic, helps nurture leads, and closes deals.
Finally, my entire company audience wants to see holistically how content helps us win with organic traffic growth, qualified lead generation, and closed deals. Aggregated data charts tend to fall flat here. Stories, individual contributor highlights, and any other data that helps see the wins and champion each other do best with this particular audience.
3. Determine your reporting cadence and consumption preferences for each group
Let's use my example again to show you how your reporting cadences and formats might vary, based on the different audience needs and preferences.
My leadership audience needs weekly reporting they don't need to ask for. It needs to be at-a-glance reporting that can be digested immediately. Long reports will not work. We're either on-track or off-track with our targets.
My revenue team audience needs multiple types of reporting. First, they weekly/biweekly reporting they don't need to ask for. It should be comprehensive, showing them what assignment selling content has been published (based on their requests), what's in production, and so on. It needs to be delivered in a written format, but I also need to walk them through it, because sales folks are busy, and I can't expect them to sit down and read everything. They also need ad hoc reporting in Slack when a deal closes, to highlight any interesting content trends or spotlights of what might have brought a lead in or helped close the deal.
Finally, my entire company audience needs a lot of different reporting. They need weekly reminders of internal wins, ad hoc reporting of content wins, and some sort of monthly or quarterly overview of big content wins, that showcase how individual efforts help drive qualified traffic, leads, and sales.
4. Deliver on your defined individual audience needs with comprehensive, friendly content ROI reporting
Again, what your reporting will look like will be unique to your defined audience, as well as their needs and preferences. But here is how I approach this at IMPACT.
For leadership (Vin, Bob, and the rest of the leadership team), we have a collective marketing team KPIs scorecard each metric owner is responsible for filling out each week, with automated color-coding to show whether we're on or off track:
At IMPACT, I'm responsible for the top four rows, with other team members reporting on the other designated KPIs. If you have a smaller team, you'll likely be responsible for metrics spanning across the entire funnel — from traffic generated to sales qualified leads.
For the company-wide audience, we spotlight the top five most trafficked new articles each week in our all hands meeting, I send out a periodic content ROI wins newsletter in Basecamp to the entire company, and I share in Slack (when I can) what content closed a new deal that's been reported.
IMPACT Managing Editor Ramona Sukhraj champions our weekly top five traffic earners in our weekly all hands meeting.
Whew, that's a lot of different types of reports featuring a wide variety of different metrics, right? So, how do I use HubSpot to curate all of that data? Well, once I understand the purpose of each reporting communication touchpoint I identified, as well as what should be included, I start digging into the data.
For email marketing, I track our subscribers within the email marketing tool in HubSpot itself, which allows you to track the growth of smart lists (in this case, populated by form submissions on THE LATEST landing page) over time.
For company-wide reporting, I do a lot of different things...
Ramona and I use the blog analytics tool, with custom date ranges and publishing date sorting to determine our weekly traffic winners.
For the content ROI newsletter, specifically, I do a ton of digging in a wide variety of areas within HubSpot, to make sure I don't miss anything.
In addition to high-level traffic metrics I can mine in the HubSpot sources report, I also spend a lot of time looking at the back-end of specific blog articles the sources report and the blog analytics view showed me were high-performing.
I'm going to be dedicated the next article in this content ROI reporting series to solely to HubSpot attribution reporting, but I want to give you a little taste of just how insanely valuable this reporting can be.
If you are an enterprise HubSpot Marketing Hub owner, you can find attribution reporting under the Reports menu, then click reports in the dropdown menu, and...
...finally, click on the "Create Custom Report" button.
HubSpot's attribution reporting is a custom reporting tool that allows me to build reports around my favorite metric... money.
While it takes some getting used to — again, I'll be diving deeper into the tool at a later time — HubSpot attribution reporting is a freaking gold mine, thanks to the high degree of specificity you can achieve, in terms of the results it spits out.
In addition to being able to display revenue achieved by source (organic traffic, social media, paid advertising, and so on), my favorite way to use attribution reporting is to take a look at how much money a particular piece of content has generated across a given period of time.
This is a report that shows down to the cent how much money a piece of content has generated for your company. The best part is you can include as many (or as few) content types as you'd like in your reporting view...
...and you can choose what type of reporting you want, which each type of attribution model providing different insights:
Like I said, more on this next week.
Finally, I go into the HubSpot Sales Hub and look at the closed deals in our pipeline, to find amazing content ROI stories to share with the company...
After that, I go into the contact record(s) associated with a company's closed deal, and take a look around at what they were looking at before they signed on to work with IMPACT...
Like I said at the start of this article:
I'm only able to pull revenue-based attribution reporting, and deal- and contact-level content data because we have both the HubSpot Marketing and Sales Hubs.
Without this level of connection between our marketing automation and our sales CRM tools, I would be completely blind to what content was driving money for our company. I cannot stress enough how important an investment like this is to your success with content marketing and your ability to show that success clearly.
Taking action is also a key outcome of your reporting strategy
Reporting is often thought of as an action to communicate ROI, content performance, growth in traffic, leads, and sales, etc. That's all true, but you shouldn't look at reporting as a passive information-gathering and communication activity.
Instead, as you comb through your data on a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual basis, remember that you should be consuming all of the insights you uncover for your various audience groups and taking action (as necessary).
If certain articles aren't showing the organic growth you expected, you may want to put those blogs in your backlog for historic optimization, to see if you can further refine it, to increase search rankings.
You may notice trends, where certain topics are more popular with your audience than others, which can information your content strategy.
You may also spot that certain content offers, blog articles, and videos seem to correlate with high close rates — a trend your sales team would to know about, I'm sure.
...and that's just the tip of the iceberg.
So, whenever you look at the data you find in HubSpot, always have an open mind and an eagle eye for what you could be doing to constantly iterate, improve, or expand upon your current digital strategies.
Having a reporting strategy matters
I know I threw a lot at you in this article — much of it specific to how we run things at IMPACT. I hope you understand that my goal here was not to give you a cookie cutter mold of a reporting strategy you could simply drag and drop into your own company, with zero modifications.
Rather, I want you to see that there is so much more reporting than simply going to the HubSpot reporting tab in your portal:
Understanding their different needs and preferences
Determine the best cadence and formats for your reports
Only once you have these three items checked off on your reporting strategy creation list should you crack open HubSpot to see what kind of ROI your content marketing is generating. And I look forward to showing you in future editions of this series how deeply HubSpot's reporting capabilities can go.
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