There are two ways to get new customers:
- Quick and scrappy short-term wins.
- Slow and methodical long-term wins.
Quick wins are great, especially when you began doing things that didn’t scale. But as your business matures, it’s time to decide what long-term channels you will focus on to scale your growth. You typically have one of five options to scale growth:
- Paid channels
- Word of mouth viral loops
- Big partnerships
Paid channels are a great way to get quick sales. But if you aren’t careful, it can be a faster path to the death of your business. Which is why you may want to layer PPC on top of another acquisition channel (great video from Brian Balfour on why that is here). While viral loops are great, it won’t work for most SaaS products. And if you’re an agency, freelancer, or affiliate blogger, fuhgeddaboudit.
Since blogging can increase sales, improve SEO, and build relationships, many founders are choosing this marketing channel. But it also takes time to get new customers. So a common question I see is, “How long will it take for our blog to grow, produce results, and make sales?” Like most great questions in life, the answer is “it depends,” and I’ll share what it depends on later in this article.
If you skim the internet, most content marketers say it takes 6-12 months to see noteworthy results from blogging. Marcus Sheridan was blogging on RiverPoolsandSpas.com and saw a traffic increase in six months. Yet it took Sheridan 20 months before The Sales Lion saw it’s tipping point. It took John Bonini’s team six months before his numbers started to climb:
And according to Hubspot, 83.9% of companies that use inbound marketing see an increase in leads within 7 months.
Keep in mind a mature blog will get traffic and sales faster than a new blog using the right SEO action plan and content promotion strategy. And the level of true thought leadership will also change your results, because people keep coming back to high thought leadership sites.
So you may be wondering, “Why does it take six or more months to see a positive ROI? What are some early signals that the blog will give us a positive ROI before then? And what should I keep in mind to grow my blog faster?”
I’m glad you asked, because it all depends on the content marketer’s content strategy. I will answer those questions, and finish with five questions you should ask an agency or contractor to give you an idea of how fast they will give a positive ROI. Here’s the outline of today’s guide:
- Why Does It Often Take Six or More Months to See a Positive ROI from Blogging?
- What Are Some Early Signals I Should Look for to See That Content Marketing Will Return a Positive ROI?
And five questions to ask before hiring a professional content marketer:
- How Will You Learn About Our Customers’ Needs?
- What are the Fundamentals of SEO?
- What Do You Do to Promote Content?
- How Connected Are You with Other Influencers and Bloggers?
- How Many Articles Will You Write per Month?
Why Does It Often Take Six or More Months to See a Positive ROI from Blogging?
Six months is a long time on the Internet (it’s like 35 in dog years). Let’s say you invest $6,000/month in content marketing, which is not uncommon. That’s at least $36,000 spent before getting a positive ROI. Why does it take so long to get a positive ROI?
Let’s compare PPC to SEO. PPC has the advantage you will make sales faster. With SEO, once your articles are bringing in ongoing organic traffic, you don’t have to pay for that traffic ever again. Keep in mind SEO can also nurture customers earlier in the awareness funnel too. National bestselling author Chet Holmes points out in his book Ultimate Sales Machine that most of your customers aren’t ready to buy today:
That’s right. It’s likely only 3% of your audience is ready to buy today. So while content marketing may not make a sale today, it nurtures someone to be your customer when they are ready to buy.
What Are Some Early Signals I Should Look for to See That Content Marketing Will Return a Positive ROI?
You may fear you will invest six, nine, or 12 months into content marketing without anything to show at the end. So what should you look for from a content marketer to make sure this won’t be a waste of time of your time?
First, ask the content marketer what they will deliver on. My focus is on growing blog traffic, so my deliverable is the monthly traffic I bring to your business. Other content marketers only focus on delivering the activities themselves as a service, such as the number of articles written, promoting on social media, or setting up an editorial calendar.
Second, get an estimate of what your blog’s traffic Growth Ramp should look like from the content marketer. Why is this important? If you’ve ever made a New Year’s Resolution, you know how hard it is to set long-term goals. But it’s easier to manage what you measure. Here’s the spreadsheet we use to track traffic at Growth Ramp with a new blog:
And here’s the spreadsheet we use for clients with existing traffic:
For new blogs, month one may be creating a customer-focused content strategy. Just like building a house, you need a blueprint to make sure your blog is structurally sound. As a result, there may not be much traffic the first month.
Months two and three usually has a focus more on content promotion while waiting for SEO traffic to kick in. I like to see 500-1,500 visitors in month one, depending on my client’s traffic plan. Also, I like to see a trickle of organic traffic, even if it’s a new blog on a new site. With mature blogs, the content marketer may start re-promote your content or optimize old articles for quick SEO wins. This can double your organic traffic in 90 days.
Finally keep in mind that great marketers are scientists, not magicians. They know what it takes to get more traffic, but there are variables outside of their control. Google may change their ranking algorithm. Social networks may limit the reach of external articles. Even the weather can change your predictions. So it’s important that the marketer knows what inputs should increase (such as more articles, more promotion, or more links) to get better outputs (as in your blog’s traffic).
Keep in mind that the 6-to-12-month rule to getting positive ROI with content marketing is a rule-of-thumb. Here are five questions you can ask a content marketer to see if they can deliver on that promise:
1. How Will You Learn About Our Customers’ Needs?
It’s not easy to build enough trust for someone to pull out their wallet and pay you. People don’t care about you, they only care about themselves: their goals, challenges, dreams, and fears. One of the best ways to understand a customer’s needs is to TALK TO THE CUSTOMER. Copywriters do it. Salesmen do it. Product managers do it too. Why should content marketers skip this step?
They don’t even need to get on the phone. Here’s how we find customer problems with a survey. Content marketers can also talk to your customer support or sales team, who chat with customers frequently.
After getting a list of questions, they should answer every question as a blog post. Even if they don’t understand SEO, this will help your startup scale faster by providing better answers to common questions. Which in case you did not know, is the purpose of search engines: providing the best answer to someone’s question or problem.
Answering customers’ questions is a great first step to blogging at scale. But it’s not a substitute for knowing SEO.
2. What are the Fundamentals of SEO?
If SEO is going to be your bread-and-butter to long-term traffic, yah better know a thing or two to get organic traffic fast. There’s a lot to keep in mind when you dig deep into SEO. That said, when it comes to blogging, it’s easier to keep it simple and focus on five areas:
Keyword Research – There are two parts to keyword research. The first is knowing how much traffic a keyword gets every month. I use Keywords Everywhere to show me the typical traffic volume. The second part is knowing how hard it is to rank in search results for that phrase. Ahref’s Keyword Difficulty score is a fantastic tool to know how likely articles will rank in the top 10.
On-Page SEO – Does the marketer have a list of keywords? Great. Now they need to do on-page SEO to help Google know what keyword phrase(s) each page targets. This happens by placing the phrase in the content, and in the HTML code.
Link Building – When Larry Page, Sergey Brin, and Scott Hassan built Google, they did not set out to build a search engine. Instead, it was a fun project to crawl the web to find out what websites got referenced (or linked to) the most. It turns out, this was the best way to give better search results too.
To this day, links are one of the most important search ranking factors. There are tons of strategies and tactics to link building (here’s one strategy we used to get 430+ links in six months using a link magent). Some content types attract links faster than other content. I would recommend focusing on these five types of content to attract links:
- Content that answers popular questions.
- Strong opinionated and political posts.
- Original research.
- Content that leverages trending topics.
- Authoritative news content on product or development releases.
Pro tip: If a content marketer does great keyword research and on-page SEO, it’s a lot easier to rank pages without links. We’ve ranked pages when Growth Ramp first began in less than 14 days.
User Experience – Have you ever gone to a website with terrible design, relentless pop-ups, or a barrage of annoying ads? How about a website with slow-loading pages, bland stock photos, or abusive color combinations that hurt your eyes?
Sites like DPGraph.com make your potential customers want to run for the hills:
While your website might not be as terrible as DPGraph.com, anything that may cause potential customers to bounce will also hurt your SEO. Why? The simple answer is, Google wants to provide the best experience to the best answers. So if a visitor leaves your site for the wrong reason, Google will notice and adjust your rankings lower.
Thought Leadership – Let’s pretend you do a Google search right now. You have a list of 10 articles on page 1. If you went with the easiest choice, you would select the first result in Google. So why would your customers choose another result over the first result?
One often overlooked factor of SEO is your blog’s authority and thought leadership. These terms may sound like a bunch of corporate-y buzzwords. But the fact is, your customers re-visit websites that they trust to answer their questions. As a result, you may get more visitors from SEO, even if your articles aren’t in the first spot of the search results.
SEO is important to long-term traffic. But to get results before SEO fully takes off, it’s helpful if the content marketer knows how to promote content.
3. What Do You Do to Promote Content?
Organic traffic should be the foundation of your blog’s long-term traffic game plan. It’s usually the easiest way to get ongoing traffic. But that doesn’t mean content marketers should ignore others way to get traffic either.
Social media is one of the best opportunities to get traffic. When I say using social media, I don’t mean sending only a status update on your business page and personal profile. You may get some traffic from this approach. But it’s even more important to go to communities where your potential customers already hang out online. Some examples of communities include Facebook groups, Pinterest boards, sub-reddits, and hashtags on social media.
Not every one of those channels will work for your industry. Facebook groups work in many industries, but finding groups that are engaging can be difficult. Pinterest tends to work better for B2C blogs, but I have also seen some B2B blogs crush it, especially in real estate and making money online niches. Reddit also works in many industries, but they also hate blatant marketing.
A quick aside: some marketers dislike Reddit’s “traffic quality,” stating things like they have a low session duration. But that’s because most marketers do not understand how Google Analytics’ tracks a session. The average session duration is based on whether someone engages your site before leaving. So if Google Analytics isn’t changed, and a Redditor comes to your page, reads the article, and leaves, the session duration is 0:00. So this would skew your numbers in Google Analytics.
All said, the better you promote your content, the faster your blog will see a positive ROI. Another way to promote content and get sales is by connecting with influencers.
4. How Connected Are You with Other Influencers and Bloggers?
Influencer marketing is a hot topic that is misunderstood. At its core, influencer marketing is about building relationships. The right people will open up many opportunities. But the marketer needs to be clear on what your goals are when working with influencers.
Some influencers are well-known on social media platforms, which can help drive traffic. Other influencers write on blogs and can drive traffic through articles. To make influencer marketing work, a content marketer should understand the five types of influencers, know how to find them, and know how to reach them.
Once a content marketer understands your customer’s needs, has the fundamentals of SEO in place, and has a system to promote content, it’s time to turn up the content production.
5. How Many Articles Will You Write per Month?
When it comes to content creation, there are two schools of thought:
- There’s too much content on the web. We should focus on writing less content, and use that time to promote it.
- Yes, there’s a lot of content. But people have new interests as industries change over time. And others do not share the same point of view that we do. We should write a ton of quality content.
There are pros-and-cons to each point of view.
Focusing more on promotion has the advantage that it takes time to write great content. And most of your potential customers will not read the content because it wasn’t promoted. The challenge with this approach is you need to make sure each article truly is great. Otherwise, it will be difficult to promote it. Bloggers like Tim Urban of Wait But Why and Brian Dean of Backlinko take this approach.
On the other side of the debate, you can focus on creating more articles. This approach focuses on allowing your audience to tell you what is great by looking at your traffic results. When the content marketer knows SEO and has a system to promote the right content, this is a great approach. Blogs like Desiring God, Shopify, and The Wall Street Journal use this strategy.
If questions 1-4 are positive (especially #2), I recommend producing more articles. Not only will each article give you more chances to rank in Google, it gives the marketer better content to promote. This allows you to test each article’s share-ability before investing a ton of resources in a poor article.
Bonus: How Many People LOVE Your Business?
Even though content marketing is separate from your product, the two affect each other. For example, when people love your product, they are more likely to talk about it on their blog. Those mentions drive links to the website, which makes it easier to rank in Google.
Final Thoughts on Content Marketing ROI
Every content marketer has a different strategy to getting you the best results. It’s true that blogging isn’t as fast at getting new customers as PPC. But a content marketer worth her salt will create ongoing traffic long after the work is complete.
Everything else being equal, it typically takes 6-to-12 months to see a positive ROI from content marketing. But this depends on the marketer’s skills, network, and the freedom you give them to grow your blog.
Even if a content marketer cannot give solid answers to my five questions, that doesn’t mean you should not work with them. Every content marketer has their strengths and weaknesses. What they should answer is how they will bring in traffic, and keep it coming. The answers you get will help you understand how long it will take to see results, make sales, and return a positive ROI.Growth Ramp helps startups hire professional contract marketers and agencies to grow their business faster. Learn more and request a free quote here.