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Measuring marketing return on investment (ROI) may seem like a black-and-white endeavor, but tracking ROI is actually an exercise with various shades of gray. Though numbers are numbers, and they rarely lie, focusing on an end number is the perfect example of the classic axiom about “not seeing the forest for the trees.” When you lock your sights on hitting a specific number, it’s quite possible you’re missing other progress that you’re making.

That’s why this ROI lesson starts with taking your time.

Patience makes perfect

First off, it’s not always easy to measure marketing ROI. A major reason for that is defining marketing success is already a dicey proposition. The process must start by defining your key performance indicators, which for inbound marketing typically means measuring traffic, lead conversion, and customer conversion.

Creating milestones for each of these indicators and benchmarks along the way lets you gauge progress, but it also creates realistic goals that take on the form of hitting singles instead of trying to hit a home run at your first at-bat. In the beginning, maybe you only focus on traffic. Once you have that traffic, you can focus on converting. By not biting off more than you can chew from the get-go and segmenting your efforts, you’ll create a systematic way to measure your ROI accurately over time.

All content isn’t created equally

In keeping with the baseball analogy, power hitters are measured differently than contact hitters. While a lead-off hitter simply strives to get on base, a clean-up batter’s goal is to bring him home. Their jobs are wildly different, which means a clubhouse manager has different expectations of both.

The same goes for the content you create. For example, your expectations of how an eBook is going to be digested by potential leads should be different from how many attendees a webinar has or how many clicks a blog post gets. Different mediums demand different expectations. To take that a step further, different expectations demand different measurements.

Going back to the overall goals you’ve set, you have to set individual goals for each type of content, too. A blog post might give you more social media shares, while an eBook might generate more leads. A webinar might not have a strong list of live attendees, but once it enters your archive, perhaps it will garner a high number of downloads. The point is that not only must you set realistic performance goals for your content, but that time will often give you a greater sense of its success or failure.

Budgeting and experimenting are conjoined

To understand web marketing in the 21st century means realizing that you must experiment. And to experiment properly, you must spend money. In many ways, a business can view this as an upfront investment. Over time, as you and your marketing team recognize what’s working and what’s not, picking and choosing which endeavors to fund starts to make more sense.

While companies understandably never like the “spend more” message, it’s often crucial when it comes to experimenting. Experimentation should be viewed as a way to uncover which inbound marketing channels and content offers work best.

The wider the net you cast, the better chance you have of finding success. If you’re starting your inbound marketing efforts from scratch, you’ll need a far bigger net than a company who’s been at it for a few years does. Like anything, practice—and again, patience—makes perfect. In the end, having an understanding of the type of content that your customers respond to most or the channels they prefer means your ROI will only go up as you fine-tune your efforts.

Remembering to uncover key indicators, to segment your content expectations, and to experiment with new strategies over time will go a long way toward measuring your marketing ROI effectively. How patient do you feel you’ve been in building up your ROI benchmarks? Your answer may dovetail with your level of success.

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Diona Kidd

Diona Kidd

Diona is a managing partner at Knowmad. Her areas of expertise include digital marketing strategy, project management, brand management, search engine optimization (SEO), pay per click advertising, inbound marketing, content marketing, conversion rate optimization, social media marketing and website design.

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