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Let’s place a bet.
Currently, 55 percent of small business owners are planning on investing more in their digital marketing strategies. It’s unclear what percentage of businesses owners are already investing in digital marketing, since this is a broad concept that’s difficult to precisely define. But let’s assume at least three-quarters of existing businesses are spending money on digital marketing in some form. Most of these businesses have been investing in digital marketing for months, years or even decades.
So, if you asked them individually, what percentage of these business owners would be able to tell you what their marketing return on investment (ROI) is?
Do you think it’s 90 percent? Or closer to 80 percent?
The exact numbers vary depending on what strategy you’re examining, but 44 percent of businesses have no way to measure their social media ROI. And those that can measure their social media ROI may not be doing it consistently or effectively.
Extend that concept to the rest of the digital marketing realm. Why do so few entrepreneurs know their marketing ROI when it’s such an important concept for long-term marketing success?
Often the problem is entrepreneurial apathy. Some entrepreneurs simply don’t care what their ROI is. But why is this the case? There are several possibilities. For starters, entrepreneurs may underestimate just how valuable ROI is in a digital marketing context. If they don’t understand its significance or how to use it, they’re not going to care about measuring it.
Other entrepreneurs may be more interested in achieving some specific goal or milestone. If they’re extremely committed to reaching a follower count of 100,000, for example, it doesn’t matter how much it costs to get there.
Lack of tools
Some entrepreneurs claim that they can’t measure ROI or don’t measure ROI because they don’t have access to the tools that would allow them to do this. Obviously, you’ll need some way to track and measure your progress in digital marketing if you want to calculate your ROI.
But there’s really no excuse for this. Plenty of free tools exist to help business owners determine their marketing effectiveness and boost their campaigns — and most of them are ridiculously easy to use. Google Search Console, for example, allows entrepreneurs to get an in-depth look of how their website is performing and how it appears in search engines. If you choose to market with a social media platform like Facebook, you’ll have a chance to review large amounts of important performance metrics in the back end, no extra fee or subscription required.
The nebulous nature of ROI
A legitimate grievance that entrepreneurs have is that ROI can be hard to measure exactly. You may know how many conversions you’re getting or how much your organic traffic has grown, but can that really tell you what your return on your investment is?
- Ambiguous costs: How much are you spending on marketing, really? If you’re working with a marketing agency, you might have a straightforward monthly cost. But even then you’ll need to calculate all the hours you’re spending on administration and other details and calculate the costs to the business.
- Misleading data points: Some data points you measure won’t be clear or provide you with an accurate assessment of your marketing effectiveness. For example, your conversion rate might be high, but if the people filling out your forms aren’t buying your products, your ROI might be lower than you think.
- Unmeasurable impact: Digital marketing can affect your return in a variety of different ways, including some that are almost impossible to measure. For example, how can you prove that your brand visibility or reputation are improving?
ROI as a secondary metric
I touched on this concept earlier, but it has a potentially bigger impact. Some entrepreneurs see ROI not as a primary metric for evaluating marketing campaign success, but as a secondary metric. For example, think about SEO. SEO is a strategy designed to help businesses rank higher in search engines. So it’s reasonable to suggest that the number one goal here is to reach rank one for a target keyword. However, it’s possible to reach rank one and still end up with a negative ROI; if you’re spending more money than you’re making in a given strategy, you shouldn’t consider that strategy a success. Similarly, you may end up in a position much lower than rank one while maintaining a very high ROI.
In my opinion, ROI is the most important metric to know for digital marketing success. If you can’t say, definitively, whether or not your marketing efforts are working, your campaign could actually be hurting your brand. And, no matter what, you’ll be missing out on the full potential of your digital marketing strategies. All business owners partaking in digital marketing should monitor their ROI closely and consistently. Otherwise, all your investments and efforts could end up being a waste.
Originally appeared in Entrepreneur