In our enthusiasm to measure clickthroughs, pageviews and revenues, we seldom stop to consider the cost of our Web site content.

Even if your page count is only in the hundreds, you can't add new pages simply because it's fun. So you must have a general rule of thumb for calculating the cost of creating content as well as a general rule of thumb for measuring the return on that investment.

The cost side of content can be straight forward if you identify specific costs for specific labor required to create it. You'll need to know what you're paying by the page or by the hour for the following services:

  • Writing copy
  • Proof reading copy
  • Creating graphics
  • Formatting layout
  • Maintaining the site map and/or index
  • Maintaining the site navigation system
  • Page hosting & serving
  • And the most costly of all--getting content through the approval process

How often should you update your content? It costs money to create it, and it costs to refresh it. The simplest calculation is comparing your refresh rate to visit frequency. If people come back to your site on an average of once a month and you're updating the same page twice a month, there may be some savings in your future.

If the numbers are reversed, then you are training people to stay away. They show up twice a month and see the same content every other visit. Not very engaging.

The ROI side of this coin is a bit trickier. What's the right size for a Web site?

If it's too small, it doesn't have the ability to produce the desired effect and isn't worth the expense. If it is too big, there's simply too much overhead and, again, it's not worth the expense. Lots of content means lots of people to manage it. The right size for you depends on what you're selling and how much information people need before they are willing to buy.

What's the value of a Web page? Your metrics for content fall into two broad categories: making money and saving money.

On the saving side, my favorite ROI gimmick was a spreadsheet on the corporate intranet that listed various electronic documents on the investor relations area. The annual report was listed first, showing a cost for printing, handling and postage of $7.00 each.

The cost for downloading the PDF was listed as $.002. Every time the PDF was viewed or downloaded, the spreadsheet automatically increased the "Savings" cell by $6.998. It didn't take long to show upper management that converting the report to PDF would save the company some serious money over the course of the year.

Measuring how content makes money means tracking people as they wander through your site. Look at your content as you do your transaction systems. Have you over-complicated your offering?

A well-known camera company found that they had done just that when selling low-end digital cameras. There were pages and pages of technical specifications about each and every camera they sold. There were charts and graphs comparing features. There were diagrams pin-pointing every button. Then somebody looked at the server logs and discovered nobody was viewing those pages.

When the product price goes up or the product is sufficiently unique, people want to know as much as they can. I suspect the Segway site gets combed over very carefully by people serious about spending $4,950.00 on "the world's first dynamically stabilized, self-balancing Human Transporter."

But when considering a digital camera for under fifty bucks? Just the facts, ma'am. Don't waste my time.

You can zero in on content value by implementing a comprehensive traffic tracking system to watch the people who come into your site. Which path do browsers take and which do buyers take? If you delete the pages that only browsers look at, do you increase or diminish the number of buyers? If you add more detail to those browser pages does it increase the number of future buyers or simply send your current browsers into paroxysms of confusion?

Easy to tell if you're selling an impulse item--not so easy if you have a direct sales force using the site to support a multi-month sales cycle.

Every page on your site should be created with a specific goal in mind.

  • This page will reduce the calls to the call center.
  • This page will lower the number of product returns.
  • This page will increase brand attitude.
  • This page will increase sales.

Each goal calls out for its own method of measurement to determine whether your content is filling the bill or merely emptying your coffers.

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image of Jim Sterne

Jim Sterne founded the Marketing Analytics Summit in 2002 and co-founded the Digital Analytics Association in 2004. He now advises companies on analytics strategy planning at Data Driven Leaders Studio and teaches AI and machine-learning to marketers.