As much as you hate hearing, "It depends" in response to, "When will I see the benefits of my content marketing?", I can confidently state we marketers hate saying it even more. Alas, sometimes it truly is the only answer.
But if the C-suite won't ease up until you can give them at least a ballpark estimate, then the answer is usually six to nine months. Of course, there will always be businesses that see results before six months and others who will have to wait longer than nine months. Again, it depends. (Author's note: I sincerely do shudder every time I say that.)
In a time where we've all grown accustomed to instant gratification, this can be a hard number to swallow. But as the great Clark Griswold once said, "Nothing worthwhile is easy."
If you Googled, "how long does content marketing take to get results" (or some variation) with the intention of simply finding a number, there you have it. But I'm willing to bet the very next thing your CEO asks after you tell him or her "Six to nine months" will be "Why?"
Rather than having to reply, "Because the internet told me so," read on to learn about:
Two categories of variables affect the content marketing timeline: those you can control and those you can't.
As you can see, while there are a handful of factors you can't govern, there are far more things that you can. To increase the chances of success and having a more predictable timeline, you need to establish a plan for each of those elements.
1. Choose your unique goals. You can use industry standards as a jumping off point, but no business is exactly like yours, which means no business will have the same objectives. Pick the goals that make the most sense for your brand. For help defining your goals, check out Content Marketing KPIs checklist.
2. Assess your resources. Be realistic about how much time and money you can dedicate to content marketing. If you need to outsource, then outsource. Don't bite off more than you can chew.
3. Determine your strategy. Feel free to research best practices but, again, your strategy needs to be your own. What works for another company won't necessarily work for you. Consider your specific goals and resources.
4. Decide on measurement criteria. Know what constitutes a win and what defines a loss. Any vagueness here will make it difficult to optimize your campaigns.
5. Set the publishing cadence. Make sure you post frequently enough to keep your audience interested, but not so frequently that there's no way for them to keep up. Engage them, don't overwhelm them.
6. Get the word out. All of the greatest content in the world won't mean anything if no one knows about it. Post on social media, launch pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns and build relationships with industry influencers who can promote your content to their audiences.
7. Create content your audience will appreciate. Quality over quantity. Always. As for the things over which you have no power, you can subscribe to industry publications to stay on top of new developments and take advantage of the numerous competitor analysis tools at your disposal. Be proactive, not reactive.
As I mentioned above, the short answer to, "When can I expect results?" is six to nine months. But there is a very crucial caveat here: Don't expect the floodgates to open as soon as you hit that 180th day.
Content marketing is a building block strategy with a compounding effect. The more high-quality content you create, the more it will be shared. The more your content is shared, the larger your audience. The larger your audience, the more your traffic will grow. And so on.
Keep in mind there will be months in the beginning where you'll see large spikes and other months where you'll see declines and still other months where everything simply plateaus. The important thing is to not panic. If you have a thoughtful, well-executed plan, then during months seven through 12 and beyond, traffic, leads and search rankings will steadily improve. However, if performance consistently trends down for several months, it's time to adjust your strategy.
Start by addressing these first and identify opportunities to improve your campaigns in these areas.
Above all, remember the timeline for content marketing results is not set in stone. The next most important thing is to be rational about your expectations. If you have a strong content marketing plan from the beginning, the likelihood of success is much higher, but there are also variables that can affect performance. Content marketing is a long-term strategy—no part of it is "instant." But if you stay creative, listen to what your audience is telling you (both through direct feedback and how they interact with your brand) and focus on providing a positive customer experience, the results will be worth the effort.