If you’re a sports fan (well, more like a sports geek), you know about a trend toward advanced analytics (the book Moneyball presents this concept about baseball). Sports founders set a few statistics as the end-all, be-all numbers for the games they created over a hundred years ago—but, for example, do we actually know if batting average is the best measurement of a hitter?
Or, if a basketball team scores the most points per game on average, does it mean they have the best offense? Sometimes we try to measure success in a certain way simply because that’s how we’ve always done it.
This concept absolutely applies to inbound marketing. You see a lot of inbound and content marketing case studies that measure growth through visits by month. But do we actually know if that’s the correct way to analyze results? What if Company A devotes 20 hours and $200 to inbound each month, but Company B devotes 200 hours and $20,000? It could be that Company B has better growth, but maybe Company A gets a better return on its time and money.
With this in mind, I wanted to figure out how much of a return you’d receive if you put one hour of work into inbound marketing. That way, you could apply the results to your company and scale them no matter what size team or budget you have. And I came up with some pretty interesting stuff.
Here’s what you’ll learn if you keep reading
- How we divided up 862 hours of inbound marketing over 18 months.
- How to look at your marketing in a new way—results by how much time you’ve invested.
- How specific marketing events and campaigns led to boosts in results.
- Whether or not you need to invest your time and money differently.
This is where the data came from (and what it looks like)
Back in November of 2013 (which was 18 months ago), Lance (the founder of Nectafy) signed up for HubSpot to see how it would work out. Luckily, he also signed up for Harvest in the same month. With HubSpot’s inbound marketing software, Nectafy was able to start carrying out its online marketing, and tracked all of the results in one place. With Harvest’s online timing software, Lance could track every task into organized categories and subcategories.
The HubSpot-Harvest-Nectafy combination made for a ton of great data. It also made for a lot of orange:
Today, though, we’ll focus on the data rather than the colors.
What I Gathered From HubSpot
- Time Frame: 18 Months
- Total Visits: 112,330
- Total Leads: 2,790 (This is defined as an individual who filled out a form on our site.)
I’ll also note that 100% of our traffic and leads come from inbound marketing. As an inbound marketing agency, we solely focus on that channel as a way to grow our business. We haven’t done trade shows, PPC, paid ads, or anything else to grow leads.
What I Gathered From Harvest
- 862 hours spent specifically on inbound marketing for Nectafy (equaling 9.4% of the total hours recorded at Nectafy).
- Eight subcategories that fell under inbound marketing.
- Data ranging from two employees in Month One to eight employees by Month 18.
One note—Some data (back in 2013 and early 2014) was adjusted slightly because our Harvest timing categories were not as complete as they are now. Specifically, the “design” and “editing” categories were adjusted based on current percentages. This was done to reflect more accurate data.
18 Months and 862 Hours Of Inbound Marketing Takeaways
1) 9.71% of our total hours worked were used on inbound marketing for Nectafy
Out of 8,876 hours of tracked time, a little less than 10% of that was used to do inbound marketing for Nectafy. The rest of the time was used on clients and administrative tasks like training and meetings.
2) 58% of the 862 hours of inbound marketing were used for “content creation”
Content creation is defined as researching and writing blog posts and offers.
Here’s where all of the 862 hours were used:
3) We generated 130 visits for every hour spent on inbound marketing
4) We generated 3.24 leads for every hour spent on inbound marketing
I decided to look at results on an hourly basis rather than the typical monthly basis, since our time devoted to inbound varied over time.
Visits: 112,330 / 862 = 130 Visits Per Hour Spent
Leads: 2,790 / 862 = 3.24 Leads Per Hour Spent
These numbers give a more accurate sense of expectations because each company devotes a different amount of time to inbound marketing on a monthly basis. By looking at results per hour, you can have a better idea of how much time you need to dedicate in order to hit your goals for leads, sales, and profitability.
5) Our average visit-to-lead conversion rate was 2.48%
Over the first 18 months, 2.5 visitors out of 100 would fill out a form on our site in order to become a lead. As you can see, our conversion rate peaked at 3.68% in Month 10 (August 2014). That’s really high! We’ve come back down to normal lately, though.
My theory is that, as our site has gotten more authoritative, we’ve started to pick up broader search terms that don’t bring targeted visitors. Our lead volume is higher than before, but our conversion rate is lower.
6) A non-stat alert: Results trail effort
If you look at the chart above, you’ll find our hours devoted to inbound marketing in blue and visits in orange.
- You’ll notice that in the first three months, we were working hard, but results weren’t growing. The bump came in Month 3 and beyond.
- In Months 5-7, we had to cut back on our own marketing significantly in order to serve new clients. As a result, visits flatlined.
- You can see that the extra work in Months 8 and 11 contributed to visitor growth in Month 9 and Months 11-13, respectively.
- And finally, additional work in Months 15-17 contributed to visitor growth in Months 16-18 (and beyond).
It’s simple. Inbound takes both work and patience, but the results do come.
Which inbound campaigns and ideas made the biggest impact?
1) November 18/19, 2013: “Written Style Guide” (Offer) & “How To Quickly Create A Written Style Guide” (Blog Post)
In Month One, Emily created a blog post and an offer about creating a style guide for your company. Over time, this has become an organic powerhouse.
The blog post has received 5,500 visits (and counting).
The offer has generated nearly 1,000 leads.
2) December 6, 2013: “My First Month Of HubSpot: The Good, The Bad, The Data” (Blog Post)
Lance wrote this blog post in our second month of inbound and HubSpot. You can see the immediate uptick in visits and the long-term growth of leads after this period. Not only did the blog receive a lot of shares in the short-term, it also increased our authority around the term “HubSpot.”
Currently, this post has 6,200 visits and seven high-impact links (and counting).
3) February 14, 2014: “After 3 Months Of HubSpot, I’ve Had Enough” (Blog Post)
Lance continued his HubSpot series with this blog post.
Currently, this post has 13,000 visits and 40 links (including one from hubspot.com).
4) April 19, 2014: “Sample Inbound Marketing Proposal” (Offer)
We decided to take a real inbound marketing proposal, sterilize it a bit, and offer it as a downloadable resource on the site.
Since then, this offer has generated 500 middle-of-funnel leads.
5) September 24, 2014: “Inbound Marketing In A Nutshell” (Offer)
Heading into Quarter 4 was a good time to run a campaign around hiring an inbound marketing agency. As part of that, we released this offer for busy executives to skim as they decided how to spend their budgets in 2015.
This offer has generated 150 leads.
6) November 2014: We started hiring through HubSpot
As we grew, we started to post jobs for an inbound marketing manager and a writer. For November, we ran our application process through HubSpot before moving to what we use now—Workable. During November, our applicants were counted as leads, so this number looks inflated by about 50-70.
How can you use these numbers for your marketing?
Most importantly, we need to make sure you can apply these numbers to your business. Every single business out there needs to generate leads and sales. It’s that simple. And there are a number of ways to get those results—outbound sales, referrals, traditional advertising, online paid advertising, SEO, social media, content or inbound marketing (and I’m probably missing more than a few). No matter what you’re doing to generate results, the ultimate measure is how your investment returns increase revenue and profit for the company.
If you want to compare these numbers to your marketing and sales plan, here are a few questions to answer:
- How much time per month do our employees dedicate to marketing, and how do the results stack up?
- If we give our outbound sales team one hour, how many contacts/leads do they generate?
- If we apply our average marketing salary to these hours, how much is the investment?
- How much time do we need to dedicate to inbound marketing each month in order to see results?
Now we’re done. If you remember one thing from this post, I hope it’s that you can track the results of inbound marketing down to the hour or minute of time invested. You don’t need to be stuck at per-month or per-quarter results. But most importantly, make sure you have a lot of hours stacked up if you truly want to see results.