Businesses large and small are starting to focus more and more on data-driven digital-first strategies – but choosing between the metrics that really matter to your business, and which are indicators of business success, can actually lead to red-herrings, dead ends and poor strategic decision making. Thanks to the evolution & mass adoption of digital channels, the sheer reach available to brands has never been larger; nor has marketing ever been so measurable with such unfathomable granularity. So, which metrics can help simplify the complexity of digital marketing, and truly give a measure of success?
In truth, the answer is: There is no one-size-fits-all solution!
Whilst a huge range of metrics are available, a truly universal set fit for every business is unfortunately not – with metrics for success varying campaign by campaign and even audience by audience, or landing page by landing page. However, there are some commonly important metrics that have some crossover appeal for businesses.
The obvious digital metric set most clients tend to measure are traffic metrics – based around the number of users visiting your website over a given period of time. The assumptive logic here is that the more people you get to your website, the better. Whilst this is certainly a consideration, in truth it’s really the quality of traffic which needs to be measured – and there’s a plethora of sub-metrics which can help.
By looking at sub-metrics like bounce rate, time on page, and number of pages visited per session, we can gain a deeper understanding of user behaviour, and whether or not the users visiting the website are actually beneficial to the business. These quality indicators can help marketers to adjust campaigns, ongoing strategy, and influence which areas or audiences to focus on in the future. Whilst a large quantity of traffic can be good for brand awareness, without quality that traffic provides little benefit to the business – whether from campaign goals like leads, or physical sales.
Traffic can be a viable for individual campaigns, and a good measure of successful awareness building within an audience – but should be considered in light of complementary metrics that can give businesses an idea of the quality of their traffic and whether their campaigns are providing other benefits.
Marketers can also be heavily tempted by so-called vanity metrics – those which you can measure, but don’t really have an impact on your campaign or business. They can often be easily changed, are often dependent on specific campaign types, and do not often correlate with business success. Great examples can include impressions on paid ads, post likes or reactions on social media, or even follower numbers on some platforms.
These numbers can be huge (relative to harder-to-attain, actionable measures), and so very tempting to report on – who doesn’t want to show off millions of impressions? However, depending on the campaign goals and brand strategy, vanity results can have little value for a brand – and can even decrease return on investment by affecting conversion costs and important website metrics. Like traffic metrics, vanity metrics are often an example of quantity over quality, and incredibly careful management of campaigns based around vanity results is often required.
However, it is also important to consider whether or not statistics like social follower numbers or impressions are always a vanity metric. If they facilitate actionable decision making, are the main goal for a campaign, or represent growth in areas like brand awareness (or interaction), they are still able to make a valuable contribution to your sales funnel and deserve consideration as part of your strategy.
As long as those impressions are leading to clicks, clicks to actions, actions to sales and so on, as well as nurturing users down the funnel, then they still contribute to the goal. No metric should just be used as a measuring stick of success, or only ever considered in terms of ROI. One recommendation is to try asking three questions of the metric to decide if it is truly valuable or not:
- Does this allow us to make a business decision? (I.e. can we use this data to inform a course of action?)
- Can we influence replication of this result? (I.e. are you in control of cause/effect?)
- Is this a valid reflection of the truth? (I.e. are your results indicative of your customers behaviour and intent, or are they inflated?).
By carefully evaluating your available metrics prior to a campaign, as well as how your strategy will be affected by certain metrics, and what constitutes an acceptable return on your investment, you can ensure a clearer understanding of your results and what they could mean for your business.