To measure, or not to measure?
When it comes to outlining potential metrics in digital marketing, I always ask myself a question: “Can I measure this?”
For the most crucial elements of your strategy, the answer will likely be yes. But digital marketing involves tons of metrics that we must track on a daily basis. The majority of the data we gather gives us a general understanding of what’s going on, yet keeps us too far away from reaching our business goals. For instance, Google Analytics alone has more than 75 standard reports and each of them can be modified, providing us with even more data. Trust me, it’s hard to stick to your goal if you delve too deep into analytics. So, yes, the struggle is real.
I’m not going to reinvent the wheel here. In this article I’ll break down the most important steps you need to take when you are at the crossroads of defining your company’s short- or long-term digital marketing objectives. What if things go south, you ask? How do I fulfill my boss’ expectations? Will I ever be able to get over a failure? OK, let’s not get overly dramatic here. Read on to learn why I believe in the power of KPIs, reasons why you shouldn’t be afraid to experiment, the importance of stepping out of your comfort zone, how to properly set up your “plan, act, measure, improve” routine, and which metrics can be deemed reliable when you work with digital marketing channels (and how to not get misguided by them).
Selecting the right goals
One question that you really don’t want to spend more than a few seconds answering is: “Was it worth it?” To ensure that the effort, time, and money you put into your marketing journey aren’t wasted, you need to have a clear vision of where you’re headed.
So how do you know which goals are right for you?
Your best bet would be to split your goals into two separate groups that are focused on:
- Business objectives
- Tracking your own internal progress
Now, let’s see what these goals are all about, and what achieving them entails.
Bertie Charles Forbes once said, “If you don’t drive your business, you will be driven out of business.”
Steering any type of business in the right direction is never a piece of cake. And no one ever called finding a roadmap for how to get there a no-brainer.
Goals are the essence of expectations — the expectations of your boss, your clients, the CEO of your company, or anyone else whose opinion should be taken into consideration when it comes to your business strategy. Will there be any room left for a compromise? It’s up to you to decide, since these goals aren’t “one-size-fits-all.”
But what I can tell you for sure is that you have to “keep it real” and ensure that your business goals are attainable and realistic. Setting them requires determination, hard work, and perseverance. Here are a couple of handy tips for you:
- Do some research and find out what the major current trends in your industry are. Is your industry growing rapidly? Numbers don’t lie. Look into the matter and find the percentage of growth.
- Use Statista.com to can learn about your general industry trends. Statista is particularly useful when it comes to digital markets.
- Another great place to learn about industry trends is SimilarWeb. They have a solid list of industries that should give you an insight about what traffic sources are the most advantageous and why.
- Remember the past, live in the present, and think about the future. Gather as much historical data as possible. Historical data is vital — it helps predict the future of a company and a market.The results here should be delivered based on internal data gathered from Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager, with an emphasis on the number and type of transactions and information about your clients. In order for the results to be accurate, this data has to be gathered for at least a few months. It’s essential to detect a trend because you need to understand the following issues:
- Whether your business is affected by seasonality. For instance, the B2B SaaS industry normally experiences a recession close to the middle of July, and enters a ramp-up mode at the beginning of September. But without having YOY comparison at hand, you can’t say whether it’s a trend or not. Besides that, seasonality should also be taken into serious consideration if you’re planning to grow your conversions.
- Trends will help you identify which channels have performed better. Sometimes you can see that an overall sessions’ trend in Google Analytics is rising on a monthly basis, but it could be due to paid channels boosting your traffic flow. In this case, something could be wrong with organic traffic. Analyzing trends allows you to see how various digital marketing channels differ from one another, what tactics you need to bear in mind, and what specific aspects to focus on.
Are you looking to increase your bottom line? Willing to pump up your sales? Rome wasn’t built in a day. Think of a smaller goal that can be expanded upon rather than being apologetic at the end of the quarter. But don’t get too comfortable. Goals must challenge you. That’s how great things happen!
And whenever you’re measuring your business goals, money is the most accurate indicator. The more, the merrier. What’s the point of all the hard work you put in if it doesn’t maximize the bang for your buck?
Tracking your internal progress
Previously, I mentioned that we get bombarded by all kinds of digital marketing data flowing from various channels or tools. This data will remain fruitless unless it correlates with your business goals, but this is where Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) become highly relevant. A KPI is a measurement that demonstrates how effectively a company is achieving its key business objectives.
If you lock down the right KPIs to track, you’ll insure yourself against making uneducated marketing decisions. Each company has unique needs. So when faced with choosing your KPIs, obviously you should go for those that will assist you in reaching your business goals, not obstruct you.
Here I’d like to accentuate those KPIs that don’t assist you in accomplishing your business goals.
Based on my past experiences, here’s what I’ve come to realize:
- In event marketing, it’s a common practice to use the number of leads gathered during an event as an indicator of success: the more, the merrier. The problem, however, is that this metric doesn’t really speak for the sales activity. You try to score as many leads as you can, desperately scan each and every badge, including those folks at the booth nearby, so that you can impress your boss with a big number. In the end, you may have a lot of leads, but most of them are going to be useless. What’s the point in having heaps of leads if your dominant KPI is sales? You could have had only two successful sales meetings but still reach your quota.
- Another metric that I think email marketers shouldn’t sweat at all is keeping your unsubscribe rate as low as it could possibly be.It makes no sense if what you’re after here is sales. No doubt, you should keep an eye on your unsubscribe rate, but it’s not a key metric here. Users who have unsubscribed aren’t interested in your services, so get over those clients and focus on the ones who are interacting with your messages. Try to increase the amount of these users. You need less people that have accidentally subscribed to your list, and more people that will open, click, and then purchase. Simple as that!
Let’s say you want to set goals for your SEO strategy. The business goal here would be to increase your revenue streams from organic traffic. You also need to define an exact number to aim for in both the short and long term. However, in order to implement these tactics, you need to consider internal processes like:
- Site visibility (rankings, content, backlinks)
- On-page user behavior (bounce/exit rates, usability, session duration)
- Technical considerations (site speed, redirects, accessibility, site structure)
These groups are generic and will almost surely be different for every site out there, depending on which processes you focus on the most. The good thing is, once determined accurately, these internal metrics should help you understand whether your business goals are attainable early in the development stage.
The power of experimentation
When it comes to any business process, you should be open to experimentation. Data can give us clues about users’ past behavior, not about how they will respond to daring future changes — that is, if your process and your number of users allows for it. There’s no point in such a trivial exercise as an A/B test if you only have 100 users on a daily basis. Luckily there are plenty of other things that you can work on, such as operating within channels that allow you to see results in a short-term perspective. And where SEO is concerned, that definitely includes analyzing traffic, so that you can see whether getting a link from a particular site was worth the trouble.
According to Jim Manzi, founder of Applied Predictive Technologies, and Stefan Thomke, a Harvard Business School professor, the process of experimentation is easier said than done, owing to a myriad of organizational and technical challenges.
The authors of the article conclude that companies need to ask themselves several crucial, yet painfully obvious questions: Does the experiment have a clear purpose? Is the experiment doable? How can we ensure reliable results? Have we gotten the most value out of the experiment?
Take a moment and think if you can answer any of these.
Plan, act, measure, improve
I see digital marketing as a combination of facts and judgement. There’s no one analytic approach that can ultimately tell you you’re on the right track, give you a pat on the back, and say, “Great job, pal! Way to go!” That’s why I feel like the atmosphere within the digital marketing industry is filled with hesitation, uncertainty, and doubt.
Some marketers think that the answer to sharpening their judgement in this perpetually changing environment is data (you don’t say!), and some companies are gearing up with intricate analytical tools.
Yet, it’s next to impossible to integrate all of this information and make it serve answers that you can trust unconditionally. We get stoked by the prospects that “big data” and advanced analytics create — no doubt about that. But data continues to be only as valuable as the expertise you’ve nurtured, and good judgment will continue to be a hallmark of the best marketers.
However, if you create a process for planning, acting, measuring, and improving right off the bat, then you’ll be able to fully accomplish your business goals.
But before you try to make it happen, I want you to consider the following:
1. Your processes should be measurable (otherwise, there’s no room for improvement).
If you want to analyze the performance of your “Buy Now” button, then you need to make sure that you have everything to do that. I prefer to work with Google Tag Manager because it allows you to add new goals and see a user’s activity without bugging your developer to update scripts and things like that. It gives you the freedom to act, and that’s exactly what you need.
Note: Don’t forget to personally verify that all triggers are working properly and that you have all stats registered in your system.
Here’s a couple of great resource to help you understand and master Google Tag Manager:
- Some Awesome Google Tag Manager Resources by Simo Ahava
- What is Google Tag Manager? by Kaelin Harmon
- Complete Guide Google Tag Manager by iPullRank
2. You’re very likely to fail at your first attempt at choosing the right metrics (which is a part of the process; no one is insured against that).
You live, you learn — whether you’re the last one to know about the latest trend, or you’re too busy struggling to get this one thing right. Whichever your case, I feel your pain and I can assure you it’s absolutely normal.
Here’s my example: For a while, I considered the number of registered users to be the main metric for my own online event (and I still rely on this metric). However, I’ve learned that I can’t fully rely on this metric since the number of subscribers doesn’t really affect the number of actual live listeners. Recorded videos aren’t very popular among my audience, either; I suspect the reason for that is because my users want to consume content right when they’re becoming my subscribed users. And because it’s free of charge, there’s not enough incentive to come back for more. Human psychology is indeed an intricate thing.
3. Either your approach needs a slight adjustment, or it has to be replaced with a completely different tactic.
I think the best example here is a social media arena where experts have their sleeves rolled up, tweeting their day away, too busy to slow down and… analyze. There, I said it! You can go ahead and hate me now.
But that’s the reality. Some well-known companies publish works that say we need to post more, especially on Twitter, if we want to increase clicks, retweets, or shares. However, if you apply a little bit of common sense and dare to doubt such research, you’ll see that there’s no correlation between the number of posts and the level of engagement or number of clicks.
With that being said, the best approach here is to concentrate on conversions, rather than impressions — a metric that can be helpful when trying to increase brand awareness, but doesn’t generate clicks or retweets. The more time you spend improving conversions, the better results you’ll have in the end.
Take a look at SocialBakers’ report, which investigates the matter of tweeting frequency:
In order to shed some light on an everlasting problem, SocialBakers compared the Total Engagement Rate with the Average Engagement Rate of over 11,000 tweets between May 25th and June 25th back in 2013.
One of their major findings: you must figure out how to balance things and avoid “extremes,” and that three tweets a day will keep the decline of your engagement rate away.
Putting theory into practice
Moving on, I’d like to present you with some statistics from the Digital Olympus Twitter account:
|Tweets Per Day||3.8||15.16||4.61|
|Avg Impressions Per Day||3,700||5,100||4,500|
As you can see, in January we were able to improve our retweet/like and click activity. We experimented with different tactics. Our final goal was to get as many clicks as possible and a satisfying engagement rate. Back in December 2016, we were tweeting much more than we normally did, and it never affected our click rate. In January we decided to take it easy and started tweeting less, which was, in turn, more cost-effective. As you can see, the results were pretty good.
However, we did lose some traffic, which means we need to generate more than 4.6 tweets per day.
And as I’ve already mentioned, currently my main business metric is our number of subscribers, which has decreased slightly lately.
The graph above also tells me that even with fewer tweets, we’re still able to attract the right type of audience and to convert our registrants (in our case, the conversion is registration).
Metrics aren’t always perfectly revealing. Nevertheless, the volume of data accessible nowadays should make analytics doable. In this article I offered you insight into my way of defining business goals, managing internal processes, and dealing with such prosaic activities as measuring, which should never be underestimated. Provide yourself with everything you might possibly need to measure accurately, and don’t be afraid to fail. It’s all part of the process, believe me.
We’ve learned that setting your business goals requires some legwork, like collecting historical data and researching current industry trends. And once you’re certain about your KPIs, you should always keep them on your radar because they demonstrate how fruitful your efforts are on the way to accomplishing your business objectives.
Never stop experimenting with your business ideas, set goals that will challenge you and your team, and don’t go overboard with dubious practices. In this case, less is more.
Now, off to reaching new heights, guys!