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Beware of False Metrics

Author's avatar By Expert commentator 10 Aug, 2015
Essential Essential topic

Focussing on the wrong metrics can be a distraction and a waste of time but there are ways to keep your focus and make measurement worthwhile

When it comes to marketing metrics, do you ever feel like you’re chasing the wind? In the case of false metrics, that’s exactly what you are doing.

False metrics are the metrics that distract you from the metrics that really matter. They’re likely to be everyday KPIs, but they don’t really have an impact on the bottom line.

In the world of marketing, false metrics appear all too often and it is commonplace to hear about the wrong metrics being measured and reported.

False metrics

Examples of the wrong metrics would be:

  • Chasing Facebook ‘likes’ or Twitter followers
  • Looking at social media reach
  • Undertaking an SEO campaign in order to increase traffic to your website.

There is a tendency to just gauge what is easy to measure rather than the metrics that really matter - they are an excuse for undertaking little more than a vanity project.

Instead here are some ways of approaching metrics in a more effective way:

  • Decide what the ultimate goal or objective is and then look at the metrics that are really important in assessing how to achieve that. For example, you might be looking for increased sales or an uplift in new data acquisition (form conversions) – what would be the best ways to measure that activity?
  • In the example of SEO, many marketers want an increase in website traffic, but this isn’t necessarily a good thing. Instead, the measure of success with SEO should be quality traffic, assessed by time on site, conversions and the resulting sales. There isn’t much point in just looking at higher search traffic, if that traffic is the wrong traffic.

In the words of the author and entrepreneur Seth Godin:

“A useful metric is both accurate (in that it measures what it says it measures) and aligned with your goals. Making your numbers go up (any numbers--your bmi, your blood sugar, your customer service ratings) is pointless if the numbers aren't related to why you went to work this morning.”

We recently had a meeting with an SEO agency that we share a client with. When we discussed the performance of the activity, we suggested that they should be looking at pages per visit, duration of visit and conversions in order to measure the quality of the traffic to the client’s website. Unfortunately they didn’t agree because our suggestion didn’t fit with their established KPIs. They were being measured on website traffic bounce rate and therefore their focus was centred on ensuring that search visitors clicked through to another page, regardless of whether they converted or not. For them, they set down the path of optimising pages to encourage visitors to act, regardless of what they clicked on. What’s more, the fact that they focused on one or two metrics that only partly told the story, made very little impact on the client’s business.

The fact is that if you take a traffic figure and a ‘lower bounce rate’ to a sales director it would be meaningless to them. Ultimately, what you do should contribute in some way to achieving business objectives.

It would be better to brief the agency to improve the up-weight of SEO leads (or proposals) by, say, 30%. Then the SEO agency would adjust its focus to the quality of traffic and website optimisation to ensure conversions (not page views). Ultimately this is a very different brief and includes the minor metrics but gives a different, and more critical, view of what the objectives are.

Some considerations for setting marketing campaign objectives:

  • Consider what you are trying to achieve and how might you measure that?
  • What combination of KPIs are needed as minor metrics to ensure that you’re going to meet your objective?
  • At what stages are you going to measure these?
  • How are you going to report on them from a marketing perspective?
  • How are you going to report on them so it’s relevant for your department head or MD?
  • What tools do you need to achieve this? For example, Google custom reports, UTM tracking codes or access to the CRM for sales conversion tracking.
  • What are you going to do to rectify any issues that become apparent?

Marketing automation can help track performance

Another problem with false metrics is that they over-complicate the reporting process and methods. Finding value and reporting on performance just gets more complex because you’re really looking in the wrong direction.

Investing in a marketing automation system is the best way to challenge these bad habits. A system like this will measure and track website traffic from the very first contact that a visitor has (e.g. a search term) all the way through to sales conversion. A system such as that might not be affordable for everyone and there are other ways to achieve the same results – it’s more time-consuming without the technology but it is possible.

We work in the B2B space and their number one agonising need is more leads – and leads of a particular quality. It doesn’t matter if they’re selling services or product, they all want to rank higher in the search engines for the chosen terms and generate good quality leads that fit the profile of their target buyers. Ideally those will then go on to buy.

For those in that space, SEO does become more complex. Buying cycles are extended and can typically be six months to two years, so following those leads and determining the quality of them becomes difficult – which is why a marketing automation platform (linked to a CRM) is essential to know what’s working and what’s not when it comes to your SEO strategy.

It also becomes obvious that increased web traffic as a KPI is simply not enough, particularly when it’s possible to track sales opportunities right back to keywords, even two years down the line. And with buying cycles lasting that long, you’ve got to be patient and take a more strategic view, rather than a tactical conversion optimisation strategy that encourages visitors to look at more than one page.

In the B2B space, it has to be a balance of indicative short term KPIs and long term sales performance – all tied back to the SEO strategy.

So the next time you set a brief for an agency or even just for an internal assessment of your own campaigns, consider the important metrics and how success can be demonstrated. Distinguish between those important metrics and the ones which are false – remember if you can take the results to the sales director and they care about what you’re telling them, then you’re on the right lines. If not, then you’re probably just chasing the wind.

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