One benefit of digital marketing is the ease of which results can be measured and reported upon. But knowing which figures to use can be more challenging. This article aims to tackle some of the KPIs that I’ve been asked to report on by both businesses and clients, and recommends some alternatives that may help give a more truthful insight into the performance of each digital marketing channel.
Impressions rarely give the full picture of a PPC campaign, and have to be used alongside other figures to give any truly valuable feedback. For example, a high number of impressions can be great (if they’re all getting clicks and conversions!) but not so great if the ads are being viewed by the wrong audience.
- Cost Per Acquisition (CPA)
Instead, it’s a good idea to get to the most valuable data. Usually this is the number of conversions (or sometimes clicks) and the cost associated per success. Reporting on Cost Per Acquisition (CPA) will give a better idea of how well the campaign is performing in terms of return on investment, which is often at the heart of marketing KPIs.
- Page rank & search positions
This one is commonly mentioned by clients. Whilst a good position in Google’s organic results is important, it’s definitely not the most important KPI to be reported, nor is it the most insightful. The position of a website in Google isn’t necessarily representable of the success of that website.
- Organic conversions
One of the great metrics of SEO success is the number of conversions from organic traffic. This value is directly comparable to the number of conversions from other channels (eg. PPC) although conversion rates (percentages rather than absolute numbers) often offer a fairer evaluation. If the total cost of SEO is known (it isn’t always tangible) then ROI can be compared against other channels, too.
The number of visitors to a site is somewhat misleading – similar to impressions mentioned above. There may be a huge number of visitors, but if the bounce rate is high then it’s likely attracting the wrong audience. Visitors can be a useful indicator to see which channels are generating the most interest, but it’s not a performance indicator as such.
- Conversion rate
Again, conversions are often the key to measuring true success (are you seeing a pattern yet?). Whilst there are plenty of other valuable KPIs to include when monitoring a website, the bottom line is usually how many new enquiries, opportunities or sales the business has made. Associating them to the website (and all online efforts) during the opportunity or sale is often the more tricky bit.
- CTR (Recipients vs clicks)
Click-through rate is mentioned a lot in email marketing, and it’s certainly not a bad metric. The number of recipients who clicked a link in the email can tell marketers some useful information. However, it’s not directly comparable to other email campaigns due to the different number of recipients per email (although yes, it’s a percentage – so it’s relative). Lower CTRs could be due to other variables (bad open rates or mailing lists) rather than the email content itself, making it hard to identify where to improve a campaign without further research.
- CTR (Open to click)
Instead, I prefer to use a slight variation on the metric, which compares the number of opens to the number of clicks. This mitigates any poor open rates or high bounce rates, allowing the content of two emails to be compared more accurately. Coupling this with open rate gives a much more accurate and insightful view of an email campaign.
- Followers, likes and subscriptions
The number of social subscriptions such as Twitter followers or Facebook Likes is ok for tracking continual progress, but it fails to really identify the success of a social campaign. It could be that the social feed is particularly popular with journalists, or that no-one that hits like ever engages with the content beyond that.
- Referral traffic
Identifying the amount of referral traffic that’s come from social platforms gives marketers a more detailed view of how social is actually working for them. This is also measurable as a continuous metric, hopefully seeing the figure grow month on month, and can be compared to other referral sources.
- Mobile visitors
Mobile metrics are much the same as website metrics (with a few obvious differences). The number of visitors to a site through a mobile device is not a true indicator of online success as a single figure. Rather it should be explored to see which channels are producing those visitors, making the metric more informative of online activity success than the website itself.
- Mobile conversions
Mobile conversions on the other hand do show the success of the mobile site. This is directly comparable to desktop conversions and by drilling down can give a much better idea of which channels are actually performing. Whilst visitors can almost give a false positive, conversions are directly related to return on investment and sales figures.
Show real success, not just marketing wins.
Return on Investment is paramount to keep in mind when dealing with marketing KPIs, especially when reporting to a board or management team. Whilst there are plenty of good metrics (all of the ‘bad’ metrics I’ve mentioned above do have a place in an online marketing report) choosing which ones to use for evaluating performance and showing to the board should focus on conversion rates and costs that senior managers will/should be most interested in.
Visitors, followers and page rank are all valuable metrics to a marketing department, but it’s an underlying knowledge that makes them tangible. A good marketer wouldn’t show the board or a client a lower page rank than the previous month (and get grilled for it) when they have actually generated more leads than previous months.