Metrics That Matter, Metrics That Don’t

Ah, marketing metrics. Those fascinating little numbers that marketing and advertising pros love to trot out to show progress, justify expenditures, rationalize decisions, look cool. Almost everyone loves to talk about metrics.

We’re data geeks, so we love talking about, working with, and generally doing anything that concerns analytics and metrics – metrics that matter, that is.

As data scientists, we know that not all metrics are created equal, nor should they be used across-the-board to evaluate every last marketing program. Too often, we see metrics that are applied incorrectly, or even worse, applied in order to confuse, cloud, or cover up.

Sometimes the latter happens deliberately. For example, in scenarios where a marketing or advertising agency will churn out 95-page marketing reports that only contain two pages of relevant data, in the hopes that overwhelming their client or employer with facts and stats will make them look good or distract attention for questionable performance in a particular area.

In other cases, the marketing professional who produces voluminous marketing data reports isn’t trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes -he’s just unenlightened about how to wade into an ocean of available data and fish out the numbers that matter the most.

So, in the spirit of successful fishing, let’s take a look at some metrics that almost always matter, a few that sometimes matter, and a couple of marketing metrics that are pretty pointless:

Metrics that need to go away:

Google PageRank: Long ago in an Internet far away, Google PageRank was a very important indicator of a website’s value, in terms of visitor traffic and activity. But a lot of things have happened since then (too many to go into in this article), which means that PageRank’s functionality and accuracy have become pretty irrelevant. So irrelevant, in fact, that Google hasn’t even bothered to update the PageRank tool in a while, and probably never will again. Even so, you’ll still see SEO “experts” trot out Google Page rankings like they matter.

Earned media equivalency values: Marketing pros and non-pros alike will frequently insist that PR agencies or team members provide “value” for what’s known as “earned media” placements (editorial news stories). In other words, they want to know how much a 60-second story about their business, product, issue, or event on the 6 p.m. newscast is “worth”.

This may sound reasonable, but the problem is that (a) Earned media placements are actually priceless – you can’t buy a New York Times cover story, for example. no matter how much money you have; and (b) Even though you can compare editorial media size to purchased media size, they are still not the same animals. Apples-to-apples comparison of one-page feature story in a magazine to a one-page ad in the magazine just isn’t possible, because they were created for different purposes, have different types of content, different placements, etc. Two different vehicles.

Metrics that (sort of) matter, with a lot of context:

Social media followers: Some marketing pros have started saying that metrics about Facebook likes and Twitter followers “don’t matter at all”, but that’s a little silly. At some point, the size of a marketing channel’s potential audience has to factor into your thinking about your overall marketing strategy.

But we definitely agree that the number of social followers you have isn’t nearly as important as other considerations in social media, like audience quality and audience engagement. You may be thinking that it’s awesome that your brand has 3,000 Twitter followers, for example, but if only 50 of those followers fit your best customer profile, then it really doesn’t matter that you’re getting impressions with the other 2,500 each month, outside of some minimal brand awareness. Why? Those 2,500 folks are unlikely to do much (if any) business with you. So who really cares if they are seeing your content each month?

Impressions: This is another metric that people tend to either really hang their hat on or dismiss completely. We advocate neither stance. Instinctively, a savvy marketers knows that impressions do have some limited value with respect to brand awareness, so it never hurts to know how many times a month your brand is “getting out there.” But mostly, impressions should only be considered in their relationship to clicks (see below) and whether or not they are being impressed upon your best customers (see above).

Metrics that almost always matter:

Cost: The question of “how much did it cost us?” to get a direct mail piece redeemed, earn a click to our website, or acquire a converted customer should always be posed and answered, and re-examined over the duration of a long-term campaign.

Clicks/Visits: Clicks on your content – in the form of website links, social media posts, email newsletter stories, and so on – matter mightily. Clicks and visits have to happen, in most cases, in order for a prospect to convert into a customer. However, it’s important to remember to consider clicks and consumption in the context of the big picture, or your overall traction. If you get too hyper-focused on the click rate of every single individual piece of content, you’ll likely find yourself wanting to abandon content tactics before you’ve given them a chance to blossom and show results.

Opens: We’ve noticed lately that some marketing pros are maintaining that “only clicks matter” when it comes to email marketing success, but that’s pretty ridiculous. You can’t get clicks until you have opens, and the more open rates you have, the higher your chances are for clicks. Open rates can be impacted by a number of factors, like the quality of your database, the effectiveness of your subject lines, and the time of your distribution. You won’t know how to evaluate those factors unless you consider them within the context of your open rates.

There’s nothing we do better than marketing research data, database marketing, and analytics. If you’re ready to kick some higher voltage into your marketing strategy by adding a data-driven approach, we’d love to have lunch.