Analytics isn't just about numbers; it's about understanding purpose.
When looking for key performance indicators, or KPIs, in their digital ecosystems, people often ask, "What numbers do I need to be watching?"
There are so many numbers—bounce rate, time on page, funnel abandonment rate, conversion rate, percent new users, etc.—and not all of them are useful all of the time. In order to understand how your digital ecosystem helps you deliver on that mission, start by answering these questions:
Question #1: What is the role of your website in the business?
This is a super important piece of context that many people forget about. They think, “We need leads!” But they don't take the time to think through the lead-generation process, what all the touch points are and what role each touch point plays. They create a campaign plan that uses every platform they have access to but then they don't plan to use each tool for its best use. Nor do they have a clear understanding of how each piece of the marketing puzzle is meant to contribute in its own unique way. This creates less than optimal results because their strategy is shallow. Understanding what role in the business each piece plays, especially the very important website, is critical to establishing a foundation for success.
Question #2: What value does your website provide?
Once you know the role of the website, you can figure out the value it brings. Value can be direct or indirect. Direct value comes from things that have a clear and obvious benefit, often monetary. Creating efficiencies that lead to cost savings through a website is a good example. Indirect benefits are less tangible and may be subtler, such as process improvements and best practices.
For example, let's say your website is intended to generate leads. Lots of activities can generate leads. What is the unique value your website provides? For many organizations, a website can provide more structured leads with better information. Every form collects the same information. The exact date and time of the lead is captured. The lead can be attributed to a marketing campaign. It can be associated with an existing or new account. This structured intake process is much more reliable than the ad hoc methods used at trade shows and networking events. That structured input is valuable because it creates a more complete lead record which can yield more insights.
Question #3: What measurable objectives can you articulate?
Objectives are plain-language statements of intent. Sometimes these are self-evident and simple. Sometimes they carry a more complicated intention. They can be as abstract or as specific as you like. They should always include an action word that says what kind of change is desired. Preferably they will include some understanding of "how."
For instance, these are all valid objectives, but you can see how more detail (including the “how”) provides more specific information:
The more clarity you provide, the easier it will be to derive what your KPIs are. If the objectives are too broad, you’ll end up with unnecessary complexity and potentially confusing results.
Question #4: What metrics are available that would indicate you are achieving your objectives?
Key Performance Indicators are a short list of metrics that help you understand if you are progressing toward your objective. Once you know the role, the value and the objectives, then you can start to ask about metrics. It is important to understand what metrics are currently available. What does your website offer that is directly related to what you are trying to accomplish?
It is also important to recognize if there are gaps in the tracking. Gaps can come in 2 forms—missing data and unreliable data. If you forget to add tracking to your ads, then you are missing data and reporting performance will be difficult. If you have tracking on your ads but are not confident that the person who set it up has the necessary skills and experience to do a thorough job, then you may end up with data quality problems. Unreliable and inconsistent data is the hobgoblin of analytics. Having experienced people with strong skills manage your analytics is critical to avoid these kinds of gaps. If you do have gaps in your data, then you’ll need to make a plan to get them corrected.
Assuming there are no gaps in the data, here is a scenario:
You manage the digital marketing team. Your website plays a first-touch lead-gen role in the organization. It brings multiple values: it is always on, has wide reach and can offer low-friction conversion points. Consequently, lead quality may sometimes be low, but that's understandable considering its frontline role in the lead-gen ecosystem. Your objective is to get more leads, specifically from new geographies. You see an opportunity to partner with the account teams. The website will host a brilliant new whitepaper (gated) and the account teams will leverage their relationships by sending an email to their clients that encourages them to read and share the new whitepaper. What metrics do you have to understand if this works?
The full suite of email metrics—sends, bounces, unsubscribes, clicks, opens, forwards, etc.
The full suite of site metrics—entrances, bounces, downloads, engagement, etc.
The full suite of account metrics—individual response rates, lead scores, etc.
There are a lot of metrics you could look at! But what are the 3-5 metrics that really tell you if your effort worked? Consider these:
Total count of downloads. This is the obvious number. Nice and big but a bit abstract. What insights do you gain here? Not much, it’s too basic. However, it is important for understanding context. Did this campaign produce more or less than other efforts? It can also give you some trend insights—did people download right away or did they wait? And it can provide a base number when forecasting sales and revenue. There are two variations that are important to look at:
Total downloads by client account. If your objective includes existing accounts, then you want more engagement from each account. Accounts with relatively low downloads require more thought. Accounts with stronger download counts show more interest and might warrant a sales follow up.
Total downloads by segment. This is similar to client accounts, but more general. Segmentation can be anything that matters to you. In our example we are looking at geographies, but you could also look at organization size, industry and the job title of your contact. Segmentation is critical to understanding what was successful and where the opportunities for improvement are.
Conversion rate (downloads divided by emails delivered). How is it actionable? If the percent is low, then there is a drop-off problem somewhere upstream. Is it a lack of clicks? Is it a high landing-page bounce rate? Is it a form-abandonment problem? Conversion rate is an important metric because it is an optimization metric. It indicates if there are problems in the user experience that will require fixing. Again, segmentation is critical here.
Emails forwarded. For an objective that seeks to increase engagement in existing accounts, forwards are a great metric. They indicate that the content was not only digested by the reader, but that reader was inspired to share with someone who they thought would benefit from the content. These kinds of 1:1 referrals are the most trusted by end users. Next, did any of these recipients act? Even if not, at least a low-touch connection was made, and that's an important start.
Repeat visits. Again, a big part of this objective is to increase engagement. As such, if someone comes back several times to check things out, then you are on the right track. Even if they don't download the assets, with good tracking you can see who is taking an interest and reach out to them directly. This can be more productive than the one-and-done downloader because the repeat visits indicate they are thinking about it.
Here are two bonus metrics that go beyond marketing, but are important for marketing to be aware of:
Total Wins (and revenue). This metrics is the best, but it may take some time to figure out if the sales cycle is long. Also, it requires diligence with attribution, especially when there are multiple interactions that are required to close a sale.
Average Lead Quality Score. Sales always wants high quality leads and they frequently point out that a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) is not a Sales Qualified Lead (SQL). While marketing can’t be held accountable for everything, it is important to keep an eye on lead quality. In this way, marketing can optimize for better results that help the sale team be more effective.
These are your KPIs!
From here you'll understand if you met your objective, if your website provided unique value and if it successfully fulfilled its role in the ecosystem. All in all, a good day's work and not difficult to figure out if you start with purpose and find the correct KPIs.