James Arnold, Chief Digital Officer, Rooster Strategic Solutions

Measuring digital performance has always involved smoke and mirrors. In the beginning, back in the stone age era of digital marketing (circa the early 90s), the first in a long line of lazy marketers landed on hits as a solid metric. And the seedier marketers among them learned to artificially inflate these metrics with 1×1-pixel downloads on pages.

Then, slightly-less lazy marketers moved on to clicks. And we stayed there. For decades. Granted, a few other metrics have emerged to help justify your digital spend, but hits and clicks are still the most widely used measurements, and at the end of the day, clients have little choice but to accept excel sheets from the vendors and pray that their investment is sound.

Is there a better way to assess digital performance? Absolutely, although it may take a little effort. Here are the most common digital metrics available, from least to most useful.

Pointless metrics: CTR, traffic, and page views. In theory, these make sense. We use digital tools to drive steady growth in total traffic to our websites. Click-through-rate (CTR) measures the percentage of people who clicked on the ad. Measuring total traffic (or visits) to your site helps to identify trends. Understanding where customers look most on your site (page views) can help you strategically place the most important information where it’s most visible.

In practice, however, these are almost worthless as metrics because they’re too arbitrary. I can buy clicks, but that won’t necessarily increase conversion. Paying to have robots land on your site will boost traffic numbers but won’t move the sales needle. I once accidentally put a pixel on a client’s page twice, and boy, did our page views go up! None of these actions will help sell your products or services.

At best, CTR, views, and traffic can be used as comparison tools, to measure year-over-year performance, or as part of A/B testing. They’re like a dashboard in your car – they can tell you that’s something changing but won’t tell you what you need to do to improve performance.

Mostly pointless metrics: Cost-per-click, cost-per-impression. Again, the theory of these metrics is sound. If you can determine the cost to generate an action, you can assess the practical worth of that investment. That’s the whole point of metrics, right?

Unfortunately, it depends on what you’re measuring. In my experience, CPI is pretty much a garbage statistic. Most vehicles – Facebook, for instance – are set up around engagement. Facebook doesn’t care that it takes 100,000 impressions to get the click I want, just so long as I get the click that I want. Impressions are irrelevant. CPC is a little better since it breaks down the cost of getting the engagement that I want, but it’s not the holy grail that marketers have made it out to be because it’s too far removed from the purchase. If CPC can help you identify that you’re paying $10 for every click to come to your site and view your 50-cent product, that’s useful information. Otherwise, keep reading.

Might be worth measuring: Bounce rate, First-time/Returning Visitors. The bounce rate shows you the number of users who left after viewing a single page on your website. Tracking visitors based on the number of times they’ve been to your site can help you identify new prospects, as well as the relevance and value of the information on your site.

Both these can be useful, but in my opinion, measuring bounce rate is more helpful. For instance, I like to use the bounce rate to measure the performance of landing pages for campaigns. It’s an audience metric that tells me how different tactics are performing. Do I have the right keywords? Is the creative on target? I like to compare bounce rate with time-on-site metrics. If a person spends significant time on the page before leaving, I might need to rework the landing page and links; if they leave immediately, it’s likely that I’m attracting the wrong audience, and that’s likely because my tactics need tweaking.

Tracking first time and returning visitors may be useful, but it depends on your overall plan. If you’re trying to reach new customers – or if you’re selling upgrades to your current products – then knowing who’s visiting for the first time as opposed to returning visitors is valuable. But be careful with the definitions. Returning visitors are typically identified as those who came back to the same page within a month, but what if they visited the page six weeks ago? Or last year? Knowing this isn’t totally useless but is best used as a directional metric.

The Holy Grail: Conversion. This is the hardest to measure, but it’s by far the most important metric because it gets to the heart of marketing: Provoking change. Getting the prospect to move further down the sales funnel.

Many marketers, especially in the ag industry, have trouble with this because they equate conversion with a final sale, and that transaction may occur weeks or months after the campaign tactics have been executed, making it hard if not impossible to connect the dots. But conversion doesn’t necessarily mean “sale.” It might mean configuring a product online, asking for demo, or even watching a specific video. What is it that you want your prospects to do? Measure that. That’s conversion.

Another reason that conversion is tough to measure is because it often means getting the web developers involved to place the conversion pixel on the page, and because the different vehicles have different tracking mechanisms – the Google pixel vs. Facebook pixel, for example. It takes more planning, but it’s ultimately far more useful.

Even better? Go beyond the conversion. There is tremendous value to be realized from digital advertising beyond the realm of useless metrics and lazy marketers if you know where to look. Here are some of the top achievements from digital advertising and ways to measure them.

  • Thought leadership. Survey data can give you a fuzzy view of how prospects view your company and its expertise, but a secondary and more useful measure can come from digital scoring options, primarily around SEO, from SEMRush, and Google.
  • Brand recall. This is best tabulated through awareness research or pre/post surveys.
  • Funnel efforts/purchase influence. There are mechanisms to maintain measurement of lead quality and close rate increases. But, in tandem, you want to increase quality volume.
  • Supporting offline events. Attendance figure increases are a soft measure; asking “Where did you hear about the event” offers direct measure.

Clicks and hits may be the easiest ways to measure digital performance, but they’re not the best. Not by a long shot. It’s worth taking the time initially to build the campaign with metrics in mind and measuring the pieces that provide the most insight to meet your individual marketing needs.

If you have any questions about these metrics, or simply want an unbiased opinion on your digital plans and execution, I’d love to have a conversation.