A special thanks to Sean Martin at Directive Consulting for writing this piece.
Ever been on a road trip where the driver has no idea where he (yes guys, it’s usually us) is going? Or looked at a car engine making some mysterious ticking noise without the slightest clue of what is actually wrong? Identifying the problem is the first step in solving the problem. To know what’s wrong - or what needs to be improved - you need to know what statistic to look at. This is where choosing the right KPIs to monitor your campaigns comes into play.
Let’s go back to the car. Or, better yet, the car engine. Efficiency is probably the most commonly used overlapping word between the dialect of an SEO agency and the dialect of engine repair. And the metaphor is sound.
To run correctly and efficiently, both need to be streamlined and ensure all of their working parts are all aimed at the same goal. Furthermore, they both need to know where to look to see if they are functioning properly - an engine has its fluid levels, the belt’s tautness, the differential charge between the alternator and the battery - you have to be looking for “the right signs.”
You can think of Google Analytics as your car specs and voltmeter - telling you what to monitor and providing you with data on those metrics. But, just as any grease monkey would tell you, a true owner fine tunes his machine for specific performance goals. Following the lowest common denominator of guidelines is how you stay exactly that: the lowest common denominator.
Identifying the right KPIs for the various channels of your online marketing campaigns is how to really dig into the nuances of how your content is performing. The deeper you dig, the shinier the gold you will be finding.
Regardless of the campaign, there are certain KPIs you should always monitor (check out this master list of SEO KPIs every business should be watching). These can be considered your “Foundational KPIs”; they help you get started on tracking the efficiency of your campaigns and will show you what’s working and what needs to be improved.
You can categorize your analysis to make it a bit easier on yourself, splitting them up into 4 basic pillars: Landing Page metrics, Website metrics, Keyword metrics, and Adwords metrics.
Are your landing pages optimized to capitalize on the clicks they are generating? Or are users finding your page and quickly bouncing right off? AdWords keeps track of the basic statistics like number of landing pages and each of their click volume. But what you need to be looking at are the metrics that are measuring your optimization - how your pages are performing at the daunting task of lead generation and conversion.
A. Bounce Rate
This metric measures how many of your users leave the site after viewing only one page. It’s a very helpful - but depressing - landing page metric. It doesn’t show you what the users are being put-off by, but it shows that they are neither encouraged to stay on your page and navigate through the rest of your site, nor convert. Lowering your Bounce Rate, though, is directly related to increasing your Conversion Rate - they’re two sides of the same coin.
B. Conversion Rate
Once you’ve dropped your bounce rate and are once again collecting traffic through your pages, you need to be looking at what you’re doing with that traffic. Improving your conversion rates on a daily basis is what separates the great PPC campaigns from the average ones. Capitalizing on each opportunity your PPC ads give you is how you turn your traffic, into cash! Check out PPC Hero’s piece on optimizing your PPC CRO here.
Now, how do you improve your conversion rate? What changes do you need to implement in order to take your traffic and transform it into conversions? Consider looking at this problem from the user’s eyes. What could be changed about their experience to make them more likely to convert and buy?
A good example of this is Directive Consulting’s solution to GPSTrackit’s issue with scheduling demos. The issue was the GPSTrackit’s CTA to “schedule a demo” was too high in friction and not converting into actual schedule appointments. Directive accounted for the displeased clientele and made adjustments accordingly.
Looking to improve conversions, they considered the user’s desires and were looking to please and delight them more, thus indirectly but powerfully increasing the conversion rate for GPSTrackit. You can read more about how they increased conversions on this CrazyEgg post.
By switching from a “schedule demo” CTA to pitching 5 minute demo videos that the clients could watch on their own time, the conversions increased from 1.56 to 15%! Now that’s a big jump!
C. Close Rate
It’s important to still remain aware, however, of what happens if you then don’t properly align your offers with the services you provide. For example, giving away free products may increase online conversions but it won’t necessarily increase sales qualified leads or purchases. Making the right decisions to increase actual productivity is exactly why you need to be looking at the right KPIs, instead of chasing down red herrings.
Conversion Rate and Close Rate differ slightly on this point. Conversion Rate measures the number of online conversions divided by the number of clicks that can be traced to that given conversion. It gives you a percentage of how many of the users who click on your page are ultimately converting.
Close Rate, however, is concerned more with sales. While Conversion Rate can sometimes be confused by gated content downloads and information registries that qualify as “conversions” but don’t necessarily lead to increase in monetized sales, Close Rate is where you look if you want to see if a new addition to your campaign is directly putting more money in your pocket. Does your gated content piece for a free cup of coffee in exchange for an email actually lead to increased foot traffic and in-store coffee purchases from those repeat customers? Or not?
Website Metrics (SEO)
As opposed to PPC, which focuses on paid for link-ads, SEO focuses on organic search results and improving your ranking on specific keyword results. Now, to improve your ranking for those keywords, a lot of stuff has to happen. Monitoring the connectivity and efficiency of your interlinked site - and all the individual pages that it consists of - is where you’ll have to start in order to optimize your SEO campaigns. Here are the KPIs that will show you if your content is generating quality traffic.
A. Visit Length and Duration
Making sure that your content is generating the interest in your brand or service that you want is a strong first step in optimizing your keyword rankings through site optimization. You can look into metrics like visit length and duration to see how long users are spending on your content pages - are they reading them? Skimming them? Or just clicking on to the next page? You’re content should be engaging users. Make sure the numbers show that.
B. A/B Testing
Once you have established what you consider to be a strong site profile, you can start looking into changes you can make to improve it even more. Comparison testing, or A/B Testing, is where you isolate singular variables on your page and test different formats or keywords on that variable to see those that perform better. Keep in mind that having a clear hypothesis when testing is important, as is making sure you are properly isolating your variables to ensure your data isn’t skewed by any other tests you may be running.
C. User Behaviour/Flow
This is a harder KPI to measure directly, but if you can optimize the user experience and behaviour on your site, you’ll definitely see an increase in traffic, visit duration, and probably even conversions.
Can users successfully complete the tasks they need to complete when they come to your site? Can they easily find any content that they are looking for - or do they need to leave the page and go off-site for further information? Asking yourself these questions can help you understand if you need to be streamlining your pages for better user experience. You shouldn’t be providing useless, or superfluous information, and you should make sure that users don’t have to leave your page for any other questions they may have.
Here’s an easy tip: minimize the number of clicks it takes to get from your home page to your deepest piece of content. Imagine that users have very delicate, weak fingers that must be protected from overuse. Check out this read on how “laziness” taught one SEO the importance of flat site architecture.
When it comes to SERP (Search Engine Results Page) ranking, keyword KPIs constitute the backbone of your analysis. These metrics show you how well your site is generating organic traffic and how impressed Google is by your site optimization. Ideally, if you are aiming to dominate the field, you should be aiming for the top three results on any of the SERPs that result from your primary keywords for your target audience. But number one is never a bad goal either.
A. Core Pages Keyword Ranking
Optimizing your core pages where you convert most of your traffic is your first priority; you want to make sure that your core pages are ranking for the right keywords. There are plenty of helpful tools (like SEMRush) which will show you your rank for the given keyword (your actual position on the SERP) and the link that is currently ranking there.
Looking for pages that are currently ranking in the 5-10 range is a great place to start. You can take these pages, considered your “money pages,” and link to them from new or refreshed content to try to push them up into the top three positions, where the big bucks are.
B. Market Share
If you’re looking to dominate any given keyword result you should also be looking at your market share metric. How many positions in the SERP are occupied by links to your site, or how many sites in the top ten results link to you as well? If you can monopolize the majority of a SERP with multiple quality links to distinct content pages on your site, it will help you widen your traffic funnel, as well as show users how diverse your expertise is.
C. Unique Keyword Search Volume
Taking up a large market share on primary keywords is one way to monopolize the traffic of that SERP. But any SEO strategist knows that the long-tail of research can be just as profitable - and often times more so - than the short-tail tactics that focus on your primary keywords.
Think about when you yourself uses a search engine: sometimes you are just wandering around the SERP checking the links for something that suits that vague thought that you typed into the search bar. But more often than not, if you are an experienced search engine user (and who isn’t these days, what with the magic Google machine sitting in your pocket), you will specify your search to filter through the generalities and find links that take you directly to the products/services you are looking for.
Knowing how much of your traffic is being generated by unique keyword searches can provide some surprising insights into how you should be optimizing your campaigns. You don’t want to take your foot off the gas after monopolizing more market share. Using tools like the wildcard to identify long-tail keyword search can help you generate a large amount of traffic from unique search links as well as reap the benefits of the lion’s share of the SERP. The unique keyword search metric can help you roadmap what market research you should be doing in the future to better access the niche markets that already seem to have an eye on your content.
Some online marketing campaigns diversify their channels to account for the universality of search. That being said, looking at your individual campaigns - or your only campaign if you are a PPC company - requires the right tools and the right metrics. Google AdWords is one of the premier PPC ad softwares. However, because it is PPC, your placements are based on payments instead of ranking. Or, to be more accurate, what you pay depends on how Google ranks you (Wordstream has great stuff on this).
A. Cost Per Click (CPC)
CPC is the basic payment model for most PPC campaigns. It’s pretty straight-forward: you pay each time any user clicks on your AdWords link. You want this cost to be as low as you can get it, which is trickier than it looks. Since the advent of PPC back in 1996, and Google’s renovation in 2000 with AdWords, the PPC market has been rapidly flooded with agencies all bidding for the best ad spots.
With the oversaturation of the PPC market, average CPC prices have climbed in direct response. Where original CPCs were in the fractions of a cent back in the day, some of the prime SERP real-estate today is going for upwards of $55/click!
Some primary keywords just aren’t worth competing and paying for anymore. Identifying the long-tail keywords that are far more inexpensive can be a great way for you to balance out your average CPC and tighten your purse strings a bit.
B. Click-Through Rate (CTR)
Improving your Click-Through Rate is a vital aspect of optimizing your PPC campaigns. CTR measures the total number of clicks you receive from a given link per number of impressions, where impressions are simply whenever a user sees an ad.
This KPI often comes into conflict with VTR (View-Through Rate) over which is better at demonstrating the success of the given ad. But the truth is that the two metrics measure slightly different things: CTR measures your conversions based on actual clicks and traffic that is directly linked to your advertisements, whereas VTR accounts for all the leads and conversions you may have generated by providing a solid impression or engagement for the user, who later returned directly to your site on their own to convert.
Here is a quick comparison of the conversion method of CTR vs VTR
If you are focusing on deliberate and readily traceable maps of where your traffic is coming from, CTR is probably your best choice. But remember that depending on what you’re measuring, the metric you use will often be changing. Nothing is set in stone.
C. Quality Score
Here’s the biggy. If it were really the case that the highest bidder wins the best ad placement, then the PPC industry would be dominated simply by which company has the most capital to throw on the fire. Google knows this, and did something to fix it.
The Quality Score is a metric that Google keeps to itself that calculates the relevancy and quality of your link’s content. The better job you do at tailoring your content for the user, the higher your quality score and the less you’ll have to pay per click. Keep this in mind whenever you are developing a new page, because if Google thinks your stuff isn’t relevant or high quality, it could cost you.
D. Cost Per Conversion (CPA)
Generating traffic is great and all, but at the end of the day we are all running business here. Converting is what really matters. While a shoe maker might be happy if he has 100 people come into his shop - he won’t be when they all leave without buying anything. On the other hand if 15 - or 50 - or more of those potential customers decide to buy shoes from him - now he has reason to be elated.
Monitoring your CPA tells you a more general story about your online marketing campaign. It shows you how much you are paying - with hours, money, click payments, and content development - to generate each conversion that actually comes from your site. You want this number low just like the your CPC. The less you are paying for traffic, and the less you are paying to convert users, the bigger your business is booming.
E. Return on Advertising Spending (ROAS)
ROAS often gets put into conflict with CPA just like CTR is often challenged by VTR. The main difference between ROAS and CPA is that with the first you are looking for an ideal ratio of your spending versus your returns, whereas in the latter you have a more clearly established goal you are developing your content towards. PPC Hero does a great job of tackling the debate between CPA and ROAS, make sure you check it out.
Keep a clear and prioritized list of which KPIs you are monitoring for short term, medium, and long term goals. Different KPIs will be giving you different data, and you need to adjust for both growth periods as well as the goals you are setting with your KPIs. The key to a well run campaign is being founded on organized data, no Brett Favre gun slinging here, thank you very much (sorry Packers fans).
The same goes for testing; the scientific method had stuck around for centuries for a reason. Establishing a clear hypothesis, rigid and easily confirmed test parameters, and a goal or expectation will keep your tests on track and focused.
Try to build your tests around tangible data as well. Testing if an alteration to your page “improves the page” or “gets more traffic” is not nearly as poignant a test as “If we request more information on our gated content surveys, we will probably see a decrease in lead generations but an increase in the quality of the leads because we will have more info on each conversion.”
KPIs are all about measuring the progress of a given tactic. It’s safe to say you can have KPIs for your people as well as for your products. When establishing KPIs with your different teams, keep in mind the above two reminders.
You want to be very action and task oriented, so it is easier to mark progress and performance. But you also want to start with general goals and then work towards continually pinpointing your goals down to the specific monetization goals for the pieces of content you create. Sites like GrowthHacker and Asana are great for organizing your office in this manner.
GrowthHacker allows for teams to promote individual “ideas” that can then be ran through tests and implementation - all on a shared site that all team members have access to. You can upvote ideas and crowdsource your thought process to produce some truly innovate and creative stuff. Then you can turn these into testable ideas and plug them into Asana, a very detail oriented task manager - and streamline even the creativity in your creative teams!
Besides the foundational KPIs that you should, without a doubt, be using to monitor your campaign’s progress, here are a few more nuanced measurements of how your content is being viewed, received, and shared. These show you more than whether or not your piece is working: they show you why it works (or doesn’t).
Your content marketing should include deep market research in order to inform the development of the copy and creatives that your users are reading. Keep it innovative, informative, and actionable in order to always provide your users with the freshest and most insightful content in your field.
1. The secret KPI that’ll make the difference : Engagement
Measuring the success of your content is tougher than most other KPIs because content is what drives so much of your online marketing. Content is king, after all. So what tangible statistics can you look at to see how users are engaging with your content? Heres three, for starters:
2. Readership Length
Monitoring the readership length of any given page of content is another great tip for optimizing your pages’ format. Because, let’s be real, the average internet user is not recognized for the breadth of his/her attention span. Knowing how far down the page the average user stops reading can inform where to place your most powerful and pointed CTAs. Make sure you keep your CTAs above the average readership fold so you aren’t just impressing people with content without capitalizing on it at all.
1. The Formula
There isn’t so much “one secret, specified KPI” that will show you the inner workings of something as large as an entire SEO campaign. Having said that, that doesn’t mean experts haven’t tried to narrow the field quite a bit.
Search Engine Land has developed a fantastic infographic on the success factors for a prime SEO campaign (see below). Focusing on the seven different columns and the different nuanced “elements” will all but guarantee you are headed on the right track.
2. The Concoction
Beyond the long list of foundational SEO KPIs that you need to be checking out, here is a cool tip to hybridize your KPIs and campaigns into a more universal search optimization campaign:
Pay for position on SERP paid lists that rank for your primary keyword. Then set up your KPI as “value” determined by the referral traffic you are collecting from those lists. Treat this KPI as if it were a CPC model and compare it to your CPA to see if it actually performs better. If it does, look into finding other similar opportunities and keep spending on those lists!
When it comes to PPC, whenever you are choosing between metrics, it’s usually because you are deciding what type of business model on which to build your ads and content. If you are a retail store, you won’t be using the same models of success and progress as a social media agency will (one prioritizes sales while they other is brand building and PR - very different metrics).
1. CPA and ROI
When analyzing the success of your marketing campaigns on a business level, most people fall into either one of two camps. ROI, which stands for “Return on Investment” is the basic model most businesses start with when mapping out the campaign budget and goals (like returning at least 70% of their investment from advertising in any given month - below this would justify some changes to your campaign while above means you’re doing alright).
However, there are two major knocks about ROI that usually have marketers turning to the second camp, that of CPA (cost per acquisition/conversion). The first is that ROI is a very money centric, budget-focused metric. It’s hard to account for scalability of your weekly adjustments when you are measuring everything in accordance with your monthly balance sheet. The second is that it’s not granular enough - which it isn’t. ROI is a pretty basic calculation and takes into account very wide - already vague - statistics.
Nuancing your analysis with CPA instead of ROI can eliminate the timeline discrepancies as well as allow you to focus on the alterations in your content and linking strategy in a very focused manner. Basically, ROI is for budget chopping, CPA is for campaign management.
2. Fine Tuning your LTV Metric
Are you calculating your conversions based on first-time clickers and individual conversions? Or are you taking into consideration that there is a person on the other side of the screen that can be valued as a lifetime consumer of your product and service? LTV (either “lifetime” or “long term” value, based on your business model) of conversions can give you a much more accurate representation of you targeted users.
Calculating this number can get a bit confusing, as compared to regular one-time conversions, so check out this insightful infographic from KISSmetrics to learn how. Using LTV can allow you to more aggressively advertise and increase your reach, as well as inform your targeted remarketing campaigns. Don’t be lulled to sleep by an ocean of anonymous first time clickers. Be aggressive. B-E-AGGRESSIVE!
Search is already a diverse and universal enough market without taking into account the vast and disparate markets that come from Social Media’s evolution. Keeping track of all these different channels and your efficiency on them can become hectic if you are monitoring to many nuanced KPIs. Don’t get bogged down by too many numbers. Instead, try focusing on three main KPIs: Reach, engagement, and lead generation.
1. Reach vs Engagement
Be careful of overvaluing your reach metric. While this number can tell you how wide your social following is, it doesn’t really tell you anything else. Reach just measures how many people are seeing your content or posts, even if for half a second while scrolling through their newsfeed. This is how your metrics can get clogged up by clickbait or unimportant statistics.
Look at engagement instead - which can be measured by similar statistics to your content marketing metrics. If you are posting and sharing and following on social medias, make sure you are using CTA’s in your product posts to create conversions.
However, this is only if you are using your social media campaigns as sales platforms. Many a business is recognizing the potential for brand building and PR that social media provides, even if that doesn’t directly transfer into conversions. Just because that’s the case, it doesn’t meant they aren’t worth investing in. Check out this interesting link about how BuzzFeed and other sites are adjusting to a more PR-centric model to account for social media.
2. Generating Leads and Assisted Conversion Reports
Any Social Media Specialist these days has probably gone on at least one or two rants about how Google Analytics “last click” model is leaving them with none of the credit for the leads they are generating via social marketing campaigns. Tweeters have souls too, they deserve credit where credit is due.
Instead of relying on GA’s last click model, try using an Assisted Conversion Report metric. ACR’s account for the actual conversion path for your conversions - so you can see where the user started their search that brought them to your page to convert. Identifying where the fish are really biting is what’s important to a fisherman - not just at what point they bit the lure.
So...that was pretty long and detailed list of which KPIs you should be considering for which channels and what business models. What is there to take away from this, though? Besides a deep need to massage your temples?
Whether you are retail or online, whether you are local or national, and whether you are looking to emphasize monetized conversions or the engagement of your content, the only piece of advice that rings true through each and everyone possible analysis of any site is: put in the work.
Sweat equity is down right the best way to get your head around the massive amount of data that is required to accurately fine tune your KPIs for optimization.
In the end, getting the results you want starts with setting up the right parameters to monitor your progress. And even if you have “one metric to rule them all,” it’s always going to be based on a sea of raw data that you need to know how to parse through in order to emphasize and prioritize the indicators that you are designating as “major key.”
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