We are living in a world where almost anything can be put into numbers. We have people measure their sleep quality, fitness level, even their happiness. Death by data overkill? No problem.
However, no matter where you stand concerning the quantified self movement, there are areas where this kind of vigilance is important, even essential. Running a website is such an example, where measuring key marketing metrics is of utmost importance.
At the same time, it is also an area in which you can track pretty much everything and create an almost infinite set of data points. How do you decide which data is relevant and which isn’t? In this article we want to shed some light on this issue.
Why should you track marketing metrics at all?
While WordPress makes it very easy for anyone to create and run their own website, having a website and having a successful website are two completely different deals. To have your website achieve the results it (surely) deserves, you need to be able to figure out what is working and what isn’t. That way you can do more of the former and less of the latter.
In order to even be in a position to make such calls, you need feedback from your actions and efforts in the form of data. Data that will enable you to make informed decisions based on hard and quantifiable facts instead of flying blind or going the trial-and-error route.
Tracking key marketing metrics can also help you figure out not only ‘is it working?’ but also ‘what is working?’. They let you compartmentalize your process and check for potential bottlenecks. Is your social media strategy effective? Are you attracting the right audience? Do people get turned off by your landing page? How would you know any of that without measuring?
Plus, looking at your performance metrics is also a way of making success visible. Trust me, there is very little that’s more motivating than seeing that blue line in your analytics dashboard go up. I actually have a friend who admits to checking Google Analytics every 30 minutes. Not that there is a need to go overboard like that but it surely helps him keep motivated.
Which metrics really matter?
As for the question of which metrics to track, it is one that can not be answered the same way for everyone. It really depends on the type of website you are running and your ultimate goal.
For example, a site that relies mostly on revenue from advertising might put an emphasis on attracting as many unique visitors as possible. Someone selling products, on the other hand, cares much more about the number of qualified leads they can attract and convert to buyers. A new blog might for starters just be happy to attract any traffic at all.
As a consequence, the relative importance of your data will change together with your goal and together with where you are in your marketing strategy. Therefore, the metrics you are tracking should always be aimed at enabling you to understand what is happening on your site currently, how that relates to your overall marketing objectives and lets you make decisions on what to do next.
To do so, let’s look at some key metrics to track in terms of web traffic, search engine optimization and social media.
Web analytic metrics to be aware of
Most people will have Google’s free analytics suite already connected to their website. If you don’t, stop reading and do it now. Seriously, I’ll wait. Or you can go with one of the alternative web analytics. Just make sure you get the data. If you do decide to go with Google’s solution, Google Analytics for WordPress by Yoast makes integration quick and easy.
1. Total visits
Overall traffic is a bit of a vanity metric. It makes you feel good about your site but it doesn’t really tell you many details. However, total visits are still something worth tracking as they let you gage the general trend of your traffic, by inclusion the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns and, not to forget, the stability of your site.
Sudden drops in overall traffic can be a sign that either your website is not always available (a situation you should remedy) or that you have been penalized by ze Google (a situation you should look into). However, don’t make the mistake of making this number your most important data point. As I said, unless your main revenue generator is advertising, other statistics are much more important.
2. Traffic sources
Traffic can come from three kinds of sources: organic, direct, and referral traffic. Organic means that visitors find your posts and pages in the search results of Google and Co. Direct traffic are people who directly type your website address into their browser bar or access it from a previously bookmarked link. Finally, referral traffic is everyone who clicked on a link from some other website, for example in a guest post you wrote.
Addressing each type of traffic also requires a different kind of strategy. Organic traffic is mainly a matter of cranking up your site’s SEO, direct traffic comes from winning over visitors to come back for more, while referral traffic comes from off-site marketing efforts such social media.
It is important to keep a nice balance of all three and not get too dependent on one. Investing purely in SEO or only in links is usually not enough for long-term growth, especially in a quickly shifting environment such as the online market. Keeping track of your traffic sources allows you to map out which parts you should invest in more.
3. New vs. repeat visitors
If you have worked with Google Analytics before, you will be aware that they divide the visitor number between new and repeat visitors. The first group are those who are visiting your website for the first time, while the latter have already been there earlier.
What you can understand from looking at this number is how well your site performs in itself. Having a high share of new visitors (30% and more) means you are not yet very effective at convincing them to return and it is time to figure out why. On the other hand, very few new visits show that either you are not doing enough to bring in new traffic or that what you are doing is clearly not working out.
4. Bounce rate
The bounce rate depicts the percentage of visitors who access your site and leave without looking at any other page than the one they landed on. It means they came, they saw, they left.
Why is it important to keep track of this? Because a high bounce rate usually means one of two things: Either you are targeting keywords that are not fitting in with what your site delivers or the pages your visitors land on are ineffective.
In the first case, visitors are attracted to your marketing but your website might not be enough on topic. The second case would be a sign that you need to work on your web copy, include or change some visuals or rephrase your call to action. In short, anything that would warrant a bit of A/B split testing.
“Conversion” is not a fixed term and will be something else for different websites. It describes the completion of an action that you have defined as your goal. The conversion rate then, is the percentage of visitors who successfully complete that specific action. Everything in your marketing strategy should aimed at getting this number up and you should regularly look at how you are doing.
It is also important to look at conversions divided by traffic source. If your conversions from organic traffic is lagging behind that of referral traffic, it might be time to look at your keyword strategy. If it’s exactly the opposite, you might have to target better link partners with a stronger overlap in audience.
SEO metrics to keep an eye on
While, as mentioned earlier, traffic from search engines should not be your only goal, it does play a major role in your marketing mix. After all, ranking high for a keyword with lots of volume can result in a ton of traffic. And don’t we all secretly want to have an article on Google’s pole position? Yet, there is more to SEO than search rank, as you will see below.
1. Search engine rankings
Yes, search rank does matter. But with all the updates Google has made to its algorithm, keyword ranking reports are not the be-all and end-all of stats anymore (learn more about why on Moz.com). That being said, they still are a metric of significant importance.
Dramatic fluctuations in your rankings should warrant a review of your on-site and on-page optimization. You may unknowingly be violating the search engine’s guidelines or be guilty of over-optimization. To avoid that from happening, I recommend using the WordPress SEO plugin, as it actively helps you optimize your content. For rank checking there is an excellent list of tools over at WPMU DEV.
2. Search engine terms and phrases
Besides your position for different keywords, a more interesting data point are the terms and phrases that already bring visitors to your site. For Google you can check these with the help of Google Webmaster Tools under Search Traffic > Search Queries.
Keeping an eye on this will first of all allow you to see which terms your audience is interested in and already coming to your site for. Secondly, it can help you uncover new keyword trends and figure out phrases you might be underoptimizing for. In short, this type of data is more about optimizing your existing content than generating more.
3. On-site search terms
Great, now you know why people are coming to your site. However, are you sure it is fulfilling all their heart’s desires? (Ok, that that is a goal which might be a tad too lofty.) What I mean is that you might be unaware of some key points which you are not addressing. If so, wouldn’t it be useful to learn what they are?
That’s where internal site search comes into play. Looking at the search terms visitors use directly on your site is an invaluable insight into their intent. It’s pretty much like them telling you exactly how you could be of even better service. How awesome is that?
Now, chances are you already have a search bar on your WordPress website. If you don’t, setting one up takes only a few seconds. In order to now collect the search terms people on your site are using, all you have to do is switch on ‘Site Search Tracking’ in Google Analytics. You can find it under Admin > View > View Settings > Site Search Settings.
4. Link Data
The final metric for SEO purposes you should look at are links to your site. Links used to be the currency of the Internet. The more you had pointing towards you, the better. But times have changed. Quantity is no longer the decisive issue, quality is.
In fact, having lots of low-quality links to your website can actually hurt you. A fact which some people use to harm their competitors by creating toxic backlinks.
Therefore, it is important to keep an eye on who is linking to your site. An excellent tool for checking this is Moz’s Open Site Explorer. In case you find backlinks that are hurting instead of helping you, make sure you disavow them with Google’s disavow tool.
Social media metrics you should not neglect
Social media has long become an integral part of online marketing and can be a major driver of traffic. However, some people find it hard to quantify the effectiveness of their social strategy. It can often feel like yelling into a vacuum. Measuring a few key metrics can remedy this.
1. Social Reach and Followers
Reach and followers are to social media what total traffic is to web analytics: An overview of the general direction your social efforts are taking can be an indicator for whether your strategy is working. Should something go terribly wrong, dwindling reach and follower numbers will be the first thing to tip you off.
Most social channels come with their own native analytics tools such as Facebook’s Page Insights or Twitter Analytics. Of course, there is also a plethora of social media management tools (free and paid), which track this metric for you, one example being Hootsuite.
2. Engagement/content effectiveness
While reach and follower numbers are sufficient to have a quick impression of how it’s going (and give you warm fuzzy feelings if it’s going well), they are far from the overall goal. If they were, we could all just shell out money for those “75,000 twitter followers guaranteed! Only $5!” ads that pop up everywhere.
What you want instead are real and actively engaged people who like, share, and comment on your content so you can see what they are interested in and how you can serve them better. To share content and keep track of the engagement in my social channels, I personally use Buffer. Another service with more extensive capabilities to track data points is True Social Metrics.
3. Traffic to website
While reaching people is all nice and proper, it is, again, not the final goal. You don’t just want people to see your content on social media, you want them to show up on your site where all your best content, your wonderful products and invaluable services can be found, right?
Fortunately, Google Analytics also lets you keep track of this. If, in your dashboard, you go to Acquisition > Social, the analytics will show you which social platform is raking in the most views.
Plus, just like understanding the traffic sources of your overall web traffic, it is also important to analyze your social traffic from the perspective of origin. That way you can see which channel is working well for you and get more granular about different parts of your marketing strategy.
4. Leads and conversions
Finally, after working so hard to get people onto your site, you would probably like to know if they are ending up doing what you are trying to get them to do. Whether that’s hopping on your email list or purchasing a product, make sure you figure out the number of visitors that are taking the final step in your funnel so you can take corrective action if too many of them don’t.
Measuring key marketing metrics: No need to go overboard
As you can see, keeping an eye on your website’s numbers is very important and anyone who is serious about the online success should do so. However, which metrics you end up tracking is really depend on what you want to achieve.
As with everything in life, you need to define your own success and then implement a system which lets you objectively judge whether or not you are getting there. Simply looking at follower numbers is great for giving you the feels but whether it actually helps your bottom line is a completely different question.
Which metrics do you use for staying up to date with your marketing efforts? Do you agree with the above list? Any additions? Don’t hold back and share your view in the comment section.
Nick Schäferhoff is an entrepreneur, online marketer, and professional blogger from Germany. He found WordPress when he needed a website for his first business venture and instantly fell in love. When not building websites, creating content or helping his clients improve their online business, he can most often be found at the gym, the dojo or traveling to other countries with his fiancé. If you want to get in touch he would love to hear from you through his website.