For every business, revenue is the bottom line. There are no two ways around it. To survive as a business, you need to make money. How that money is generated differs from business to business, whether it comes through advertising, selling products or services, or generating leads, the final question at the end of it all is “how much money did it make?”
Does this mean that every single thing you do as a business has to generate revenue? Probably not, right? You measure so many different things as a business: from what comes in to what goes out, even what comes in as a result of what goes out. So when it comes to measuring what matters, is it really all about revenue or are there other metrics you can look at to understand what you’re getting in return for your efforts?
Measuring what matters.
I wrote a post recently on what it really means when digital is responsible for the vast majority, if not all of your business efforts and how we should be measuring digital performance. That got me thinking about whether or not what is being measured is actually valuable and whether businesses are really focusing on the right things.
If you look back at most of the proposals you’ve sent out or
pitched for, you’re probably going to find a couple of core performance
measures in the mix that break down into:
Traffic (visits to site)
Return (leads, transactions, revenue)
But what about all of the other things people could do on
your website? Where are those metrics? What could they add that these two don’t
cover? And, most importantly, which matter?
For the hard metrics, I’ll discuss what you really need to be looking at, why they matter, and how you can use them to inform your marketing decisions. For the soft metrics, I’ll explain what they are and how you can derive insight from them. For the metrics that matter, I’ll run through how you can figure out what you need to be measuring.
But, first things first, you need to lock down a consistency
for reporting so you’re not only looking at the same data all the time to spot
the trends and changes, but you’re confident that data is accurate as well. To
do that, ask yourself the following:
Are you looking at the same report in GA/GSC/Google
Ads etc. all the time?
Are you reporting
Are you annotating platforms as changes are
made? (GA, Rank trackers etc.)
Are you monitoring SERP feature changes? Trigger
changes? Measurement changes in platforms?
Are the channel groups/segments set up properly?
Are goals tracking correctly?
Are you using content groups to split the data?
Are you tying up data in reporting platforms to
back end systems/live data?
Is it all going to informational sections of the
Is it brand or generic?
Is it coming and leaving rather than exploring?
Engagers vs. Converters?
Once you’ve got answers to all of those, you can start working out how you want to be dissecting the data to make the most sense out of it, and start making decisions on what to do off the back of performance changes.
How to Measure Traffic.
Almost any forecast ever done for a website has some form of
traffic measure embedded into it, whether you’re using it as a standalone
projection or as part of understanding the amount of conversions/revenue you
can expect to drive.
Traffic is essential. Measuring traffic is important. Being forecasted or targeted against traffic for a specific channel? Relatively useless. Why? Because everything changes all the time. And, shockingly, traffic comes from a huge variety of sources through very convoluted journeys, so just looking at it from a single-channel perspective doesn’t really reflect changes in traffic performance. It only reflects changes in that channel, which could be impacted by any number of things from SERP changes, to the economy.
So firstly, measure by channel and by overall, and then you’re already in a better position to understand what that traffic is doing.
Secondly, one of the biggest misunderstandings in measuring
traffic comes from the assumption that if traffic is going up, you’re seeing
improvements to the business. But really, if traffic is going up and not doing
anything (i.e. not converting, not staying on the site, or not exploring other
areas), then is it really adding value?
If you’re going to measure traffic alone as a performance metric, you need to be looking at it from (minimum) two angles to understand a) what is happening and b) whether it matters in the grand scheme of things.
One of the best ways to apply this information is by looking
at where on the site your traffic is going to and whether that is where you
want it to be going.
If you’re seeing a lot of your traffic is going to
informational content, but you want to encourage more visits to your commercial
pages, you can undertake an internal linking exercise and make sure the content
getting traffic clearly links through to related categories/products/services.
Then go a step further and make sure those core commercial pages are getting
the right weight on the website; if your informational content has more
internal links pointing to it than your commercial content, find a way to shift
that balance in favour of the core pages.
If you’re seeing a lot of your traffic is coming into a
commercial page and bouncing off, its worth taking a look at your competitor’s
pages to see if they are set up any differently and running a few heatmaps and
tests on your own website to figure out what might be causing the drop-off.
The key to getting the most out of your traffic is running tests; whether that is from an advertising perspective to see what brings people through to the site, or from an experience perspective to see what people want when they get there.
Return can generally be classified as the result of your
activity. For the most part, people use Revenue as the measure, but some also
look at Transactions and others Leads if they are more service-based companies.
So slightly different measures but largely the same thing. If these are going
up it is almost always a good thing for the business. But just knowing they are
going up is no better than just knowing they are going down. You still need to
know the why and any consequent impacts.
Why are they going up/down?
Is the traffic being driven more/less engaged
Have you changed your forms/checkout process?
Have you sped up the site?
Have you updated your delivery policies?
Have you changed the way your customer service
team handles requests?
Have you opened up new territories?
Has the economy changed?
Have user needs changed?
Are you ranking higher/lower than you were
competition lower/higher than it was before (both SERP and service/product
For anything going up, you need to also take a look at what
impact that is having to make sure it isn’t a false-positive:
Are you seeing more returns on products?
Are the leads being generated more or less
qualified than before?
As with traffic, just looking at the top-line figures isn’t
going to give you the information you need to understand where performance is coming
from, or where you have more opportunity to improve. Knowing what is causing
that change is going to be fundamental to what you do next.
The quickest application is going to be building on where
the success is coming from. If you’re seeing particular ad groups drive the
bulk of return, see if you can up the budget for those. If you’re seeing
particular landing pages perform better than others, look for why that might be
– are they better optimised, do they have a better layout, is the copy better,
the speed, etc. – and then look to apply that to other similar page types on
But the biggest application is going to be working with your client to understand what the true impact is. If the way you measure return is going up but it isn’t adding value to the bottom line, either because products are being returned or the quality of leads is lower, then what you’re doing needs to change. Work with your client to plot the best course of action for resolving it. Trying to do it all by yourself, on just the data you have, is going to take far longer, and likely turn out to be far more expensive, than going to your client and working with them to apply their knowledge and act quickly and effectively.
But not every user who comes to your site is there to buy
something or get a quote or even fill out a form, so what do you do with these
users? Just leave them in their own little pocket of “non-engagement” and
separate them from the rest of your traffic? Probably not, right? It’s probably
worth getting to know these people a little better so you can give them more of
what they came to you for.
Think about how many interactions a user could have on your
website, and how many different journeys there are through it. If all you’re
doing is looking at the people who meet your conversion criteria, or come to
the site from the right place, what happens to all of the other people who
don’t “convert” but make up the vast majority of your traffic?
You still need to find a way to understand who they are and
what they are doing, especially when that isn’t what you think they should be
coming to the site for. If they aren’t completing your desired conversions, you
need to be measuring other things as well.
How to Measure Engagement.
Engagement is particularly important to measure for
informational content, but that doesn’t mean you’re only looking at bounce
rate. Bounce rate at the best of times is a highly contentious metric because a
good bounce rate could be high or low depending how you look at it. There are
multiple other factors to look at for engagement, from things like dwell time
right through to the how
long that content is likely to perform for(i1) ,
which are going to give you better insight.
Whenever we do a content audit at Found, we look at
performance and engagement as two separate metrics. Performance is based on
things like sessions and conversions, with engagement being based on things
like average session duration and pages per session. We’ll look at from both an
overall standpoint and a by-channel assessment, drilling into the individual
channel performance for different informational sections of the site.
Why do we do that? To understand how engagement differs
between various sections and various channels. If, for example, you know one
section of your site has much shorter list-based content and another section
has more detailed guide-based content, engagement is going to be very different
between the two. Then if you look at the engagement from Organic Search vs.
Paid Search vs. Social you’ll start seeing how different channels engage with
different content types, and from there you can start forming a plan for what
content needs to be created for which channels.
If you just look at the standard performance metrics then
you’ll more often than not see the informational sections of your site “don’t
work” and therefore don’t deserve a high level of future investment. But
understanding how traffic is engaging with those sections is a key part of a
proper digital strategy.
True, measuring engagement comes down to softer metrics than
things like Return, but it will indirectly help you understand more about what
your users need, and therefore what they need from you before they convert.
Measuring engagement isn’t about identifying changes in performance, it’s about
identifying opportunities for improvement based on what’s working already,
How far down the page they scroll
How long they spend on the content vs. the
estimated time it would take to read fully
Where they go next, or whether they leave the
Whether they look for any additional actions to
take – internal links, CTAs, downloads, phone numbers
A lot of this can be measured in Google Analytics with
events and custom dimensions, but you can, and should, have heatmapping
software deployed wherever possible to understand the interactions users take
when they arrive at the page. Which leads quite nicely onto understanding
How to Measure Behaviour.
Heatmaps will tell you an awful lot about how different
people use your website, and you can look at it from an overall perspective, or
drill down into individual journeys. The behavioural analysis part of this
measurement is imperative to understanding what you need to change to get to
the desired outcome – i.e. better Return. But behavioural analysis doesn’t fall
into a performance measure, and doesn’t really fit into engagement, so why
should you be looking at it?
The more you can learn about journeys from heatmapping tools
and the flow reports in GA, the more you’re going to be prepared when someone
doesn’t follow that journey. And the more prepared you are for that, the easier
it’s going to be to determine what the pain points are in different journeys
that would stop a user completing a desired action.
The biggest advantage to behavioural analysis is learning about different journeys and the different actions people take. This is particularly important when comparing the different sections of your site. Treat behavioural analysis as you would any other test – create a hypothesis, evaluate what happens, then determine next steps and implement.
But measuring behaviour doesn’t stop at understanding how people move through your website, that’s just the start. To really understand behaviour, you need to be looking at all of the touchpoints before reaching your website in the first place, and what they do afterwards. That can be done through a series of attribution models, custom events, and third-party tools, but also relies heavily on you speaking to other channel teams and your clients to get as much of a story behind the behaviour as possible.
Many companies now have audience personas, and there are
tools out there that will help you build a picture of your audience and what
their needs and desires are, but just because a persona is in place doesn’t
mean that it a) matches your entire audience base, or b) is never going to
change. If your audience changes, or their needs change, you need to know what
those changes are and how that impacts your business and your activity. It
could lead to a change in channel split, or strategic direction, or even
service offering, and all of that starts with understanding the behaviours of
people on your site and how those change.
How to Measure Goals.
Goals is a fun one, because they can be almost anything you want them to be. There are 4 main types you can use in GA, but you can only have 20 set up and tracking at a time:
I know, how on earth do you have 20 different things you
want to track? Oh wait, no. Why on earth would you not track as much as
Time and time again I see Analytics profiles with fewer than
5 goals set up and while there is nothing wrong with that it does make me
question how much deeper we could go. Most of the time, these goals are all
tied to harder conversion metrics, and almost always are set up for leads –
phone calls, live chats, contact forms, emails – but rarely do goals get set up
on Duration or Pages per Session types. Destination and Event goals are the
most frequent types you’ll see because they rely on a user completing an action
and so are much easier to think of and implement.
But Duration goals tie in so much more than just whether
someone clicks the right button. They look at things like whether people are
spending the right amount of time on your content, whether people read your
information before enquiring, whether people watch your webinar, or your video,
or just share it.
These are great for understanding actions users are taking
when they land on another URL as a result. For example, a user fills in a form
and gets taken to a /thank-you page. If you have downloadable content – guides,
factsheets, whitepapers, resources – these should be set up so you can measure
interaction across different download types as well as the pages on which the
These are ideal enhancements to your engagement
measurements, based on triggering when a user has spent over a certain amount
of time on the site. These are great for drilling into engagement by different
channels, e.g. understanding how many users from Paid Search spend over 5
minutes on the site vs. Organic Search vs. Direct etc. We know that different
channels generally have different intents and so different requirements on the
site, but the more we can understand the differences between them the easier we
can adapt to suit them.
Event goals are based on a user taking an action, similar to
destination goals, but that do not require the user be taken to a new URL. For
example, that could be clicking on a button that opens a popup form, plays a
video, or connects to a social share or email.
These are particularly good for understanding where on a
page a user is clicking and whether that is where you want them to be. Event
Goals are basically the foundation of layout-based A/B tests – if you move a
button here, does it get clicked more or less than before? Without event
tracking, you’re not going to know what users are clicking or where on the page
that is, so really, they’re quite essential to understanding behaviour.
Pages Per Session Goals
Want to track what percentage of your users visit multiple
pages on your site in a session? No? So you don’t want to know which entry
points drive the best on-site engagement?
This type of goal is so underused, and in my opinion so
underrated, because everyone falls into the trap that this isn’t a direct
performance indicator. If you know what type of pages encourage people to click
through to other areas of the site, you know more about what people want to
find from you. Combine that with other goal types and behavioural analysis and
you’ve got a solid foundation for understanding how you encourage those people
to the areas of your site you “actually care about” – the conversion points.
Measuring What Matters.
Return is always going to matter, regardless of what channel
you’re responsible for or what requirement you need to fulfil. But return isn’t
everything, and we need to move away from just looking at the hard metrics and
starting to look at the softer ones that contribute to them.
But just because you can measure everything doesn’t
necessarily mean you should. I am all for having as much data as possible
before making a decision, but only when that data is applicable to what I’m
looking at. Nobody wants to have to sift through line after line of irrelevant
information to find the one snippet that matters. The real trick is
understanding what matters to your clients and what you can impact from your
Generally, you can look at measurement in three sets:
Traffic and Return are always going to be metrics that
senior stakeholders look at, so you’re always going to need to report on them,
as you should. But for each you’re going to need to go deeper than top-line to
understand the value they’re bringing to your clients, and with that you’ll
instantly be offering more value to the senior stakeholders and be able to
guide them through more valuable decisions.
Engagement metrics are going to be far more important for
different teams in the business, like the Content teams, Web teams, or Creative
teams. These teams care what people are doing on their website so if you’re
working closely with them, either as part of your normal work or for a specific
campaign, you need to work with them to understand how to measure engagement.
Whether that is through heatmapping or custom events, get the measurements
deployed and work with them to derive insight. Any piece of content that is
created should have a level of engagement measurement tied to it so you can see
whether it works or not.
Goals are going to be far more important at a campaign
level. If you’re launching a specific campaign, or a new landing page, you’re
going to need to know how that stacks up to other pages even if it is not a
direct type match for an existing page. If you need to be looking at whether a
new campaign is driving more leads than previous ones, make sure destination
goals are tracked. If you need to know that people are watching your latest
webinar so you can plan in more similar content, get duration goals set up
ready for launch. If you’re testing layouts, get event goals set up to track
where on the page a button is clicked. If you’re creating a new user journey
through the site, get pages per session goals set up and track alongside the
Revenue is and always will be the bottom line performance
metric for a business, but only looking at revenue will not give you all the
information you need about how you can improve your performance. If you’re only
measuring your website by how many people buy something on it, you’re not
looking at why the rest of your users aren’t.
Everything you do as a business will ultimately be to drive
revenue, but not everyone who comes to your site is ready to buy from you. You
need to nurture them, convince them that you’re the best choice, and prove to
them why you were, and you cannot do that from just looking at revenue and
saying “we’re up 15% on last month”.
You need to measure everything that is important to your
teams, and everything that might matter to your users. If your content team
want to know more about what content people engage with so they can create more
of it, get it set up. If your PPC team want to know more about where people are
going after they’ve clicked through from their ads so they can adapt their
messaging, get it set up. If your SEO team want to know where on the page
people are scrolling to so they can make sure the most important links are
above that point, get it set up.
Everything still leads back to revenue, but what you measure
and implement along the way will be what sets you apart.