It's been said that the Internet is like a fire hose that gushes out a torrent of information, but with little or no context. Making sense of the flood of content takes careful consideration and planning. Digital marketing metrics pose a similar challenge: it's relatively easy to get your hands on a universe of numbers—but if you don't know how to interpret them, then the data is practically meaningless.
Knowing which metrics to track and what they mean can help you refine your online presence and engage more fully with your prospects and customers. We checked in with three experts to see how they manage to rise above the sea of numbers and chart profitable courses.
Compare different measurements
Let's begin with two commonly used measurements. A bounce rate measures when someone visits your website, but leaves right away without clicking on another link. A high bounce rate could indicate a few things: the visitor may feel that they're not at the right page or that the page doesn't have the information they want.
"If you have a page with a very high bounce rate, but you have a long time spent on that page, it can often mean that this particular page provides the information they need, so they don't need to go anywhere else," says Dana DiTomaso, CEO of Kick Point, a digital marketing agency in Edmonton, Alberta. "You can't just look at a bounce rate in isolation. I find it's helpful when you look at time spent on the page as well." She highly recommends using Google Analytics for tracking individual metrics.
A second metric is a unique open rate, which is usually associated with email marketing. For example, if you send an email newsletter, an open rate indicates that the recipient downloaded an image to view your newsletter. DiTomaso says that a bad open rate isn't necessarily an accurate way to measure the value of your newsletter.
"If you do a good job designing your newsletter, people shouldn't need to download the images in order to view it," DiTomaso explains. "In an email newsletter, I find it's better to look at clicks. Did people click on the articles? If they click on the top link the most, that means that they are not necessarily reading the newsletter and picking out what's of interest to them."
DiTomaso also tracks the activity on social channels for her clients. For example, she'll compare the number of people who click on the Facebook icon on a client website with the number of new Facebook fans in the past month.
"Let's say you had 50 people click on the Facebook icon on your site, but you only had five new fans on Facebook, " she says. "It could mean that your Facebook isn't providing a compelling experience for people to actually decide to like your page. This data can give you the knowledge to figure out how to fix your marketing channels."
Another way to approach bounce rates and unique opens is to decide what you specifically want to measure first.
"You want to measure those things that answer your questions, whatever they are," says Valerie Cole, digital media analyst at ab+c, a Delaware-based advertising agency specializing in branding. "For any small business, especially one that is just starting to measure digital metrics, the best place to start is to look at: who is your audience? Where are they coming from? How are they finding me? And what are they doing on my site?"
A high bounce rate is perfectly acceptable because many people may come to your site just to get a quick piece of information, Cole says, such as a telephone number. Still, you have to look carefully at your content before you draw that conclusion. "If you have a high bounce rate, maybe your advertising is promoting something that's not there," Cole says. "So you can go backwards and look at how you're promoting your site." Once a visitor is at your site, telling them the next step they should take after they've looked at something can improve your bounce rate.
Like DiTomaso, Cole is a big fan of Google Analytics, and also finds that StatCounter can provide useful metrics. Many clients understandably ask what an acceptable bounce rate is, but Cole takes a different approach. "I always tell them that we can make our own benchmarks. If 80 percent seems high to you, that's what your benchmark is," she explains. "I'm hesitant to give a number because I feel it comes down to a gut feeling. It depends so much on the type of audience you have, your product, your page, and your offer."
As Cole points out, every business needs to figure out for itself what works for its particular audience and then use tools like Google Analytics to shape their marketing policies.
Case in point: Blitz Conditioning, a small fitness company with locations in Edmonton, Alberta and Calgary that offers one-on-one personal training as well as group classes.
To keep their bounce rates low, they rely heavily on establishing a visual brand on their website. "We try to take as many pictures of people working out for a lifestyle brand," says Chris Tse, co-owner. "Our content is relatively short. We try to keep everything under 750 characters, because we know that most people will just scan the site."
Engaging with customers and prospects on their site is critical. Tse has developed a multi-part strategy that involves blogging three to four times a week—and keeping a close eye on open rates. He also monitors Twitter to see if people are chatting about the company and can reply quickly to their questions or comments.
When they release a new campaign or open up a new location, Tse will check the metrics daily on Google Analytics to see the effect. For Blitz, converting a casual website visitor to a desirable prospect means that either they sign up for the newsletter or book a workout session.
"Whenever we post a testimonial in the newsletter, we usually see people click on the images and on the bio of the person quite a bit more in comparison to elsewhere," Tse says. "Recipes also get a high click ratio."
For a small business just starting up their online presence, tracking new versus returning visitors is especially important, Tse finds. "Returning visitors allow you to understand that your content is engaging," Tse says. "New allows you to understand that your SEO metrics and other activities you're working on are driving people to your website. So we look at these numbers more frequently than anything else."