Five Marketing Metrics that are Definitely NOT “Worthless”

September 16, 2013

Online marketing activities preovide marketers with a wealth of metrics; actually, too much information. The challenge in deciding which strategies to pursue, increase, modify, or drop, in most cases isn’t a lack of data but an over-abundance of it. Marketers just want the competitive and multichannel metrics they need to make informed decisions, nothing more.

But like any good thing, data simplification can be overdone. As Albert Einstein famously said, “Make everything as simple as possible, but no simpler.”

WPO Metrics DashboardOf course it’s true that, ultimately,  any marketing tactic has to show business results (higher sales,  lower costs, or some combination thereof). But to argue that marketing strategies and tactics can be properly evaluated solely on that basis is like saying pilots don’t need instruments; after all, at the end of the day,  a pilot isn’t judged by altitude or airspeed, but simply by the result of safely landing at the flight’s destination.

Just as a pilot needs instruments to fly accurately and safely, marketers need a broad set of interim metrics to measure their overall web presence and activities. Simply because a specific metric doesn’t appear on a P&L statement or in an ROI calculation doesn’t make it unimportant.

Yet that’s what was argued recently in The 5 most worthless metrics in marketing in iMedia Connection. Now iMedia Connection  is a widely respected marketing publication; its posts and stories are frequently spot-on and highly share-worthy, but this article misses the mark.

The post states that marketers shouldn’t “measure anything that you can’t find a direct line of sight back to your financial statements.” But that criteria would ignore many “interim” metrics that, while not directly bottom-line related in and of themselves, are important guideposts to designing and executing financially successful marketing plans—similar to the way a pilot may use GPS or visual landmarks.

Here are the five metrics and why each is indeed not “worthless.”

Twitter Followers

The post contends that counting Twitter followers is “a completely pointless exercise…Up to half of all Twitter accounts are inactive, while many are just spambots. It is estimated that two-thirds of the Twitter fans of many celebrities and politicians are fake. So we have to ask: Why would someone purchase fakes on a system whose sole function is to communicate with people?”

There are two problems with this argument. The first is that Twitter follower count is misleading because of inactive and bot accounts. But as Shelly Kramer recently wrote, this issue is easily overcome using a tool like Status People, which checks for fake followers and reports, for any Twitter account, the percentages of fake, inactive, and good Twitter followers (the tools reveals, for example, that for the @TomPick Twitter account, those figures are 1%, 6%, and 93% respectively—not bad).

The second is the notion of “purchasing” Twitter followers, which is a bad idea regardless. Just as a college student may be able to cheat in a class by buying a term paper, or even test answers, the result is that the student didn’t really get the benefit of learning in the class, which will have long-term (if not also short-term) repercussions. And it renders that student’s grade worthless.

But that doesn’t make the general notion of class grades or test scores worthless, only those that are achieved fraudulently. The same principle applies to Twitter followers; as long as they are obtained legitimately, the count does matter.

Facebook “Likes”

The article argues in his post that “the vast majority of people who click the ‘like’ button will never return to the site of their own accord. If you want to get value out of them, you need to actively do something.” True! But that doesn’t make “likes” worthless generically, it means, as with Twitter followers, that what matters is how the “like” are obtained and what type of ongoing engagement activities are implemented.

As with many web presence optimization and online marketing metrics,  what’s important about Facebook “likes” isn’t the number itself but rather 1) how that number changes over time, and 2) how that number compares to competitors’. If your “likes” aren’t growing over time, it calls for rethinking the type of updates you’re sharing and how you’re engaging on Facebook.

And if competitors have significant more “likes,” why? Is there something in their strategies you can learn from? Or are they merely inflating their follower counts through contests similar low-involvement tactics? If the latter, then the “likes” differential truly doesn’t matter much.

This isn’t to say that Facebook should be a central part of every company’s social strategy. It’s a better environment for promoting hospitality, entertainment, retail and fashion brands than for industrial goods. And if you sell an item like adult diapers or anti-fungal cream, you’re unlikely to get a lot of customers to publicly express affection for your products on Facebook no matter how much they may “like” them in real life.

Social Mentions

The point that sentiment tracking is important (thought challenging to do accurately) in providing context around social mentions is well taken, but still: if you’ve got an active social media marketing program going and aren’t getting social mentions, that’s a critical signal that something is wrong. And as with “likes,” if competitors are getting significantly more social mentions than your brand, you need to investigate why.

Link Counts

Actually,  the post is correct here that an unfiltered, raw count of backlinks is meaningless. In the post-Penguin world, a large number of link farm or similar low-quality links can be worse than useless—it can actually be harmful.

Still, with proper categorization and filtering, links counts can be quite enlightening. Discovering that a competitor has far more links from industry news sources or blogs, for example, tells you something important about their strategy, and how you may need to adjust yours.

Search Engine Visibility

Again, while it’s true as the article states that “Many performance indicators, including bounce rate, form abandonment, average order value, engagement, and conversion rate, vary from search phrase to search phrase,” telling a client or boss generically that search engine visibility doesn’t matter is certainly not advisable.

Ideally, a website should attract increasing numbers of visits over time for both branded and non-brand (generic) search phrases. Generic visits are driven by SEO activities (content, social, PR, industry, link-building, etc.). Branded search visits are driven by a host of activities that raise brand awareness; again including PR and social,  but also advertising, trade shows,  sponsorships, speaking engagements, awards, community involvement among others.

Yes, it’s true that in the final analysis, if a marketing activity isn’t positively contributing to the bottom line, a company shouldn’t be spending time, effort or money on it. But there are many interim measures that are vital in guiding marketers, just as instruments guide pilots, to adjust their speed or direction intelligently in order to reach their final destination.

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5 Responses

  1. Excellent points — totally agree with you (in spite of the fact that you mentioned me :)


  2. Tom 

    Thanks Shelly! I always learn from you – happy to give a little shout-out where well deserved. :-)

  3. I agree, Tom & Shelly. B2B marketers DO need to track this interim activity as a means of determining its effectiveness. However, when reporting to the business folks, marketers should refrain from using these metrics. Instead, take a look as sales trends or pipeline opportunities, which are more palatable metrics for the business folks, and try to map the aggregate marketing activities to these metrics.


  4. Tom 

    Agreed Joan. The metrics aren’t unimportant but it is how they lead to business results that matters. If all of that Facebook traffic isn’t driving sales, or customer retention, or referrals, or reducing customer service costs..it may be time to rethink the Facebook strategy.

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