Are You Measuring the Right Thing?

Are You Measuring the Right Thing?

What gets measured gets managed, but sometimes it’s not easy to measure what we want to manage. So we measure something related. The problem is, we can end up fooling ourselves when we do this. Here are a few examples of when measurements can lead us astray.


1. Traffic

It seems like the obvious one. If marketing is all about reaching people, shouldn’t traffic be the ultimate goal of an online marketing campaign? Not always. If a massive spike in traffic doesn’t result in any sales, subscriptions, repeat visits, or search engine benefits, does it bring you any close to your goal?

2. Rankings

If traffic isn’t the goal, rankings have to be. Rankings are SEO’s bread and butter. But they are meaningless without context. Fluctuations in rankings don’t necessarily mean you are doing a bad job. SEOMoz recently released a report that 80% of rankings shift every single day. Only long term shifts in rankings are meaningful.

But even then, rankings for what? Rankings for low traffic keywords? Rankings for pages that don’t convert? Rankings for titles that nobody clicks on?

3. Sales

This has to be it, right? Sales are the ultimate metric. Except…
Is your boost in sales at all related to your efforts?
Did your boost in sales rely on a marketing campaign that cost more than the revenue?
Will these sales lead to long term customers?
Will the sales lead to word of mouth and new customers?

4. Subscribers

This seems a bit more long term, then. Followers, “likers,” and email subscribers are a great metric. They tell you how many people really care about your business. Only…

Do your subscribers see your material?
Do they share it with their friends?
Does your subscriber-count grow by word of mouth?
Do your subscribers ever buy anything?


No metric exists in isolation. Odds are, you are already measuring most of the “right” things. The real question is how you’re interpreting the data, and whether you’re confusing your metrics for your goals. The fact is, most goals are very fuzzy and hard to measure. They can’t be measured directly. They can only be inferred from some combination of your other metrics.

Whether or not you are moving towards your goal isn’t about the direction of your trend lines. It’s about finding the connection between your efforts and your outcomes. And that’s not an easy task, not by a long shot.

Here’s what most firms’ process looks like:

Set a goal
Choose a metric associated with that goal
Design a process to meet that metric
Measure changes in the metric
Tell yourself a story about how and why the metric changed
Adjust the process
Tell yourself another story

Here’s what it should really look like:

Set a goal
Design a process to move toward the goal
Measure the process
Measure the results
Measure the connection between the process and the results
Refine the process
Measure the impact on results
Use metrics to understand the process
Continue moving toward the goal, until another goal becomes more important

Stop measuring results. Measure impact instead.

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