As the saying goes, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Here’s how to make sure your numbers aren’t lying to you.
Your marketing efforts are essentially only as good as your ability to measure them. The last thing you want to do is spend a ton of resources developing a content strategy, creating content, and promoting it to your audience without knowing how it’s performing. And part of assessing that performance is making sure you’re looking at the right metrics.
Say you prepared a meal for your family. You wouldn’t determine whether it was a meal your family liked by the amount of time you spent making it, right? No. You’d probably judge it by how much everyone ate, the kind of feedback they gave, and whether they asked for it again in the future.
The bottom line is that if you want to take full advantage of marketing trends in 2018 and actually improve your efforts, you have to be able to monitor your progress and set the right goals. That requires metrics that are useful. Here are five common metrics that don’t necessarily mean what you think they do — and how to do better:
1. Number of social shares.
Yes, social media is one of the top content distribution tactics, but relying on share count totals alone probably isn’t going to uncover a lot of useful information about how your distribution efforts are doing.
For social share numbers to be helpful, you have to dig into those shares. Who’s sharing a piece of content? On which platforms? Examine what this information tells you about your audience, your content, the publication you contributed to, or any number of other things aside from your “popularity.” All that information is more valuable to your distribution plan than the total number of shares.
2. Number of followers.
One of the greatest benefits of content marketing is the way it helps your team build and nurture online communities — ones that turn to you for insights and love your content. Those audience communities are powerful.
But a following of 1 million probably does more to boost your ego than it does to deliver real value to your audience. True influence isn’t measured by how many accounts follow yours; it’s measured by engagement. And as we see organic reach on certain platforms continue to decline, it’s important to remember that simply having an abundance of followers doesn’t guarantee you can get your content to the right people.
3. Brand awareness.
I won’t deny that getting your brand in front of your audience is important to opening the door to future engagement. Yet if I’m being completely honest, “brand awareness” as a standalone goal is pretty vague, which makes it a weak KPI. You need to know why brand awareness matters to you and how you plan to measure it, then work backward from there.
To meet any kind of meaningful business goal, you need people who trust you enough to act and then advocate for your brand. Trust isn’t the result of someone simply being aware of you — though that’s a good first step. It’s built through a series of touchpoints that you hit consistently, often through content. So, set smaller, content-specific goals that you believe will contribute to brand awareness instead.
4. Time on site.
Need I state the obvious here? More or less time on your website isn’t necessarily indicative of a positive action from your visitors or even a positive impression of the content they’re seeing.
You could argue that more time means the visitor is consuming more content. But without tracking that behavior, all you have is your assumptions, and we all know what assuming does. If you don’t also monitor and analyze where visitors go, where they’re coming from, or what converts them, time on site won’t shed much light on performance.
5. Site traffic.
Obviously, it’s encouraging to see people arriving at your site, but if your goal is just lots of people every month, that’s kind of a shallow goal. Examining site traffic without taking a closer look at where that traffic is coming from and what visitors do when they arrive won’t tell you much.
Think about it this way: Would you want to host a party where boatloads of people show up but none of them even talks to you? It’d be a shame to waste all your time inviting people and spending money on food and drinks only to have no one even acknowledge you. You want the right people coming to you and engaging with the right content, and that requires a closer look at sources and site behavior.
Now, don’t get me wrong. You’d probably benefit by taking each of these metrics into consideration when you’re measuring your success — but remember to dig deeper and truly understand the context around each one to fully understand your performance. Otherwise, these metrics could be wasting your time.