As the CEO or owner of your company, you need to know if your marketing is working or not. Key performance indicators (KPIs) are important — we all know that. When it comes to KPIs for digital marketing, the problem is not so much a lack of data. There’s plenty of data, if you have the right tools and know where to look.

The real inhibitors to gathering revenue-centric marketing KPIs are: the people building your dashboards don’t understand the basics of business; there is too much confusing and conflicting data; the data is often inconclusive; and the way that the data is reported and presented is often confusing.

We’ll look at each of these problems and provide solutions.

But first, I’d like to reveal one of the biggest elephants in the room, which is this:

You can’t do digital marketing without specialists, and many of them practice something I call “profit-driven secrecy.”

Digital marketing changes constantly. Those who are immersed in a particular aspect of it — the ones who are doing it right — are constantly learning and getting proficient with new methods and tools.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of others who only learn enough to get along and who are slow to adopt the new ways (yes, even the younger ones). They will even stubbornly refuse to update to a new version of an application that a client’s site is based on because it’s too hard to learn. The way they see it, they make more money if they don’t stop what they’re doing to learn something new.

And yes, one of our clients had this specific experience. A new version of their e-commerce app would have solved some major site problems for them, but their developer refused to learn it, install it, and put it to use. (Their former developer, obviously.)

Developers get away with this because even though they are falling behind the times and not using the best methods, they still know more than their clients. And they want to keep it that way.

So, in addition to falling behind, they also avoid lifting the green curtain and explaining what they’re doing and why. The more their clients stay in the dark, the happier they are.

Which, obviously, is a very big problem because now we have millions of business owners depending 100% on their digital marketing for revenue, and they don’t understand it well enough to manage it.

Up to this current era, business owners knew a lot about all aspects of their business — or at least enough to be able to tell when something was going off the rails, and what to do about it. This is not the case now.

This concerns me. A lot.

That was a rather long aside, but an important one.

Now let’s take a quick look at the usual problems and how they can be solved.

Problem: The people building your dashboards don’t understand the basics of business.

Solution: Work with people who do.

(By the way: a dashboard, in this sense, is a site that should help you see and understand the KPIs for your digital marketing.)

Sounds simple, but it’s difficult to pull off. Most of the people who carry out digital marketing have been in business for a shorter time than the people at the other end of the spectrum (obviously), who have a lot of business experience.

Thankfully, the younger folks are gaining business experience faster than the older people are gaining tech experience. That’s the good news.

But there are too many older business owners who have built strong businesses who are now clueless about the basics of technology. In this age of apps, changes are happening faster than ever. If they were behind to start with, now their situation is really serious.

I see this gap growing every year. The older folks are not going away anytime soon; there are plenty of business owners in their 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s who are still going strong. Even though there’s a lot to learn, they owe it to themselves to learn as much as they can from the people doing their marketing. They should be asking questions constantly. They can’t just say, “I’m not technical.” In this age of digital-driven business, this is like saying, “I’m not interested in succeeding.”

They, in turn, need to teach their younger digital workers as much as possible about business. All generations will be better off if this exchange takes place.

And, what you are measuring will make more sense.

Problem: There is too much confusing and conflicting data.

Solution: Find the best source and stick with it.  

The smarter you get about measuring the results of digital marketing, the more you realize that even the most reliable sources can serve up conflicting data. One app may say you have X number of visitors and another might say it’s a different number, even if they are both using the same source. For example, many apps rely on Google Analytics for their source data, but then may interpret it differently.

You can certainly get lost in the midst of all that data as you drill down, looking for data on what caused a spike or drop. Google Analytics, which does provide pretty much all you’d want to know about the visitors to your site and their behavior, is not the easiest application to navigate. Google has gotten a lot of apps right, but Google Analytics isn’t the best example. It’s been used too long by SEO specialists who have learned how to use it and like the fact that they are the only ones who can navigate it easily (another example of “profit-driven secrecy”).  

The solution to this problem is to find the best source and stick with it. At least then you will be comparing apples to apples, and will be able to see which way your stats are trending month over month, as revealed by your chosen source.

Don’t shoot for perfection; it’s a big, fat, distracting rabbit hole. Instead, decide how and what you’re going to measure, pick the right tool, and stick with it, at least for a while.

Problem: The data is often inconclusive.

Solution: There are two kinds of data you need to watch: emergency data and long-term data. Treat them differently.

Let’s say you see a big spike or drop in your site traffic. When there is a drop, it is more than a cause for concern; it is an emergency which must be investigated ASAP.

Another thing that developers won’t tell you is that sites — or at least parts of sites — break much more frequently than you would think. Now, I should say here that a client (whose company creates software for a living) mentioned recently that his site is up much more since we’ve been taking care of it. We take site uptime and accuracy very seriously. So I’m not saying this as if we take it lightly.

What I am saying is that sites are living and breathing; a simple plugin update can wipe out the custom code on your site (are you making sure your site is backed up regularly?); your site hosting company can have an outage; someone can make a small mistake with your “robots.txt” file, which can have large consequences (the robots.txt file tells Google to which parts of your site to crawl — or not).

Your site is an unpredictable three-year old who must be watched constantly.

Again, any big spikes and drops need to be investigated immediately. The problem must be found and fixed.

But there are other longer-term trends, such as the keywords you are being found for; the amount of traffic coming into your site; which pages and posts are most popular; the sources of your traffic; locations of visitors; and device use (mobile, desktop, tablet), all of which you should watch over the long term and use to make decisions about site improvements.

Let the data tell you what’s happening over time, and continue to make adjustments. That’s another reason that a site is a living thing; people are interacting with it all the time. The data about their behavior can help you better understand what they want, how they’re using it, and what could make it better for them.

Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention here that interviewing customers helps you understand what they want and what they want to get from your site. That data tends to be very conclusive, if done the right way, it can take you miles closer to understanding what you should do next. Chapter 3 of my book (shameless plug: now available as an Audiobook!) provides the exact best method.

Problem: The way data is reported and presented is often confusing.

Solution: You should have an executive dashboard that presents only what you need to see, but also gives you the ability to drill down.

This is trickier to do than it would seem, for all the reasons I’ve stated above. One of the more popular ways to build dashboards now is with Google’s Data Studio, which can give you all sorts of data in all kinds of formats. But because the tech is fairly new, it’s being used mostly by people who have less experience in business, and who aren’t used to thinking like a CEO or business owner. So the “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should” rule tends to drive what is presented and how it’s presented.

For the basics, you want your dashboard to show traffic trends, device use, downloaded or acted-upon site items, and the most popular posts and pages.

You should also be able to easily adjust the date ranges and filters used (seeing only traffic from organic results, paid ads, or social, for example), and be able to click into the full-blown Google Analytics app when you want to drill down on something you see in the main dashboard.

Whoever you hire to build your dashboard should be very familiar with your business before starting to work. You need to explain:

  • Who you’re selling to
  • If you are selling a product or a service (this will determine what you should be measuring; obviously if you are selling a product online, your online sales would be one of the key metrics).
  • What they buy from you and how they buy it
  • Where you stand versus your competition in the market (including what competitors are doing right)
  • What you’ve measured before and what frustrated you about it
  • What you can offer as a downloadable resource or other inducement to get a clickthrough, which you want to be tracked in Google Analytics
  • Results of campaigns that you are running, involving online advertising, email, social, video, and so on.

As you review the data, whoever built the dashboard for you should be able to answer your questions without being secretive or dismissive. Always hire the vendors who are happy to educate you.

The return on your marketing investment will be higher if you thoroughly understand what you are managing. At the rate things are going now, there’s no doubt that no matter how much you learn, you can never learn enough.

Frankly, I find this exciting, which is why I got into tech years ago. But it’s now essential for everyone.

We are ALL technical now.

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