Which digital marketing metrics are the most important to track

Last updated Aug 28, 2020

This post is part two in a series about metrics. 

In Part One, we covered the importance of metrics in general, and explored the kinds of questions you can begin to answer when you have the data to do so. 

If you’re new to metrics, or still aren’t convinced that you need to track them, I recommend starting with that post to get oriented.

In Part One, I also introduced my top ten website metrics to track in Google Analytics, and shared some tools to make it all a little easier to get started.

Website metrics to track

In this post, we will cover nine important metrics that you’ll want to know to make the most of your social media activity, paid advertising and email marketing.

Marketing Metrics

Tracking website metrics is a smart business decision and I recommend everyone do it, but your website is not the only hub for important information about your audience behavior.

Sure, you want to know what visitors are doing once they arrive on your website. You want to know what content they’re engaging with, how long they stay, and even where they tend to drop off.

But before someone lands on your site, they have been exposed to your business somehow. Whether it was an ad, a post on social media, or a newsletter, they clicked on something to get to your site.

Marketing metrics help you track the activities that are driving visitors to your site, and give you the information you need to determine which of these efforts are driving profitable returns, and which might need to be retooled.

You’ll see that many of the following metrics rely on each other to give you the full picture of what’s happening. It may seem overwhelming at first, but the more you interact with these metrics on a regular basis, the more information you’ll be able to pull from them. 

While there are so many metrics to track, the following are nine that I recommend if you’re just starting out with marketing metrics and want to build a foundational understanding of how they can help you make data driven business decisions.

glossary of internet marketing terms

Impressions

An impression is the overall number of views that your content or ad receives. 

If you are running paid ads, the same ad might be shown multiple times to an individual. If the same person sees the ad twice, that counts as two impressions.

It’s a good idea to track your impressions after you’ve launched an ad. If you aren’t getting very many, there may be some issue with your setup.

You also want to keep in mind your goals and use impressions as a guide in accomplishing them. For example, if you have a time sensitive product launch, you may want to maximize your impressions in a short period of time, even if it means the same person might see your ad on multiple occasions. 

Depending on which theory you’re reading, it can take between 3-20 impressions before a potential customer becomes aware of your brand. Your job is to get your business in front of them without causing “ad fatigue”, which happens when you serve your ad so frequently that viewers become annoyed.

If you are worried about ad fatigue, you might want to try to increase reach (discussed below) rather than impressions.

Tracking impressions alone will not give you much usable information, but when you track it alongside other metrics, you can begin to get a fuller picture of the impact of your marketing efforts.

Reach

When you’re posting on social media, you want to make sure that you are getting in front of as many users as possible. Reach tells you the number of individuals who have seen your ad, content, or post.

Reach will almost always be a lesser number than impressions because in most cases the same user will see your content more than once. 

If you want to increase reach there are a number of things you can do, including:

  • Fully brand all of your social media profiles
  • Post curated and original content consistently. Curated content is content that you haven’t necessarily written, but that you may share along with your opinion or some other commentary that is valuable to your audience. 
  • Engage with your community and your audience. The more you engage with them, the more valuable they will feel when they engage with your content. The social media algorithms weight every interaction, so the more interactions you have, the better.
  • If you have been relying on organic reach, you can pay to boost some of your most successful content to increase your reach beyond the audience that currently interacts with you.

Reach, when considered alongside other metrics, can help you determine the success of your marketing strategy and help you refine it.

For example, If your content has a wide reach but not much engagement, you may need to change your verbiage to encourage readers to interact with the post. 

If you have an ad with a broad reach but not many clicks, perhaps your CTA wasn’t particularly clear, or you might need to test different copy to see if you can drive more conversions.

You can also view reach as a sign of healthy growth. If your reach is increasing, then the audience for your content is most likely expanding. Hopefully, this will lead to new users engaging with and sharing your content.

Engagement

Engagement is the total number of interactions your viewers have with a post. 

Depending on the platform, engagement might be:

  • Clicks 
  • Shares 
  • Likes 
  • Views 
  • Retweets
  • Comments 

All of these count as some form of engagement. They indicate that someone is actually paying attention to your content and interested enough to interact with it. Because of this, engagement is really the benchmark for you to measure your social media success. 

Engagement will always be lower than reach, because not everybody who sees your content is going to engage with it. If you track your engagement over time and across posts, it will serve as a useful benchmark for how valuable your content is to your audience.

This is because you can pay to increase the other metrics we’ve discussed, like impressions and reach, but you cannot pay for engagement unless you’re going the click-farm route, which I strongly recommend against. 

When real users choose to engage with your content, that is a signal to the platform that your content is worthwhile.

In many cases, engagement will also increase your reach. For example, if someone on Facebook shares your post to their wall, their friends will now see your post. Or, if you receive a number of reactions to a post, the Facebook algorithm will decide your content is useful, and it will share the content with more people.

Engagement is different across industries, but a two to five percent engagement is a good benchmark, meaning two to five percent of your overall reach. 

You should always look at your insights to see which posts are getting the highest engagement on each of the platforms you use, but you may be surprised by what you find.

Over in my WordPress Happy Facebook group, some of the posts that get the highest engagement have nothing to do with websites or entrepreneurship. Instead, they are simply easy to interact with, or they might trigger something that’s fresh or front of mind for the community. 

For example, last week I posted something about emojis and it got great engagement.

While this could be seen as a negative (we want our audience to engage with our most meaningful posts, right?) it’s important to recognize that engagement on any post is going to trigger the algorithm that your content is worthwhile.

So it doesn’t matter if you’ve posted a puppy photo and you’re getting great engagement on it. The next thing that you post might be about building a website and the algorithm is still going to favor you because it knows that you’re posting great content at the moment.

The algorithms change frequently and they are smart. If you create posts that are blatantly fishing for likes and comments, the algorithm will know and it will demote your page so fewer people will see it. So don’t fall into the trap of churning out click-bait. Work to create valuable content, ask genuine questions to foster engagement, and build your audience by creating trust in your brand, rather than spamming for likes. 

Email Open Rates

If you don’t have an email list yet, it’s time to start growing one! An email list is an invaluable asset to your business.

Email open rate measures the number of people who have actually opened your email campaign in comparison with the number of people that received it. This is truly one of the most important metrics for you to follow. 

Let’s say you’ve got a hundred people on your list. Ten people actually open it. That’s a ten percent open rate. 

High open rates indicate that you have a well segmented list. 

What does it mean to have a well segmented list? Let’s say you request my website planning bundle and I email it to you upon your request. The following week, I decide to launch a cookery class and send the announcement to everyone on my newsletter list.

In this case, you are highly unlikely to open my cookery class email when you’ve already indicated you’re interested in learning website planning from me. 

This will negatively impact my email open rate, because when you see the subject about the cookery class, you’re likely to scroll past or delete it without reading it.

When you’re not segmenting your audience correctly, you’re sending them something that isn’t relevant to what they have requested. It’s not a good practice, and you’ll see it reflected in your open rates. 

If you are getting high open rates, it probably means you’ve done a good job of segmenting your list.

A compelling subject line is another way to boost your email open rate. The content in the email could be amazing, but if the subject line doesn’t draw people in, they’re not going to click on it. 

Finally, you want to send emails when people are awake and open to receiving content.  If you’re sending messages at three in the morning, the chances of getting a higher open rate are greatly diminished.

Most email services like MailChimp and Active Campaign will give you an option to send messages at the optimum time. The software can analyze your campaigns and see when most people are engaging with your content, and then send it out at those peak times. 

You can also stagger it by time zones. If you have an audience in Australia and an audience in the U.S., clearly they’re all awake and engaging with content at different times. You can set your email service to stagger delivery depending on the geographic location to maximize your open rate.

changing wordpress without publishing

Click Through Rate (CTR)

Click through rate measures clicks within emails and paid ads.

As an email marketing metric, CTR measures the number of people who have clicked at least one link in an email you’ve sent. 

This metric indicates whether your subscribers are engaged with your email content. If you have a high email CTR, then your content was good enough to inspire your readers to take action.

If you are running paid ads, click through rate measures how many people actually clicked on the ad out of the number of people who saw it. 

A high CTR on an ad means users found your ads helpful and relevant. This is an important metric to track, particularly if you’re running A/B tests on ads to determine what design and copy leads to the highest CTR. 

Click through rate on ads affects your cost per click (CPC). The higher your CTR, the lower your CPC.

Cost Per Click (CPC)

Cost per click measures the amount that you pay for each individual that converts by clicking on an ad.

A click is counted every time somebody takes action on your ad, and these clicks can add up quickly. 

For this reason, you want to make the most of your clicks by doing the following:

  • Target your audience so your ad is served to people who will find it relevant. The more specific you can get with your targeted audience, the more directly you can speak to them, and even create special offers in the ad that they’re more likely to click.
  • Use a compelling headline, eye-catching images, and provide a clear call to action. Test your ads to find out what engages your audience best, and keep your ads fresh to keep their interest.
  • Take advantage of retargeting. People are more likely to buy from a company if they’ve already visited their site. Many platforms will allow you to track users who have already interacted with your site and serve your ad to them again, increasing the likelihood of conversion.

Cost per click is also industry dependent. 

There are some businesses, like law firms, that are willing to pay a very high CPC, because their services are so expensive the CPC ends up being low relative to the value of the customer. 

Whatever your CPC might be, it’s not the whole story. Even if you have a high CPC, as long as it’s lower than your cost per acquisition (discussed below), you’re still making money. 

Cost Per Conversion (CPCon)

Cost per conversion shows what it cost you to convert a visitor to a sale or some other conversion goal like signing up for a webinar or watching a video.

Cost per conversion is a great metric to track when you’re asking questions like “How much does it cost to get a like on Facebook”, or “What is the cost of acquiring a new email subscriber?”

Much like cost per click, cost per conversion is dependent on your industry. It’s also dependent on your business model, and even varies with each individual campaign.

You need to at least break even for this metric otherwise you’re paying money to run your site.

Cost Per Acquisition (CPA)

Cost Per Acquisition is similar to CPCon in that it tracks conversions, but in this case, it only tracks conversions to paying customers. 

While CPCon may answer the question of how much it costs to get someone to opt-in to your newsletter, you need CPA to determine how many subscribers you need to make a sale.

Some will say that, because of this, CPA is the single most important metric you can track.

Suppose you had an incredible CTR on your newsletters, and such high engagement on your ads that your CPC was at an all time low. You might feel proud that you managed to best the industry average for all these metrics.

But then what if you looked at the number of sales you made and the number was only one or two? What if your entire ad spend went to acquire just enough customers to pay for the ads themselves, and the ad budget was greater than the revenue those customers brought to the business?

This is clearly not a thriving business model, and one you will not be able to sustain for long.

Tracking CPA is vital because you need to know that it is well below your average revenue per customer. If it’s not, you’re either losing money, or you’re breaking even and treading water rather than profiting.

The simplest way to find out if your CPA is profitable is to first determine the average revenue of a single customer. You can find this by dividing your yearly revenue by your yearly customer count.

If you’re spending more to acquire a customer than the customer is spending with you, you have a problem that needs to be addressed immediately.

ROI

The last metric is your overall return on investment (ROI). This equates to how much you spend versus how much you earn in return.

ROI can be tricky to calculate because something like a social media share doesn’t have a clear quantifiable value, but it does increase the likelihood of you making a sale, and so should be counted somehow.

A decent average starting point to shoot for is a 5:1 ratio of return to investment. This means for every pound you spend, you want to bring in five pounds of revenue.

When you calculate your revenue, be sure to include a customer’s lifetime value in your calculations. Depending on your business model, a customer’s first purchase may not be their last. You want to account for the average lifetime value of a customer when you are calculating your ROI.

Conclusion

While some metrics I shared in this post will not be relevant unless you’re running paid ads, you should be paying attention to all of them. 

No matter where you are with your business, just starting out or already turning a profit, keeping an eye on your metrics will help you zero in on the most impactful actions you can take to market and sell your products and services.

Without the hard data that you get from metrics, you’re basically throwing darts at a dartboard in the dark. Sure, you might hit something now and then, but it’s a lucky throw rather than a strategic one. 

To bring it back to the metaphor I used in the first post in this series, without metrics, you are like that captain of a battleship with no control center, and no way to guide your ship and your crew safely toward your destination.

Metrics allow you to see the real impact of your ads, social presence, and email list. They let you make decisions based on how people are actually engaging with your website and content. Metrics take the guesswork out of the equation and offer concrete guidelines for what to do next to move your business towards profit and success.

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Which digital marketing metrics are the most important to track
Which digital marketing metrics are the most important to track

Vicky Etherington

Vicky Etherington has been running her own online marketing agency since 2003, and in 2014 transitioned to working with coaches and therapists to teach them how to create their own client-attracting websites. 

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