Periodically, marketers will panic over one single metric. Focusing on one piece of data in isolation without considering the bigger picture is risky. User experience is a complex set of puzzle pieces, and each one plays an important role in the success of your digital marketing strategy. No metric can truly stand alone, and broad-brushing your results based on a single measurement can tank your overall strategy.
It’s important to look at metrics with a critical eye and evaluate the overall context. Consider bounce rate: a lower bounce rate generally indicates that visitors find your site relevant and stick around to read more content. However, there are cases where a higher bounce rate isn’t necessarily a bad thing. For example, avid readers of your company blog may visit your site to read a new article and then leave the site after they’re done because they’ve already read all of your other posts. If you have a large, devoted audience, this could lead to a higher-than-average bounce rate, but it’s hardly indicative of a problem.
Another example is time on site. This metric is typically a reflection of users being able to find what they’re looking for on your site and engaging with your content. For mobile users, time on site tends to be lower because their browsing is more focused. In order to truly understand whether your site is resonating with mobile visitors, you need to look beyond time on site and factor in other metrics like conversion rate.
For metrics to be truly valuable, they must be “actionable.” This concept comes from The Lean Startup framework, which defines these metrics as those that tie specific, actionable actions to observed results. These are in opposition to vanity metrics, which make you think things are going well but don’t actually tell you if you’re any closer to reaching your goals (What? You are tracking metrics but have never talked about your goals??). Some common vanity metrics are page views, number of followers, number of downloads or “likes.” These numbers are easy to present to upper management and are fairly easy to achieve because they’re based on quantity, not quality. A spike in these numbers may make you feel good, but they don’t add anything to the bottom line.
While vanity metrics do reflect and factor into the bigger picture, you must combine them with other metrics to understand user behavior and determine how to make improvements. It doesn’t matter if people are visiting – or have visited – your website if they are not interacting with your content on a deeper level. Engagement metrics help you understand how your marketing efforts are helping to attract, retain and convert customers.
Some vanity metrics can become “actionable” if they are correctly analyzed and combined with other metrics. When you develop your digital marketing strategy, be sure to think through your goals and build a set of key metrics that reflect your progress toward them. As you develop your user personas, create a detailed outline of your buyers’ motivations and their decision-making process. Then, when reviewing metrics for your site, use the data to determine how well your site supports your users within this framework. The numbers should show you what you’re doing right and where you can improve.