Digital Marketing Analytics for Absolute Beginners
When Cup O Content asks prospective clients what they hope to get from digital marketing, the most common answer is, "You tell me!"
Why do clients know so little about digital analytics? The truth is, few companies have ever worked with a marketing firm that (1) delivers monthly analytics, (2) interprets digital data into an understandable format, and (3) makes recommendations for improvements based on those analytics.
If this sounds familiar, this blog is for you. Here's a list of analytics that almost every organization should be tracking. But let's start with this disclaimer: all of these explanations are greatly simplified, and other factors can also affect ad or post performance in minor or major ways.
Impressions are usually defined as people who have been exposed to the post or ad for a very brief time. Impressions alone are not a meaningful measurement, but it's important to know how big your potential audience is. That way, you'll better understand how effective your messages are. For example, did 1% of impressions engage? .01%? .001%? If targeted parameters are sound, the percent of engagement among all impressions is a core indicator of ad quality and relevance.
Many digital platforms also provide reach numbers. Calculation formats vary, but usually reach reports on views of at least a few seconds. If users linger over your post or ad, social media platforms reward you with more impressions and reach. On the other hand, if users fly by without a pause, those platforms restrict ad distribution or post distribution. For this reason, eye-catching images and a clear message will help your best prospect notice you and increase your reach numbers. Videos tend to drive more reach than images. Even simple iPhone videos are very good at getting online users to notice you.
Now it's getting good. Engagement usually refers to how many people clicked on your content, liked it, shared it, or commented. If one of these things happened, the post or ad was served up to the audience (impressions), people slowed down (reach), and viewers were interested enough to like, comment, share, or click (engagement). When engagement numbers are strong, the ad is working, and it’s a sign that people want to know more.
Usually, posts or ads on social media include clicks to a landing page or website that provides more information, has a contact form, or allows users to order. So measuring the number of clicks is significant.
If your business runs ads, it's important to know how much you pay for each click. This is called cost per click, and it's very easy for any digital marketing agency to share this number with clients. However, the cost per click varies widely among social media platforms. For example, for many of our clients, we work to keep the LinkedIn cost per click at $3 or less. For Facebook, we try to keep the cost per click at less than $1 per click. However, Google’s cost per click varies widely by category, so we create different cost-per-click goals on a case-by-case basis.
So while no magic number works for everyone, over time, clients should see a steady decrease in cost per click as agencies test and learn and find the best way to deliver lower costs per click.
For some types of ad campaigns, it makes sense to measure conversions. All social media platforms (and Google) offer the ability to add code to the website in ways that track site activity. So you can see if the click resulted in a submission or a purchase. Or you can track form completions.
However, digital conversions are not always straightforward. For example, for more than one e-commerce client, we see that online sales go up when we run Facebook ads (and go down when we stop them), even though the conversion code on Facebook doesn’t show many purchases. On Google, those same clients see more conversions, a spike in organic traffic, and an associated sales bump that technically isn’t connected to Google ads. So, for both of these media platforms, we know that the awareness ads drive sales, even if they aren't using the ad to make purchases.
By now, you've probably noticed that tracking digital success isn't always simple. Many contributing factors can muddy the data. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't measure carefully. All data should support the key performance indicator or KPI. For example, if you’re a company that wants online sales, that's your KPI.
Similarly, if you want more website traffic, phone calls, article views, or people submitting information on contact forms, that's your KPI. It's up to your agency to create the best combinations of marketing efforts to grow that KPI month to month and year to year.
Ups and Downs
In an ideal world, progress would be steady and linear. But many factors affect progress, including the seasonality of the product or service, the competition online, the changing policies or algorithms of the digital platform, and even world events.
But while these factors may impact performance for a month or two, the trajectory should be upward over time. Agencies should be tracking performance and adjusting to counteract outside pressures. And even the best agencies will see the occasional dip in performance. The best measurement is success over time.
Clients can help improve reporting by deciding on a topline KPI and sticking with it for several months (or, even better, several years). Clients should also be clear about their customer profiles, know what their goods or services are, and agree on a defined geography.
Finally, clients who ask lots of questions, contribute ideas, and think hard about results are the best at helping agencies improve digital performance. So make sure you look at reports, understand the information presented and can compare performance month to month and year to year. Your active participation is one of the best tools an agency has to improve performance.