🎯 Why You Need to Stop Tracking These 5 Metrics

This article was written as part of the SEMrush Big Blogging Contest.

One of the things that going digital does to any brand, is that it suddenly gives access to a lot of data. Data, that opens up a world of possibilities.

Possibilities which had not earlier been anticipated or even thought of. Somehow, it propels teams to start thinking in terms of achieving certain data metrics … and that seems to justify the sheer obsession with data.

However, in data lies a certain trap. Let me walk you through how a typical marketing team approaches data.

Measure & Monitor

At the start, the team starts collecting data and reporting this on a daily basis. The fact that data is being collected and monitored allows for these teams to make pretty graphs and bar charts which get discussed in weekly or monthly meetings.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for #measurement. It’s just that what do you wish to measure is much more important than the fact that you are collecting data. I have already written about this in the past, having defined a simple Success-Failure framework for measurements

However, when I see the work being done by most teams in India, it drives me up the wall. The sheer volume of data, and sometimes the lack of understanding the context can confuse the data analyst. What happens next is just Analysis Paralysis.

Analysis Paralysis

This is a state of over analysing data to such an extent that no action is taken and its being discussed to no end. The data ends up getting regurgitated from excel sheets to powerpoint to emails, but no action is taken.

It’s not that everyone keeps an eye on the more important metrics. If you are looking at a list of smart and helpful series of insights, then do go through this list of analytics insights published on the SEMRush Blog.

Such metrics should be kept aside. Here are some of the metrics that really get my goat.

Bounce Rate

Yes. It’s something that you would look at and obsess over. Wouldn’t you? Think again. It’s a subjective metric. What would you say to a high bounce rate for a landing page that’s giving you a high conversion rate?

The metric if considered purely on a standalone basis tends to bias the analyst, and that’s why its something you need to avoid.

Traffic

This is my most hated metric. What is the point in running after loads of traffic or buying traffic that has zero business outcomes? However a lot of teams are made to run after traffic, and then instead of focusing on getting the right customers, teams start focusing on getting as many footfalls as possible.

Impressions

Yes, your brand got the most number of impressions and that’s a high number of eyeballs. However, if you are getting only one person to act out of every 100, then don’t you think there is a problem?

Brand building is always a good idea, but does brand building translate into driving higher number of impressions? The mental model associated with this approach is scary – because then as marketers and businessmen, we start focusing on running after the wrong metric.

Imagine showing a wrong message to a vast audience. Scary right?

Clicks

This is a metric for those of you who are are running paid promotions on digital. Since a lot of the work that is done on paid promotions is customer acquisition, there is an unhealthy focus on looking at clicks.

Clicks are good, but when it comes to paid promotions, who knows perhaps the person clicking is being incentivized to click your banners and has zero interest to engage with your business.

Social Shares

This again is a personal favourite. For a lot of content oriented brands, the number of social shares is somehow extremely paramount. 

If we step back and examine why people share things on social platforms, then we will see that most of the times it is to express an opinion about something (yes, we are opinionated, and we love it!). Some times it is to open a dialogue and have a conversation about a topic.

Rarely is it that we share something without a purpose. 

PS – incidentally, one of the criteria of winning this blogging contest is social shares!

The next time you sit down to define which metrics to track, definitely think about how the metric is going to help your business. If you can generate a straight visibility between that metric and revenues for instance, then that should be something you need to track.

Blind spots in Analytics

April 10, 2018. Dark social, even though we can’t see it or know what it is, is here. And we should fear it.

via Dark Social is Dangerous — Gareth Roberts

Read through the post, and realized that the title is a bit off. It’s not that Social Media is sending some dangerous traffic, but that the traffic being sent is being incorrectly measured as Direct traffic and therefore, difficult to act upon. This misdirection can lead to a lot of tactical mistakes.

What’s more interesting is the story about World War II that Gareth has nicely illustrated. The deaths due to a D-Day rehearsal were more than D-Day itself. The reason behind this is people coming to the wrong conclusions because of the data made available.

A light skim of this article might put me off Social Media as a marketing channel. As it is I am a bit biased against it, but this would have put the final nail in the coffin. However … this is the blind spot that I am referring to.

Slight misinformation, and there we go jumping to the wrong conclusions. As an analyst, something that you might want to keep in mind is the quality and the veracity of the data that you analyze.

More information about Samara Oblast

I had blogged about getting traffic through bots leaving referral signatures, and it seemed as if the whole internet saw this happening on their sites. After I blogged this post, Moz.com came out with suggestions on putting filters on Google Analytics to clear our your analytics data.

Continue reading “More information about Samara Oblast”

Thoughts on Social Media

Social Media

I wrote this note out for a discussion on Social Media sites and how their relationship with publishers has evolved over a period of time. It goes to show that too much of reliance on any one channel may not be such a good thing after all!

Can we as digital marketers and analysts create a measurement model that can reliably help us to identify whether our social media investments are justified?

Social Media and Creators

One of the problems that new Social Media websites face is generating enough content that users want to consume. This they do by welcoming publishers to come and register on their websites. This is the main fuel for their growth.

The social media site in question (including Facebook) does all it can to attract publishers and creators. The focus is on getting more creators and therefore more users. Users get to follow their favorite brands and celebrities on these sites. Brands and celebrities get a scalable way to engage with their fans. A win-win on paper.

A platform is born

As more users sign-up and start using the site, it soon starts being recognized as a platform. This platform now is independently known and now, creators are attracted to the platform not because its easy to publish their content or its easy to create their content … but because that platform already has their potential target audience.

So, from engagement at scale, the reason why the platform is being used shifts to reach and discovery. The very publisher who used to get throngs of crowds flocking around them now is looking at the platform as the source of that crowd. The shift of behavior due to the change in thinking is not amiss to platform owners.

From Win-Win to Monopoly

The platform owner now knows the dependence of the publisher upon the platform. E.g Facebook single-handedly crippled the stock prices of Zynga (famous for Farmville app on Facebook) by taking it off their Featured apps page.

Take the organic reach that Facebook now provides. Some years back (circa 2012), a single post on your Facebook page would be shown to 10-12% of your followers. This has slowly trickled down to 1% now (3%-4% if you have high engagement on the page). The reason behind this is because every brand out there is pushing out more and more content than what the platform was designed for, and every brand / celebrity out there wants to create content that goes viral.

Pursuit of Viral

Publishers in the pursuit of this holy grail tend to create a Sea of Crappy Content. This is loads and loads of content which does not drive engagement. Platform owners now are scared by the very publishers they used to chase. Not because they don’t need them … but because they are not clearly able to differentiate the good ones from the bad ones. The definition of quality becomes more blurred.

Zero Organic Reach

In the end, the platform owner plays the one card that they can control. Throttle the impressions and reach of the publishers. Quality is then replaced with budgets, with the underlying assumption – if you can create great content, most likely you have enough budgets to buy the impressions required to go viral.

Another example to highlight this is to look at any Facebook page which has over 10,000 likes, the last post of that page won’t even have an engagement rate of 1%. The problem may not with the page or the post in itself, it stems from the throttling down of organic reach.

So what can be done?

Do we pay the piper and buy our followers? Or do we dance to the tune of the platforms and keep pushing more content in the hopes of getting that one beautiful post that gets shared by the millions.

Can we instead, arrive at a scientific method of identifying what platform works and what doesn’t in furthering our objectives?

2018, the year of numbers

The year of analytics

I have been talking about data and analytics for quite some time now. So much so that, I have shifted from doing development as a service (at 13 Llama Studio), to agency as a service (at 13 Llama Interactive). The reason behind this was to capitalise on my love for data analysis and build an organisation that works with data instead of opinions.

From Full Service to Data Analysis

One of the main things that I have been doing, is never say no to anything that lands on my work desk. This is a good thing, since you can pretty much get started as a service based business and do a variety of things.

This, however, is a bad thing since it takes you away from your chosen area of work. In my case, that’s analytics.

We started off as a Full Service Digital Agency and did everything under the sun. Websites, logos, app development … product development, incubation even. Whereas, it’s a fantastic way to keep busy, it did not sate my need to work with numbers.

Saying No

The year 2017 was the year of No. I have been steadfastly refusing to engage with anything which did not involve numbers. So much so that, the organisation that I had so loving built has become an empty shell, almost.

While, this lean attitude is good for companies where there is a lot of waste, taking this to near starvation levels also does not help. Unfortunately, I keep getting such insights only as hindsight :)

What 2017 did offer was a massive consolidation of business interests, which was a good sign. It also taught me the value of human engagement and how business engagements were closely related to the simple human interactions.

Focus on Measurements

I had been going on and on about measurements for some time. I realised that without getting into this completely in your system, you cannot really appreciate this thought. Here’s a quote from Swami Vivekananda –

Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life — think of it, dream of it, live on that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body, be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success…

To fully understand and appreciate what this means, do go through this interpretation by Srinivas Venkatram.

It took me some time to fully get this, and for me that meant focusing on analytics. It did not really mean saying No to different engagements. It means applying my love for data and analysis in whichever engagement to drive value.

2018 for me, represents just this. A year where using measurements I would drive value. Be it in product development, be it in promotions.

Top 5 topics on the BFG this year

When 50% of your traffic comes from the top 10 posts, it’s time to take note of those posts. I took a look at how the blog has been progressing the last year or so, and here are the posts which have done the best.

Surprisingly, some of these posts are older than a year or two. Just goes to show that evergreen content still exists!

Thankfully, there are some posts in there which I have written this year.

  1. Connecting MySQL to Excel using ODBC Connector – Wrote this in 2013, and still going strong. I had faced problems connecting MySQL to Excel and had decided to document how this is done. Never thought that this post would account for 10% of the traffic on this blog every year since!
  2. Traffic due to Analytics spam – Over the past 2-3 years, I had started documenting wierd patterns in my Analytics. Started off as a thought experiment on how Bots can be used for Referral Spam. On further investigations, we also realized that the origin of these spam bots from Samara Oblast, and this tactic was also used in the U. S. Presidential campaigns.
  3. Gaming always works – I have slowed down on writing about this, but the amount of content that people search on how to get better at gaming is always high. Surprisingly, I did not write a single article on this topic the entire year. Over a period of time, I plan to phase this out … however, until then, there’s always a sliver of traffic via these old articles.
  4. The new martech tools is a hot space and I had covered a couple of these tools, right from upgrading Google Analytics script to using Data Studio and Google Optimize. Over the year, this is one area where I want to write a bit more … technical pieces even.
  5. From gaming to Game theory is one of the shifts in the blog, and I am loving exploring the intricacies of this in real life scenarios. Once again, the Google Search algorithm proves that if you are willing to work for it and write good, solid, original content, you can generate traffic. Of course, the age of this domain also helps!!

Shiny tools don’t make a purpose

Recently, I bought a Fitbit. It’s a fantastic tool. Now, I can rave more about the features and go on and on. However, a friend and a colleague asked me an interesting question.

Has it changed you?
No, it did not.

Before I go on, I have to tell you that I am on the heavier side of the weighing scale. Those of you who know me personally would be surprised at the sudden interest in all things health. Yeah, I roll like that.

It’s not about the Fitbit

Like any other measurement tool, the Fitbit is doing a marvelous job at letting me know certain metrics that I need to care about.

They have even gamified the steps by putting in cute little badges and built in peer support (and also peer pressure) to keep me motivated. All this is good as it should be.

At the core of it, it’s a measurement tool. Just like any of the billion other tools we use in Analytics.

Targets and Measurements

On very similar lines, we as marketers or as businessmen often deploy shiny new tools because we think they will help us do more.

Unfortunately, like me in this case, how many of us forget on defining the purpose?

I implicitly assumed that the Fitbit would automatically by some magic give me the purpose of losing weight and leading a more healthy life. Without this purpose, here’s what would happen —

I will wear it to work, and dutifully report the steps taken and life would go on as usual. Some of the badges would come in as time goes by, and it would not really matter to me if I took 2000 steps a day (which is a walk in the park) or 10000 steps a day (I haven’t achieved this yet).

How would I change, if let’s say I choose to give myself a target of say, 10000 steps a day.

Without Purpose, there’s no Change

I would for one have to make time to walk those 10000 steps. I could try walking in the office or doing a much more rigorous transit than an Uber. However, I would have to commit to making the time for those steps.

Thus, this choice of making a change in my routine should be addressed. At the heart of it, the shiny new tool is not at the center. Yes, you have bought Google Analytics Premium and all of that is great … but that’s not really at the center.

At the center, is the purpose. Has this been defined? Has this been clarified and articulated so that the team knows about this?

A tool doesn’t give us Purpose

It does give us a sense of progress towards our purpose. A Measure of Success, if you will. The shiny new tool that we just acquired is useful, but only as long as we keep the purpose at the center.

As people who know how to use a tool, if we do not understand the purpose, the tool will end up regurgitating meaningless data.

TL;DR — When setting up measures, don’t keep the tool at the center. Keep the purpose at the center. The rest should follow.