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You Are What You Measure

the rundown

In this installment of Provocative Ideas, Google Digital Marketing Evangelist and Market Motive Inc. co-Founder Avinash Kaushik talks about real "angel metrics" that can help you build your business, and their "evil twins" which tend to do just the opposite.

While there is great appreciation for the power of analytic metrics, I’ve realized that many marketers don’t appreciate the deep, and often corrosive, consequences of focusing on the wrong ones. The metrics you choose communicate to your organization what’s important to you, and tell team members how their own performance will be judged. Which translates directly into what they prioritize when creating your digital initiatives. Choose the right metrics and you encourage the creation of the most profitable and brilliant digital experiences, acquisition campaigns, and customer service channels. Choose the wrong metrics and you might get the kind of self-serving, sub-optimal work that can slowly bleed your business.

Metrics tend to come in pairs: real ‘angel metrics’ that can help you build your business, and their ‘evil twins’ which tend to do just the opposite. There’s ‘Economic Value’ and its evil twin ‘Revenue;’ ‘Task Completion’ and its evil twin ‘Time on Site;’ and ‘Conversation Rate’ and its evil twin ‘Followers.’ Here I’ll concentrate on one such pair of angel/evil metrics: ‘Visitor Loyalty,’ and its evil twin ‘Page Views,’ a metric on which many companies have become unhappily over-dependent.

Friends don’t let friends measure Page Views. Ever. I’ll tell you why.

Page Views kinda’, sorta’ measures consumption. But are a lot of Page Views per visit a good thing (“the visitor loved our site so much!”), a bad thing (“our site is so bad it takes 23 pages to find what you’re looking for!”), or a horrible thing (“After a 23-page hunt, the visitor gave up!”)? Measuring only Page Views, how would you ever know? But it gets even worse.

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Most content sites are monetized using display advertising, usually on a Cost Per Thousand Impressions (“CPM”) basis. When you are paid on a CPM basis you are incentivized to show the most possible ads on every page, and get the visitor to view the most pages. This is a perverse incentive that displaces the focus from the truly important audience – your user – onto an audience of secondary importance – the advertiser.

One easily sees where this leads. The web is littered with examples of Page View-driven awfulness. Here’s just one example: Photo slideshows are a great way to engage customers. Yahoo! News has them. Except Yahoo! News’s slideshows neither engage nor delight. Because of their underlying Page View-driven, CPM-incentivized model, Yahoo! News’s slideshows load a new page (delivering lots of new ad impressions!) every time a user clicks "Next Photo". But even on a pretty fast connection that means waiting and waiting, and accepting or rejecting a fresh set of cookies and social media hooks. Instead of pleasure, users remember the pain of waiting. This may help meet some internal Page View quota and earn a few extra ad dollars, but would it make you think positively of Yahoo! News and other similarly built sites? Would you long to return to these sites, or would you start to avoid them? It’s a failing strategy from a true business-building perspective. It’s short-term gain but long-term loss.

Now consider slideshows on my favorite news site, the BBC. Sure, the BBC site uses display advertising to monetize its content. But when you click ‘Next Photo’ on a BBC slideshow, there is no page reload. In fact, all the content gets loaded (most likely asynchronously) with the first photo. When you click ‘Next Photo,’ it loads fast. And as a side benefit, BBC slideshows can use a lovely fade transition between photos. The BBC creates fewer Page Views for itself, and smaller CPM earnings. But it creates genuine user satisfaction. That translates into users who visit the site more often, consume more content and, in the long run, see a lot more ads. Minor short-term loss; major long-term gain.

Clearly, the metric the BBC uses is not Page Views, but Visitor Loyalty. Visitor Loyalty won’t be found on every Digital Analytics dashboard, but it is a standard metric. It measures not what happens inside a session (a short-term incentive), but behavior across sessions (a long-term incentive). It forces designers, editors, merchandisers, IT teams, and everyone in between to trade slow-loading, pain-inducing pages for a focus on user satisfaction. Ironically, that actually means more ad impressions in the long run.

That’s the power of promoting the right metric as your KPI, incenting marketing teams to focus on the long term and the right audience. As Steve Jobs once famously said: “Incentive structures work. So you have to be very careful of what you incent people to do.” Like Steve Jobs, I’m sure you want everybody on your team “incented to make the whole company successful.”

Can you think of other angel metrics and their evil twins to which businesses can fall prey?

"Friends don’t let friends measure Page Views. Ever."

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