Ringing in a New Year of Metrics

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It's the first full work week of the year, which can mean many things for many people. For most, endless self-improvement resolutions are made. For marketers, and search marketers in particular, it means that the metrics slate is wiped clean. It's a new game, with new innings, and a new goal to hit. If you have one search marketing resolution this year, it should be to keep your metrics in order.

This is, of course, assuming that your firm has a fiscal year end of December 31, your CMO gave very clear objectives for 2008 and that your strategyand budget are approved. If this is you, congratulations; advanced topics to come in a future column. For the rest of you, let's start at the beginning.

Over the years, I have found that measuring success can seem overwhelming, if not completely terrifying. Some fear technology, some fear numbers and most fear failure. I distinctly remember one marketer afraid to show her boss a downward-pointing graph, even though a decrease meant a positive result for the firm. Another simply said, “I know it's the right thing to do, but I'm afraid of losing my job.” To this, I say: fear not the metrics. With a little education and problem solving, you will soon be in control. Until this happens, you will forever be at the mercy of the numbers.

Before we start measuring, let's return to the happy marketer above. What does he have that you might be missing? For starters, he knows the business objectives, straight from the CMO. If you have not heard statements such as “shift brand positioning to eco-friendly” or “Grow the high-net-worth segment,” it is perfectly ok to go back to her and ask what the overarching goal is. Only then will you be able to assign the appropriate tactical goals for search marketing campaigns.

The second aspect of a happy marketer is an approved strategy and budget. In most likelihood, someone spent last fall listing out what the marketing department would need to meet the objectives. This should have addressed technology, tools, headcount and media spend, among other things. Once again, if this was not done, add this into your conversation with the CMO. It is entirely possible that someone did this for you, in which case it behooves everyone to be on the same page.

Technology and tools tend to be one of the larger budget items addressed in the New Year. Believe it or not, this is still a first-time affair for many. For others, there is an upgrade, switch to a new tool or even adding a second or third tracking tool for verification purposes.  Marketers with this last approach acknowledge discrepancies and focus on general trends. Even if you are completely happy with your tools, January is an excellent time to make sure that any new content that was added is pixeled and that new tracking functionality is explored. 

Knowing the capabilities of a measurement tool is critical. However, remember that just because you can measure everything doesn't mean that you should. When measurement tools pack everything in, they expect you to pick and choose what is most important. This traditionally means a high-level summary for the CMO (here are the top line metrics; summary: we sold more product via search) and a more granular report for the Internet Marketing Director (we not only sold more product, but we spent less by focusing on these keywords, and adjusting average CPC to X). And as much as we love to get lost in clicks and spiders, the most specific metrics should be used by those who manage programs on a day-to-day basis.

Coming soon: advanced metrics for search engine marketing and social media.

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