How to Set Website Progress & Success Signals by @DynamicSearch
Naturally, business owners look for justification when investing their money in marketing. Clients who are not familiar with web marketing at a basic level can be hard, if not even impossible to please. I always ask my clients for the short and long-term goals to set realistic expectations. I use this as an opportunity to explain the right way of measuring marketing success.
Progress Signals & Conversion Goals
I think of progress signals as the bright light illuminating from a lighthouse at a distance. When your signals illustrate a positive trend, you know that you are in the right direction. Otherwise, you steer left/right to realign to your destination.
Impressions, CTR, traffic, and of course keyword rankings are all examples of progress signals. I cover this and why keyword ranking is only a progress signal and not a success metric further in this post.
Conversion goals are a success metric. Different from progress signals, success metrics are actual proof for return – when setup correctly. This is a common roadblock many encounter. They either set up goals incorrectly, or worse, don’t set up any at all.
So What Makes a Good Conversion Goal?
Conversion goals are really a form of engagement. Goals are not always a business’s final desired result (e.g. a purchase, phone call, etc.). For example, it could be a variety of actions a visitor completed that brought him closer to the end of the buying funnel. A good conversion goal is always tied to a meaningful user engagement action, such as:
- Request a demo
- Send form
- Phone call
Other conversion goals (with lower engagement):
- Page views
- Spent X amount of time on the website
- Landed on a specific URL
NOTE: The second group of conversion goals indicates lower engagement. Nonetheless, they are still considered good indicators of early signs of engagement. For this reason, low engagement conversion goals can also be used as progress metrics. Later in the post I explain more on how to use them.
The Misconception of Success Metrics (Goals)
There is an obvious correlation between goals’ completion to sales trends on e-commerce websites. However, for businesses with offline transactions, proving improvement is a bit more complex. This requires a different route altogether. Let’s examine the following two scenarios:
WildFae is a clothing company that makes on average 155 sales per day. They hired a new web marketing specialist to help improve conversions performance. After looking over last quarter sales’ stats, the daily average bumped to 201 transactions. At this point, it appears that the 30% increase in sales suggests success.
HomeAppFinder is a real estate company. They set up many call tracking numbers on their website to monitor all incoming leads. A new web-marketing specialist has been hired to help improve conversion performance. Reviewing last quarter sales’, stats revealed sales doubled. At this point, it appears the increase in sales suggests success. Both scenarios seem great! Yet, we can’t assume success is due to the new marketing activity.
I’ll explain. The above scenarios draw a very positive picture. However, what if the situation was the opposite where sales have stayed the same or even dropped? That would surely put the newly hired under the spotlight. Sounds familiar?
In the 1st scenario, sales are used as the only indicator for success. Without setting up progress signals, success can’t be accurately tracked. For example, it could have been that the company was just lucky to have a better quarter that year. Maybe a result from outside factors, like an unrelated viral nationwide TV commercial.
The commercial could have made a certain product popular for WildFae prospects. Failing to track a peak in sales and just taking credit could end up hurting you in the long run. It would be a disaster if average sales go back to normal after a few months, and you don’t have a clue as to why. Control metrics along side conversion stats make reporting more aligned to what’s going on. The correlation between the two confirms or invalidates both good and bad performances. This really reflects the hard work you do.
In the 2nd scenario, the business owner reported back double the sales. Here we are using sales again, and truth be told, it is the business’s bottom line. Yet, it couldn’t be more of an inaccurate indicator for marketing operation success. Especially in this type of business where the actual sale is off the website. (Ex: Condo sales in Calgary Canada went up thanks to better salesmen performances). Conversions should be redefined to stay within the website! If we don’t have control over conversions, we cannot accurately measure and improve them. This scenario could easily have been the opposite where sales plunged. So what kind of conversions can then be set for sales that happen offline? In this case, conversions should be based on phone calls and/or contact forms.
The solution is to use progress signals stats alongside accurate conversions data.
Reading & Reporting Your Progress Signals
By now you probably get a better picture of setting up goals and progress signals. It is not just about adding a Google Analytics code to the contact us button, etc. You can use a software program that is already aligned with this methodology, or simply use Excel spreadsheets like I do in the examples below.
Okay, let’s review some of the useful data you can get from progress signals. Afterward, I will tie everything up with goals setting.
Impressions as Progress Signals
Since an impression is a pre-engagement metric, many take it lightly. Record impressions data on a monthly basis. This will serve as your control metric to recognize severe abnormalities. I’m referring to organic impressions. They can be found in your Google Webmaster Tools account -> search traffic -> search analytics tab.
At the time of point one (Jun), we wouldn’t have known which direction the increase of impressions was headed.
If you had significant keyword ranking improvement, you probably expected an inclining trend. We know that this is not the case (see image). The drop could have been from a significant and sudden increase of new pages on your website.
- If you added these pages; good. Just make sure they contain quality information. This will avoid hurting your CTR, page views, bounce rate, etc.
- If you didn’t add these pages, you should check to see if someone else did (hacker). Also, check to see if those are hidden URLs you don’t know about.
Point number two (Oct), shows the opposite – a significant drop. This could have been the result from a penalty and/or devaluation. If it’s temporary, it could have been an algorithm update that was rolling out and caused a temporary drop. It could also have been a large amount of URLs being updated on the website (ex: if you went through a website redesign).
Sign of a positive trend: an increase in impressions overtime with a steady or growing CTR. This is a firm progress signal indicating that you are steering in the right direction.
What to report: impressions’ trends and abnormalities.
CTR as a Progress Signal
Periodically, updating your site’s descriptions and ad copies can help you improve CTR. However, the real problem with CTR is poor content optimization. this makes websites less relevant and show up for phrases not wanted. Here is a good post that talks more about page optimization by the Wizard of Moz.