When “digital” means all channels.

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When we look at the performance of “digital” activity, what are we really looking at? How much traffic gets driven to the website? How many top-tier conversions are recorded in a week, a month? How well the website converts? How many followers you’ve gained on social media? How much engagement your videos are driving? Or are we looking at everything combined?

Measuring digital performance.

The impulsive reaction is likely to be we’re looking at everything combined; but we can’t be. Especially if we’re not taking into account human behaviour changes, external factors, or our market position. Even more so when you’re only tasked with one element of digital performance like driving conversions through a specific channel.

No, at best we’re looking at the total sum of individual activities; at worst we’re looking at the performance of one metric in isolation applied to the wider goals, and neither will tell us what the combined impact is of running the activity on the business.

For example, if you’re measuring digital performance based on top-tier conversions, are you basing success on:

  1. The number of conversions generated
  2. The value of conversions generated
  3. The average conversion value
  4. How this month compares to last month, or last year

Any one of those is fine as your success measures are unique to your position, but even if you combined all of those metrics you still wouldn’t have the overall picture because you’re not looking at anything outside of what you are directly responsible for.

Measuring digital performance isn’t just about how well your test performed, or how many conversions you drove in a month, or how many new subscribers you’ve had sign up to your newsletter. It is about understanding how all of that looks in a wider view.

Say the economy is going through some major changes; physical stores are closing, buyer behaviour is changing, and audience needs have adjusted. If you had a good month for conversions online, is that solely because your online activity has worked better than previous months? If you had a bad month online, is that solely because offline factors played more of an impact than previous months?

We all fall into the easiness trap – looking at top-level performance indicators in a hurry and assuming if it’s up, it’s good – and while it generally serves the purpose, we also know that we can’t base future decisions of assumption alone. We need to look at digital performance in relation to, not in isolation of, wider business performance. We need to be looking at “digital” as “all channel” performance – which aspects of what tactics from which channels are providing the most value?

Assessing the channel mix.

When you’re looking at performance its easy to just look at what you’re responsible for because that’s all you’re going to be measured against. But without an understanding of how other channels are contributing to performance you’re not looking at where new opportunities might be or the overall importance of particular pages or assets. So you’re missing opportunities to drive even more value for the business, or take learnings to apply to future campaigns.

Just because something doesn’t work for SEO doesn’t mean it doesn’t work PPC, or Social, or Email. And just because something does work for one channel it doesn’t automatically mean it will work for all channels. You need to understand performance as part of the overall channel mix and then determine whether it can be utilised for other channels as well.

One of the most useful ways of looking at this is comparing it to a distribution plan. If you’re creating a piece of content it doesn’t just sit there and wait to be found. You promote it through different channels, for different durations, to different audiences, at different times, with or without supporting content. If you just looked at the performance of that content piece based on a single metric, you’re only seeing a very small part of the impact it actually had.

Instead, we need to be looking at as much as we possibly can across as many channels as we can, which normally boils down to 4 core areas depending on what you’re measuring:

  • Sessions (or impressions)
  • Session duration (or engagement)
  • Transactions (or goal completions)
  • Revenue (or goal value)

But then you need to look at it through different lenses:

You need the overall to understand the bigger picture, but you need the site section, intent, and by channel data to understand what is really driving the performance before you can start making decisions about what you should be doing more or less of. For example, you’re seeing a great increase in traffic coming to the site, but your conversions haven’t increased in line with the higher traffic levels. By looking at that traffic through a channel, site section, and intent level, you can see whether:

  • All the traffic is coming from one channel, or if its mixed
  • Where on the site the traffic is going and if it is to one section in particular
  • What the intent classification of different pages in that section are

If you’re seeing most of the traffic is coming through Social, going to the Blog, and looking at Informational pages, then it stands to reason you’re not seeing increased conversions because that isn’t the driving factor of the page or section on the site. If you’re seeing that the traffic is going to a Service section, which by nature is more commercial, and people still aren’t converting, then you’ve got an instant starting point for assessing how you could change that section to encourage more conversions. But without looking at it in this way, all you’re going to see is that Social isn’t doing its job and something needs to change.

And even that level of detail isn’t going to give you the overall performance. You need to mix that with other indicators, for example:

  • How many products get returned in a given week/month and what the value of those returns is
  • How many conversions actually turn into leads and what the value of those leads is to the business

As marketers, it’s unlikely you’re going to be responsible for the number of returns that come in, but that will play a part in the overall value you’re driving for the business – if you know that 20% of all your sales are returned, are you going to just accept it or are you going to look at ways to increase the volume of sales so the revenue at the end is still above target?

To truly understand the performance of digital activity you need to be looking at all channels; how they relate to each other, how they work together, and where the gaps and opportunities are. Then, tie that back to the actual value it is driving for the business and cross-reference performance against market activity so you know whether it is likely to be sustainable.

Digital performance is not, and never has been, based on one channel’s ability to meet goals and objectives; so why would we measure it on only one factor? Of course, we only need to report on what we are responsible for, but we need to at least be aware of the impact of everything else we’re not.