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Top Digital Marketing Metrics: A Quick Study

Updated: Jul 7, 2023

Measuring your marketing is important, yes? We can all agree on that? Great.

What if I asked you to give me your most important digital marketing metrics? Do you know what they are, or where to find them?


Don’t hang your head in shame if you had to answer “no” to that last question. Digital marketing analytics is such a complex field that it supports thousands of companies providing services related to marketing measurement, tracking, segmentation, forecasting and predictive modeling, and data visualization. This is not an exhaustive list.

If you are someone who feels they *should* know what their top digital marketing metrics are, but also *doesn’t* know what their digital marketing metrics are, this article is for you.

OK Google, What Are the Top Five Digital Marketing Metrics?


I decided to see what others were saying about this topic. I went to Google (and Bing!) and searched “top five digital marketing metrics.” I wound up collecting a small sample of information from posts on 15 different websites and comparing the metrics they felt deserved a spot on this elite list.


The results of this brief study are below, but a few quick notes on methodology:

  1. I only looked at posts and articles published within the last five years (2016-2021).

  2. I looked for lists that featured between five and 10 “top” metrics. There weren’t a ton with five specifically, so I just took the first five of any list that was more than five.

  3. I intentionally used a combination of well-known and lesser-known companies and sites, ranging from small digital marketing agencies to Entrepreneur and Forbes.

  4. I avoided lists that were channel-specific (“top five email marketing metrics”) or vertical-specific (“top five digital marketing metrics for ecommerce brands”).

So, let’s take a look at the data, shall we?

Here’s a chart showing the frequency of different metrics that appeared in these lists:

top digital marketing metrics

The “cost per acquisition” metrics were the most common on the “top five” lists.

As you might imagine, different sites had slightly different names and definitions of the same metrics, or at least the same information to be gleaned from it. For example, even though there are important differences among “cost per acquisition,” “cost per lead,” and “customer acquisition cost,” they often represent the same analytical purpose.

In addition, I grouped the various metrics by more general categories, in order to see what types of metrics were being represented on the lists. Here are the results of that:

categories of digital marketing metrics

Conversion-related metrics appeared most often in the “top five” lists.

Keeping in mind that these categories are my own creation and certainly subjective and imperfect, there is a clear bias toward conversion-related metrics, which really shouldn’t be a surprise. Marketing efforts should drive business, and conversions, whether they’re sales or leads, are the best validation of that process.


Counting Metrics vs. Rate Metrics


There’s another differentiation I want to make regarding digital marketing metrics on these lists. Some of the sites I reviewed favored “counting” metrics — things like total conversions or total traffic — which offer a simple picture of how one specific measure is performing. Others favored “rate” metrics, which represent one metric as a function of another, such as cost per lead (spend divided by total leads).


In most cases, there was some combination of the two types of metrics on each list, but in the aggregate data, it was about two thirds rate metrics and one third counting metrics.

There is certainly a place for both metric types in a specific company’s analysis. You might look at total advertising spend, a counting metric, as a measure of how well you’re tracking to your monthly or annual budget, whereas ROAS (return on ad spend), a rate metric, gives you a picture of the effectiveness and margins on your ads.


Personally speaking, I tend to lean toward rate metrics in terms of knowing if things are working as I want them to, which, when I limit myself to a “top five” metrics, would be my priority.


Highway One’s Top Five Digital Marketing Metrics


Well, I’ve spent all this time looking at what others put in their top five without putting my money where my mouth is and offering my own.


Here they are:

1. Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) This is number one because it’s such a key component of your entire business. A sale through your website is easy to track as far as revenue and the marketing channel it came from, but what is that sale really worth? If, on average, a new customer makes three additional purchases and refers one friend who also becomes a customer, the value of acquiring that customer is far greater than that revenue you tracked on the first sale. This can be a really tough metric to get right, but with the right tools and an analytical thought process, it can be extremely valuable.


2. Return on ad spend (ROAS)

ROAS - vending machine analogy

3. Average session duration from organic search This one is pretty specific, and there are two reasons for that. First, traffic from organic search is typically less likely than that from other traffic sources to be looking for exactly the information/product your landing page will provide. Thus, by observing how long this group spends on your site after arriving at the given page, you’ll understand (a piece of) how well you’re engaging visitors with a more general interest. This is as opposed to email marketing traffic, (which includes people who already know your company), PPC ad traffic (which is filtered to your best performing keywords and targeted landing pages), and Social/Referral traffic (which typically provide some context prior to the click). Reason number two is pure SEO strategy. There’s a lot of uncertainty about what Google does or doesn’t look at in terms of how well a given page answers a Google searcher’s query. One of the more accepted assumptions is that “long clicks” play an important role. A long click refers to an extended amount of time between when someone clicks a search result on Google and when they return to the search results page (i.e. hit the back button in their browser). While this doesn’t technically measure what they did on your website, it does effectively tell Google how whether the page was of interest to the person or if they said, “nope, this is not what I’m looking for,” and left. So, back to the point, by increasing your session duration from organic search, you’re increasing the occurrence of long clicks, and giving Google more reason to present your page(s) in search results, as it appears to be engaging.


4.Conversion Rate (CR) After the fairly verbose explanations of the previous two metrics, let’s keep this one simple. Conversion rate tells you the percentage of people on your site who complete a conversion action, whether that’s a sale, a sales lead, downloading a PDF, or whatever else you may decide to track. Knowing the conversion rate of a given action helps you determine how much traffic you’ll need to generate in order to increment those conversions a given amount.


5. Brand mentions It can be tricky to stay on top of every mention of your brand. Mentions can occur in news articles, Tweets, subreddits… even in images. And there are a number of reasons to keep track of all mentions, not the least of which is to know if there is a negative sentiment around your brand or products. The reason brand mentions make my list, though, is because branded traffic — that is, people who search out your brand or products by name — almost always converts to customers at a greater rate than non-branded traffic. Effective marketing (and specifically, brand-oriented campaigns), leads to people choosing to search for “Bose speakers” instead of “best speakers” and “Macbook sale” instead of “cheap laptops.” This is also the only counting metric (see previous section) on my list. That’s because, regardless of what you’re selling, spending, and forecasting, if you’re trying to grow your brand through marketing, you should see an upward trend of total brand mentions over time.


Conclusion


Everyone is entitled to their opinions on what the most important digital marketing metrics are. There is no objective answer. Even if there was a general consensus, your business is unique and your goals are your own, so the things you measure to track them should be as well.


One piece of advice: if you really feel overwhelmed by the amount of data available and don’t know which numbers are important and which are just “noise,” reach out to us or another marketing strategy agency for help getting your marketing efforts aligned to your true goals.


Sources used in “top five” data:

Link to SourcePub. Year

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