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Just Because It’s Measurable Doesn’t Make It a KPI

Key Performance Indicators — KPIs for short — are the backbone of any marketing initiative. You can’t tell if your marketing initiatives are working unless you’re measuring your progress at many levels. High-level KPIs focus on the overall performance of the company, while low-level KPIs focus on processes or employees in specific departments.

However, there are plenty of measurable indicators that don’t actually give you useful, actionable information on how your company or business is doing. We call these metrics “vanity metrics,” and you should be wary of placing too much stock in them.

Page Rank

Contrary to popular belief, Page Rank is named after Google co-founder Larry Page, not web pages. Back in Google’s relative infancy, Page Rank was once the ultimate definition of a successful site, displayed alongside search results and measuring a website’s authority on a logarithmic scale from one to ten.

Today, Page Rank is all but meaningless. The problem with Page Rank is that it measures every website against every other website. But the web is a far more personalized, granular experience than it used to be — your local restaurant’s website might have the lion’s share of traffic among taco lovers in your area, but virtually no traffic outside that. A website’s relevance on a global or national scale isn’t an indicator of its success.

Email Open Rate

Since email marketing began, open rate has been the metric that marketers covet most. The problem with open rate is that email doesn’t work the same way it used to.

Open rate is generally measured by inserting a one-pixel image — usually a white speck on a white background — somewhere in the email. That image, like the rest of them, is hosted on a server somewhere, belonging to Mailchimp or whichever email software you use. When the image is loaded in an email, the server registers that the image has loaded and, therefore, that the email has been opened.

There are a few problems with that. The first is that lots of email clients, especially mobile apps, don’t load images by default. If you’re checking email on your phone, you’re likely to be using mobile data, and loading images uses a lot of data. Many clients just don’t do it.

The same goes for clients that let you check your email offline. The way they do that is by downloading the emails in your inbox when you’re online, then displaying them when you’re offline. To save space, images aren’t downloaded. In either case, the email open rate will be artificially low.

More importantly, email open rate isn’t a good metric to hang your hat on because getting your customers to open an email isn’t the end goal. Marketing emails, almost by definition, are a stepping stone to another goal — downloading an ebook, attending an event, making a purchase, etc.

What you should be measuring, then, is ebook downloads, event attendance, and click-through sales. You can use UTM codes or custom links to measure what percentage of those actions came from email, but the act of opening the email itself isn’t what’s important.

Keyword Rank

Keyword rank has long been one of the most popular metrics for marketers to look at. It’s measurable, gives you a quantifiable number, and can be compared directly to your competitors. Perfect, right?

Not so fast. The problem with keyword rank is similar to the problem with Page Rank — no two searches are the same anymore. No one searches in a vacuum — every Google search is now informed by your location, your previous searches, your browsing history, even the device you’re searching on.

Two people who enter exactly the same search query into Google are almost guaranteed not to get the same results, and the results they do share won’t be in the same order. That doesn’t mean that keyword rank is useless, but it does mean that a good number doesn’t guarantee success and a bad number doesn’t mean you’ve failed.

Instead, think in terms of “What search terms are driving traffic for my site?” Or better yet, “What search terms are producing paying customers?” Optimize your content for the keywords and queries that you know are working, not the ones that sound relevant to your industry.


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