online marketing metrics

Like every new blogger, my dream of success meant getting a business superstar to share my content online. I was convinced that validation from a celebrity tweet would change everything and propel me into the sunny skies of Internet fame and fortune.

About two years into my blogging career, to my surprise and delight, my dream came true. One of my blog posts was tweeted by marketing superstar Guy Kawaski, who has a Twitter following roughly the size of France.

As soon as he tweeted the post (on a Friday) my traffic surged, and over the weekend the number of people finding my site was 500 percent greater than the normal rate. Briefly, the Guy-traffic crashed my server and shut down my website. Look at me—I went viral!

The vanity of “traffic”

When you go viral, you naturally reach a lot of new people outside the comfortable “normal” audience you’ve built over time. In fact, about 98 percent of the tidal wave of readers over that weekend had never been to the blog before (something that is easily determined through an analytics program). I had a full weekend of blog tourists!

There was no lasting impact from that traffic spike. As far as I could tell, I didn’t even get one new subscriber from the biggest single day ever on my blog, up until that point.

Bottom line: There were no discernible business benefits from an “influencer” making my content go viral. This provided an important lesson early in my blogging career — for many businesses, especially if you are selling personal services like me, “traffic” is simply a vanity metric.

The ultimate metric?

Anybody can figure out ways to generate short-term web traffic. But that’s simply a battle for attention you can never win. Let your competitors knock each other out over that. Place your focus in just one place — nurturing a truly loyal audience by running your business in a way that demonstrates mutual respect, gratitude, enduring trust, and … dare I say it? Love. Love is not a word usually embraced by businesses, but how can you create unyielding loyalty without it? Maybe love is the ultimate killer app.

How would your business be transformed if your focus was demonstrating respect, gratitude, and love instead of “traffic?”

This is the digital crossroad, a genuine point of business differentiation today. You can pay people to create great content and then pay people to promote it. Huge companies will escalate and automate their content arms race with breath-taking, epic videos. Eventually computers will be creating Grade A content for us with a push of a button. But traffic alone will never create an audience who loves your business.

Four online marketing metrics

So what does matter? There is no one-size-fits-all answer, but here are the four metrics that I pay attention to, measurements that indicate I am growing a loyal audience who will eventually buy stuff:

Returning visitors. The sales cycle for my B2B business is very long. It might take years for a business connection to be in a position to hire me for a marketing workshop or a speech. So I want people to keep coming back to my site. As long as this number keeps rising it will be a leading indicator of good fortune in the future.

Time on site. My marketing goal is simple — earn people’s trust through what they see, hear, and read from me. If the trust is high, the business will follow. The only way people will learn about me though is to take a deep dive into my site and hang around. So this is sort of the second half of metric number one — 1) come back to my site, and then 2) hang around!

Social shares. There is no power in content. There is only power in content that MOVES. If my content is not being shared and enjoyed I am wasting my time. Here is a truth — when I do good work, my audience rewards me with content ignition. The social web is highly sensitive to quality, so when I see a post doing well, it’s accurate feedback from the online world that I did a good job. Over time, the audience has a big influence on what I write about as I learn what they like.

Conversions. For most businesses, this is the most critical metric of all. How are the visitors converting to real business? Over the past few years the ability to track this has improved dramatically – we can measure our effectiveness down to a specific piece of content or a link on a page. Understanding these details and continually iterating must be a core competency of any marketing department today.

My business is a little different in that people normally can’t visit, click, and immediately buy something that connects to a “conversion.” When people hire me, it is usually through an email or a phone call, perhaps after they have known me for years. However, a conversion metric for me might mean page views per visit, or the number of clicks to a subscription, consulting, or speaking page that indicates momentum.

I’m constantly learning about new ways to assess and measure my progress and I hope you’ll share your lessons too. What metrics indicate you’re heading in the right direction?

This post was written as part of the Dell Insight Partners program, which provides news and analysis about the evolving world of tech. To learn more about tech news and analysis visit TechPageOne. Dell sponsored this article, but the opinions are my own and don’t necessarily represent Dell’s positions or strategies.

Illustration courtesy Flickr CC and Laneyis Repertoire