Solving the Digital Metrics problem: What to do

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By: Wise Marketer Staff |

Posted on November 26, 2012

Some of the most common practices in digital reporting have been shown to be seriously flawed, accordingly to Gary Angel, president of web analytics consultancy, Semphonic, who argues that there is currently far too much emphasis on a small set of site-wide KPIs, trending of 'site satisfaction' numbers and Net Promoter Scores (NPS), and using 'total social media mentions' to track brand sentiment.

As Angel demonstrated in The Wise Marketer last week (see article here), most of the KPIs and metrics commonly found on almost every enterprise dashboard could be accused of being at worst uninterpretable or at best confusing. Today's most common metrics, Angel warns, are uninterpretable because single metrics are not in themselves "action guiding", and they are confused because site-wide metrics, online site surveys, and social media mentions are all aggregates of fundamentally different types of audiences and visit types.

Angel explains that when you combine fundamentally different types of data together, you get noise, not answers. Upon reaching this point, you're probably tempted to ask what's left. Well, it's easy to criticise existing management reports but is there a better alternative? Angel believes there is. By embedding a digital Two-Tiered Segmentation (both Audience and Visit Type) into reporting and modelling systems instead of showing single unrelated metrics, you can create truly meaningful dashboards.

Instead of showing a set of isolated KPIs and site-wide metrics, you need to show how discrete audiences are performing on your digital properties and how those audiences and visit types add up to a complete picture of your site success.

Below is an example of a report designed to show how traffic to the Website can be broken down into separate audience types. The flows provide a compact and powerful illustration of the critically important business information: what visitors the site attracts, how this is changing, and how successful the site is with each audience type.

In the next Example Report (below), the health of each system (versus forecast or historical trend) is shown in the up/down arrow in the Total Successes. Click there, and the report drills down one level into the visit segmentation for that audience type. The report explains how the overall success of the site with an audience can be further decomposed into the success of the site in meeting each type of visit that audience engages in. This type of model can even be weighted to reflect broader business goals.

This is an elegant way to show how the different audiences and visit-types fit together to form a true and accurate picture of site success. It's an elegant way to think about site success. If you've ever been asked "How is our site performing?" and realised at once how impossible a question it is, you should be able to appreciate this way of framing both the question and the answer. Because there isn't just one answer.

A site may be doing very well with consumers but very poorly with industry professionals. It may be doing very well with high-net worth investors but not so well with average investors. Even if you could answer the ultimate question: what meaning could it possibly convey? The site is doing great. Really? And what exactly does that mean? In creating report sets where two-tiered segmentation is embedded in the model of the site, the answer to the question of "How the Website is doing" carries both an explanation of why the answer has to be of a certain type and the conviction that the answer provided is a meaningful one.

These "systemic" dashboards are designed for senior audiences - people who need to know the high-level success of the site. But you can take the same approach (segmentation and systemic modeling) to more detailed views intended for line managers. Not only does this dramatically improve the quality of those reports, but it also creates a powerful consistency of method and view across every level of the organisation.

The next Example Report (below) is a report of Marketing Channels shown as a system and optionally filtered by any of the audience and visit type segmentations within the business:

With this type of report, you can measure the impact of each Marketing Channel in terms of both traffic generation and site success. But more importantly, you can understand how each Marketing Channel contributes to the audience make-up of your site and their corresponding visit types and success. This isn't just descriptive; it's prescriptive information that can be used to tune campaign creatives and testing programmes.

So what is the bottom line? Simply put, you shouldn't have to choose between management dashboards that feature a few un-interpretable and confused metrics like Site-wide Satisfaction, Conversion Rate, and Visits or dashboards built from a daunting wall of complicated metrics. Creating site performance models based on two-tiered segmentation makes for a style of dashboarding that is deeper, more interesting, more relevant, and more understandable than either of these all-too-common reporting choices.

The secret to great dashboards isn't Tufte-inspired white-space, the right choice for line charts, or the best looking font. It isn't even finding one magic KPI to rule them all. The secret to great dashboards is presenting information in a model that makes sense, that drives deeper business understanding, and that provides a real answer to that dreaded question: "How is my site doing?"

Semphonic has recently published an eBook which is available from Amazon - click here for details.

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