When “digital” means all channels.

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.