How to make online metrics relevant for your boss

When most web analytics reports consist of disconnected and inconclusive data, is it any wonder that senior managers’ eyes glaze over? Dan Drury explains three steps for capturing – and holding – their attention.

‘What metrics does the board most care about?’ This, said participants in the survey for our Digital managers’ agenda 2016 (link opens a PDF), is one of the two most important questions facing web managers during the year ahead (‘how should we serve customers on our corporate site?’ is the other). In another survey of corporate web managers from last year, only 10 per cent said that web analytics reports ever reach the ‘C-suite’. I suspect that the number of top-level executives actually reading and appreciating these reports is even lower. Is this because senior managers are not interested in web measurement, or because what is being reported isn’t relevant to them? It’s likely to be a combination of both, unfortunately. So what can be done?

What do bosses care about?

How do you make your bosses interested? Find metrics that tell them something important about the business. One of our survey respondents summed up the heart of the problem: ‘Numbers are abstract; we struggle to add significance. We don't have well defined key performance indicators linked to business objectives.’ The web is a powerful channel that can comfort investors, attract recruits, impress journalists, improve customer service, boost the company’s reputation and increase sales. Your analytics should be measuring and reporting how the web is accomplishing these business goals.

Putting the ‘key’ back in KPI – the three stages

Many of the so-called KPIs I have seen are really abstract pieces of data, such as page views or followers. A truly key performance indicator is a goal describing a single outcome that, when achieved, will support a strategic objective of the business.

Identifying the company’s strategic objectives – and how the web ‘goals’ fit with those – is where the three stages come in: talking to the business, finding the relevant data and finally, taking action.

Stage one: Find out what your stakeholders care about

The first step is talking to all the relevant senior people in your business – the heads of communications, investor relations, human resources, media, marketing and so on. Each will have their own objectives and performance measures. Your ‘key’ performance indicators will need to relate to (and measure) how the web helps senior executives achieve their goals. For example, a head of practice at a global professional services firm is focused on growing business in a new territory. The web metric that the digital team chooses should show how the corporate website is supporting her goal.

Stage two: Find the right data

The second step is to find consistent and reliable data that can be combined with senior managers’ objectives to make truly key performance indicators. There is a bounty of data from web analytics, visitor surveys and social platforms. But measuring the ‘connected digital experience’ – in other words, tracking visitors across devices and visits – remains elusive. We have no shortage of numbers but very fragmented, inconclusive data upon which to build credible reporting. However, we would argue that starting with the data available is actually the wrong place to begin.

In our professional services example, we hoped to show that specific, relevant pages on the site – those containing material related to her practice – are receiving significant and increasing visits from the new territory compared to elsewhere; and how these visitors are arriving (via referrals, search, direct or social channels). So far so good – this is typical web analytics stuff. But she now needs to understand whether this website activity is contributing to her goal of winning new business, by looking at calls to action (contact with local partners, sign-ups to email alerts or seminar registrations, for example). It is likely that this level of detail is not being captured, and some of it will be in a different ‘silo’ – contact may take place on LinkedIn, for instance, while event registrations may be logged in an offline system.

Don’t be afraid to start with a blank slate, and doggedly pursue the right data. You should start setting targets that are achievable within a given timeframe, and thinking about how to visualise and present the results in a way that will get attention.

Stage three: Taking action

Is the organization actively taking steps towards achieving the goal? If not, how can it expect to get the desired results? Are stakeholders going to take notice of the key performance indicators and act accordingly? If the answer to any of these is ‘no’, then it’s unlikely that the numbers will ever reach senior level.

Returning to our example of the head of practice at a professional services firm: she is now looking at relevant metrics and putting in place procedures to gather important new data. She can start using the resulting KPI to take action – courting referrers, refining her LinkedIn campaign and optimising search, for example – then review the metrics again to see if targets are being reached.

The silver bullet?

One kind of goal that seems to unify bosses right now is using the corporate website as a marketing and sales channel. We’ve written extensively about the potential for corporate websites to be potent marketing tools. More recently, we’ve seen that customers are increasingly a primary focus for corporate sites.

We have noted the many dangers and opportunities with this approach. One of the biggest risks is adding ‘sales conversion’ to the beleaguered web manager’s to-do list, on top of fulfilling the website’s traditional corporate communications, recruitment and other functions. Still, talking intelligently and realistically about how the corporate website can help identify new customers and retain existing ones is often a fast track to getting senior leaders’ attention. And while that’s not a KPI for the business, it’s certainly one for web managers. 

First published 10 February, 2016
< Back to Commentaries