Measuring Success 101, Part 1

What does it mean to measure success? We all talk about it and know it's important.

Is it just a matter of tagging your site and looking at the analytics? What about social media and all the information that is external to your site? If you only focus on your Web site, you may not get the full picture.

This two-part article will discuss the importance of establishing a strategy to measure success, as well as some tactical tips and tools you can use to measure success.

Measuring Success Isn't What it Used to be

Remember when the primary metric was the number of hits on your Web site? This quickly evolved to the number of visits and unique visitors.

The problem is that these are primarily Web site focused and not business focused. We have more channels than just our Web site to focus on. We have RSS feeds, e-mail marketing, social media, and other forms of user-generated content that must be factored into the mix.

These variables make it more complicated to determine how to measure success. The focus should be on what value is being delivered to your visitor rather than just a Web statistic.

Analytics paints a picture of user behavior where true success determines if visitors achieved what they came to the site to do. This is an important consideration in today's world of institution control shifting more toward individual voices.

Define Business Goals and Objectives

Before picking out analytics tools, make sure you have access to clearly defined business goals and objectives. If these aren't clearly defined, then this becomes the first step. These goals form the basis of what success will look like.

Success means different things to different businesses. What is your marketing strategy? Is it branding, lead generation, or a hybrid of the two?

Knowing this will also help decide which digital marketing channels to use. Then you can identify the right success metrics for those channels.

To illustrate this better, look at Jason Tabeling's column on measuring success. He challenges the idea that a focus on ROI as a goal isn't always the right metric for success in a paid search advertising.

He wrote that ROI "undervalues the true measure of what drives a successful business -- profit." This kind of thinking is important for organizations to clearly define up front. With goals and financial objectives clearly in mind you can then begin to pull together the right tools to analyze the data.

Pulling Together the Right Tools

Once you're armed with clear goals, you can define how to measure success. All of the measurement data should be pulled together across all technologies so the total picture can be visualized.

You may want to segment your tools into two camps: qualitative and quantitative. Qualitative data asks if you're reaching the right audience, providing valuable content, or if your brand has a positive sentiment. Quantitative data talks to the numbers (i.e., traffic, followers, CTR, etc.).

You might start with a strong analytics tool that can be at the core of your toolset to measure the quantitative data. Then add on other tools, like survey tools or social media measurement tools that measure qualitative data. Bringing these two perspectives together will paint a more complete picture.

Time and Effort

Defining metrics for success is an essential first element that needs to be defined by business leaders. In addition to identifying the right tools and data to analyze, it's important to define the staff and time needed to track the success metrics. If you don't set aside enough time and staff, you probably won't get meaningful reports to help you make important decisions.

In part two, we'll look at more tactical tips and tools to measure success across different channels. Feel free to comment below on experiences you've had on the importance of defining success metrics up front.

Meet Ron Jones at SES Chicago on December 7-11, 2009. Now in its 11th year, the only major Search Marketing Conference and Expo in the Midwest will be packed with 70+ sessions covering PPC management, keyword research, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), social media, local, mobile, link building, duplicate content, video optimization and usability, while offering high-level strategy, keynotes, an exhibit floor, networking events and more.