There are hundreds of possible inbound marketing metrics to choose from, and almost all of them measure something of some kind of value. These include SEO rankings, inbound links, articles published, content downloads, reach (e.g. Twitter followers, Facebook fans, LinkedIn followers, blog subscribers), comments, retweets, Likes, shares, clicks, traffic, leads… and so many more. (Check out the Marketo Social Media Tactical Plan for a list of over 100 social media and inbound marketing metrics.)
The problem is that most of these relate only loosely to the metrics that concern a CFO, CEO and board. Of course, it’s okay to track some of these metrics internally within your department if they help you make better marketing decisions. But be careful about measuring activity, not results. When it’s hard to measure business outcomes, marketers use metrics that stand in for those numbers: activity not results, quantity not quality, efficiency not effectiveness. Vanity metrics such as the total number of followers may sound good and impress people, but they don’t measure business outcomes or indicate how to improve marketing performance and profitability. This means resources and energy get allocated to potentially unproductive activities that don’t impact revenue.
The wrong metrics indicate that marketing is doing something, but they also produce questions about whether those are the right things to be doing - and ultimately whether marketing is having any impact on the financial metrics the C-suite cares about. That’s why it’s essential to push the team to use credibility-building financial metrics that show how marketing helps the company to generate more profits and faster growth than your competitors.
Here are the top five metrics that I use personally to measure and demonstrate inbound marketing success:
- Month over month growth in organic website traffic, leads, and opportunities. By organic traffic, I mean when people are finding your website by means other than paid promotion or emails you send; it includes social referral, organic search traffic, and so on. From there, track how much of that traffic turns into leads, and whether those leads turn into pipeline and revenue. These are a great way to show that all the content, blogging, linking, and social outreach is actually impacting the bottom line. Moreover, don’t just track the absolute level of these, but also track the trends so you can see how quickly you are going up - in a successful inbound marketing program, these will grow faster than your overall objectives and company growth rate. (Metrics such as organic rankings, inbound leads, and landing page conversion are good indicators that roll-up into success on this key metric, but are more relevant for marketing only.)
- Social engagement, not just reach. Reach is defined as the total size of the audience you can reach, including your Twitter followers, Facebook fans, LinkedIn followers, blog subscribers, and email list. But the world is noisy, and just because someone follows you doesn’t mean they are engaging with your brand. Social engagement becomes even more important as prospective buyers use and learn on social sites more than email (a process I call “seed nurturing”). Fortunately, Facebook also reports on engaged users and a metric they call “People Talking About This” to show the total number of posts to your Page Wall, likes, comments, or shares on your posts; answers to questions, etc. This is important, since the more people talk about your page, the more your updates will show up on the main news feed for your fans. Other tools such as Feedburner show similar metrics for engagement, not just reach.
- Lead generation by content, channel, and initiative. Beyond core organic traffic and leads, track lead generation by content asset and source. What sources are driving the most traffic? What kinds of content drive the most leads? The most revenue? It can also be insightful to track how these vary by product line or business unit; at Marketo we find inbound marketing works better for lower price point products, for example. Measuring all this requires the ability to create landing pages and tracking codes for each asset, a capability provided by most marketing automation solutions.
- Percent of leads with an inbound original source. With inbound marketing and content marketing, you’ll find that people first discover and engage with your brand via inbound channels, but they may not convert on that first visit, or even the second or third or more. When they do actually convert, they are likely get to your site using a different method such as direct URL entry. That’s why it’s so important to know the “original source” of your leads - not the source of the visit that caused them to convert, but the source that caused them to first become aware of you. (Again, marketing automation tools like Marketo can do this for you.) This is similar to display advertising, where it’s critical to measure not just “click through” conversion rates, but also “view through” conversion rates. At Marketo, we find that a whopping 40% of our customers first met us by engaging with one of our content assets.
- Forecasted conversion through the funnel. Your fellow C-suite executives don’t really care about the number of raw prospects or even leads Marketing generates; they care about pipeline and revenue. And they care even more about next month’s revenue than they do about what happened in the fast. After a few months of monitoring the trends of your inbound lead generation, you can start making forecasts about how much contribution inbound will make to future pipeline. This isn’t easy, but is probably the single most credibility-building thing you can do as a marketing executive.
For more on the right metrics that help the CMO earn a seat at the revenue table (and how you can get started with marketing forecasting), check out my book The Definitive Guide to Marketing Metrics and ROI
Which metrics are you using to measure you inbound marketing strategies?