Lessons Learned: Why “Measure Everything” May Not Be the Best Digital Marketing Advice

There are lots of buzz words, phrases, acronyms and jargon in the digital marketing world. One common expression is “measure everything”.

Good data is the foundation for making the right business decisions so having lots of it sounds good. So, measure everything sounds like good advice on the surface.

But measuring everything is time consuming. It leaves you with mountains of data to pour over and analyse. It’s time consuming but it’s also lazy. Measuring everything “just in case” is not thoughtful or intentional. As such, I’m starting to learn that “measure everything” might not be the best advice. Before you start sending angry emails, let me explain.

Gathering Data is Truly Valuable

I’m not saying “data is dead”. Data is very valuable. The data doesn’t lie.

Gathering the right data, analysing it and making informed decisions is one of the most important skill a business owner or marketer has.

At Sapling we’re developing a systematic, data-driven process for approaching a range of digital marketing challenges. From social media to content marketing, everything we do is rooted in data. So, why then am I writing about why you (or I) shouldn’t be measuring everything we do?

I’m not suggesting we don’t measure some things. I’m suggesting that we don’t need to measure everything.

Different Goals, Different Data

It all comes down to what you’re trying to achieve. That’s the magic answer to just about anything: it depends on what you’re trying to achieve. It’s annoying to be on the receiving end of this answer. But it’s often the only simple way to respond to a complex question.

  • If your goal is to increase traffic, don’t measure conversion rate.
  • If your goal is to improve retention, don’t measure top-of-the-funnel click through rate.

When tackling a particular digital marketing challenge or project, first you need to start with a goal. Next you need to determine what metrics will help you assess to your progress towards that goal. You only need to measure what’s relevant to your goals.

Over the last few years we’ve gathered lots of data from numerous sources across different projects. We have access to all the typical web analytics data, social media data, email marketing data that comes out of the box with most providers.

We’ve customised Google Analytics to set goals and track custom events like scroll depth, link clicks and conversions. We track custom dimensions and metrics on every pageview.

We’ve developed our own reporting spreadsheets for social media analytics. We’ve cobbled together systems out of plugins and bespoke code, all in the pursuit of more data.

You know what? Much of it’s meaningless and doesn’t get analysed or even considered on a day-to-day or month-to-month basis. Some of it is incredibly valuable. But not all of it.

We have too much data. Or we have too much of the wrong data. I’m not exactly sure. One thing I am sure of – and proud to say – is that we’re still learning.

Develop a Scientific Mindset for Data-Driven Marketing

Being intentional with the goals you set brings focus to the task at hand. Having specific goals leads to finding the most effective strategy and tactics. Being selective about your metrics helps you clearly see if you’re on track towards your goal.

Another popular phrase I hear is “what gets measured, gets improved”.

These are the wise words of Peter Drucker, spoken over 40 years ago. Back in the mid 70s the Internet didn’t exist. There was no digital marketing that we have now. This problem of too much data, or the wrong data, didn’t exist. My interpretation of this quote is NOT that if you measure everything you can improve everything.

I see it as a much more pointed comment. If you want to see significant improvements in a specific area of your business, only measure the specific thing you want to improve.

  • If you want to increase traffic, measure traffic.
  • If you need to work on conversion rate, measure conversion rate.
  • If your goal is to double your revenue, measure revenue.

To achieve your goals first identify the primary metric that will show you the progress. Track that metric (and any others you might need to calculate it) and by focusing on that measurement, you will see improvement. Being focused on that metric will let you know if you’re heading in the right direction.

It can be hard to focus on one goal when there are so many things pulling focus. This may be a simple concept but it doesn’t make it easy (I think that’s another one of those marketing buzz phrases!).

A Systematic Approach

To reduce the risk of losing focus and measuring All The Things just in case, we need a system. We need a step-by-step process to choose the goal, set the primary metric, come up with a hypothesis to test, determine the strategy and pick the tactics.

Once we know what we’re trying to achieve and what metrics will keep us informed of the progress, all that remains is to test, measure and learn. This is a similar, iterative approach as suggested for startups in the Lean Methodology: “build, measure, learn”.

This approach to marketing is something we’re excited to explore. We’re donning our lab coats and experimenting. We’re doing this for the benefit of our clients but also ourselves. We’re using the Sapling channels and those of our sister project, The Food Rush, to test the process and build the system.

Over the coming weeks and months we’ll report back here about our progress. If you want to read any of these future posts you’ll find them in the “lessons learned” category of our website. We also have a Medium publication where these articles will be posted if you’d prefer to read on Medium.

The plan is not to cover up the mistakes and only highlight the successes. We plan to be as open and transparent about the whole thing as possible. There’s more to learn from the mistakes than from everything going smoothly.

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