The #1 Most Valuable Digital Marketing Metric

Call it what you want: a catch-22, a caveat or a double-edged sword, digital marketing has plenty of them. One of our favorite ones to talk about, and the subject of this article today, relates to tracking metrics for digital campaigns. Marketers have access to so much data about our campaign performance that we get caught up pouring over it and trying to synthesize it in a digestible way for our clients/managers. Every year, the industry searches for the magical metric that will solve all reporting problems. We believe we’ve found it and would like to share it with you. But first, allow us to provide context for what makes this metric so valuable.

In our experience, we’ve come to realize that a sizeable percentage of digital marketers aren’t using the most powerful weapon they have available; their ability to see real-time results of campaigns and make informed decisions, also known as...optimizing!

Let's play out a scenario. At the end of the month, you dig into all the various analytics’ platforms to which you have access. The goal: 1. Get out of the data alive in under 8 hours; 2. Find a gold nugget of insight to impress your managers/clients. Instead, you end up with a heaping pile of metrics that leaves the person thinking, “so, what do we do with all of this information?” Honestly, as digital experts, we should have asked and answered that question before we presented the findings. Take a look at this typical digital marketing process: 

1. Digital Strategy
2. Setting Goals/KPIs
3. Content Creation
4. Content Promotion
5. Tracking Reporting

Five major steps are missing. If you’re going to invest in digital marketing, leverage its biggest competitive advantage - optimizing. A more successful digital marketing process looks something like this:

1. Digital Strategy
2. Setting Goals/KPIs
3. Content Creation
4. Content Promotion
5. Tracking
6. Monitoring
7. Questioning Results/Developing Hypothesis
8. Testing
9. Optimizing
10. Reporting
11. Collective Learning

When a campaign is at the halfway point, analyze and present the data to your team. Answer the question, “what do we do with this information?” And then do it! Optimize the campaign based on what you think will improve your KPI. More important than being wrong or right in your optimizing is, if you were wrong, you’ve eliminated a factor affecting performance, if you’re right, your KPI improves. It’s about learning. Each time you learn which optimization tactic helped and which hurt, you will be that much closer to finding the winning formula for your client.


Calculating the Most Valuable Digital Marketing Metric

The most valuable digital marketing metric is your post-optimization KPI. Depending on your strategy and goals, your KPI might be click-through-rate, time on page, new fans/followers, post shares, form sign-ups or subscriptions, etc. When you optimize in real-time, you can significantly improve the KPI. Instead of reporting on the CTRs or time-on-page metrics, you report on the impact your team had on improving that metric because of their expertise and ability to react to what the data was telling them.

Here is a hypothetical example where the KPI for the campaign is CTR.

Post-Optimization KPI: [((CTR at end) - (CTR start)) / CTR at start] * 100
Post-Optimization KPI: [(.045-.012) / .012] * 100 =  275% change in the KPI.

Click through rates, time-on-page and other digital KPIs can be hard to understand because of a lack of context for how these metrics should look. Digital marketing numbers are also smaller because they're realistic - they’re tracking actions. Try to sympathize with your clients and understand that it can be hard for people to know what's considered an acceptable range of numbers and percentages for their performance metrics. If someone is unfamiliar with digital reporting, they may be thinking, what’s the big difference between 1% and 4%? And in your mind, that is a huge difference. The best way to convey the power of that improvement is by showing the percentage change between what happened before and after you optimized. 

Providing Context for Digital Performance Metrics

When people balk at a low click-through rate that cost them $1.50/click, help them understand the value of the web visit. Ask them the value they place on someone walking by their store then stopping in to check it out. If people have a hard time understanding the value of a high time-on-page metric, ask them to consider the cost of reserving that much of undivided attention on radio or TV. Have them think about how much money it would cost to produce and run a two-minute and 30-second long commercial. When you’re working in digital, always find a way to reposition disadvantages into advantages. Get creative in how you compare it to things they understand, like traditional advertising mediums.

Providing Context for Optimizing a Digital Campaign

Let’s revisit the reporting scenario from earlier: when you are asked what to do with all of the information, you’ll be able to respond with what you’ve already done.

1. Tell your client what the data was pointing toward - Younger audiences weren’t clicking the ad

2. Explain the hypothesis - This campaign will perform better among 45+ age groups

3. State how you optimized it - Ran the remainder of the campaign without including people aged 18-44

4. Present the findings - The campaign’s CTR was 1.2% when you targeted younger audiences, but after optimizing it, the CTR increased to 4.5%

5. Recommendation - Continue to advertise to older audiences or create content that will be more appealing to younger audiences


How Do I Optimize a Digital Marketing Campaign?

Optimizing a campaign is a creative exercise. We say it’s creative because we need to be open-minded, know how to ask smart questions and not stubbornly follow the same formula every time. At the heart of a well-optimized campaign is someone who questioned everything until they could prove what did and didn’t work across a variety of different scenarios. The winning combination for a piece of content might not be something we expect.

Decide on what you want to optimize based on your data, but get creative about how you do it. Here are a few examples.

Hypothesis: No one is reading the headline, and that is where we are putting the most attention-grabbing information.
Optimization: Swap out the headline for the detailed copy.

Hypothesis: The low CTR is a result of the value proposition being on the web page instead of promoted in the ad.
Optimization: Tease the value proposition in the ad copy.

Hypothesis: Users aren’t attracted to the long jumbled URL structure.
Optimization: Use a different display link created on

Hypothesis: Our target audiences are seeing different ad copy, but one is outperforming the others. Is it the ad copy or the audience that is over-performing?
Optimization: Swap messages among your audiences to see if the ad copy does well among all audiences or if every ad copy does the best among a single audience.


Support Monitoring and Optimizing Digital

Digital is one of the fastest changing environments in marketing. What works one month (or week), might not work the next. The social world grabs onto trends they like. They share them, like them, read them and use them in every way possible to be a part of the trend. The very nature of “social sharing” drastically shortens the lifespan of how long your content remains relevant. Why are we telling you this? We are trying to demonstrate that it is impossible to know what is going to work online throughout the year and across your different target audiences for an extended period of time. You might nail the winning formula for a few months, but it will keep changing (which makes optimizing that much more important).

Optimizing Insider Tip

Optimizing is not a science. It’s not an A/B test; it’s not statistically sound. Use what you learn to guide and inform you. As you optimize, pay attention to key external factors that play a role in success, like the audience targeting, news stories and overall cultural sentiment at the time. If you switched an ad image out and CTR skyrocketed, make sure it was a result of the change and not something like a hot news story that was released and turned your content timely and relevant.


Know the Client’s Tolerance for Optimizing

Unfortunately, the very nature of optimizing makes it hard to plan for if you need approval for everything. Optimizing on the fly shouldn’t be compromised because of red tape. Keep it a purely real-time activity that depends on how the campaign performs. You’ll need a client/manager’s trust to be able to optimize efficiently, but hopefully, this article has armed you with all the ammo you need. To ease the transition into optimizing and to know your bounds, work through this rating scale with your client/manager to see how flexible they’re willing to be. This scale helps you decide what level of optimization freedom they will tolerate:

Optimization flexibility by Blue Compass

Start optimizing! It’s the greatest strength of digital. With traditional advertising, at least six months are needed to plan campaigns, shoot commercials and place outdoor ads. If that advertising isn’t working, a company still won’t pull it. The time and money invested in expensive traditional media campaigns prevent people from changing them. There is too much riding on it. But in the digital realm, the speed and ability to react to real-time data is your biggest competitive advantage. If nothing else, monitoring and optimizing keeps you informed about the nuances affecting your campaign performance. So, for your next campaign report-out, include your post-optimization KPI and what you learned from the changes you made.


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Author Thumbnail for Stephanie Wubben
Stephanie Wubben

Stephanie is a strategic thinker. Challenging projects and situations drive her ambition to create thoughtful solutions for clients. With a background in market research, her love for measuring success and performance quickly led her into digital marketing where she endlessly tweaks and optimizes clients' campaigns until they're operating at peak performance.