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The Enemy Within: KPIs Which Are Not Your Friend

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There is an old (true) story about the secretary of a political organisation split by dissent. At one meeting everything his fellow committee members proposed was shot down, and they were forced to accept policies and decisions diametrically opposed to the ones they had advocated.

After the meeting a friend of the secretary went to commiserate with him and said “that must have been awful for you – they threw out everything you wanted”. The secretary replied, “Wait till you see the minutes”.  

You may think the secretary was being clever. But what does this have to do with you, and how you run your online business?

Your data, your problem

We have all heard the mantra: data-driven decisions are good business decisions. So we collect all kinds of indicators, measure them and take decisions based on those, on the grounds that if those decisions are based on data they must be good.

However we also like to be right. Therefore a parallel tendency has developed amongst business owners: as the strategy we want to work must automatically be working, we need only look at the indicators which prove our point, and ignore those which may give a different picture.

It does no good to insist that the business is running effectively when the staff are leaving and most customers are giving negative feedback. But choosing to believe in the wrong indicators is the sure way to achieve that outcome, and thus render us incapable of running our business, as our solutions will reflect the vision we choose to have, not the reality on the ground.

Don’t be like that secretary, selecting the words and facts to suit your own case and ignoring everything which doesn’t. There are some indicators presented as KPIs you should avoid at all costs – and the only reason they were ever presented as KPIs is so people can run away from issues, not address them to achieve growth. 

The Most Prevalent Junk KPIs  

There are several junk KPIs out there which are used to disguise failure. The first thing you should do when monitoring your results is decide never to pay attention to them, so they don’t cross-infect how genuine KPIs are received.

 Here are the most popular ones:

Total Site Traffic 

Total site traffic can give you an idea of how many people are visiting your website. But it doesn’t provide any insights into the quality of that traffic, or whether those visitors are taking any meaningful actions. 

High traffic numbers don’t necessarily translate into conversions, sales or engagement. Total traffic numbers can be easily inflated by bots, spam or irrelevant sources, and this can skew your data and lead to misguided decisions.

Social Media Followers 

Having a large number of social media followers may seem impressive, but doesn’t necessarily indicate the success of your social media marketing efforts. In some industries, such as the music business, this indicator is taken to reflect sales potential, but it is meaningless unless you know why those followers are there and what their tastes are.

Followers can be bought, bot-generated or inactive, and they may not represent your target audience or engage with your content in any meaningful way. A smaller, but highly engaged and relevant following, is often more valuable than a large but uninterested or fake one.

Page Views 

Page views can give you an idea how many times a particular page on your website has been viewed, but they don’t tell you anything about the quality or depth of engagement with that page. A high number of page views could be the result of users quickly bouncing off the page, getting lost in navigation or refreshing the page multiple times. 

Without context or additional metrics like time on page, scroll depth or conversion rate, page views alone are not a meaningful indicator of success. If you rely on this metric in a report, it is tantamount to saying that you know no one is actually buying anything.

Google Ads Quality Score 

While Google Ads Quality Score is an important metric for optimising your pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns, it is not a KPI which directly measures business outcomes. A high Quality Score can help you achieve better ad positions and lower costs-per-click, but it doesn’t guarantee that your ads will drive conversions, revenue or ROI. 

Quality Score is an input metric which should be used to improve your ads, but not a standalone KPI for measuring success. Using it shows you have done part of your job, but intend to use that as self.justification if things go wrong. 

Email Open Rates 

Email open rates can give you an idea of how many people are opening your emails, but can also be misleading and unreliable. Open rates can be inflated by factors such as preview panes, image blocking and multiple opens by the same user. 

They can also be affected by subject lines, sender names or delivery times, which may not reflect the actual content or value of the email. Open rates don’t tell you anything about the actions taken after opening the email, such as clicks, replies or conversions, which actually mean something.

Bounce Rate 

Bounce rate is the percentage of visitors who leave your website after viewing only one page. While a high bounce rate may indicate your website is not meeting user expectations or is providing a poor user experience, it is not always a negative KPI. 

For example, if you have a single-page website, or a blog post which provides all the necessary information on one page, a high bounce rate may be expected and even desired. Bounce rate can also be affected by factors such as slow page load times, broken links, or referral spam, which may not reflect the actual quality of your content.

Impressions 

Impressions are the number of times your ad, post or content has been displayed to users, regardless of whether they have actually seen or engaged with it. While impressions can give you an idea of the potential reach of your marketing efforts, they don’t tell you anything about the actual impact or effectiveness of those efforts.

Impressions can be easily inflated by programmatic advertising, irrelevant placements or ad fraud, and they don’t account for ad blindness, viewability or user attention. This is another KPI only invented to disguise lack of effectiveness, and to help someone stay in a job they are not doing properly.

Conclusion 

While these KPIs may provide some surface-level insights into your marketing performance, they don’t measure anything meaningful or actionable on their own. They were invented so business owners can hide behind date to explain away failure, rather than use meaningful data to generate and quantify success.

To truly gauge the success of your marketing efforts you need to focus on KPIs directly tied to your business goals and user behavior, such as conversion rates, revenue, customer lifetime value or engagement metrics. By combining multiple relevant KPIs and using them to inform your strategy and optimisation, you can create a more holistic and effective marketing measurement framework.

This why there are two equally well-known phrases – “statistics don’t lie”, and “there are lies, big lies and statistics”. It all depends on you, and what you want to use them for.

Embracing real KPIs will give you a way forward to achieving your goals. Junk KPIs will keep youi in your seat defending your own importance until that seat is no longer there, and you won’t have the opportunity to perform or measure it.