There is an enormous amount of data available to marketers these days, some of the metrics business owners and executives want marketers to focus on aren’t aligned with business goals — and may even be obsolete. Let’s talk about the marketing metrics you can probably live without and more useful metrics you may consider replacing them with.

Your digital marketing metrics are broken


PageRank (PR) has been dead for a long time now. Google hasn’t updated the public version of PR since 2013. We all knew it was going to happen eventually. Google has always told people not to view it as the most important metric and even removed it from Google Webmaster Tools in 2009.

We’ve been telling people for a long time that they shouldn’t focus on PageRank so much; many site owners seem to think it’s the most important metric for them to track, which is simply not true. We removed it because we felt it was silly to tell people not to think about it, but then to show them the data, implying that they should look at it.

— Susan Moskwa, Googler

On Oct. 23, 2013, Google’s former head of webspam, Matt Cutts, stated that the technical ability to send internal PR data to publicly viewable toolbars was broken. He confirmed that Google had no desire to fix it and we have not seen an update since.

Google’s internal, non-public version of PR is still alive and updated daily, but since we can’t see it, it’s obviously no help to us.

There are still some toolbars that report on old PR data, but as the years go on, this data becomes more and more useless. The good news is that it seems business owners and marketing teams have finally started to let go of this metric, as we are asked to report on it only occasionally these days. Progress!

What Should You Focus On Instead of PageRank?

The closest alternatives are Page Authority (PA) and Domain Authority (DA), both Moz Metrics. Other tools produce similar custom metrics, like Majestic’s Trust Flow (TF). But be careful not to place too much emphasis on any of these, as they don’t tend to be as good at identifying spam as Google, which means some pages may have very high PA or TF, while being unable to rank well because most of the links have been “discounted” by Google, but not by the other tools.

Overall Bounce Rate

The problem with overall bounce rate is that it’s a metric that doesn’t tell the whole story. For example, in some cases a “bounce” is actually a good thing. Google Analytics (GA) defines a bounce as any visitor who leaves after only viewing one page. But what if they found what they were looking for on that page? What if they found your phone number, contact form or the answer to their question? Wouldn’t that be a successful visit?

You might also have a section of the site that has high bounce rates, which don’t reflect other sections of the site. If you publish a lot of blog posts, it’s likely that your overall bounce rate is fairly high. That’s because people who read blog posts typically read the post, then leave without visiting any other page on your site. After taking this first step down the conversion funnel, they may come back later to learn more or make a purchase.

What Should You Focus On Instead of Overall Bounce Rates?

Instead of looking at overall bounce rate, dig down into the bounce rate for individual pages, and then manually view pages with high bounce rates to determine if there is a potential issue with the page that might provide a poor user experience relative to the keywords/queries most likely to bring visitors to that page from search engines.

Social Follower Count

Google stated way back in 2010 that they use social metrics in their algorithm, but by 2014, it seems that was no longer true. This is likely because of how easy it is to abuse social media metrics. You can buy thousands of followers or likes for less than $10. If Google ever really did use social media metrics, spammers ruined it for everyone.

Woman with social following
I’ll follow anyone for ten bucks!

The point of using social media as a marketing channel is to grow your business. You want people to engage and take some sort of action, whatever your goal may be. You could be trying to get people to sign up to your newsletter, become a customer or even just to share your posts so other people might become your customers. Keep that in mind when growing your social profiles. The number of likes or followers you have doesn’t mean a thing if people aren’t engaging with your brand.

What Should You Focus On Instead of Raw Follower Counts?

In a word: Engagement. Most social media accounts shouldn’t be run like a megaphone to push out and promote the brand’s interests. In social media, you have to give to receive. If you are not receiving engagement, chances are you’re not giving followers anything worth engaging with other than broadcasting news about your company and links to your content.

Consider reporting on amplification rates (i.e., reshares of your content) or discussions (i.e., multiple back-and-forths about a post). In certain situations, you may even want to report on sales and leads, but that should be considered on a campaign-by-campaign basis. What is the purpose of the campaign? Typically, social campaigns aren’t designed to contribute directly to sales, but indirectly they have a profound impact by amplifying your content and raising brand awareness.

Increased Visits/Traffic

It’s great to see your traffic growing every month in GA, but traffic means nothing if those visitors aren’t taking action. You need to understand where that traffic is coming from, what pages they are landing on and what they are doing once they reach your site.

Let’s say, for example, you get a huge boost in traffic from a blog post that has gone viral. Is that post relevant enough to your business to lead to sales? If the goal is to earn links, are the sites linking to it the types of sites that matter in your industry? Because relevancy matters.

Even if the boost in traffic from one viral post ends up bringing in some conversions, the following month your month-over-month traffic numbers may look dismal, even though traffic has increased compared to two or three months ago. Is it worth your trouble to normalize these traffic spikes?

What Should You Focus On Instead of Traffic/Visits?

The traffic you are driving to your site should be people who will buy or influencers in your industry who may lead others to buy from you. Traffic on its own doesn’t pay the bills. The “right” traffic pays the bills. So the question is, how much of the right traffic are we generating from our marketing efforts? There is no easier metric for this than overall site conversion rates. However, don’t make the mistake of only tracking the ultimate sale/conversion. Track mini-conversions along the way, like new blog or newsletter subscribers. Speaking of…

Total Newsletter Subscribers

There are many things to consider when looking at the size of an email list. For starters, how were they acquired? Segmenting reports may reveal why “Total” Newsletter Subscribers isn’t the most useful metric. Think 20 percent of the list is generating 80 percent of the revenue.

Another thing to consider is how those people were added to your list. For example, if you “bought” or “traded” lists to grow contacts, chances are a large portion of those contacts are not going to provide much value to your brand, compared to those who signed up to your list from an offer on your site.

If the email list was grown with a giveaway, many of those people might have participated simply to win free stuff. They might not ever plan to buy from you again, yet many are too lazy to unsubscribe. At best they’ll ignore and archive/delete it. But they may also find it easier to just mark your emails as spam, which lowers deliverability rates. This is why it’s important to segment and scrub your lists to remove subscribers who don’t engage after a period of time.

Last but not least, reporting on total subscribers as a key metric has the danger of incentivizing marketers not to scrub their lists and not to focus on acquiring more relevant contacts.

scrub your subscribers list

What Should You Focus On Instead of Total Subscribers?

If you want to report on subscribers, break them out by persona/audience segment, cohorts, campaigns, etc.

More importantly, are they engaging with your emails? What are your open rates? Are they clicking through, reading and sharing? Unlike Total Subscribers, these engagement-based metrics incentivize marketers to focus on acquiring the “right” contacts and to weed out those who don’t provide value and cost the business money.

Total Backlink Count

Incoming links to a website have long been, and still are, one of the most important ranking factors, but not all links are created equal. Google can determine the quality of a domain where a link to your site resides. They can also determine if the linking site is in a similar industry as yours. If either of these things is not up to snuff, the link becomes less valuable.

Search engines can also see where on a page a backlink exists. For example, if a link is placed in a blog comment, sidebar, navigation or footer, they may not have as much value as a link placed directly within the main content of the page.

If your site has hundreds of thousands of low-quality links, such as from forum spam, blog comments and low-quality directories, those links probably aren’t doing much for you. In fact, they might even be hurting you. But just a few links from highly respected websites in your industry could push your site up to the top of the results.

What Should You Focus On Instead of Total Backlinks?

Instead of total backlinks, focus on metrics like PA and DA, which factor in more than just the raw link count. You may also want to consider which links are driving traffic and/or conversions directly, as opposed to thinking of links as something acquired for SEO purposes.

I don’t know anyone who likes running reports. The more you automate it, the less useful it becomes. The less automated, the more time consuming. For these reasons, it is tempting for marketers to focus on very high-level metrics because they are relatively easy to obtain and explain. Business owners and the C-Suite like them because they understand them and are used to gauging performance from high-level metrics.

But these are all just proxies for the metric they’re really interested in, which is:
How much money is your department making us?

Are there metrics you find critical to report? Let us know in the comments.