What’s that about not seeing the forest for the trees?

When it comes to utilizing Web metrics for an association, advocacy group, or other member-based organization, the available options and interpretations can be confusing, intimidating, and downright overwhelming. The tangled web (no pun intended) of Web metrics readily available these days can make you think that you need a PhD in statistics or a whole team of cyber-analysts to interpret the data. In fact, that has led to a dispiriting trend.  On one hand, there is a whole generation of consultants–especially social media “gurus”–who want you to believe that it is so confusing and unintelligible that you must pay them a hefty fee to interpret it and react to it for them. And on the other hand, there is a whole different breed of consultants–primarily agency types–who would have you believe that the glut of available data is so impossible to interpret and react to that you might as well ignore it…and instead take their word for it that their efforts are effective.

A recent blog post at associationsnow.com only seems to perpetuate the mythology of the black forest of Web metrics:

Don’t be intimated…or fooled. Your association Web metrics matter.

While it can certainly be easy to get lost in the wash of available data or to get hung up on metrics that just don’t matter all that much (sex appeal and substance are NOT the same thing), the wonder of Web engagement, Web advocacy, and Web advertising is the ability to use real-time, relevant data to ensure the efficiency and effectiveness of your efforts.

This is not an exhaustive list, but here are some of the metrics you should pay closest attention to.

UNIQUE VISITORS:  Even more important than overall site visits, the number of unique visitors to your Website will tell you exactly how big your audience is or has been. In essence, it will tell you how many members, stakeholders, or constituents are exploring your site…or how many were effectively reached and motivated by a specific engagement effort. This matters.

ENGAGEMENTS: When it comes to social media or social advertising, the name of the game is engagement. How many people are liking or sharing your postings? How many are retweeting you? How many video views has your media generated? How many have clicked to your action center? If you’re not engaging, you’re not succeeding, and so engagements–even at their most basic level–matter.

REFERRALS:  Where is your traffic coming from, either to your site or to your blog or to your primary Web real estate? In simple terms, referrals track incoming links from other blogs and websites. So, for example, if someone links to your site from linkedin.com, linkedin.com would be a referrer. If they reached your site by way of a search engine, then google.com or bing.com might be the referrer. Tracking your top referrers will give you a sense of how effective your various marketing efforts are. If a lot of it is coming from search, then your SEO is driving the train. If traffic is primarily coming from social media, then your social engagement efforts are paying off.  This tells you what to scrap and what to double down on.

CONVERSIONS: It’s a pretty top-level metric, but it could be the metric most important to the success of your organization. A conversion could be anything that you want your Web visitors to do. Maybe it’s as simple as subscribing to your e-Newsletter. Maybe you use your Website as a tool for membership renewals. Maybe it’s getting members signed-up to attend conferences or seminars. Or maybe in the heat of a legislative battle, you need your stakeholders to take action to contact their lawmakers. Conversion rates show you not only how successful you have been in making that all happen, but also can help you analyze what conversion techniques, messages, etc., are most effective.

COST-PER: If you are doing paid marketing online, you absolutely want to track your cost-per metrics, whether it ends up being cost-per-engagement in social media, cost-per-click for Web advertising, cost-per-video for video ads, or whatever it may be. And if you can get to cost-per-conversation, that may well be the Holy Grail of your Web metrics tracking efforts. Your cost-per analysis will tell you precisely which techniques, platforms, and approaches are worth investing more in…and which merit immediate discontinuation.

Now, think back on those folks who want you to believe that you need their paid help to interpret your Web data. Do you really think you need an outside “expert” to tell you whether $0.01/view is more efficient than $0.09/view?

Or how about your agency guys who just don’t think Web metrics can tell you all that much? If their efforts result in 300 engagements and the other guys’ efforts result in 3,000 engagements, perhaps it’s time to get yourself some new agency guys.

Web metrics matter. And that means association Web metrics matter.

Don’t let anyone convince you of anything different.