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These Six Stupid Marketing Metrics Need to Die

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Way too often—several times a week—I'm amazed by what some marketers are still measuring.

Maybe they don't know any better.

Maybe some are just married to legacy metrics that were once logical but now just need to die.

Inspired by Rachel Sprung's recent post on pointless marketing metrics, I've come up with my own list of pet-peeve marketing metrics and reasons they're probably doing your campaigns more harm than good.

1. Facebook Likes

There once was a time when even rational marketers considered buying Facebook fans. The opportunity to get in front of such an audience—they would see your organic content over and over and over again—was just so attractive.

Those days are long over.

Last spring, the alarm was sounded for brands: Organic Facebook reach for Pages was rapidly trending toward zero. And that's exactly what happened: Many brands are now reporting less than 1% engagement with their fan base via organic content.

What's the point in measuring people who Liked your page at some point if they aren't even seeing your content? There could be 100 or 1 million of them... you still need ads or ridiculously powerful content marketing to reach them now on Facebook.

Still, some marketers point to increases in fan count as a social media KPI as though it will make a comeback. And someone must be buying those Page Likes, because an awful lot of people are still selling them. Just stop... Stick a fork in it, this one's done.

2. Display Ad Impressions

It's important to understand how many people actually saw your ads, right?

Unfortunately, impressions—the metric that display ad marketers relied on for so long—doesn't give you a clue about how many people actually viewed your ad.

Way back in November 2013, we learned that about one-third of your ad impressions weren't actually viewable. That's pretty bad, right? Now it's over 56%!

Source: Google

That's right, over half of your ad "impressions" aren't even being seen by people.

So stop using impressions as a yardstick for campaign reach. Instead, measure lower-funnel metrics, such as actual clicks and conversions.

3. Keyword Rankings

Keyword rankings are the insatiable, brain-munching zombie of marketing metrics. They just won't stay dead.

So many factors have made keyword rankings completely useless—personalization, geo-location, changes in the search algorithm, etc. And those aren't even new!

This shift has been happening over a period of years, yet some marketers still march out rankings for specific keywords at reporting time like they actually mean something.

Ditch the security blanket. Keyword rankings are done.

4. Anything to Do With Referred vs. Direct vs. Organic Segmented Traffic

This whole notion of segmenting referred, direct, and organic traffic, and using it as some kind of performance indicator, needs to die.

If you're in SEO, you're basically shooting yourself in the foot by using those metrics.

Rand Fishkin wrote and talked about this extensively in 2013, and what he predicted has played out pretty much as he said it would. In a keyword referral-less world, where both mobile traffic and organic search traffic are characterized as direct, attempting to use these metrics to measure or validate SEO efforts is just plain stupid.

There are a lot of logical reasons why browsers won't report exactly where traffic came from, but the bottom line is you can't rely on the segmentation of referral data as a KPI. At all.

Groupon showed the extent of this problem in an experiment it ran last summer. The company deindexed its entire site for six hours—and instead ended up losing 60% of its supposedly "direct" site traffic!

Image from

So you still think SEO isn't working? Understand that much of what you attribute to direct navigation is probably SEO and content marketing efforts at work. Don't sabotage your own efforts by discrediting them with what is crappy segmentation reporting.

5. PageRank

Are we even still talking this? Why are we still talking about this?!

The last time Google updated the PageRank toolbar (in 2013), it was by accident. That alone should give you a pretty good idea of how high it is on Google's priority list.

Once upon a time, PageRank was probably a pretty good indicator of site quality, but the search algorithm has moved so far beyond this archaic metric that it's crazy anyone still takes it seriously.

(I'm thinking of starting a support group for people who can't get over PageRank. You don't want to be in it, trust me...)

6. View-Through Conversions

Most networks, agencies, and publishers are pushing view-through conversions (VTCs) big time, but can this metric be trusted?

Sure, it's a way to quantify the impact of ads that may influence consumer behavior without resulting in an immediate conversion, but how effective is it?

Google kind of screwed up view-through conversions right off the hop when it introduced the stat in 2009 by making the conversion window 30 days long. During that time, people could have been influenced by any number of factors, and if they did convert there was no guarantee they were influenced by an ad they might have seen weeks earlier.

You'd have to weight them properly, but who knows what that weight should be? And what are the chances it'll be the same across the board, for all VTCs?

View-through conversions are particularly dubious if you're using remarketing to target your display ads, because (by definition) anyone who converts off of those remarketing display ads already found your brand by some other means.

It's just not a great metric. It's a feel-good stat to help people think they're at least measuring something—without actually understanding what they're measuring or what it means.

Bonus Stupid Metrics: Most of Google Webmaster Tools

Google Webmaster Tools is great for some purposes, but really awful for others; getting any kind of real numbers for the metrics there falls under the latter category.

The numbers in Google Webmaster Tools are all based on estimates that are accurate to +/- 500%, according to my own internal analysis.

How do I know? Because you can compare some of the numbers with what is actually in your Google Analytics or Google AdWords. When you do, you'll see that the two sets are totally different.

It works in the same way as the Google AdWords Keyword Planner. The volumes and CPCs are just estimates and are similarly accurate to within +/- 500%.

Why would you put any stock in those numbers?

It's OK to use the data for trending purposes, but don't make the mistake of thinking of the numbers are real and accurate in an absolute sense. They're just estimates.

* * *

Those are it... my pet-peeve marketing metrics. Do you have one or two of your own? In the comments below, share the metrics you wish the industry would kick to the curb.

And if you're wondering which metrics still do matter, check out "Four Online Marketing Metrics That Actually Matter."

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Larry Kim is the founder/CTO of WordStream Inc., provider of the AdWords Grader and 20 Minute PPC Work Week.

Google+: Larry Kim

Twitter: @larrykim

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  • by Rebecca Griebe Mon Mar 30, 2015 via web

    I love the topic, Larry. Your article is really clever and has finally put the nail in the coffin on page rank for me. (I didn't want to let that one go!) I'd love to hear what marketing metrics you think matters most.

  • by HC Mon Mar 30, 2015 via web

    Hi Larry! Agree with Rebecca - what should we be looking at instead?

  • by Dave C Mon Mar 30, 2015 via web

    Interesting article. I'd like to hear what marketing metrics you think are most important and what tools you use to measure them.

  • by TK Mon Mar 30, 2015 via web

    Totally agree.

    So, the obvious question then: what metrics should we be using?


  • by Bridget Mason Mon Mar 30, 2015 via web

    This was really interesting and has put to bed some metrics we're still following! Like the others I would be really interested to know which ones you feel are most important - hopefully they're still on my list!

  • by Christina S Mon Mar 30, 2015 via web

    Agree with Bridget, TK and Dave C - Seems you had a lot on your mind about what not to do - the way money gets exchanged (consulting fees, marketing budgets, ad spend, web development, etc) is through demonstration of return on investment ($$$) - What's the right way to measure Larry?

  • by Vahe, MarketingProfs Mon Mar 30, 2015 via web

    Hi, everyone. I emailed Larry to get his take on what metrics marketers should be using. Turns out he's on vacation this week (that's what his autoresponder says). I'm sure we'll hear from him once he's back.

  • by Caroline Mon Mar 30, 2015 via web

    Interested to hear what metrics would should be using as well. Thanks

  • by Lyn Aspey Mon Mar 30, 2015 via web

    Hi Larry, Thanks for this post. Your Zombie analogy gave the laugh I needed. Spot on observations.

  • by Joanne Han Mon Mar 30, 2015 via web

    Interesting topic. Same questions as others, what matrix do you suggest to use then? Looking forward to a next article.

  • by Taadler Publisher Tue Mar 31, 2015 via web

    Larry, thank you for interisting post and expecially for FB fans metrics.

  • by Mike G Tue Mar 31, 2015 via web

    "So stop using impressions as a yardstick for campaign reach. Instead, measure lower-funnel metrics, such as actual clicks and conversions."

    clicks and conversions from banner ads

  • by Courtney Wed Apr 8, 2015 via web

    Love it. Great article.

  • by ViralInNature Thu Apr 9, 2015 via web

    Facebook likes aren't completely dead, they still serve a purpose just not nearly what they once used to. It's more likely someone will want to follow your page if you have 20,000 followers as opposed to 20 followers. Most people are more interested in what the popular kids in school are doing. At our agency we'll purchase likes to get our clients up to around 400 followers then put it on a slow drip after that opting for other Facebook ads based on our clients goals. But boost posts and video views are two favourites we use often.

  • by Sevell Fri Apr 10, 2015 via web

    Can you share what metrics you do recommend we look at in 2015?

  • by Fiona Wed Apr 15, 2015 via web

    Can anyone shed any light on the question of - If keywords are dead, why do Google still provide a keyword planner? Surely they are still a component, but things such as optimisation and relevant content need to be prioritised?

  • by Sevell Wed Apr 15, 2015 via web

    Good question, Fiona!

  • by Dave C Wed Apr 15, 2015 via web

    Any update yet? You posed some interesting questions and insights that everyone in the comments over the past 2 weeks is interested in what you do recommend. Please respond.
    Does anyone else agree with the article and have recommendations based on results you've seen.

  • by Dan Thu Apr 16, 2015 via web

    This is an awesome post, couldn't agree more! Keyyyyyworrrddssss!!!

  • by Felicia Wed Apr 22, 2015 via web

    Thanks for the information. The article helps to assess the individual value of each ROI metric as a component of an overall campaign. I'm also interested in what metrics we should be using in place of the stupid six.

  • by ViralInNature Wed Apr 22, 2015 via web

    @Sevell I see you asked me a question earlier "Can you share what metrics you do recommend we look at in 2015?"
    Great question. That can best be answered by who is asking the question. If it's analytical geeks like us then there are lots of metrics we love to dive into but if it's the business owner then they only need to know a few key stats and not get information overload.
    The main ones to watch for in 2015 is reach, unique reach and engagement + organic vs paid. But it's the engagement metric across all platforms that's gonna take some ninja skills to figure out. Our social media agency, #ViralInNature, is creating a dashboard that will do just that We hope to launch it by November 2015. Send me an email to and I'll add you to our early access group.

  • by Melanie Thu Apr 23, 2015 via web

    A lot of these are useless vanity metrics that don't mean anything to the bottom line.
    Thanks for calling these out, Larry.

  • by ashim Mon May 4, 2015 via web

    How do you propose one measures changes in organic traffic?

  • by @dgoodwn Mon May 4, 2015 via web

    Am I the lone dissenter on keyword ranking?

    Without this information I simply would not know why the number one page on my niche website is #1.

    I wrote a blog post about the cost of aircraft ownership that featured several subsections all approximately equal in length including insurance, maintenance, and various other things pertaining to that subject. Google seems to love that post because it rewarded me with top search rankings for anything to do with small plane insurance, even outranking insurance companies and much larger aviation brands. Mind you, insurance is just one of the sections on that post; it is not an "insurance" post per se.

    How would I ascertain why--specifically--people come to that page without understanding that certain keywords are driving traffic there?

    Note: I'm not an SEO or digital marketer by professions so no skin in that game.

  • by Steve Mon Jun 1, 2015 via web

    Larry's last statement in his article said "And if you're wondering which metrics still do matter, check out "Four Online Marketing Metrics That Actually Matter."

    Read more:

  • by Manish Wed Aug 5, 2015 via web

    @dgoodwn I am with you. Keyword rankings will never go. Well, its important to have them. They are one of the highly scalable metrics.

  • by Ruth Bradshw Tue Sep 8, 2015 via web

    This is a great post and really highlights just how complex SEO is and how little 'Jo Public" really understand about it - many businesses I speak to get really het up about positions and page rank and we have to educate them about creating great content, consistently.

    What would be really helpful is sharing what metrics you recommend, this would be really useful for our clients and we would certainly share your good and authoritative word on this.

  • by Dave C Tue Sep 8, 2015 via web

    you had a great article here, on a topic a lot of people interested in but it's been over 5 months without a response from you regarding the metrics you do recommend. You are using social media to get people engaged with the topic, well people are engaged and responding to your article. If you are not going engage and respond back to the questions posted, why bother writing the article in the first place.

  • by Vahe, MarketingProfs Tue Sep 8, 2015 via web

    Hi, Dave C. Here is Larry's follow-up article:

  • by Dave C Tue Sep 8, 2015 via web

    Thank you!!

  • by Ruth Bradshaw Tue Sep 8, 2015 via web

    4 online metrics that are worth their salt is a great post, thank-you for sharing!

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