Digital Marketing Analytics 101: The Data that Matters Most

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Which data matters most? Which data should I pay attention to in Google Analytics? What are the 2-3 digital marketing analytics data points I should pay attention to?

These were the questions my writing buddies posed while we sat down to do a blog writing challenge.

It’s true. The challenge most companies face is NOT lack of data. Most businesses are struggling with choosing which data to focus on. There are three reasons for that:

  1. Not knowing how to match goals to measurements
  2. Not knowing what different data points mean – what they measure and how they’re calculated
  3. Expecting that useful analytics can be simplified to a few data points.

Finding the Digital Marketing Analytics Data that Matters

Collecting data is easy. Interpreting data is not. It requires knowledge, contextual understanding, rigor and patience. So let’s clear this up right now: it is NOT possible to look at 2-3 digital marketing data points and fully understand what is going on with your marketing. Also, I can’t magically interpret data for you, by just showing you 2-3 data points.

To make sense of your data, you have to put some thinking into it and/or have a conversation with someone who can analyze it for you. There are no shortcuts. You must use your brain. 

What we can do is to narrow the data points down to your goals and channels of focus. And we need to start by clarifying the categories of data you’ll look at.

The three types of marketing measurements:

  • Business metrics. These tell you the big picture: the bottom line, what the costs were, what the return was and thus what the ROI is.
  • Conversion metrics. These tell you how effectively you are able to turn “visitors” into “buyers”: conversion rate, cost per conversion, average spent (avg ticket).
  • Marketing metrics. Pretty much everything else that comes before a conversion is a marketing metric. Impressions, click through rates, visits, bounces etc.

ALL of these are important. But for different reasons:

  • Business metrics tell us if we’re making money.
  • Conversion metrics tell us if we’re able to make people buy.
  • Marketing metrics tell us if we’re able to gain and engage a new audience, and lead them toward a conversion.

Now, let’s not get caught up in labels. ROI is part of marketing, as is conversion. But I’m categorizing things like this because customers go through a journey before they buy. They don’t just buy right when they hear of you.

Your data points should match the customer journey

digital marketing analytics, data should match customer journey

So measurements should be aligned with the customer lifecycle stage you’re measuring, such as:

  • Reaching new people
  • Converting new people
  • Retaining new people
  • Converting them again

So while we all want to see positive ROI, a negative ROI in the acquisition stages is normal. What we need to focus on here are positive directional changes. In other words, are my most important indicators showing growth?

How do we find the most important digital marketing indicators?

We work back from the goal:

Step 4: To get a customer, we need…   A conversion

Step 3: To get a conversion, we need… buyers. These are visitors who:

  1. have gone through an information-gathering and persuasion process
  2. have decided to buy from us (typically repeat visitors who stay on site, and easily and quickly get all the information they need to decide to buy).
  3. Find it quick and easy to convert

Step 2: To get buyers we need new visitors

Step 1: To get new visitors we need an audience

The three pivotal digital marketing data points to watch are:

  1. Conversions
  2. Visitor volume
  3. Audience size

BUT, to get there we need to watch for other data points as well.  

Directional marketing indicators to watch:

These are data points that tell us if we are moving in the right direction. Here they are, as simplified as I could make it.

“Conversion health” indicators:

  • Page load speed
  • Time on site
  • Average number of pages visited
  • Conversion rate

The “health” of the visitor numbers depends on:

  • Search performance indicators
    • Signals that tell search engines that your content is relevant for searches and thus worthy of taking a top spot in search results. A few data points to watch are:
      • Domain level links volume
      • Domain Authority
      • Page Authority
      • Visitors from search
      • CTR on search results
  • Ads performance indicators
    • Impressions
    • Click-through rate
    • Visitors from ads
    • Cost per click
  • Social content performance
    • Reach
    • CTR
    • Visitors from social

  • Email performance
    • Open rates
    • Click-through rates
    • Visitors from email

Audience health indicators:

  • Size of contacts database
  • Volume of email subscribers
  • Volume of RSS subscribers
  • Social network followers

What to do next:

If I only had three digital marketing data points to look at, I’d look at conversions, volume of visitors and size of “database.” But what is the point of information if you can’t use it to do more? And just these data points won’t be enough to help your marketing. So if you’re serious about it, you’ll have to dig deeper.

In an earlier article, I talked about how context is critical to understanding data. So when you look at these data points, you’ll also have to look them in the context of what you’ve done and how the numbers grew over time and over the same period last year.

Anything we should add or remove? Let us know in the comments!


Thanks to my writing challenge buddies who encouraged me to write this article: Jill Pollack of StoryStudio a creative writing and business writing school, Nancy Goldstein of CompassX, a Chicago brand strategy firm and Emily Lonigro Boylan of LimeRed Studio, a Chicago user experience agency for conscious companies. Also, big thanks to Emily who created the ROI chart included in this blog post. It’s good to have writing buddies! 


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Since founding Lightspan, Mana has quickly established herself as one of Chicago's leading voices in social media and digital marketing. A decisive problem-solver fluent in five languages, Mana believes in clear objectives, simple solutions and the power of purpose in marketing. Credos: "No excuses" and "Find a way!"
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