About twenty years ago I graduated from college with a degree in marketing and not a clue on what to do with it. It was the period of early transition from traditional marketing to the new world of digital. Side note: I feel old when I tell people that I took a direct marketing course in college that never touched on email marketing. Yikes.

My first marketing job out of college involved, what we called at the time, internet advertising. I was drawn to this form of advertising due largely to the ability to measure results. I wasn’t alone. By the early 2000s, every media company was actively selling banner advertising on their websites. The sales pitch went something like this:

Salesperson: “We’ll be able to provide you with a report at the end of the month that shows how many people clicked to your website.”

Advertiser: “Wow, that’s amazing! I love the future.”

Salesperson: “Good, because you’re living in it!”

And sure enough, us marketers did just that. We measured clicks. We reported on clicks. We were super enthusiastic about clicks. Marketing analytics for us began and ended with clicks. There was just one problem. People weren’t really clicking that much. In fact, it’s widely reported that a banner will receive one click per every 1,000 views. That’s a click rate of 0.1 percent. It’s hard to keep up the enthusiasm with results like that.

But us digital marketers are a savvy bunch. We quickly went to work on finding solutions. If there aren’t a lot of clicks, what else can we measure? We started looking at any actions we could track and used them to measure “engagement.” This led to ridiculous measurements like “mouse-overs” and “mouse-over rate.” Yes, us brilliant marketers started measuring if someone’s cursor glanced over our ad. Heck, we even measured how much time users had their cursor on top of our ads. Because that matters?

While banner advertising has always been measurable, the results have left something to be desired. Good news, social media advertising has arrived! Now users are doing way more than just clicking and hovering. They can “like” and “share” and “comment.” They can watch videos, turn on and off the sound, pause and resume the playback. Banner advertising resulted in only one action taken in one-thousand opportunities. Now users are taking multiple actions with one advertisement.

All of these actions have brought us a plethora of new metrics we can measure. In Facebook’s advertising platform, there are over 75 metrics that marketers can use to measure performance. I’ve been known to exaggerate for comedic effect at times. This is not one of those times. You can measure the engagement with your video using the following metrics (all real): 2-second views, 3-second views, 10-second views, video watches at 25%, video watches at 50%, video watches at 75%, video watches at 95%, and (I bet you can guess it) video views at 100%. The answer to “how many people watched our video” just got a lot more complicated.

Just because you can measure something doesn’t necessarily mean you should. Digital marketers need to resist the temptation to analyze dozens of metrics. More metrics does not mean better reporting or even deeper understanding. Frankly, it leads to a lot more confusion.

The click wasn’t the right measurement to determine success, but neither is video watches at 75%. We should be measuring actions that directly correlate to business success. And frankly, we should ignore metrics that don’t.

The goal is to transform digital marketing analytics into marketing intelligence. Data is only useful when it is translated into information that leads to better decision making. The first step to accomplishing this goal is measuring metrics that matter. Only metrics that have a direct correlation with business success should be considered.

For example, we work with a healthcare provider who holds informational seminars for a specific procedure. Potential patients can sign up for the seminar online. When we measure the performance of our advertising, we look at the rate that people sign up for the seminar. We’ve learned that ads that get clicked at a higher rate don’t always have the highest sign up rate. We’d rather see fewer clicks that result in more attendance because that’s the ultimate goal.

Sometimes you can’t tie a specific action to an objective. This is the case when you’re trying to build awareness of your product or service. Marketers can be tempted to measure activity that doesn’t correlate with the ultimate goal. Especially clicks. Stop measuring clicks to determine success. If you want to build awareness, you should measure reach and frequency against the target audience. I know, that sounds like something a traditional marketer would say. Hey, I went to college before Google existed, so sometimes my opinions are a little bit old school.

Originally published by the Rochester Business Journal