King of the Metrics (And Other Stupid Ideas)

At Quirk we love data. We like to think that a focus on web analytics guarantees success. But this is not always the case. Web analytics has been (mis) used to justify some pretty awful digital strategies, and the most common cause is “king metric” myopia.

We all have a favourite metric, a pet number that (we think) is clearly the most important number of all. The problem with choosing a “king of the metrics” is that we start to ignore everything else. Chasing one single KPI generally doesn’t get you anywhere.

Like Mania

This is a real danger. Facebook Likes are over-emphasised as the definitive performance indicator for Facebook pages. Sure it’s an easily-available metric and it seems to make sense, but all too often we compare ourselves to the wrong competitors. We become obsessed with having as many likes as brand X, which is really a bad idea for at least three reasons.

  1. If Brand X has ten times more likes than your brand, they probably have a bigger budget for promotion. If you are unable to match that budget, stop measuring yourself against that brand.
  2. Likes take time. Maybe Brand X has been earning likes for two years, and your brand only arrived on Facebook six months ago. Your brand hasn’t had the chance to slowly accrue a fan base on the platform.
  3. Take a long moment to consider your brand equity and personality. A racy, controversial brand persona or a massive, highly esteemed global brand will win on Likes every time. But while a beloved local brand can’t take on a global giant with a bad-boy brand persona in a battle of Likes, they can still win with Facebook by growing a small, passionate online community of brand evangelists: Likes are not the most valuable thing to achieve on Facebook.

The mistake most of us make is thinking that passionate communities and brand evangelism can’t happen without a mountain of Likes. It simply isn’t true, and even the big budget brands with many tens of thousands of Likes are finding that their broad fan base lacks passion and engagement. Chasing Likes can trick you into a game where big brands will beat you – rather chase engagement metrics with better content and less advertising.

Search Rankings

Search Rankings are another area where obsessions can take hold. No matter how obscure the terms, people can become fixated on dominating the rankings. You need to rank on the right terms that bring the right traffic that lead to the best conversions. Sure, the term might be relevant, bang on accurate for your product, but it’s so rarely searched / clicked that your business strategy should focus elsewhere. Spending a very limited budget trying to win a rankings war has a lot more to do with pride than business value. Ignore the battles for rank that are too expensive to win, and rather spend your limited budget (again) on creating better, more relevant content for the visitors you really want.


Perhaps the worst abuses are committed in the name of the visits metric. Supposedly, the easiest metric to understand, people latch onto the idea that more is better, and so the quest for more visits begins.

Follow this line of thought to its natural conclusion for a moment. Suddenly your online content strategy becomes cheap and cheesy link bait. Plenty of sites have made themselves highly successful as purveyors of idle time-wasting content. They hone in on the most compelling headlines and descriptions, sow the fields of social media with link bait and wait for the traffic to arrive.

It works. It really does. The internet is full of people who are eager to follow this link to see the top 10 kittens that look like famous scientists. But has that got anything to do with your digital objectives? The kind of site that succeeds with link bait earns all its money from advertising. That list of kittens may bring thousands of visitors to your site for a few days, but it won’t help you sell more of your custom-designed wooden furniture or drive customers to visit your shoe store.

It’s easy to spot that cheap kitten tactics aren’t going to win, but in all honesty how many times have you been asked to increase the number of visitors to the site by any means necessary?  It all amounts to the same thing: lots more visitors to the site, but a horrible (and rising) bounce rate as your visitors arrive, view one page, and run off to the next amusing page.

In summary? Don’t buy into the hype. There is no one simple metric that guarantees success online. To believe so is to ignore the true complexity of online business, and almost certainly not the best use of your budget.

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