One of the hardest parts of consulting, in my opinion, is figuring out which metrics matter to a business, and then reporting on those metrics to the client. Oftentimes, in my experience, businesses are not even sure which metrics to report on, so they report on as many as possible so as to not miss out on any important metrics.
Over time, I’ve better learned (though I’m admittedly still not incredible at it) to help my clients realize which metrics are important to their businesses, and more importantly often their bosses.
One metric that I have increasingly moved away from, though it can be helpful in very specific circumstances, is Impressions Data from Google Webmaster Tools. Many of you are probably familiar with graphs that look like this:
Let me show you an example of where this Webmaster Tools impression data is misleading and can actually be harmful to your attempts to manage client expectations.
Impressions vs Traffic vs Users
For almost the past year, I have had a client that is carving out a new niche online, yet is competing against some over well-established brands and websites for SERP real estate. Many of the keywords are moderately competitive, but as this site has grown and we have conducted various link outreach and content campaigns, the site has become stronger and thus able to rank for these terms. Traffic has been up and to the right.
Here’s a traffic graph:
And as you would expect, as traffic has gone up, so has the number of conversions. Put the two side by side, and they look thus:
You can see that in this case, a strong correlation exists between the number of visits and the number of referrals. You may even argue that this is causation, and I do not think I would disagree with you on that.
But now, let’s set these two metrics against Webmaster Tools impression data:
Why Is This The Case?
We need to ask now what the Impressions data within Webmaster Tools is really showing us. According to Google, this impression data exists
The number of times pages from your site appeared in search results, and the percentage increase/decrease in the daily average impressions compared to the previous period.
So, to put it in non-Google terms, you are seeing the TOTAL number of impressions, and the average ranking comes from all of the rankings that your site has been seen at. So, you may have all of your important terms within the top 10 rankings, but many more longtail terms are being seen in the 20+, 30+, and even 90+ range. Your average rankings are skewed and your number of impressions will be drastically off, as your site ranks for terms that will not drive traffic, much less targeted traffic, to your site.
Allow me to recommend that you not report on Impressions data taken from Webmaster Tools, as this can skew the opportunity of traffic available. The only time I might recommend reporting on this data is with a new website where a KPI is market traction and market share, in which case you should report on this metric against competitors.
Thoughts? Disagreements? What other metrics have you found that clients or bosses want reported, yet will not tell them the story that they think it will?
Also, I recognize that I’ve just given you something NOT to measure, so what should you measure? That’s a whole other post that I’ve been meaning to write, but until then I’ll refer you to this awesome post by Marty to get you started.