The Wrong Metrics

The Wrong Metrics

September 2018 | Marketing Operations

Demonstrating engagement is critical to proving marketing's impact on the bottom line. Yet, many marketers still use these measures of quantity over quality.

In a time poor society, demonstrating engagement is crucial if you want to prove marketing's impact on the bottom line. Yet, it is surprising how many marketers still report on volume rather than activity. When showing successful campaign outcomes to the business, it is essential to make sure you only present genuine indicators of interest in your reports. Avoid these 5 metrics which are really only measurements of how much you spent rather than the return from that investment.

Email Open Rate

It is widely stated that B2C open rates are higher than B2B open rates. This is true, and there are many reasons for it. However, one of them is that B2C emails tend to be viewed on Gmail and IOS which download images automatically, whereas B2B emails are displayed in Outlook which doesn't.

Opens are a better measure of which email clients your audience is using rather than whether they've actually looked at the email. This is because email opens are tracked by downloading a single pixel image on to the recipient's PC. Typically this image is placed at the bottom of the email, so people don't see a missing image placeholder if images are blocked in the inbox.

The problem is that Apple devices download images automatically the moment an email is clicked on. This could easily happen if someone has clicked on an email with the intention of deleting it not just if someone clicked on the email to read it. Images in Outlook or many Android devices typically have to be downloaded manually for every email by clicking a notification message displayed in the email client directly above the preview pane. Few users bother to do this unless they absolutely need to download the images to see the full email content. In B2B, a substantial minority of your click-throughs will never download images on the email at all, so will never be tracked as having actually opened the email. To account for this most ESPs have an implicit open adjustment, which automatically tracks an open whenever the email is clicked. The fact that this adjustment is even needed should indicate how unreliable opens are as a metric for reporting.

Alternative Metrics: Your key metric for email is clicks. Also make sure to track delivery and bounce rates to monitor deliverability.

Industry Benchmarks

Industry benchmarks are great. However, they vary wildly in both quality and actual numbers. They also tend to be targeted at very broad industry categories. It's rare to come across a company that fits a benchmark perfectly. To complicate matters further, user habits differ depending on the profile and location of the campaign audience. Within Europe, this means that the most reliable benchmarks are those that break down results into country or regional figures, with the industry further categorised by the industry of the target audience, rather than the industry of the company running the campaign. Unless you're lucky enough to have access to industry figures with this level of detail, benchmark against your past performance. The aim should be to get better results compared to previous campaigns. Compare against benchmarks to ensure you're matching industry trends, but don't worry so much about the actual numbers as they may be for an entirely different audience type.

Alternative Metrics: Your past performance should be used as a guide to predict future outcomes.

Page Views

Sure, everyone wants their content to be read, but page views are a poor measure of engagement. For one they don't actually give any indication about whether a visitor actually even looked at the page content. Many web analytics tools make some allowance for accidental clicks, with a minimum dwell time often used to eliminate them from reporting. However, they are surprisingly common. The assumption is often made that they're balanced out by the increasing numbers of people using ad blockers, some of which block the mechanisms such as cookies or tracking pixels that are commonly used for tracking page views.

That's not to say that page view numbers don't have their place. For media companies, getting your content in front of as many eyeballs as possible is the ultimate end goal. As such, publishers still use page views because they are an easy way of getting an idea of audience numbers. That's important to them because they rely on advertising to survive. As such, advertisers want to know how many people their ads are reaching before purchasing ad space. They're the online equivalent to the circulation numbers that are still widely used as a benchmark for newspaper readership.

Marketers, particularly in B2B, have different priorities. Content consumption is merely a milestone on the road to becoming a customer. The key indicator of success is not whether someone read a particular web page, but whether it helped push them to the next stage of the funnel. For this reason, measuring actual engagement and interaction with a page is far more important. This leads to a greater emphasis on dwell time - to prove that the page content was actually read - or user interaction numbers such as form submissions and link clicks. When reporting on web page success, the decision needs to be made as to what the primary conversion metric is for each page or site. Optimise the site, and focus your reporting on that to the exclusion of everything else.

Alternative metrics: Dwell time for ungated content or form submissions for gated content


Measuring ad spend using impressions is another holdover from offline business models. It's surprising how many ad networks still prefer you to pay based on thousands of impressions rather than clicks. To a marketer, there is no value in measuring impressions at all. A page view at least means you got your logo in front of someone for at least a brief period of time. Ad impressions can't even promise you that much. So many people tune out online ads that there's no guarantee that anyone looked at your ad, let alone interacted with it. To get value from your advertising budget pay per click is still the leading game in town. It revolutionised online advertising for a good reason, and 20 years on its more relevant than ever.

Alternative Metrics: You were already reporting on ad results using clicks anyway.


Just because you've passed over an MQL, that doesn't mean that anything has happened to it. Sales ignoring marketing's MQLs in favour of leads they've generated themselves is an age old complaint. The typical Sales response is that marketing leads are worthless, and are not worth following up anyway. Typically, both sides are right. There are many marketing teams with an MQL target to meet, so it's understandable that many marketers react to this by creating MQLs for every inquiry. That way they reach their target.

Measuring MQLs is still important as part of the full funnel, but on its own proves no value to the business. Modern CMOs are measured using revenue targets rather than lead targets. This can be challenging for companies with long sales cycles, but is the best way to prove value in the only way that counts to management. One of the benefits of revenue targets is that they force marketing to align with sales in a meaningful way. It puts pressure on marketing to generate leads that are actually interesting to Sales. The flip side is that there needs to be processes and SLAs in place with Sales to ensure that leads are followed up in a timely manner, without these being enforced Marketing's ability to demonstrate value is at the mercy of Sales. The only way to overcome this is to align closely with sales at all level of the corporate hierarchy. In a B2B environment marketing's job typically is to feed the sales pipeline, a deal can't close without significant work from Sales anyway. If you want to prove value to the business, you need to demonstrate that you're giving sales the leads that they want.

Alternative Metrics: Return on Investment is the key metric of marketing success for a good reason.

Written by
Marketing Operations Consultant and Solutions Architect at CRMT Digital specialising in marketing technology architecture. Advisor on marketing effectiveness and martech optimisation.