What Do You Want from the Internet? A Look at Key Performance Indicators

A man looking at his mobile device, probably deciding on what key performance indicators he wants to use for targeting his online marketing

Shareaholic’s recent 3rd Quarter Social Media Traffic Report has me thinking about key performance indicators and what my clients really want from the Internet.  There was a very interesting discussion between a number of internet-marketing type people related to the report over on a Google+ post by Ana Hoffman of Traffic Generation Cafe.

While I want to get back to that discussion and what it has to do with you in just a moment, I first would like to point out that while I kind of criticized their 2nd Quarter report in a previous blog post, and might say a couple of things that seem critical in this one, I harbor no ill will toward Shareaholic.  My purpose is to go a little deeper and not take their data at face value, as I see some people doing.

This might go without saying, but you are not the average Shareaholic website, and by extension, your clients are not average either.  But I’ll get to that in more depth after we cover what you want the Internet to do for your business.

Okay, so let’s look at teasing out the bits that are useful so we can avoid being led astray by data that doesn’t apply (even if lots of folks online are telling you that broad averages are somehow equal to the reality of your specific business).

 What are Key Performance Indicators (KPI)?

Key performance indicators, or more frequently referred to as KPIs, are measurements of success.  Where many business owners miss the mark is ignoring the first word: key.  In other words, the indicators that are key to success.  Lots and lots of things can be measured.  But the question that doesn’t get asked enough is, “Is this indicator critical to measuring success?

Why is this important?  Why do I often limit clients to just 3 (or maybe 4) KPIs?  Because there’s just too damned much information out there and you’ll get overwhelmed looking at everything.  So you first need to figure out what is most critically important.

How Do I Get More Traffic To My Website?

That’s a great question. It’s an important question. But is it the most critical one?  Here we go back to Shareaholic and Ana Hoffman’s post.  Shareaholic’s Danny Wong posted on their blog some of the data in an article entitled “In Q3, Facebook Drove 4x More Traffic Than Pinterest [REPORT]

“OMG!  Quadruple the traffic?  We need to be on Facebook NOW!”  Yes, I hear you thinking that.  But what are we talking about here?  KEY performance indicators.  Is the number of people who come to your website the most important thing?  Maybe not.

On Hoffman’s post, different people brought up a bunch of “yes, but…” scenarios, detailing things they thought were more important than simply the number of visitors.  These include:

  • Engagement level: the likelihood that someone will interact with your brand by endorsing (Like, +1), sharing, commenting, replying, etc.
  • Conversion rate: the likelihood that a visitor will subscribe, or purchase
  • Return on Investment (ROI):  Mentioned by Thomas E. Hanna in relation to bloggers, this could refer to either time invested, or money
  • Audience: Are the right people–your target customers–the ones who are coming?
  • Shares/endorsements from your website via a social-share button:  Visitors already on your site giving your social media exposure
  • Shares that spread your brand page content through social media: Social media exposure that might not mean people going to your website
  • Connecting with previously-established “fans” (and whatever value there is in those connections)
  • Connecting with new “fans” (and the value that those people have)

Now that you’ve seen some of those other options, how convinced are you that the number of people who visit your website is the Key Performance Indicator for you?  If you were given this list and told you could only look at one number, what would you choose?

Ardea’s 3Q 2014 Social Media Traffic Report

Okay, now back to that other point.  You are not an average business, and your customers are not average people.  To illustrate why you might not want to take aggregated reports like the Shareaholic numbers at face value, I’ve done my own version.  What they did (at least for the bit mentioned in the title of the blog post) was look at how much traffic came to all of the websites that used their service, and see what percent of that traffic came from each of the “top 8” social media sites.  Using their data from September 2014, the top sites look like this:

  1. Facebook (22.36%)
  2. Pinterest (5.52%)
  3. Twitter (0.88%)
  4. StumbleUpon (0.41%)
  5. Reddit (0.18%)
  6. Google+ (0.07%)
  7. YouTube (0.04%)
  8. LinkedIn (0.04%)

Now I’m going to do the same.  I’m taking the visits from sites I run, and the sites of my clients for whom I have Google Analytics data (for reasons I won’t go into here, it’s difficult to properly mix-and-match data sources, so I’m trying to keep the data clean).  Using my own set of “websites that used my service” I’ll do the same calculation–what percentage of total traffic came from each of these 8 social media sites in September 2014.  My rankings are as follows:

  1. Facebook (0.42%)
  2. StumbleUpon (0.31%)
  3. Twitter (0.15%)
  4. Google+ (0.09%)
  5. Reddit (0.08%)
  6. Pinterest (0.03%)
  7. LinkedIn (0.02%)
  8. YouTube (0.01%)

I should point out that my clients tend to be very small businesses, many of whom haven’t been on social media for very long.  But notice that Facebook doesn’t even account for half a percent of traffic.  It’s still the top position, though.  Pinterest sank from #2 to #6, while Google+ rose from #6 to #4.

In addition to the shifts in rank and in total percentage, my numbers showed WordPress at 0.08%–as much as Reddit and nearly as much as Google+.  Blogger beat the bottom three with 0.05%, and Yelp matched Pinterest.  So for my clients, the “top 8” social sites are a different set of social media sites than they are for Shareaholic’s clients.

If I do that “grading on the curve” technique of dropping the highest and lowest traffic sites, the rankings change again:

  • StumbleUpon (1.8%),
  • Twitter (1.0%),
  • Google+, Reddit, and Facebook (tied at 0.7%)
  • WordPress (0.6%),
  • LinkedIn and Blogger (tied at 0.3%)
  • Pinterest and YouTube (tied at no traffic whatsoever).

To belabor my point a little: if you see a big report on what the best sites are for a business to market on, take it with a grain of salt.  Don’t assume that a large collection of websites will return the same results as your website will, particularly if the sites aren’t of the same size or industry as yours.

And to bring this around to the larger issue, what you need to do as an entrepreneur or the owner of a small business or startup, is to zero in on where these two things intersect.  Once you determine your key performance indicators (and make sure they’re the “critical few” as author and analyst Avinash Kaushik puts it)

A Tiny Bit of Criticism

As MaAnna Stephenson notes, the Shareaholic data is pulled from Shareaholic users, which may have a certain bias toward brands that have used Facebook heavily for some time and therefore weight in favor of Facebook.  Ana Hoffman and Danny Wong both point out that the data includes paid traffic.  Since Facebook ads happen on Facebook, but Google ads do not appear on Google Plus, that also weights the Shareaholic results in favor of Facebook.  In essence, Facebook gets credit for organic traffic and paid traffic, while Google Plus only gets credit for organic traffic but not paid.  So it’s not really comparing oranges to oranges; it’s more like fruit salad to oranges and saying the fruit salad is better because you get more types of fruit.


I’ve already mentioned several people above who were involved in the discussion, but those that I didn’t mention by name yet and contributed to the list of possible Key Performance Indicators you might want for measuring your online success are Eli Fennel,  Thomas E. Hanna (whose “Weekly Insider Goodies” list from BlogPhoto.tv provided the image for this blog post), Justin Chung, and Kymmberly Gail.  Thanks for a great conversation.

Posted by Michael J. Coffey  |  3 Comments  |  in Analysis & Testing

About Michael J. Coffey

Michael started learning about online marketing as the web store manager for a scrappy little game retailer during the "dot com bubble" of the 1990s. Since then he's helped fitness companies, tea wholesalers and retailers, lawyers, clothing designers, restaurateurs, and entrepreneurs in many other fields. In his spare time he drinks very high quality tea, writes letters with a fountain pen, and reads literature.


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