How to Measure Success in Inbound Marketing

Posted by Douglas Burdett

With so much inbound marketing data that can be analyzed, are you overwhelmed with what to measure to be successful? Start with these questions.

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Inbound marketing is a philosophy rooted in the idea that people value personalized, relevant content – not interruptive messages.

inbound marketing philosophy

The inbound methodology is about helping brands attract, convert, close and delight visitors, leads and customers through a variety of channels like social media, blogging, SEO and email. In essence, inbound marketing pulls customers to your company instead of shouting at them with interruptive messages.

In a nutshell, inbound marketing has three key aspects: 1) Getting found online, 2) Converting visitors & leads, and 3) Analyzing and improving. The importance of #3 is so that you can iterate and do more of what’s working to get #1 and #2, and less of what’s not working.

So let’s say you’re the owner or CEO of a company that has started doing more inbound marketing. Or maybe you’re the marketing person. This may be a lot of new stuff to comprehend. And with inbound marketing, there is a seemingly endless amount of data that you can analyze. How do you separate the signal from the noise? How do you know if your inbound marketing initiatives are being effective and heading in the right direction?

One of my favorite business maxims is that successful managers get what they inspect, not what they expect. With that in mind, here is a list of things to inspect for when managing your inbound marketing.

Ask these questions of your marketing people or your marketing agency and they will appreciate that you’re keeping an eye on the metrics most closely aligned with getting found online and increasing conversions and sales. There are other metrics you can measure, of course, but these are the basics that should be first and foremost on your inspection list.

Overall Website

Your website should be the center of your marketing solar system. Much of what you do is about creating a stronger and stronger online gravitational force, pulling increasing numbers of the right kind of earthlings toward your site.

How are our unique visitors trending?

Unique visitors are the total individual visitors to your site, not counting repeat visits by the same people. Look for an upward trend over time – if your unique visitor count is not rising, it’s time to reassess your marketing tactics.

How many new vs. repeat visitors do we have?

This compares your unique visitors to the number of visitors who have returned more than once. You want people to return to your site; if your repeat visitor rate is less than 10% you might not be offering valuable enough information. However, if your repeat visitor rate is higher than 30%, you may not be growing your audience enough to grow your business. Strive for a 15% repeat visitor rate.

What are our traffic sources?

Focus on direct, organic and referral traffic. Direct traffic is from people who have typed your URL into their browser. Referral traffic is a link from another website (including social media). Organic traffic is from a link on a search engine results page. The higher your organic, the better your SEO efforts are performing. Strive for organic to be the highest of the three at 40%-50%, followed by referral traffic at 20%-30%.

What are our most (and least) popular pages?

This helps you understand what content your site visitors find most interesting. This helps inform ongoing website optimization.

How many indexed pages do we have?

This is the number of pages that have received at least one visit from organic search. The higher the percentage, the greater your gravitational pull.

What are our landing page conversion rates?

A landing page is a website page specifically designed to convert visitors to leads. It collects and process information on website visitors via a form in return for valuable content.

The conversion rate is the percentage of site visitors who take a desired action, such as filling out a lead generation form.

What’s our bounce rate?

This is the percentage of new visitors who leave the site almost immediately, with no other interaction. A high bounce rate may indicate your content is not compelling, your landing pages are not optimized or you might have some technical or structural issue with your site.

The bounce rates vary by industry, so rather than comparing your site to some artificial benchmark, just strive to consistently lower yours.

How are our keywords performing?

This is an indication of how well your pages are ranking for desired keywords and search terms important to your prospective customers. If they are not generating a significant amount of traffic over time, you may want to refine your keyword choices.

How is our non-branded search traffic doing?

Branded search traffic represents visitors coming to your site based on your company or product name. They already know you. What you want is an increasing amount of site traffic from people who are not explicitly searching for you, but perhaps for a solution to their problem that you can help solve.

What unique search terms are driving the most traffic?

These are search phrases that visitors are using to find your site. More important than the total number of phrases are the total number of visits and percentage of overall organic traffic that each phrase represents.

How many inbound links do we have?

The number of links back to your site from other sites is an indication to a search engine of the value and importance of your site and its content. Think of inbound links as votes of approval. You want to be growing this number, but don’t try to game the search algorithms to get more links (e.g. paid links) – your rankings will suffer for it.

What’s our conversion rate from organic search?

This is a good one – it’s the percentage of visitors who arrived at your site via organic search and then completed a desired action such as becoming a lead. It’s like hitting a homerun on the first swing.

Your Blog

When a company produces helpful, remarkable content on their blog, it generally becomes the most-trafficked section of the site, and where most of the leads are generated. That’s why an inbound marketer’s blog measurement is particularly important.

How much of our site traffic is to the blog (and what are the sources)?

The first thing you’ll want to ask about is this. How much and from which sources (e.g. social media, referrals, direct traffic, organic, etc.). Is the percentage growing?

Which are the most popular blog posts?

This will tell you a lot about what people are looking for and finding helpful.

What is the blog’s visitor-to-lead conversion rate?

The higher the better. But don’t stop there – which individual blog posts are generating more leads? They might not necessarily be the most popular.

How are the blog’s calls-to-action performing?

A Call-to-Action (CTA) is a website button, image, text link that encourages a visitor to take an action by typically clicking on the button, visiting a landing page and filling out a form in return for some kind of content.

Every blog post should include a CTA for an offer behind a landing page. That’s how the blog generates leads. With A/B testing, you should continuously pit one CTA against another to see which one performs better. Don’t stop testing.

How are the blog leads trending?

These are the leads generated via the blog, of course. And while you want to keep an eye on the blog conversion rate (above), you still need to be growing the total number of leads from the blog. If you’re not hitting your blog lead goals, ask your team to dig further into the analytics for a diagnosis.

Social Media

Social media can drive enormous traffic to your site, and your blog in particular. Jay Baer says “Content is fire. Social media is gasoline.” Many of the core inbound marketing measurements for your website also apply to social media. While you’ll want to have a growing social media audience (and you should measure that), what’s more important is their engagement with your brand.

So rather than focus exclusively on how many Facebook fans and Twitter followers you have, look at the engagement of those audiences.

What are our social media engagement trends?

Social media should be interactive, so look at things like Facebook “Likes” and comments, retweets and @replies on Twitter, YouTube video views, shared links, etc. If you’re not getting much engagement, then reassess the content you’re sharing on social media. Is your content tailored to the specific social media network?

How is our traffic from social media?

What percentage of unique website visitors are coming from social media? A major goal of social media efforts is to strengthen the gravitational pull of your website to convert visitors into leads or customers.

What is our conversion rate from social media?

As with the blog, measure the percentage of visitors from social media that converts into leads or customers. This will help you determine the value of your social media efforts.

Email Marketing

While social media gets most of the attention these days, it is email marketing that is the key connective tissue of inbound marketing. If you were stranded on a deserted inbound marketing island with everything you need but, had to pick between social media and email, you would want to pick email. To measure your email marketing, you need to do ongoing analysis of several key metrics.

What’s our hard bounce rate?

These are emails that could not be delivered to the recipient’s inbox. Make sure to remove the blocked email addresses from your list because Internet service providers (ISPs) use bounce rates to determine an email sender’s reputation (which affects your ability to get future emails through an ISP’s spam filters).

What’s our delivery rate?

This is the percentage of emails that were delivered. To get this number subtract the bounces from the gross number of sent emails, and divide by the gross emails. Strive for a delivery rate of 95% or higher.

What is our list growth rate?

The average email list deteriorates by 25% per year (due largely to people unsubscribing and changing jobs/email addresses). That’s why you need to keep on top of how fast your email list is growing.

What is our click-through rate?

This tells you the proportion of your audience who clicked on at least one link in an email message. This is one of the most important metrics because it indicates whether the message or offer was compelling enough to encourage recipient action.

What is our email sharing/forwarding rate?

This indicates the value and relevance of your email messages. It’s the percentage of recipients who clicked on a “share this” button to post email content to a social network, or emailed it to a friend. Look at what’s getting shared the most and use that when planning future campaigns.

What’s the email conversion rate?

Just like the blog and social media, you can measure how email is doing in converting leads. How does it compare to the other conversion rates?

When measuring for success in inbound marketing, remember: That which can be measured can be improved!

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