Every good metric deserves a counterbalancing metric

An Acme Co. call center once compensated each sales agent based solely on the number of units that agent shipped.

“Sam” gradually emerged as the star agent. Sam closed a deal with nearly every caller the system routed his way. And so Sam reeled in a nice bonus check every quarter. Meanwhile, Acme’s quality assurance folks looked at the sales numbers and monitored the calls of their less effective agents in an effort to improve (or fire) the underperformers.

This is a pretty clear-cut win for Acme, right? They incented and retained their best performer.

Well, no. As you might guess from the title of this post, the truth is that the company was actually losing money on Sam’s outstanding performance.

Acme didn’t realize this until they started monitoring *Sam’s* calls to see what effective techniques they could pass along to other agents. It turned out Sam’s main technique was a very customer-friendly reliance on the company’s ‘satisfaction guaranteed – return the product if you’re not happy’ guarantee. Sam’s go-to sales closer was “Go ahead and try it with no risk – you can return it at no cost!” And as a result, Sam’s customers had a very, very high return rate.

You could blame the quality assurance operation for initially failing to check Sam’s work. But the root cause was an incentive system based only on one metric – units shipped. A better system would have balanced that metric with others: returns, customer satisfaction ratings, etc.

How’s this apply to content marketing?

You might measure the success of your content marketing effort based on the bottom line – new leads or new customers. Unfortunately, while that number may tell you whether “it’s working” or not, it won’t give you enough information to tweak your processes for improvement.

Similarly, you might measure success based on a standard web metric like page views or unique visits – many online media companies do this. But how many of those visits or visitors are converting into customers?

Focusing on a single metric tends to skew the behavior of the people who are tasked with hitting the goals.

Instead, for a healthy and sustainable content marketing initiative, choose an overall goal and then identify at least two or three metrics that are pertinent to achievement of that goal.

Look for metrics that balance each other.

For example, if one of your metrics is page views, balance that with an equal focus on bounce rate – which indicates how many of your visitors view only a single page and then leave the site. This creates an incentive to content marketing that grows a long-term audience with affinity for your site (and thus puts you at the top of their list when they are looking to purchase).

There’s much more discussion of goals and metrics in chapters 1 and 8 of our book Online Content Marketing in 30 Minutes.