Micro KPI’s Part 1: “It’s Just That Simple”

Everything is simpler than you think and at the same time more complex than you imagine.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I always find it interesting when speaking to businesses or webmasters that they rarely have stepped back and thought about what their site’s Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) need to be. Sure, they reactively state the usual suspects, like high conversion rate, low bounce rate, return visitors etc., based on the money they spend on marketing initiatives; but rarely do they have a proactive vision of what their KPI’s should be.

That being said, I understand and empathize with their dilemma. Looking at an entire site within an entire industry with competition to worry about, investors to appease, and internal teams with their own disparate goals that need to be managed is plenty difficult. Let alone figuring out what your overall KPI’s are to drive your businesses in both the short and long term. It looks simple, but it is hard.

However, proportionate to my empathy is my conviction that any and every site needs to have KPI’s firmly implanted into the fabric of its enterprise if it wants to be successful, adaptive, and quite frankly, existent.

Therefore, what I recommend—and what we will be discussing in this post as well as others in this series—is a little KPI counseling. Rather than looking at your whole site and determining its KPI’s on a macro scale, choose a campaign or segment of your site’s life cycle to define KPI’s. By coming up with micro KPI’s we can learn some core principles and put them into action with less risk than defining the whole.

The first principle to leverage when creating micro KPI’s for your site is remarkably basic. The number one rule is simplicity.

It is very hard to be simple enough to be good

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Before we begin, let’s start with a definition of KPI’s and let’s look no further than the great weed of the internet, Wikipedia: “A performance indicator or key performance indicator (KPI) is a type of performance measurement.KPIs evaluate the success of an organization or of a particular activity in which it engages.”

For our purposes, we are going to be focusing on the last bit of this definition (which is quite good) regarding the “particular activity” of your site. Specific activities or initiatives make perfect data for micro KPI discovery and definition. These activities encompass a range of activities, such as new meta data for a set of pages, seasonal paid initiatives, social media account launch, or a referral network.

I’ve heard of a saying that circulates during military basic training that goes something to the effect of “The important things are always simple, the simple things are always hard.” This rings very true regarding micro KPI’s. Nevertheless, for sensible and actionable micro KPI’s, keep it simple.

Every site is different, so what may be simple for your site may not be for your competition’s and vice versa. Additionally, internal factors specific for your organization may make the seemingly simple, let’s say measuring the traffic of pages with newly written title tags, far out of reach.

All that being said, what I tell my clients and students is that if you cannot define and explain your micro KPI in an elevator ride, then your KPI is not simple enough. Meaning, I take the elevator pitch metaphor literally: you actually need to be able to explain your micro KPI to your manager or team member in an elevator ride. Why? Because as I’ve seen time and time again, for the most part people are not interested in KPI’s of any size. It’s your job to define them and sell them. More than a few minutes of explaining your KPI, you’ve lost your audience.  Therefore you need to keep it simple and short.

If your micro KPI is simple and short, you’re 75% towards having a good KPI. The leftover 25% is tied to the given activity your micro KPI originates from. But we will discuss that aspect in a later post, so for now the focus is on “simple.” And for 9 out of 10 times, simple demands brevity.

There is nothing so simple that it cannot be made difficult

Merle P. Martin

Now let’s look at an actual example of a possible micro KPI along with some real do’s and don’ts.

Do: Average order value from referral visitors during holiday season.

Don’t: Compare referral visitor traffic to direct visitor traffic during the holiday season versus during non-holiday season by segmenting which visitors have highest average order value as well as highest traffic.

As you can see the “Do” is sellable, straight forward, scalable, and malleable. These are features of simplicity. The “Don’t” by contrast is so complex that it has none of these features; it’s too specific to have broad applications like the “Do” does. That’s not to say that the “Don’t” isn’t a valuable undertaking, it certainly is, but rather that it makes a poor micro KPI.

In the next post we will look at other examples of “Do’s” and Don’ts” as well as explore the second principal of creating a great micro KPI: valuable.

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