I'm not a measurement geek by any stretch of the imagination. As much as I love a good statistic, I'd put myself in the same category as most marketers … we realize that measurement is important, but we wish it were easier to grasp and involved less guesswork and questionable assumptions. There are many smart people talking about measurement, and we have several on our team working on a much more sophisticated model for things that have traditionally been difficult to measure such as word of mouth impact and social media engagement.

The real challenge is that measurement online has become an exercise in silliness for many marketing teams. They report on things that don't matter about behaviours that tell you little to nothing about what is actually happening online. Why? There are three core reasons your metrics might suck: because you're just measuring what you measured last year, you're focusing on just finding "one big number" to report or because you just don't know how to measure better.

Luckily, the solution for any of these reasons is increasing your knowledge about what you should measure, and what you should avoid. To help get you started, here is a list of five useless metrics that many marketers use:

  • Accidental Impressions – this may be the most favorite measure that marketers like – counting impressions for ads or sites no matter how long someone stays or if they click it or not. Counting impressions without any context is like the amazing color changing card trick – you're watching the wrong thing without realizing it.
  • Accidental Time Spent – time that a user spends on your site looking for what they want to click on, but unable to find it. This is not a sign of engagement (as commonly assumed) but rather a sign that your design or layout is not usable enough.
  • Accidental Email Open Rate – if you use Outlook, you know that many emails are automatically opened as soon as your cursor hits them. Most email marketers count this as an "open" even though you may have opened the email by accident. If a large number of people getting your email are on Outlook, for example, that high open rate may not actually be an indication that they found the content of your message appealing.
  • Accidental Clicks – who hasn't experienced that annoying banner that pops up at the least convenient time? Sometimes finding the button to close it is so difficult that you end up clicking on the ad accidentally. If you are running a campaign where you are counting these desperate clicks to make you disappear as clicks and conversions, you're getting a skewed view of effectiveness.
  • Accidental "Add to Cart" – a favorite tactic of many online sites is to have every uncertain click on a product automatically add it to a cart. Other sites make you add a product to your cart before seeing the price. If you are tracking your shopping carts and conversion, make sure you're not skewing the numbers with people adding a product they were never thinking about buying.

So what should you be measuring? Unfortunately, there is no single answer as it depends on your goals, but to get smarter about metrics online, one site you should definitely check out is the blog Occam's Razor from Avinash Kaushik. He also has an equally brilliant book called Web Analytics: An Hour A Day that I highly recommend you pick up.

I've been working my way through it since meeting him at a presentation and hearing him speak. His acronym H.I.T.S (How Idiots Track Success) remains one of the more inspired acronyms and one-liners I've heard in a presentation …