Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is one of PMPro’s larger strategic focuses. We have hundreds of posts which generate a ton of SEO traffic, but we’re always looking to reach more potential customers. That means we have to increase the organic traffic we get from Google and other search engines.
Our newest tactic to improve SEO is using Cornerstone content. This will better organize our mountain of content, for both website visitors and search engine indexing.
But how do we even know if it’s working?
Unfortunately, SEO is a notoriously slow marketing channel. If you’re making progress, you won’t see it for months. But you don’t have to operate in the dark.
This is where Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) come in. KPIs measure a critical aspect of your business, to give you a better idea of how things are going. This could be sales calls per day, closed support tickets per week, or (in our case) organic traffic from Google each month.
When I got the opportunity to create my own marketing team, I wanted to build a system of clear understanding. It would need to give me insight as the manager. But it would also need to give my team information on progress towards their primary goals.
I started with a pretty bare bones KPI sheet in January and kept tweaking every few weeks. Half way through the year this is where my KPI sheet ended up.
Today, I'll explain:
- How I built this sheet
- What insights these KPIs give me
- Why you should track both output & results focused KPIs
- How you can use my template to build your own sheet
What Are KPIs?
Key Performance Indicators are metrics that indicate how close you are to achieving your business goals.
Some KPIs monitor a continuous bar of performance – something that should be achieved every day, week, or month.
For example, a sales person’s KPI's might be the number of phone calls made, number of deals signed, or number of meetings booked.
Some KPIs are better for monitoring progress towards long-term goals. For WordCamp Denver, WooConf, and WooSesh our KPIs included the number of speakers and sponsors booked. Tracking those KPIs helps the team know if we're achieving our goals or need to ask for help, put in more effort, or change tactics.
How to Use KPIs
At their most practical, KPIs let you track your team's output. You can put these KPIs into a chart, graph, or a sparkline (the Google sheets function I used).
It's a visual indication of how far an employee has to go to achieve their goals. If we're half way through the year and my content manager has only published 20 posts instead of 25, then I can tell at a glance and work with them to close that gap.
I'm a big fan of regularly recording data. It’s great to have automatically collected data, but some data is lost or only stored for 90 days. So make sure you're saving all of the data you need. Now, just because you record data, it doesn’t mean you have to process it immediately.
But you should.
Because it’s better to notice irregularities early.
But you shouldn't worry about every dip in the numbers. Maybe you wait four weeks for a weekly KPI number. Or maybe you wait three or four months for a monthly KPI number.
Decide what's important for your organization. Find the balance between being aware of issues and living in a perpetual “OMG potential problem” anxiety.
KPIs can have a psychological effect on you and your team. But it doesn’t have to be stressful. KPI tracking can bring a team together and give you all a common purpose. Brainstorming on potential sales issues with my team helps us come together and gives us an opportunity to focus on the biggest issues.
Create Effective KPIs
KPIs can be an incredible tool for your business.
But to get value out of KPIs you have to pick good ones—no the best ones.
I’m a big fan of economic podcasts. They often focus on incentives and I’ve learned if you give your team the wrong incentives you'll unintentionally send them in the wrong direction. You don't want that.
Focus on two types of KPIs. Result KPIs and output KPIs.
Track Result KPIs
It’s important to keep tracking focused on the ultimate business goal. I want the marketing team to understand we aren't just creating pretty picture to look nice. We're creating pretty pictures to impress our customers and give them the confidence to spend money with us. So I chose to track the new sales for our on our results focused KPIs.
You should choose KPIs that will help your team stay focused on the right goals for your business over time.
As I mentioned at the top, our primary strategy is SEO. And it seems to be working. I noticed that just last month we hit an inflection point. Our organic SEO traffic is higher than it was seasonally (year over year) and it was the highest this entire year. So things seem to be moving in the right direction. After seeing these numbers I want to double down on our strategy.
Track Output KPIs
Of course most actions, especially from marketing teams, don't directly affect the ultimate business goal (sales). There are macro factors to consider like the economy, seasonality, supply chain challenges, and industry events. So you should also choose a KPI that indicates how well your team is doing regardless of those macro factors. I call these output KPIs.
Let’s say you track the number of calls a sales rep makes each week. You can see they average 45 per week. But one week they only make 40, and the next it’s only 35. Because their output is related to their energy levels and mental capacity, external stress could be the culprit. Maybe there's crazy weather in your area, or a presidential election is taking all the bandwidth, or a war in eastern Europe just started.
Likewise, sometimes your result focused KPIs can be outrageously high without any output. If you ran an online business in 2020-2022 you know how sales & traffic skyrocketed because of the Covid bump. Your team should still focus on output even when business is great.
Managers have to combine and evaluate both output KPIs and result KPIs alongside peer performance to determine if their team is doing the work.
Use Your KPI Data to Tell Stories
When you've collected enough data, and you've manipulated it, you start to see trends. I like to take the data and plot out major events, like the Covid bump, or like hiring a key employee, and see how that helps tell the story of what we're doing in marketing.
So is what we're doing in marketing working? Possibly, it's still too early to tell. But I joined while traffic was declining from the Covid bump. And we finally broke through our organic traffic the month I joined. We'll need a few more months of data to know for sure. But it looks good. And I'm ready to invest more time & effort into driving organic traffic to our site.
Creating a KPI Spreadsheet with Google Docs
Start with my sheet as a template.
On the left add all of your outputs. Break this down by employee and task. So each employee will generally have 3 metrics they need to update every cycle.
Start today! Don’t miss out on the data. Add your KPIs manually at first. I ask my employees to update their own numbers before our bi-weekly meeting.
Each week spend 30 minutes improving your sheet so one more KPI is automatically added to the sheet. Start with the numbers you know you want to see every cycle. For PMPro is was pretty easy to track our blog content by reading our RSS feed.
Our KPI spreadsheet had multiple iterations. So wait until you’re confident you’ve chosen the best KPIs for your team before you build and automate each KPI into your sheet.
On the right add the company's results. Try to connect your team's direct results to the business’s overall results. Do this yourself as the manager. Usually you'll have more access to these numbers, and you will be thinking about them more frequently when you’re adding them to the sheet yourself.
There's also the benefit of cognitive disfluency. By manually manipulating data you start to understand it and once you understand it you can use it for your advantage. Feel free to automate some of the output KPIs. But for your main business goals there is some advantage to copying the data by hand.
Final Thoughts for KPIs for a Marketing Team
KPIs are a fantastic way to focus your team on the bigger picture. Yes we want organic traffic. But we also want high quality organic traffic. We want to make sure that our output is tied to the companies results (at least loosely).
KPIs also serve as public accountability for the team. Everyone can see everyone else's output. That means I as a manager don't have to tell someone they're behind. They can see it on the spreadsheet themselves. And in many cases they'll self-correct by putting in more effort or by asking for help/guidance.
KPIs help you spot trends early. If something is wrong I want to know about it. If organic traffic falls off a cliff I know sales will slow down as well. Maybe not this month but next month for sure. You don't want to obsess or worry about the numbers but you do want to keep your finger on the pulse of a few key metrics.
This KPI sheet has helped me and my team stay laser focused on our core objective (sales & organic traffic). If you are running a marketing team you should track the KPIs that are most important for your business. You'll want results focused KPIs for the business and output KPIs for each team member.
Once you're tracking the right KPIs you can take a step back from managing the team. They know what they need to do to hit their goals and you as a manager can see how their output affects your strategy and business.
Finally, if you made it all the way down here and you're thinking, “Patrick what about leads!? How are you not tracking leads!?” Don't worry, that's coming. The first 6 months after hiring a content manager has been about developing an SEO strategy and getting visitors to the site. Up next is how to turn visitors into leads. And yes, we'll certainly develop some KPIs around leads.