Is Traffic a Vanity Metric? 3 Practices to Measure the ROI of Traffic

Author's avatar Analytics Sep 27, 2023 15 minutes read

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    Peter Caputa

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    You’ve heard traffic is a vanity metric. That quality is more important than quantity. That (sometimes) less is more…

    These messages are logical. Since high-quality data has a positive impact on 90% of businesses, most marketers think about making insight-driven decisions as the most important aspect of marketing. And in fact, there are B2B content marketers who succeed at demonstrating content ROI thanks to it.

    But as it turns out, tracking revenue from your traffic is still a lot more complicated than that. As Laura Caveney, Marketing Manager at Ruler Analytics, points out, the “messy middle” of the customer journey as the main obstacle for marketers to prove the ROI of their work. She says:

    “A customer journey isn’t simple or straightforward. Users bounce around different channels and different content. They research in their own time, and they could engage with you 50 times via 50 different pieces of content. How do you even begin to measure that? Especially when web analytics tools like Google Analytics can’t track any detail on individual visitors.”

    Her insight is especially true in B2B, where sales cycles can take months, and it’s impossible to track where your traffic is going. And, of course, if the only measurable result you’re bringing as a marketer is traffic, how can you truly prove the value of your marketing strategy?

    The answer lies in three practices: traffic quality, benchmarking, and attribution models.  

    Google-Analytics-Traffic-Growth-Dashboard-Template

    Traffic Quality: Is it Actionable?

    Traffic shouldn’t be your only marketing metric. As CMI’s report exposes, the metrics that brought the most insights for content performance included website engagement (69%), conversions (67%), and traffic (65%). 

    CMI report

    Measuring traffic is great but only if there’s enough context to indicate an impact on your business. However, how do you prove that the traffic you’re bringing is high-quality?

    Although traffic quality is better than a raw traffic number, it can also lead to the wrong behaviors. For example, you might attract SEO traffic from a keyword with a relevant search intent, but if your copy over-promised how your product solves the problem, you’d have great conversion rates (and thus “high-quality” traffic) for leads that won’t close—wasting your sales team’s time.

    In A/B testing, it’s a fundamental practice to test only one element at a time, as testing too many things will only give you more questions than answers. 

    In the same way, traffic quality isn’t too actionable if you can’t figure out if you’re getting lower conversions due to your content format, target audience, or website design (even more complex if you’re distributing your content on multiple channels).

    Related: How Do I Increase Traffic to My B2B SaaS Site?

    How to Read Traffic Quality

    Traffic quality is subjective, but it doesn’t mean it’s useless. 

    Not all marketing activities are designed to create a pipeline. For instance, top-funnel content tends to bring more traffic than sign-ups compared to bottom-funnel channels, but it doesn’t mean it’s not accomplishing its purpose or that it isn’t worth creating.

    Understanding the goal of each channel is key to attributing ROI, as it helps you map your marketing throughout the customer journey and realize the real value of your traffic. Or, as Laura Caveney explains:

    “It’s best to look at traffic quality in two buckets: awareness and action. Awareness is simple: driving visitors, growing product, or brand awareness. While action content is what you put out there to drive leads and sales. It can also be content that gets users to click through the funnel, such as a case study or a whitepaper.”

    So, before trying to attribute ROI, you should first be aware of your goals in the first place. And only then measuring traffic quality can be a great way to make sure your channels are fulfilling their purpose.

    Additionally, tracking traffic quality is effortless. You can quickly integrate this free GA4 website traffic dashboard to check on-page metrics per channel and evaluate their performance.

    GA4 website traffic dashboard

    Benchmarking: Is it Worth it?

    When it comes to proving the worth of your marketing efforts, benchmarking can be useful for demonstrating how your performance metrics are faring against competitors. Without mentioning the strategic advantage you get when spotting opportunities for improvement.

    But I kid you not. Benchmarking alone isn’t too helpful if there isn’t enough context. For example, my simple freelancing website has a higher average time on page than 95% of 7-figure B2B companies (and I’m not doing that well).

    Avg Time on Page

    The problem with benchmarking is that it implies that you and your competitors are the same. Even in a similar industry, your marketing strategies are going to be completely different—and so are your metrics.

    Knowing this, you need to be careful and make sure you’re segmenting your data properly. As there are so many variables that—even if you have incredibly low bounce rates and long session durations—it might still be a vanity metric if it doesn’t represent any revenue.

    Benchmark Groups Might Help

    The worst obstacle to starting benchmarking is the work and money it takes to conduct it by yourself.

    However, software solutions like Databox’s Benchmark Groups can change the game. If you’re a content marketer, for example, the only method you had to gather data from your competitors was keyword rankings and “estimated” organic traffic through Ahrefs or similar tools. 

    Now, you get the chance to check their traffic, conversions, and even GSC data like CTR and bounce rates (anonymously, of course). You can finally make a SWOT analysis for your content strategy that isn’t 100% focused on SEO.

    Not only that, Benchmark Groups allows you to compare your traffic quality metrics with companies on specific segments based on revenue, number of employees, and industry. This way, you can accurately compare your metrics with companies who are at the same stage and find out if:

    • Your marketing channels are meeting their purpose.
    • Your performance is competitive within your niche.
    • There’s an isolated problem that’s causing a bottleneck. For example – Your pages per session are abnormally low because your pages lack internal links.

    The last point can be a potential lifesaver, even in the eyes of marketers like Tom Bangay—head of content at Juro and who’s skeptical of benchmarking—he says, “I don’t really care how many pages per session a visitor at Juro clocks, as long as they convert to something on one of them.” 

    Despite his thoughts, he does think “in the absolute sea of metrics you can track across platforms these days, those kinds of benchmarks are really useful for isolating what might be going wrong.”

    Attribution Models: Where Quality and Quantity Don’t Matter

    Marketing attribution models are systems that can track and collect customer data from their very first interaction until the deal is closed. In short, it integrates data from marketing channels such as Google Ads or LinkedIn with the CRM—allowing you to attribute closed revenue to your marketing channels.

    With attribution, you no longer need to care about the quality or the quantity of your traffic because all that matters is the sales revenue your channels are bringing. As Laura Caveney illustrates:

    “You can identify hot-ticket items in your content arsenal, such as a low-traffic blog that has a killer conversion rate. Or a high-traffic, top-funnel blog, which gives you the opportunity to write (and link in) some low-funnel content to drive prospects through.” 

    In her words, “You don’t need to prove ROI on every piece. But you do need to understand the ROI for your content channel as a whole and get oversight of what’s working well so you can replicate and evolve your strategy. ”

    However, implementing the right attribution model is challenging if you don’t have the digital expertise to implement site-wide tracking and UTM structures that don’t break, don’t leak, and deliver robust reporting with the right level of detail.

    Which leaves us with the question:

    Single-Touch or Multi-touch Attribution?

    Single-touch models are the simplest way to attribute ROI to your traffic. But as always, we can’t simply ignore the nuances this can bring to the table.

    You see, by reducing the entire buyer journey to a single touchpoint, these attribution models give rise to channel bias (also known as model bias). Which means favoring one channel over others.

    With first-click attribution—for example—let’s say someone converts after visiting four pages, should you attribute the lead to the first blog? The pages between the landing page and the conversion page are not worthless.

    And as soon as you venture beyond first-click, it can get pretty complicated as you’d have to decide the revenue impact of each of those pages.

    Does this mean single-touch attribution models are useless?

    Not really. The right attribution model will vary from business to business. In fact, an attribution model that works for you today might stop working once your company reaches another stage. 

    “Most often, companies take an off-the-shelf analytics product and use the default attribution model it provides,” writes Letyshops’s CMO, Zakhar Stashevsky, in an article published on GoPractice.”As a result, they don’t understand how well this model suits the specifics of their product, channels, and business objectives.”

    Further in the piece, Stashevsky explains that your attribution model should evolve and adjust according to your marketing mix, product development stage, business objective, and external influences. 

    So if you’re going to invest in attribution models, keep in mind how it fits the current state of your company and how it can expand in the future.

    Marketing Attribution is Indispensable

    News and trends such as the “dark funnel” or “the death of third-party data” might make you wonder if implementing (and updating) an attribution model is worth it.

    But, Tom Bangay’s experience proves its worth. His team was able to implement an attribution system at Juro—so for him, attribution is “a superpower for early-stage businesses,” and his reasoning is clear:

    “The opportunity cost of pursuing something that doesn’t work is enormous. If you invest six months building some massive beachhead of content in a particular niche, and the company grows commensurately and then stops, what do you do if you can’t link the two? You need to be sure about it so that you can throw as many resources as possible at scaling it.”

    This makes sense since marketers are still struggling to track basic conversions and—basically—working blindfolded. For those marketers, attribution can either be a blessing if they succeed or a hard pill to swallow if they fail (but they can claim they’re “data-driven” on LinkedIn, right?)

    Despite its complexities, attribution is like swimming with goggles—once you see your traffic through the attribution lens, you can’t imagine a life without it.

    When Should You Focus on Quantity Instead of Quality?

    Since B2B buyers need to engage around 36 times with your brand before making a purchase, it makes sense to aim for more traffic.

    The logic is that more traffic leads to more exposure—and thus more likeliness to net sales.

    But how smart is this move?

    The “right answer” we know deep down is that quality will always rule over quantity. But this thought is still a bias, and you might completely miss the whole picture. For example, Tom Bangay shared two instances where focusing on quantity can be a good idea:

    “First, if your commercial model depends on traffic (i.e., you sell advertising), then new organic traffic is pretty much always good, depending on the jurisdiction it’s coming from.

    Second, if what’s coming out of the bottom of the funnel is so good that—even if you don’t have a full picture of why it’s working—it’s clearly working, then there’s nothing wrong with keeping your shoulder to the wheel to maximize the benefit of the momentum you’ve built. It’s worth working out what’s happening at the earliest opportunity, but when the going is good, the good gets going!”

    In the end, the whole “quantity vs. quality” dilemma is a false dichotomy that’s distracting you from the important goals, which is meeting the purpose of your marketing assets, helping your audience, and bringing ROI to the bank.

    Traffic Doesn’t Have to Be a Vanity Metric

    With the right tools, you can successfully link revenue to your traffic and demonstrate the value of your campaigns (without wandering between quality and quantity).

    So, instead of diving into a sea of metrics that leaves you with more questions than answers, you can start using the practices you learned here to focus on what matters: the bottom line.

    Measuring on-page metrics is a great start. Benchmarking can give you a strategic advantage. And finally, attribution models will bring the full picture.

    Now, are you ready to face the reality of your marketing strategy? Or do you prefer to work blindfolded?

    Google-Analytics-Traffic-Growth-Dashboard-Template

    Improve Your Website’s Traffic With Databox

    Databox makes the process of trying out new marketing strategies easier by collecting data from your favorite analytics tools in one place. Set up a databoard with the traffic-related metrics you want to keep an eye on to save time clicking around multiple tools. You can use the visualization formats you want, like bar graphs or pie charts, and drag them around your dashboard to the perfect spot.

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    Article by
    Kevin Daniel

    Kevin is a writer who works with tech companies to scale their content. He's eternally studying psychology, storytelling, and dictator speeches to heal people's internal narratives through content marketing and branding.

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