track online marketing

Why You Can’t Precisely Track Online Marketing, and Why That’s OK

Today we have a the ability to track online marketing more precisely than ever before, but a lot of marketers seem to take it for granted. Whether we’re talking about the younger generation of marketers who grew up in a digital world and don’t know anything different, or the older ones like myself, who were around when few businesses had a website and even fewer did any kind of online marketing, everyone 

We can track and analyze our web traffic with greater detail than ever before, we can monitor email open and click through rates, and we can even deploy bots to notify us anytime our company is mentioned online. We can even track a visitor’s every action while on our website.

Online marketing is unlike any other form of marketing. If you run a coupon in a local flyer, you’ll know with 100% certainty who purchased as a result of that coupon. If you run a radio or television commercial with a special phone number, you’ll know with 100% certainty who purchased as a result of that commercial. But your online marketing efforts can never be tracked with such certainty.

For example, you can’t say with certainty that a customer was the direct result of a particular blog or social media post. You can’t even say that they were the direct result of a channel, like SEO or email, because you don’t know what took place prior to that actionAnd that’s OK.

Online marketing can consist of several components, many of which overlap, including:

  • web design
  • search engine optimization
  • blogging
  • link building
  • content marketing
  • guest posting
  • email marketing
  • podcasting
  • video marketing
  • social media
  • pay-per-click
  • display/banner ads
  • affiliate marketing

and each channel directly influences the others. This is where many marketers go wrong by only counting the last click.

While reviewing your analytics, you might find that 63% of your ecommerce sales come from organic search. It seems pretty cut and dried, right? 63% of your customers typed a term into a search engine, click on your website, and bought something you sell.

Except it’s never that simple.

Sure, a customer may have arrived at your website from organic search, but what lead up to that point?

To start, what does it take for your website to rank well? Search engines must understand what your web page is about—that’s search engine optimization, and you need plenty of quality content—that’s blogging. You also need other websites to link to yours because it’s a sign of authority and trust—that’s link building.

It’s all intertwined; in order to earn links to your website, you need quality content and a professional looking website. And until you build a large audience, you’ll probably have to email people to tell them about your content and ask them to link to it, or guest post on other, established websites.

That’s 6 different components so far!

An inexperienced marketer may have credited that sale to organic search based on the last click attribution, but in reality, multiple channels played a role, and that’s not even counting any previous interactions that customer may have had with your brand. Perhaps your email or post on social media prompted their search in the first place. And maybe that happened because after hearing your podcast, they subscribed to your email list or followed you on social media.

I experienced some frustration on this subject a few weeks ago.

A client who was genuinely confused he told me “I know you’re publishing all this awesome content on our website, our organic traffic is increasing, and people in our industry are talking about and linking to us, but I can’t track our customers to any of these blog posts.”


eye roll

It doesn’t work that way. Unfortunately, measuring online marketing performance is never that straight forward, and it never will be.

This means that you can’t precisely track online marketing results for any individual component, such as blogging, guest posting, or social media, but you can track online marketing results as a whole as long as you’re measuring KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) that matter.

Some poor KPIs are:

  • ranking as a stand alone factor
  • fan/follower count
  • link quantity
  • vanity scores (PageRank, MOZ Rank, Klout score, etc.)

Some good KPIs, depending on your business model and goals, might be:

  • organic or referral traffic
  • orders
  • social media engagement
  • email open/click-through rates

Online marketing today is about building relationships through EAT—Expertise, Authority, and Trust.

It’s not enough to simply tell potential customers why they should choose you. You have to show them, and the only way to do that is by publishing amazing content that matters to them, getting people they trust to talk about you, and authentically engaging with them on social media.

Like any relationship, you can’t precisely track exactly which actions were responsible for a particular outcome. Think about your relationship with your spouse or significant other; was it your phone conversations, your personality, or your beliefs that caused them to fall in love with you? It’s a combination of all of those things, right? Online marketing is no different.

And that’s OK because as long as you achieve a positive ROI with your online marketing as a whole, you’re winning.