No matter how good your content, how brilliant your SEO, or how insightful your thought leadership, marketing is only great if it performs well against key marketing metrics. So much has been made of different marketing KPIs — and which ones you should pay the most attention to — that it can be a little dizzying.

But it’s much easier to break down your approach to marketing metrics if you have a north star to define your purpose. Efforts that successfully move the needle will ultimately point back to doing one essential thing well: putting the customer first.

3 Customer-First Marketing Metrics to Keep in Mind

If you need a guide to updating your marketing KPIs for the customer-first era, look no further. We’ve broken down the major marketing metrics and included outlines for beginner, intermediate, and advance tactics that will guide your marketing towards customer value.

1. Traffic

Traffic is a natural starting place for most digital marketers. However, all the traffic in the world doesn’t matter if customers are not finding true value in the content. With a little digging, traffic can be a solid indicator of whether your content is providing utility to customers. Let’s take a look at how to turn your traffic strategy into an effective measurement of how well you are delivering value to your customers.

One of the top marketing metrics for customer first marketers is traffic. Simply put, more clicking and navigating to your content signals their interest.

It can take a little navigation.

Beginner: Measure overall traffic and separate traffic into organic, paid, and direct. This is step one of traffic measurement and inches you a bit closer to a more customer-first model, although there’s more to be done.

Intermediate: Prioritize organic traffic. Organic traffic is a good customer-first marketing metric because it’s a better representation of whether you provided a genuinely helpful answer to your customer’s question. Organic traffic is more difficult to earn, and for good reason: it requires you to create higher-quality content and often needs to be validated in some way by the broader online community.

Paid search remains a key component to any marketing plan, but in a customer-first world, the majority of your traffic should be organic. While there is certainly value to paid advertising, organic results have a much higher CTR. For some customers, paid ads can be seen as the “pushy salesman,” while organic results tend to be seen as more trustworthy sources.

Paying attention to organic traffic as a marketing metric is customer-first thinking.

Unless you’re this guy, nobody likes a hard sell.

Advanced: Segment your referral traffic. Consider forums and other online communities where your customers choose to spend their time and prioritize the referral traffic from those places.

Communities like Reddit are popular because their users trust that they can go there and find great content across a broad range of their interests that has been vetted by like-minded peers. If you are receiving a good amount of traffic from sources like these, you have likely created content that is valuable to your customers. As marketing KPIs go, the vote of confidence conferred by trusted referral traffic is way up there.

2. Visibility

At Conductor, one of our taglines is, “Is it great content if it’s not getting found?” The answer is no, it probably isn’t. Search engines are the best arbiter of whether content is high-quality, provides useful answers, and matches searchers’ intent. Tracking your ranking is a basic concept, but if search engines have determined that your content is the best answer to a search, then they’re right more often than they are wrong.

Measuring how visible you are in search engines will help you determine how useful searchers find your content.

Invisible content is no help to anybody.

A customer-first marketer uses organic visibility as a way of determining that they’re providing the most valuable answers to their customer’s questions. So how do you optimize for it?

Beginner: Track organic keyword ranks on search engines. When your customer is searching, you need to know if you’re in the running to get them answers, and the simplest way of doing this is tracking your rank on search engines like Google for searches related to your business. The higher your rank, the better.

Intermediate: Track organic ranks across different locations and device types. Understatement: mobile is huge. Google prioritizes sites with a good mobile experience because searches on a mobile device will soon outpace desktop searches. Your visibility can vary across different locations and device types, and mobile performance is a key marketing metric in 2018.

Mobile results are often tied to a location, but if you don’t have physical outlets, you still need to track how you rank on mobile devices. What we recommend is that you pick a few major markets (like NYC, LA, in the US for example) and track how well you perform on smartphones and tablets in those locations. This can serve as a baseline indicator for the quality of your content on the devices your customers are using.

Advanced: Measure and optimize based on your visibility for different types of content. When your customers are searching, the best solution for them is not always in the form of traditional written content. When somebody searches “how to cook the perfect steak,” they may be more interested in watching a quick video than reading an article. Google knows this and displays different types of results based on user intent.

Adapt to your customer’s needs by creating the best type of content for them. Measuring the types of results that Google displays and whether or not you are serving that kind of result is critical to being customer-first.

Expert: Measure your visibility across personas and every stage of the customer life cycle. A content gap analysis may be helpful here. It’s not enough to just be visible when your customers are ready to buy — being customer-first means anticipating all of the needs of your customer surrounding their journey with your solution.

3. Engagement

Everybody likes a little attention. Engagement is a top marketing metric for the attention economy, since it denotes intentional interaction with your brand — something that’s at a high premium these days. So what should an enterprising customer-first marketer look for when it comes to engagement?

Beginner: Start with your bounce rate. Be mindful that a high bounce rate is not always a bad thing; a bounce can occur because you provided an immediate good answer which may have been exactly what the user wanted. For example, if a person searching Google for “Best Buy return policy” lands on Best Buy’s return policy page, spends less than a minute there, then leaves, that would be a bounce but still a good customer experience.

Bounce rate is an important marketing metric to measure when practicing customer first marketing.

It’s not all bad.

Another interesting marketing metric is average time on page. If you write a long-form piece of content and the average user spends thirty seconds with it, there is a problem. Average time on page is your indicator that your content is providing enough value to keep your audience engaged, and a good rule of thumb is 1 minute per 200 words. Your earlier-stage content will be longer, and the length should generally decrease as you progress through the customer lifecycle.

Intermediate: Take a look at repeat visitors and buyers as a key marketing KPI to determine if you are continuously providing real value to your audience. An average buyer looks at 11.4 pieces of content before making a purchasing decision. Those pieces of content won’t all be from your site, but your ability to provide value throughout the buyer’s journey increases your chances of being the trusted advisor the customer can rely on and trust to make a recommendation.

The more trust you can gain with your customer, the better conversations you'll have when you need to sell.

Just consider each piece of content you write as a digital trust fall.

Microconversions, another important marketing metric, are the smaller milestones achieved on the way to a macroconversion (usually a purchase or lead form). Microconversions are excellent for assessing whether or not you have provided real value to a customer.

There are many kinds of microconversions. From a customer-first perspective, we want to focus on the ones that are the best indicators of whether or not the customer is getting value from the content. Ask yourself: if I was the reader, what would be a good next step for me after reading this piece of content? After answering the question, try and provide the assets they would need to take that action.

Advanced: Monitor and measure comments as a way to identify how your customers are gaining value from your content. Sharing the content on social is great, but it is a relatively easy thing to do; in fact, research suggests that a large portion of content shared through social is barely read at all, even by those who shared it.

What’s the secret to building engagement?

To inspire comments, you must build a loyal audience or change the behavior of an existing audience. There are many ways to increase the volume and frequency of discussions on your content. For the purpose of getting started, here are three things that have worked for us:

  • Make it easy. Every extra keystroke adds friction. We implemented Disqus, a plugin to our CMS which makes logging in to leave a comment much easier for readers.
  • See what works already. Analyze the content on your site with the largest comment volume. What can you learn? On our blog, we found that content related to big industry trends and updates received a lot of comments. This makes sense: marketers (our target audience) often have questions on the latest trends, or SEO updates, and naturally they care about our point of view.
  • Ask for opinions. A general call-to-action is better than nothing, but specificity is preferable. We wrote an article about how B2B digital marketers broke down internal silos and asked — two different times in the copy — “if you have expertise in B2B digital marketing, please weigh in by commenting below.”

Measuring your marketing metrics in 2018 requires some finesse and a close eye for detail, but with a little elbow grease, you can build out a list of KPIs that will truly move the needle for your business.

Looking to get into the customer-first marketing game? Check out our resource, Your Guide to Customer-First Marketing.