Oddly enough, new clients rarely have the answer to what is perhaps our most important question: How will you measure the success of this project? And the ones who do have an answer tend toward having the wrong answer.

I know what you’re thinking. The customer is always right. Right? Well, sure, if you don’t care how long they remain your customer. Telling people what they want to hear (as opposed to, say, what they need to hear) is a valuable skill for a toady. And it’s a perfect way to undermine any long-term partnership.

So when I ask a potential client how they will measure project success and their answer either wavers or – worse – wobbles toward ROI, I know the project isn’t actually ready to begin.

Imagine a baseball game with no points for sliding into home. Imagine a football field with no end zone. Without yard lines, how do you know if you’re making progress at all?

Why bother building a new website, or putting out a press release, or purchasing advertising, if there’s no way to quantify whether it was money well spent? If you don’t know whether the money was well-spent, how will you know whether to spend it again? Measurement, um, counts.

And no, ROI is NOT a crucial component of measurement. Honestly, it isn’t even a useful component of measurement.

I get it. You spent umptifratz dollars (that’s a technical term) on a marketing campaign, that campaign had better generate a significant increase in sales. There has to be a return on the investment. I’m not suggesting that ROI is irrelevant. I AM saying that ROI is a poor way to measure success on a per-project basis.

Let’s talk about your website. Even the smallest website, if it has any useful functionality, can cost you. Let’s say that yours cost $10,000. Ok, tell me how you determine the site’s ROI. I’ll save you the trouble. You can’t. Best you can do is compare sales before the site launched with sales after the site launched. Trouble is, most websites have nothing to do with direct sales.

If your website isn’t a digital storefront, how do you quantify its ROI? (Even if it is a shopping site, do you attribute other things, such as advertising and referral traffic, or just look at bottom-line sales?) HOW you measure success is just as important as THAT you measure success. What you measure is, frankly, even more important.

Back to the example of your new website, as this gets to the root question of WHY have a website at all. Remember, a website isn’t about increasing sales. Sure, it will play an important role in increasing sales, but that isn’t the primary function of most websites. Most websites exist to generate and reinforce interest, which can increase your prospects and, ultimately, increase sales. But a measurable uptick in sales comes way down the line. By the time you can measure – and attribute – that uptick (or lack of one) to the website, it’s too late to do anything about it.

So perhaps a more useful measure of success is site traffic? Maybe. But site traffic is derived from other things, such as search engine and social referrals. So do you measure the success (your Return on Effort) based on your website’s slick new design, or on your SEO, your paid ads, or your clever social media tie-ins?

Perhaps an even better measure is traffic flow through your site. Does your home page send visitors to the content you want them to see? Do visitors exit the site where appropriate (after filling out a form, clicking on an ad, or hitting the “about us” page and scooting away)? Now we’re getting somewhere.


However you decide to measure success, it takes at least these three steps. You’ve got to:
– Create a benchmark
– Monitor against the benchmark
– Prepare to make changes/enhancements based on results

I’ve been using websites as example here, but the same logic should be applied to other forms of marketing as well. How many pick-ups do you usually get for a news release?  How many inches does one regularly generate?  How many clicks through to your website do you usually get for a print ad (you ARE using specifically tagged URL’s in your print ads, right?  RIGHT?)

Measuring success – and choosing which measurements to count – must be part of any marketing plan – online or otherwise. And it needs to be a regular part of your marketing program, not merely some annual report. Remember – the whole point of measuring is determining what works and, more importantly, what needs to work better. This information is of absolutely no use to you six months or a year down the line.

Jeff Peyton

Author Jeff Peyton

Jeff Peyton is Director of Marketing & Communications for Triple Strength. A 30-year veteran of publishing and corporate communications, Jeff gained national prominence directing one of the largest grassroots communications efforts ever fielded. He was the architect of the nation’s first major nonprofit website, attracting millions of visitors per month in the early 1990s – years before social media, twitter, or even broadband access. Jeff spent nearly 10 years working with nonprofits, developing their communications and Web strategies. But don’t be fooled by his professional accomplishments – he also wing-walked on an airplane at 700 feet, co-piloted the Goodyear Blimp, swam with sharks, and still managed to obtain paperwork officially declaring him “legally sane.” (No, really.)

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