Recently I started read­ing a new book on social media, and I quickly became con­cerned with one part of the book that pro­vided a laun­dry list of social media “met­rics”. Social media is cer­tainly a hot topic, and many com­pa­nies are inter­ested in how to best mea­sure this new mar­ket­ing chan­nel. Unfor­tu­nately, too many of the “met­rics” in this list were not even met­rics but instead reports (e.g., Buzz (?) by social chan­nel, Sen­ti­ment by vol­ume of posts, Method of con­tent deliv­ery, etc.). I’ve seen this prob­lem not just in this book but across our indus­try — blog posts, arti­cles, whitepa­pers, pre­sen­ta­tions, mar­ket­ing mate­ri­als — and yes, even at my own company.

It’s con­cern­ing that as we open up a flood gate of new met­rics — both mean­ing­ful and use­less — many peo­ple still don’t have a firm under­stand­ing of the dif­fer­ences between met­rics, KPIs, dimen­sions, and reports in the exist­ing web ana­lyt­ics world.

Too often these data terms are being care­lessly inter­changed or mis­used. You may be think­ing: “It’s harm­less if my mar­ket­ing direc­tor wants to refer to all our met­rics as KPIs. At least he’s excited about the data. It’s okay if our agency inad­ver­tently refers to reports as met­rics. No big deal. Brent, you’re putting the ‘anal’ in analytics.”

In 2000, I was under­stand­ing (and I was in the process of fig­ur­ing it out for myself!).

In 2005, I became concerned.

In 2010, I’m just plain upset.

How can we truly take a data-driven mind­set to the next level within our var­i­ous orga­ni­za­tions and the field of web ana­lyt­ics when we don’t use data ter­mi­nol­ogy prop­erly? Sloppy logic waters down the impact that ana­lyt­ics data can have on our orga­ni­za­tions. It cre­ates a weak foun­da­tion for build­ing the data-driven evo­lu­tion we’re try­ing to fos­ter. We can’t have indus­try experts, ana­lysts, con­sul­tants, busi­ness man­agers, and exec­u­tives per­pet­u­at­ing this prob­lem as we enter emerg­ing ana­lyt­ics fron­tiers such as social media, mobile, and apps.

Enough is enough — it’s time to tighten the screws. Are you with me?

Def­i­n­i­tions

 

What is a met­ric? The dic­tio­nary defines it as “a stan­dard for mea­sur­ing or eval­u­at­ing some­thing; basis for assess­ment.” Avinash Kaushik states “a met­ric is a num­ber.” To be more spe­cific, met­rics are expressed in numer­i­cal val­ues. 4,563 is not a met­ric, but the value of a met­ric (e.g., 4,563 could be the num­ber of leads in a month). The Web Ana­lyt­ics Asso­ci­a­tion (WAA) fur­ther clar­i­fies that there are two types of met­rics: counts (e.g., 125,909 vis­its) and ratios (e.g., 2.1% con­ver­sion rate).

What is a dimen­sion? WAA defines it as “a com­po­nent or cat­e­gory of data. Met­rics (counts and ratios) are mea­sured across dimen­sions.” Dimen­sions can be a vari­ety of attrib­utes such as search engine, coun­try, page, refer­ring domain, date/time, key­word, etc. Dimen­sions are expressed as tex­tual val­ues. For exam­ple, Cal­i­for­nia, Utah, Vir­ginia, and New York would be tex­tual val­ues of the US States dimension.

What is a report? In terms of web ana­lyt­ics tools, a report is a col­lec­tion of data or val­ues for a spe­cific set of dimen­sions and met­rics. Every report has at least one dimen­sion and one met­ric. The data can be pre­sented in graph­i­cal or tab­u­lar for­mat and most likely a com­bi­na­tion of both for­mats. A report is really where every­thing comes together.

You may be won­der­ing about trended met­ric reports such as a Page Views or Vis­its report, and whether or not these reports have a dimen­sion. In these cases, time itself is the data dimen­sion (e.g., June 1, June 2, etc.).

Sim­ple Scenario

Let’s look at a sce­nario where you had 5,500 sub­mit­ted leads in June. 5,500 is the value of a met­ric (Sub­mit­ted Leads) that you’re cap­tur­ing with a cus­tom event. In many cases, met­rics by them­selves may not be that insightful.

The data fre­quently becomes more inter­est­ing when we add dimen­sions. Data dimen­sions break out or allo­cate met­rics across dif­fer­ent tex­tual val­ues or cat­e­gories. For exam­ple, if we added the dimen­sion of “US State” (cap­tured in an eVar) we’d be able to see how many leads we had per state. It may be more infor­ma­tive and use­ful know­ing almost half of your sub­mit­ted leads are com­ing from Vir­ginia than know­ing the total num­ber of leads in a month.

It’s impor­tant to under­stand and be clear on these basic aspects of web ana­lyt­ics data, espe­cially when peo­ple are fre­quently con­fus­ing the terms. A lit­tle more rigor around what we define as met­rics will ensure that not only our web ana­lyt­ics focus is sound, but we’re also bet­ter able to nav­i­gate the still rel­a­tively uncharted waters of social ana­lyt­ics. In my next post, I’ll dis­cuss some spe­cific ways in which we can raise our stan­dards for metrics.

5 comments
Mridul Gupta
Mridul Gupta

Amazing.. I am not too much familiar with omniture but i can assume Site Catalyst is amazing. And I want to know the answer Why Omniture and for which domain it could be beneficial?

St
St

the words is not confusing any more. thanks for sharing.

Brent Dykes
Brent Dykes

Ateeq, Thanks for your comment. I don't know if you saw my previous post where I covered KPIs. You might want to check it out. Cheers, Brent.

ateeq ahmad
ateeq ahmad

This is a very good post because you give examples of what a metric, report and dimension means. I would just add that KPI( key performance Indicators) are metrics with a higher importance to the company. Your execs might not be interested in page views(metric) to the home_page(dimension) over time(dimension) as they might be in conversion(metric) from the home_page to the ordering page on the site. In this case conversion becomes a metric which is also a KPI Thanks very much, Brent!

Adam Greco
Adam Greco

Another great post! Understanding the differences between metrics and dimensions is something that always trips people up...This is a great way to visualize it. Thanks!