People still have very little idea how to measure success online. There a few recurring scenarios that pop up all the time when I'm talking to potential clients about search marketing:
1. PPC is running with no conversion tracking.
2. There are no analytics in place at all.
3. Analytics are in place with no goals.
4. No general understanding of what should or can be measured.
The first three problems are easy to solve: get some analytics in place and set up some basic tracking. There are a variety of solutions available, ranging in price from free to your right arm. It's #4 that I want to dig into a little bit more.
My sales pitch always involves a spiel that goes something like "We can run all the ranking reports you want, but those reports are only as good as the keyword list we use and will always only be a partial representation of what's really happening. The only true measure of success is money in the bank. Not being #1 for vanity terms or low-traffic, non-converting terms." Clients love this. We're talking about their wallets and that all-important profit line on the departmental P and L statement.
Now that I've incredibly oversimplified the discussion, let's talk about what can and should be tracked and what a real conversion is. First is actual sales. This is the easy one. How much money is actually coming in from a successful checkout? The trick is breaking this number down into buckets for PPC, SEO, media and so forth, then making sure your ROI on each of those buckets is above the zero line.
Next are nonmonetary transactions. These types of transactions include such things as newsletter signups, white paper downloads, widget installs, RSS subscribers, video views, and survey completions. For the most part, these are easy enough to track by simply counting pageviews (for widget code), file requests (whitepapers) and the increasing size of your email list. You can do some other fun stuff down here as well, by having your widgets call home to track offsite usage, or by using a video service to embed your video so you get usage numbers that way without crippling your own server.
Call tracking falls into the next tracking slot. In the past few years, call tracking has gotten easier and cheaper at a rapid pace. Do you sell B2B? Do you sell big-ticket items that consumers would like to call in about first? The easiest way to manage all this is to get a call tracking service. You can use a unique 800 number for pretty much anything you want: per ppc campaign, dynamically inserted, based if the visitor comes from organic and more. Slice and dice as much as you like or can afford. Oh, and put one in your whitepapers and newsletter as well.
The point of all this: Yes, money in the bank is the ultimate goal -- but if you don't know how it got there, you're going to spend too much of it in the wrong places.