The importance of retention metrics

June 15th, 2018

Nearly a month ago the long awaited GDPR legislation was finally enacted in Europe with the threat that brands who transgress it could face what some have suggested are astronomical fines.

A month on and some of the noise about GDPR has abated, though marketers are still dealing with the fallout of the changes, which for some of them has been hugely disruptive.

One ongoing discussion which has come to the fore in the wake of GDPR is around retention. Surely GDPR ought to be a wake up call to brands to nurture their relationships with their customers.

In our recent trends mega article – which you can download hereDan Linstead, Editorial Director, Branded Content, Immediate Media argued that brands must now not take the loyalty of customers for granted.

Dan said “The 25th May GDPR implementation marks a watershed for content – for the first time (in theory) everyone receiving a content email from a brand or organisation actively wants to receive that communication. Email lists will be dramatically smaller, but of much higher quality. So for the rest of 2018, and into the future, the pressure is on to reward the loyalty of those who have opted in with better, more relevant content.”

Couple this with the decline in social usage – which was outlined in this Reuters report earlier in the week – and it is obvious that for brands cutomer and fan retention, especially on owned media, is once again a very hot issue.

The wrong metrics?

When it comes to measurement though many of the metrics that companies obsess over when assessing their online interactions are often about engagement and sharing. I wonder if the balance is now going to be shift a little and that brands are going to give retention metrics much higher focus than in the past.

When it comes to website traffic the key metric is, in my opinion, one of the less sexy ones – bounce rate. To remind you bounce rate is when a person comes to your site and then only stays on one page before leaving. For the past decade content marketers and media analysts have been coming up with ever more intelligent ways to combat low bounce rates with varying degrees of success. Ironically sometimes low bounce rates can be driven by attempts to hook the reader into further levels of content via interruptive messages, such as subscriptions or email pop ups.

There is a theory too that high bounce rates highlight that a specific piece of content has done its job properly. For example, if a user is searching for specific term and the content completely answers that question then surely it has been some kind of success? Except of course the average searcher typically looks at many pages. Also beyond a click on page the brand may well have achieved very little out of their interaction with the reader.

A high bounce rate is a sign that a website is almost certainly not working to its full potential and it is a metric that content marketers should have sleepless nights about.

I have found that in the past content marketers often ignore the bad news of their high bounce rates and focus more on the good stuff – pages viewed per visit. Sure this is a very important metric too, but personally I think it is less useful to gauging the effectiveness of content than bounce rates. Pages per view averages can be skewed, very skewed. For some brands customers lingering for a long time on their web pages consuming lots of content is the ultimate goal. Some, but not all.

Surely the key is not necessarily to focus on page views per visit but to look the number of page views per person (and more) that the company sees as their objective. This might, for example, only mean three clicks – two content pages and then responding to a call to action. So, in some instances pages per visit, if it isn’t being tracked against KPIs that the brand has set, can be a largely redundant metric.

The other less sexy retention metric which brands ought to be paying a lot more attention to is returning visitors. For too long  some brands have focused on the new and shiny and prioritised attracting new customers to their websites, often at the expense of growing relationships with existing customers and fans.

For many companies returning visitors needs to be a key metric, as it underlines what a person actually wants from a brand. It shows that the relationship isn’t completely transactional and that there is some degree of loyalty.

Personally I think that for most brands returning visitors is an absolutely key metric to focus on and tease apart. Fortunately we live in age of machine learning where there are already many programmes which will help companies to analyse this data and see how they can optimise their output to improve on it.

The last thing worth saying about retention metrics is that they are really only useful if brands are prepared to act on them. Sure new business is important, but nurturing customers and fans has become crucial now. These are metrics which speak volumes about your brand and its content marketing approach – perhaps more than some of the other metrics you use. Marketers need to both look and act.

The CMA is hosting a Digital Breakfast on content effectiveness and measurement in July. For more details go here.

Ashley Norris, Content Consultant, The CMA

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