For some people, all marketing metrics are terrifying. But whether or not numbers are your strong suit, they’re critical when you’re assessing what is and isn’t working in your business’ marketing. Nothing makes sense in a vacuum. Data and metrics are nearly worthless without a baseline, industry standard, or competitive landscape from which to gain context. But in most cases, poor showings in any of the metrics listed here should send a shiver down your spine.

1. Email open rate

The portion of your content catalogue that you control fully is your owned media, and it’s one part of a converged media promotion program. It’s an important part of your media landscape because it can lead to extremely valuable interaction with prospects. And, it’s perfect for promoting your content to those who have already found their way into your funnel. These folks are your biggest advocates, right? One of the most valuable owned media resources you have available to you is your email database.

That’s why a low open rate on your emails is a very bad sign. And, if your open rate is dismal – your click through rate is 6 feet under. So, what’s causing it? Are your subject lines a complete snooze? Is your audience so inundated with emails they aren’t seeing yours? The amount of emails sent each day is expected to increase from 109 billion in 2015 to 140 billion by 2018. Are you sending on the wrong day? Wrong time of day? Are you not segmenting your lists? Perhaps your past content wasn’t good enough to inspire your present day opens. Is your email template responsive? No matter what the precise reason for it is, a low open rate should be downright frightening to you. It’s not just bad luck. With some work, you can save it.

2. Web traffic

Obviously, if traffic to your website is low or dropping, that’s cause for concern. Even the most inexperienced marketer can tell you this. The whole point of a website is to attract visitors and wow them with your offerings and your personality as a brand. If you’re not achieving the first goal, you won’t achieve the second.

But, as strange as this may sound, rising web traffic can also be a negative. If you suddenly get a huge spike in traffic without explanation, that can actually be an issue. For one thing, it could be purely spam traffic, giving you tons of website hits but no actual business gains. White Ops’ study “The Bot Baseline: Fraud in Digital Advertising” estimated that advertisers will lose $6.3 billion this year alone to bot traffic. Even if the visits are from real people, though, if you don’t know why it’s happening, it won’t do you a lot of good. It won’t be repeatable, and you won’t know enough about your visitors to know what it is they actually want from you. Worst yet, you might assume the rise in traffic is caused by something unrelated, and continue down a path that hurts you in the long run. Any time you see a major shift in traffic, investigate – don’t assume.

3. Unhappy employees

It’s obvious right? Happy and engaged employees do better work, so why is that not a focus for most companies? Statistics show that companies with engaged employees outperform competitors by a whopping 202 percent. This is one of the most important metrics, and also one that lots of businesses neglect to track as much as they should. Your talent is what gets you work. But if your culture is toxic, why would future employees want to join you if they have other options? Why would prospects want to hire a company where the employees hate being there, and it shows?

If your business is getting bad reviews on a site like Glassdoor, or if your NPS scores are particularly low, you need to devote time and effort to fixing it. Don’t write it off. Don’t ignore it. Find out why your employees are unhappy, and work to fix it. It will lead to better work, almost guaranteed. But it will also mean more positive appearances outside your organization, and a higher likelihood of referrals from your employees both in terms of new talent and new business. The number one reason your workers will go the extra mile for your company? It’s not money. It’s their co-workers. Happy employees equal productive employees. Make sure you invest in them. They’re your most precious resource.

4. Social media followers

92 percent of marketers indicate that social media is important for their business. But, depending on the industry your business is in, and the audience you’re pursuing, it’s not necessarily a huge issue if you don’t have many followers on social media. While social is a growing outlet for many marketers and customers, it’s not pervasive for everyone right now, and plenty of people don’t buy through social. Though – there’s plenty of opportunity too. One small business (300 employees, 340 Twitter followers) Hubspot studied generated $1.2 million in revenue using social media.

But if you’re on a social platform, you need to engage. Having a Twitter account that hasn’t tweeted in two years makes you look like your brand is inactive. It’s actually worse than not having an account at all. An account that doesn’t post is kind of like the person who shows up to a Halloween party without a costume: there’s no reason to be there, and you just end up looking weird and out-of-place. Don’t do it.

5. Bounce rate

Different kinds of content are naturally going to have different bounce rates. Your blog, for example, is likely to have a higher bounce rate. Readers are probably coming mostly from social media, and wherever they’re coming from, they’re most likely there to digest the specific content you’re offering. Sure, you want a click-through on a CTA or ad. But if the rate of that happening is a bit lower on your blog posts than other parts of your website, that’s not something that should frighten you.

On the other hand, skyrocketing bounce rates on the primary content sections of your site are something to fret over. When you’re telling a reader about your services, you’re right to hope for and expect engagement. If they’re leaving your site instead, that means your website content is not doing its job.

One of the biggest contributors to high bounce rates is site speed. You only have seconds to keep a user on your website. Hubspot compiled several stats about website design and one of the most noteworthy stats claims that 40 percent of users will abandon a page if it takes more than 3 seconds to load.

6. Call volume

It’s most likely that receiving more phone calls – particularly if it’s a sudden change – is a bad thing. For most businesses the only time you’ll hear from your customers is when something is wrong, so tons of phone calls means a disaster is happening. Even so – it doesn’t have to mean terror for you. It can mean opportunity.

At Element Three, we work (under a non-disclosure agreement) with an insurance company. When the Affordable Care Act went into effect, they got phone calls. A lot of phone calls. Mostly, the callers were complaining about ACA-related change and had general confusion regarding the impact to their policy. Since the changes weren’t really the fault of our client, the phone calls gave them a chance to turn it around, and help their clients make sense of the changes to their coverage. It was an opportunity to serve.

So when phones are ringing off the hook, use the opportunity to provide the best possible customer service. Just try to limit how long people are on hold — because we all hate to hear the words “Can I put you on hold?”

7. Sponsor feedback

If you host events, run conventions or have endorsements – you’re likely to be dealing with sponsors. It’s hard to put on a major event and pay for everything without them after all. If you want to continue holding events, you need to keep your sponsors happy – and therein lies the problem.

If you’re finding yourself inundated with negative feedback after an event, that should frighten you. More than eight-in-10 global respondents (83%) say they completely or somewhat trust the recommendations of friends and family.

Word gets around, and if your events aren’t going well, it’s going to make it harder and harder as time goes on for you to find sponsors to help fund your next event. Work with sponsors when they’re not happy. Find out what happened. Rectify the situation. Follow through. If you succeed, you can turn a negative call into a positive impression of your business working to make them happy.

8. Forecasts

No forecast is going to be perfect – or at least, you’re not likely to consistently hit home runs on your forecasting. A little bit of wiggle room is okay. But if your forecasts are consistently off, or they’re even occasionally off by a wide margin, it could show some frightening financial issues in your business. You could be bleeding money somewhere, from expenses that you don’t need or can’t afford. It makes planning for growth impossible. It puts you in a position in which you cannot win.

Worse still is not even taking the time and effort to forecast! If you don’t have goals you’re trying to meet, and you don’t have a feel for where you’re going, your business will end up in a ditch by the side of the road. No matter how big or small your business is, you don’t want to end up crashing and burning. Plan ahead. Analyze why you’re not meeting that plan, if you aren’t.

9. Sales

Okay, this one is pretty obvious. Low sales numbers are scary, unless you’re actively trying to avoid getting new business (whether it’s a search for internal stability or a focus on growing the clients you already have or any other reason). But why are the numbers low? Are you getting the right leads? Do you have a broken sales process? Or are you attracting business that’s not right for what you provide? Are you selling the right way? Or are you concentrating on what you have rather than what your client needs?

Look at your numbers. Look at how many leads you’re getting, and where they’re coming from. See who they are and whether they’re really qualified to buy from you. Use the information at your disposal to root out the real problem and make sure you attack the right enemy.

10. Click-through rate

An ad that doesn’t get a click isn’t useless. Any time a prospect or possible future prospect sees one, you are at least building brand awareness and name recognition, and there’s a possibility that in the future when they’re looking to buy, your name will come to mind. But obviously the more engagement the better, so when an ad, email, tweet, or any other link passes in front of someone, you want them clicking. If they’re not, and that’s happening consistently – you have a frightening problem.

Getting someone to click through to your content is the way you get leads. If people aren’t getting through to give you information, you’re hanging sales out to dry. If you’re not getting clicks, the problem is likely in the way you’re interacting with prospects. If tweets aren’t engaging and ads aren’t interesting, there’s no reason for anyone to click on them.

These metrics could terrify you, but don’t lose hope. Knowing is half the battle, and if you have visibility into the right metrics you can spot the problem and start working to solve it. With research, examination, and action, you can get your numbers back where they’re supposed to be, and put your business back on the right track for success.

Did we miss a metric that’s scared the daylights out of you? Tweet us at @elementthree and let me know.

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Aaron Harrison

Aaron Harrison’s background wasn’t originally in marketing, but his love for problem-solving and human understanding has made him uniquely qualified for the industry. A curious, wondering soul, Aaron channels his love for adventure and change through his approach to modern marketing.

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