How Google Analytics Hooked us on Direct Metrics

Posted by Roman Bodnarchuk on Mon, Oct 24, 2016 @ 17:10 PM




Rightly or wrongly, the startup world cares mainly about direct-response metrics — and that is reflected in the “Goals” and “Events” triggers in Google Analytics.

In “Disrupted,” the memoir by former tech journalist and “Silicon Valley” TV show writer Dan Lyons that describes his ill-fated time at the marketing software company HubSpot, he describes their blogging strategy in this way (pg. 74-75):

[HubSpot’s former CMO] has one goal: to get leads. If our software analytics were to indicate that our best conversion rate comes from publishing a blog post that just says the word dogshit over and over again… then [the former CMO] would publish that post…

I realize there probably is a legitimate business model to be made from churning out crappy content. But that is not something you hire the former technology editor of Newsweek to write for you.

This is the problem that arises when startups and other companies use direct-response metrics such as the direct sales, leads or downloads that are shown in Google Analytics as the primary or only success metric.

Clickbait might get more traffic, but will only reflect poorly on the brand.

Blogs, for example, have become one of the primary communications channels for many companies, so integrated marketing and communications strategies need to incorporate branding and PR into those outlets, as well. To use Lyons’ example, a blog post that just repeats “dogshit” over and over might actually generate the greatest number of marketing leads — but it would be terrible for PR and branding, and those metrics are not shown in Google Analytics.

A focus only on GA metrics often leads startups to move toward publishing not informational material but rather more and more “clickbait.” And clickbait might get more traffic, but will only reflect poorly on the brand and cause other damage, as well.

Besides, the number of pageviews is a useful metric only for websites whose main business model is online advertising (such as news websites), because each page view sends a server request for ad impressions. Companies, on the other hand, whose goal is to obtain more customers, often see that clickbait delivers a lot of traffic but fewer conversions in the end.


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