Ditch Your Top 10 Metrics Now!

What are your Top 10 Landing Pages? Can you name your Top 10 Keywords? How about your Top 10 Campaigns? If you are like most digital marketers, you know exactly what these are! But, focusing on such “Top 10″ metrics is risky. Let me tell you why.

Hanging On To Antiquated Measures

In the early days of digital marketing, data analysis was pretty rudimentary. Back then, I recall trying to get insights from looking at server log files and/or some vague click reports collected by ad rotation scripts.

But, analytics has evolved. Today, we’re able to measure myriad KPIs — everything from unique keywords, to on-site actions, and even digital word-of-mouth (i.e., Social). In turn, these sophisticated capabilities provide important data insights.

Despite the evolution of analytics, I have found that marketers continue to rely on outdated metrics. After reviewing more than 200 unique reports/dashboards, I noticed that many are still filled with “Top 10″ charts, such as those mentioned above. But, focusing on this antiquated form of measurement is risky because it can be misleading.

For example, take a look at the chart below. It reflects the Top 10 Organic Keyphrases for a high volume brand over a period of 4 months. As you can see, there were barely any changes in the order.

Chart 1

In addition, when I examined the Top 10 Organic Keyphrases across all of our brands over a 16 month period, I found that the rankings did not change in 90% of the cases. That means that while a brand may have had massive changes in traffic (up to +/-30% due to seasonality), “Top 10-focused” dashboards and reports would not alert the marketing team to these changes in trends and consumer behavior. Obviously, this represents the potential for considerable risk and missed opportunity.

Why Top 10s No Longer Make Sense

At first glance, you might think that such Top 10 metrics were created to deliver summarized and simplified information for digital marketers. However, their origin actually reflects the search market at the time. In the early days of digital marketing analytics, Google’s index was rather small, and most websites received traffic from only 10-20 keyphrases. However, those terms drove 80% of the traffic. Given that, it made sense to focus on the “Top 10″ performers.

Clearly, the dynamics of the search landscape have changed since the inception of Top 10 metrics. But, has it changed enough to make these metrics irrelevant? Yes! In fact, when I reviewed a random sampling of sites and analyzed the number of unique terms driving traffic or rankings between 2008 and 2013, I found that the 80/20 split has nearly flipped. As you can see in the below chart, the Top 10 keyphrases (highlighted in green) are only driving 30% of the overall traffic, far short of 80%.

Chart 2

Because the search engines continuously increase their indexes and the ways they interpret content, it’s the long tail — not the head — that is driving the majority of volume today. Given that, focusing on “Top 10″ metrics can be downright misleading.

Finding A Better Metric

If Top 10 metrics are outdated and misleading, what should you use instead? That really depends on your unique business case, but there are a number of other metrics that you can tap into for a wealth of insights. Below are just a few.

  • Rising Terms. Look at the terms that have the relatively fastest growth. Doing so will help you detect trends early on. By continuously evaluating the rising terms, you will be able to inform your content strategy and develop content while a theme or topic is still hot. This will help you capture even more of the audience.
  • Top Performing Terms. Look at your terms through the lens of the business owner. Discern which terms have the highest per-order value. Focus on the terms that generate the highest revenue to the business. Evaluate how much of a term’s traffic you are already capturing, and then if there is an opportunity, build out content to capture all of the interest.
  • Biggest Losers. Look at the terms that are having the biggest drops and bringing down your overall trends. Determine if the drop reflects a decline in consumer interest (using Google trends or AdWords), or if it is a brand issue. If you determine it is a brand.com issue, find out why your CTR or ranking have changed.
  • Section Segments. Nothing provides better insights than segmenting your pages into different groups. This will help you see the change in visibility and engagement by sections (Product Pages vs. Specials and Coupons vs. Reviews vs. Tips). In addition, you can also include the size of opportunity vs. the volume captured (as shown below).

Chart 3

  • Top Converting/Engaging Landing Pages. Look at your engagement data for your landing pages instead of just the visits. If you don’t have any hard KPIs (Sales, Leads, etc.) use some soft goals, such as pages-per-visit, time-on-site, or bounce rate. But make sure you evaluate the metrics correctly. For example, a visit to a blog post via organic search generally does not produce multiple visits as the user found what they were looking for (especially if it is a returning user). In this case, you might want to measure number of social shares or comments.
  • Referral Movers & Shakers. How has your referral traffic changed — any big increases from new sources/partners? If so, reach out to develop a partnership or make sure the linking methods follow Google’s best practices. Had a big drop in referral traffic? Look at who “lost” the link and follow up with steps to get the content online.
  • Rankings 5-20. Why monitor just your Top 3 or 5 rankings? If you are already #1, they most likely will not change a lot. But how about monitoring movements below the fold (the “low hanging fruit”)? By monitoring rankings 5-20 you can look at the terms that could give you a huge boost in visibility by just moving up a few spots.

Overall, you need metrics that have evolved with digital marketing. Don’t make the mistake of relying on Top 10 lists as they can be misleading. Instead, examine some of the measurements listed above to uncover important data insights that you can leverage for a competitive advantage.

Are you using outdated metrics or have your measures evolved with the market? Share your tips here!

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.

Related Topics: Analytics | Analytics & Marketing Column | Channel: Analytics


About The Author: is the Sr. Partner, Managing Director of Strategy at GroupM. He is a digital veteran with over 14 years of experience in advertising. For the past three years, he has led the search practice across the GroupM Network; today, he leads the agency’s search and social engagement strategy group.

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  • http://thejakejordan.com/ baldjake


    Great breakdown of how people think backwards. I think the further you get from business goals into more traditional SEO metrics, the worse off your reporting gets. By starting with business KPIs then continually looking for ways to support those conversion metrics, you stay on top of your game.

    I particularly like the ‘rising terms’ and ‘Referral mover and shakers’. If we are chasing relationships instead numbers then we are organically building good SEO markers for our clients and businesses!

  • http://blog.clayburngriffin.com/ Clayburn Griffin

    This will help me with my reporting. Thanks, Ben!

  • http://www.stayathand.com/ Dana Starr Bowler

    @Benjamin great article. At my company, we call this finding the ‘rattle’. The stuff, like ‘top ten’ doesn’t have high change velocity. They don’t “rattle”. Segmenting by media campaign has been way more beneficial than tracking top 10. Once we find our top ten, and it starts getting static, we move on to find the ‘rattle’.


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