Understanding Key Performance Indicators

SpeedometerOne of the most difficult things to understand in strategy is the key performance indicator. Lots of people have a fuzzy idea about what performance is, so it’s not a terrible surprise to realize they can’t measure it, either. Let’s take a short trip down memory lane; please recall diagnostic versus objective metrics. Goals are objective metrics. They answer the question of whether you’re there yet in the road trip of life.

If goals are the answer to “are we there yet?”, then key performance indicators are your top diagnostic measures, the most important answers to the question of “how is the trip going?”.

Previously, I discussed shatterpoints, or points in any system that are so critical that if they broke, the system would stop. These are your key performance indicators – parts of the system that have an outsized influence on the system as a whole. In the example of a road trip, there are many different things you can measure, but relatively few that will make or break your trip. If your speed drops to zero, the road trip is effectively over. If the fuel gauge drops to zero, the road trip is effectively over. If the kids run out of movies to watch in the back seat and the new movies meter drops to zero, the trip will still be fine, albeit with more complaints.

Ask yourself this when developing and understanding key performance indicators: if the number you’re measuring dropped to zero, how impacted would your business be? For example, if the number of web site visitors dropped to zero, would your business be out of business? For some companies like Amazon, the answer is an unqualified yes. For other companies like the local plumbing store, the answer is no. They might feel the impact if they’re web savvy, but it won’t immediately be game over. For most companies, if the number of customers dropped to zero, it would immediately be game over.

Each department in a business will have its own key performance indicators as well. If a department has a goal, then the key performance indicators are the critical factors that contribute to that goal. The simplest way to distill a given department’s key performance indicators is to think of them as a self-contained business unit, a miniature company within a company. If, for example, you’re an inbound marketing shop, then qualified leads are your product, and web site traffic might well be a key performance indicator for manufacturing that product, even if it isn’t a key performance indicator for the company as a whole.

The most dangerous trap a company can fall into with regard to key performance indicators is to have non-impactful KPIs, to believe something is critical when in fact it’s not critical, or worse, to believe something is non-critical when in fact the life of the company depends on it. You must take the time and devote the effort to identifying what’s really important to you and your company, or else you’ll measure the wrong things and then watch as your company’s performance tanks.

Remember, at the end of the day, key performance indicators are the ones that, if they drop to zero, you’re going out of business. Keep that in mind to help clear the air of confusion and distraction and you’ll distill out the essentials of your company, business, or organization.


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We have read your blog

One thing I’ve heard much more ever since joining the world of public relations and started pitching (read: selling) new business is people saying, “Oh, we’ve read your blog”. At first glance, this appears to be simple due diligence – prospective customers have read the blog, excellent, we share some common understanding.

Seattle 2013

But that got me thinking – there’s more here that’s being said, more that underscores the importance of having not just a blog, but a great blog. We often think of our blogs as part of the content marketing engine – crank out some content that has a home you own so that you can share it on your social media outposts. We tend to think of individual posts as granular, individual, discrete segments.

We forget that the blog is also a legacy and a big picture view of our entire body of work over time. That portfolio is something people looking to hire you (or your company) will leaf through as though they were meeting you for the first time and getting a sense of what you’re all about, and they’ll encounter great, good, mediocre, and poor posts all at the same time.

That’s why it’s critical that your content not suck, that you not just phone it in. Better to skip posting than to post something bad, because when that prospective customer starts reading, you want them to run face-first into a wall of awesome.

Here’s a tip, a production secret I use on this blog: I’ll go through my analytics for previous years and identify the posts that never really hit the mark and rewrite them, especially on days when I can’t write something “new” due to time or constraints. I’ll then go back, redirect, and erase the old post from the back catalog. This accomplishes two goals: fresh content that’s good (because my writing skills have logically improved through the years) and elimination of underperforming content that someone really doing their homework might unearth.

Remember this above all else: when someone is checking out your blog for the first time, they’re probably going to look at more than one post and see a bigger picture than a regular reader. Make sure that what they’re likely to see is worth their time.


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Make your very old content work for you

I was trolling through my analytics (as I often do when I have a spare moment) recently and noticed something funny.

Pages_-_Google_Analytics-4

Even though it’s been more than 6 years since I started this blog, very old posts are still getting traffic, still getting searched and found, like this post on how your music collection can protect your mind.

That post still works for me in a couple of ways, because one of the simplest things I’ve done over the years is create shortcodes in WordPress that are dynamic.

Take a look at the bottom of the post. Even though this post was written 5 years ago, it’s promoting my current newsletter and book. When I change out the short code’s contents in the future, all of my old posts will be updated retroactively, which means the post will continue to work for me, continue to promote current things, even if I never touch the content again.

Accomplishing this is simple: find a blogging plugin for your platform of choice that allows you to insert a shortcode at the end of your posts. If you don’t have one available, consider writing a simple HTML file that you drop on your web server and then include by any standard means of including external content. PHP folks will likely use the include() function. If you’re on WordPress, my recommendation is Shortcode Exec; you’ll find more details here.

Check your analytics for pages and content that go far back, and see if there are opportunities for you to make that content work for you again.


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