Data, Marketing, Tutorials

KPI Metric or Something Else, Know The Difference

By Jon Elordi

KPI is probably the most used and least understood acronym in business. It’s everywhere, and people constantly discuss a KPI or metric when launching any new marketing campaign. You’ll often hear, “Well, what are the KPIs?” Understanding what KPIs are and how to utilize them is a valuable skill that can have a huge impact on what you’re working on.

What Are KPIs?

KPI stands for Key Performance Indicator. KPIs are business metrics the relevant business users have deemed important to achieve specific business objectives. And are the business metrics that will be used to determine the success of a campaign over time. They are usually metrics selected before the start of a campaign. There is a lot of debate that goes into a KPI. Different people have different opinions and different business units typically have different goals. However, what determines the selection of a metric as a KPI is its relevance to the strategic goals of the campaign and its efficacy at measuring those goals.

KPI or Metric

When running a marketing campaign there are tons of metrics. The only difference between a KPI and a metric is that a KPI is a metric that has been chosen as important business objectives. Both are metrics, however, a KPI is considered a more valuable metric.

That doesn’t mean that KPIs are the only metrics recorded for a campaign. Quite the contrary throughout a campaign you’ll generally try and measure everything you can within reason. it’s just that the KPIs have an added importance to them.


A KPI dashboard is often created using a business intelligence tool to track the data in real-time. Marketing teams will often check these KPI dashboards on a regular basis. In a KPI dashboard, you can usually tell what the KPIs are because they’re the largest numbers near the top on a KPI dashboard. As you can see in the example KPI dashboard above. There are lists of metrics being reported. However along the top are five numbers, those five numbers are the KPIs. In this example, it’s social media followers.

It’s important to understand the other metrics recorded as providing context for the KPIs. Numbers do not exist in a vacuum and understanding why a KPI is performing in a particular manner often requires other metrics to provide clarity.

I like to think of it in the context of sports. In a game, the most important metric is the score. It’s the metric that determines whether you win or lose. Look at a scoreboard. There’s a reason the biggest numbers on that board is the score. In the context of a game, the score is a KPI. However, there are other numbers that provide clarity on the score.

Maybe you’re looking at your favorite baseball team’s record and you want to know why they lost a game four to one. You look at the stats sheet and see that they only got two hits in the game. The important metric is the score. But the low number of hits in the game explains why they only scored one point.

KPIs tell you what’s important. Metrics provide context for the KPIs.

How to Pick A Good KPI

Picking a good KPI is a judgment call. It’s more of an art than a science. There are certainly some best practices, but at the end of the day, there will always be room for debate. Before picking a KPI it’s important to figure out what you define as a successful campaign. Is it a conversions campaign, so selling products is the most important? Is it a branding campaign, therefore it’s more important to get eyes on the screen? Is it email sign-ups, so you want website traffic?

Understanding what the success scenario looks like for your campaign is vital for understanding what your KPIs should be. It’s a step that is often glossed over in the business process. I can’t tell you how many campaigns I’ve reported on where someone from the marketing team will ask me if the numbers look good, only to find out the person asking has no idea what good looking numbers would be.

A good campaign is dependent on expectations and goals. It’s hard to have a successful campaign when you haven’t figured out what success looks like.

When picking a good KPI it’s important to remember two things.

  1. Is it in line with the campaign’s strategic goals?
  2. Is it a quantifiable measure of our definition of success?

These are rather straight forward. You want the KPI to have relevance to your specific goals. If it doesn’t apply to the desired outcome then it’s not that important to the campaign.

Secondly, does the KPI actually measure success? It’s possible to find a potential KPI only to realize that it’s too broadly or narrowly defined. The KPI needs to accurately capture what’s going on in the campaign.

KPI and Metric Best Practices

There are many pitfalls when choosing the right KPIs here are two things to keep in mind.

Limited Number

Don’t have too many KPIs. This is always the temptation, especially if you ware working on a campaign with a lot of people. Everyone will have their own opinion and priorities and will try to get what they think is best listed as a KPI. The compromise is then to have twelve KPIs, which is way too many.

If everything is a KPI than nothing is a KPI.

Remember these are KEY Performance Indicators. These are the metrics that are key to determining success. People will confuse them with semi-important metrics. There are many semi-important metrics, but only a few are actually KEY for determining a successful campaign.

The general rule I give it to have anywhere from 3-5 KPIs. Once you go over 5 there are just too many. If you go over five I find that some of the clarity is lost and that you may actually have two KPIs in conflict with each other.

For example engagement versus site website traffic. Generally, raising website traffic lowers engagement. By having a KPI that captures both aspects, you can reach a point where you’ll argue about what’s the best thing to do. If you increase website traffic engagement will suffer. But if you try to improve engagement website traffic will suffer. Your KPIs are now in conflict and you have a problem with your hands.

Keep the KPIs simple. In sports, there’s one KPI: score.

Actually Exist / Are Measurable

The KPI you want to measure actually needs to exist. This sounds basic, but there’s usually one person in every meeting who will suggest measuring something that cannot actually be measured.

Try your best to be polite, and tell them it’s not possible.

Standard Marketing KPIs

I’ll run through some basic marketing metrics to use as marketing KPIs. The KPIs you will use will be largely determined by your unique campaign. That being said there are some that come up more often than others.

Ad Side Metric


Certain metrics are almost always going to be included, impressions is one of them. Impressions are the number of times your ad is shown. It’s the ad metric that provides the most basic level of information on your ads. When you’re comparing ad metrics you’ll always want to keep impressions in mind.

An ad with a Click-through rate of 75% is significantly less impressive when you realize it only has 4 impressions.

Click-through Rate(CTR)

Possibly the most debated metric. While there are certainly flaws with using CTR as a metric, it’s still a great source of information. The click-through rate is the number of clicks divided by the number of impressions. It’s the percentage of people that click on your ad. Its main use is to judge the efficacy of your creative.

As an aside, the better way to analyze the efficacy of an ad is to see how engaged those users are on your site. Those metrics are more relevant to business goals. But that can be more difficult to interpret. CTR works well enough a lot of the time.

Website Traffic Metric


This is another one of those metrics that’s almost always included as a KPI. It’s similar to impressions in that it provides the most basic and important level of information on your website. Engagement KPIs have little value if no one is going to your site.

I put sessions and users in this category. I prefer sessions as it’s a bit more granular, but user will work in much the same way. If you want to learn more about sessions I recommend this post I did on them.


Conversions are the catch-all term for the final thing you want the user to do. It could be making a purchase. It could be an email signup. It could be clicking on a specific link. Or it can even be spending a certain amount of time on the website. All of these are viable conversions. Conversions are usually set up using custom tracking and map to a very specific behavior you want the users to perform.

In Google Analytics you can set up conversions as specific goals, which is a topic for another day.

But conversions are broadly defined, and if your campaign has them, and it should, you’ll almost certainly have them as a KPI.

Wrap Up

In the end, KPI selection is very much determined by what’s relevant to your campaign. And since campaigns can differ widely, so can KPIs. But if you limit the KPIs to a reasonable number that accurately measures what you want to get out of the campaign, you can get a great deal of use out of them.

To go back to a sports analogy, it’s hard to win the game when you’re not looking at the score.