It’s All About Data
Digital marketing runs on data. In fact, the high quality and vast quantity of data that digital marketing produces is one of its key assets. In many ways, this data is one of the key things that can make digital advertising more effective than traditional marketing. But the key to data lies in its interpretation. Here I am reminded of the famous quote that Mark Twain attributed to Benjamin Disraeli: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Digital marketing data can be like that. Unscrupulous marketers can spin any data into a positive story if they try hard enough.
Very few people become funeral directors or get into the death care industry because they’re passionate about marketing. Frankly, that’s a good thing. But it does create the problem of information asymmetry. Your marketing agency will likely forget more about marketing than you’ll ever learn. By itself this isn’t a bad thing; it’s why you hired them in the first place. That’s why I’ve put together this short guide about the digital marketing key performance indicators that funeral homes should be most concerned about.
Digital Marketing KPIs
At the most basic level, the goal of advertising is to drive conversions. What exactly counts as a “conversion” will vary depending on what your industry is and the goals of a particular campaign. The vast majority of funeral homes don’t use an ecommerce funeral planning tool that allows the client to plan and pay for the complete funeral or direct cremation online without ever talking to anyone. For these operations, receiving payment would be a key conversion action. For most funeral homes, the most important conversions to track are phone calls (through your website, ads, and Google Business Profile), emails (from the same sources), and form fills on your website.
How do you know where these conversions are coming from? This all comes down to attribution. When conversion tracking on your ads and website is properly set up, you can trace how a user got to your website and what they did once they got there. Take call tracking as an example. Funeral homes get a lot of phone calls, most of which are not at-need first calls. When call tracking is properly set up, when a user goes to your website and then calls you, the call will go through a special phone number that allows this call to be attributed to the channel from which it came, be that an ad, your Google Business Profile, or another channel.
There are two key conversion metrics you should focus on: number of conversions and cost per conversion. The number of conversions is self-explanatory. It’s important to know how many potential clients your marketing is driving to your funeral home. The cost per conversion is a crucial measure of marketing efficiency. As an example, say you run a low cost cremation business. If each conversion costs you $200 in advertising spending, and you close half of the calls you receive, you’re spending $400 per cremation on advertising. That’s likely to be a problem in most markets. On the other hand, if your cost per conversion is only $30 and you close a third of your calls, you’d only be spending $90 on advertising per cremation. That’s a much better position to be in. For both the total number of conversions and the cost per conversion, it’s important to remember that these are leads and not clients.
It is extremely useful for a business to calculate an average transaction value for each category of service they provide (burials and cremations being the two most basic, but greater granularity can be helpful). This can then be compared to the average acquisition cost. If you only look at two things, they should be the number of conversions and cost per conversion. All other metrics funnel into these two.
Ranking & Visibility
The core of search engine optimization is increasing the ranking and visibility of your webpages. SEO takes some time, but you should see a steady rise in your rankings over time in the areas you are targeting. The goal of SEO is not just to have the number one ranking. More importantly, the point is to drive traffic to your website and grow the number of conversions. (The flow is as follows: Ranking → Impression → Click → Conversion.)
It’s also important that your Google Business Profile is up to date, accurate, and complete. This is one of many things that will help it to appear in the local map pack. Only three listings display in the map pack, so it’s crucial that your funeral home is in the top three. (A robust profile and good local SEO will help get you there.)
It’s important to remember that everyone’s search results are personalized to some degree. They depend on who is searching, where they are physically located, and when they’re searching. For that reason, the results you see are not necessarily representative of what everyone else sees. Your digital marketing team will have access to specialized tools that allow them to get a more accurate picture of your rankings in your geographic area.
Metrics That Don’t Matter
Not everything that is measurable is important. Even more to the point, not everything that is measurable is important to the funeral home. Vanity metrics are as tempting as they are deceptive.
Website traffic is probably the biggest vanity metric. For a lot of businesses, this is an important metric, but funeral homes are different. The vast majority of your website’s traffic is driven by obituaries. And most people are reading obituaries because they have some relationship to the deceased, not because they enjoy visiting funeral home websites. For that reason it makes sense to exclude obituary-related data from some of the reporting. Even if your funeral home is serving a consistent number of families, your website’s traffic can vary by several orders of magnitude. A lot of that comes down to the popularity of who has died and how many people are interested in reading their obituary.
Some ranking data is also irrelevant. It’s not uncommon for some of your pages to rank in the top 100 search results for terms that have very little to do with funerals. For example, your website could just happen to rank for something like “plumbing supply store near me” because you handled the funeral of the owner of the plumbing supply store. It doesn’t matter how many keywords your website ranks for. It matters that it ranks for the right keywords.
Metrics You Might Care About
There is a third class of metrics that is useful for digital marketers to understand but not necessarily important for funeral homes to care about. Some people like to see how the sausage is made (how the embalming is done?). These metrics are for them.
Digital ads produce tons of data. Cost per click would seem to be an important top line metric for funeral homes to care about, but it really isn’t, at least not by itself. Keeping advertising costs down is a good goal, but those costs need to be viewed from a higher level. All things being equal, a lower cost per click is better than a higher cost per click. However, all things are not equal. For example, you might be able to get a cost per click of $1 for a certain keyword with certain targeting. But if it has a very low conversion rate, the cost per conversion could actually be quite high. On the other hand, you could have a cost per click of $5 for a keyword that converts much better. That means a higher cost per click does not necessarily mean a higher cost per conversion.
Impressions fit into a similar category. You want your ads to be seen, but it doesn’t really matter how many people see your ads if nobody finds them relevant and clicks on them. Clickthrough rate is important in this regard. You want your ad to be clicked a high percentage of the time it’s shown. But you need those clicks to be relevant. Impression share can also be useful. It can help you understand how much of the market you are currently covering with your existing budget.
All of this information is important for your marketing team. Take these two examples. You have a high number of impressions, a high clickthrough rate, and a low cost per click. But these clicks don’t appear to be very relevant, so you get a high cost per conversion. For another campaign, you have a low number of impressions, a moderate clickthrough rate, and a high cost per click. These clicks appear to be relevant which results in a lower cost per conversion. So what do you do with this data? In the first example, the goal would be to decrease the number of irrelevant clicks without driving up the cost per click too much. That could involve changes to ad copy, targeting, bidding strategy, etc. In the second example, lowering the cost per click might be a priority. In the end, the goal is to get as many conversions for the lowest cost per conversion. Most business owners don’t care about exactly what needs to be done to make this happen. That is, afterall, why you hired a marketing agency.
SEO is all about getting your website in front of as many people as possible by optimizing the site and its content. All sorts of factors go into search engine ranking algorithms. Most of them can be measured and reported on. A factor like domain authority can be important, especially in the most competitive markets. A site with low authority will have a much harder time ranking well because Google does not view it as authoritative.
Beyond rankings, conversion rate is an important metric. You want the visitors to your site to convert. It doesn’t matter how many visitors you get if none of them ever call you or fill out a form. Lots of changes can be made to improve your conversion rate (conversion rate optimization is a service for a reason), but you’re making changes in the dark if you don’t start with real conversion data.
It’s also important to make sure that your website has helpful content that covers all relevant keywords. Good keyword research will reveal the search volume and intent of these keywords. This will help to show which keywords are the most valuable. Having content on your website that satisfies user intent for each of these keywords is critical.
Digital marketing produces tons of data. Hopefully, this post will help you to separate the signal from the noise. A lot of the metrics discussed here are intended for marketing professionals. They help to guide specialists to understand the underlying factors that are influencing performance. Interpreting this data allows specialists to achieve great KPIs and helps them to understand what needs to be done to move the bottom line for the business. It’s great if funeral home owners and managers want to dig into the minutiae of marketing data (and all reputable and ethical marketing companies make this data available), but their focus should really be on the top line KPIs. It’s OK to look under the hood at all the data, but focus on the number of conversions and cost per conversion. Those two numbers will tell you the most about the effectiveness of your digital marketing.