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Do you or your small team want to know if your digital marketing is working? ? You’ve invested time, energy, and money in various things to see what sticks.
But seeing a clear line between your marketing efforts and results can seem fuzzy. You’re not alone. This article will uncover how to set marketing goals (with examples), what good marketing results look like, and how to measure them (with free templates).
Marketing goals keep you organized and increase the likelihood of success
Here’s a crazy stat: Coschedule ran a survey in 2021 that stated, “Organized marketers are 674% more likely to report success”. And that success metric was three times higher than it was in 2018.
While you may not call yourself a “marketer,” if you’re responsible for brand awareness and ROI, this stat matters to you. And I believe it, too. When I consult with solopreneurs and business owners on marketing who have goals set, it makes everything sustainable. And thus easier to measure.
When beginning our work together, one of the questions I ask clients is: How do you measure your marketing success?
Their response is often a lot of mumbling and “uhhh, social likes, comments, and newsletter signups.” When contrasted against all the different things they’ve tried, it breaks my heart that that’s all that can be said about it.
No shame. In fact, this is a pretty common response, even when small brands have been running marketing for a few years. The good news? Tracking results don’t have to start with a complex strategy. In fact, it should start as simply as possible.
Start with setting clear business goals to avoid marketing for the sake of marketing
Starting with clear business goals is critical to marketing success because they help define boundaries. Before diving too deep into tactics and measuring results, you need to know what success looks like to you.
There are plenty of common goal-setting frameworks you can use to achieve this. The following are excellent articles that cover them in detail:
- KPIs (Keep Performance Indicators)
- OKRs (Objectives and Key Results)
- SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-Bound) marketing goals
- ACES (Awareness, Capture Intent, Educate & Nurture, Sales & Leads) marketing objectives
The problem is that many business owners find these frameworks overwhelming. I tend to agree. I prefer a simpler approach when you’ve found marketing overwhelming because many of the frameworks listed above contain too many details too soon. I mean those KPIs and detailed bits. You can’t cover objectives and KPIs and measure them if you don’t have the big picture figured out first.
Without clear goals, shiny marketing object syndrome kicks in. Marketing for the sake of marketing. You know what I mean:
- Posting motivational quotes on social media because everyone else does.
- Starting a podcast because a webinar said it was a good idea.
- Getting funding for SEO work because being found on Google is important, right?
Wait, is SEO important for your business? Well, darlin’, you tell me!
See, you have to know what your end game is. Or else all the tactics and tools in the world can’t be effective.
Free template: 3 questions to ask yourself to help set marketing goals
You can download a free worksheet to fill out while you follow along in this blog post. Or watch the video below for a step-by-step example. So set aside frameworks for a moment and answer these three questions to help set marketing goals:
- What are your business goals?
- What do you already have that can help achieve them?
- What else will you need?
Kinda philosophical, eh? I do enjoy chill, inner-marketing work from time to time. Now, don’t feel like you have to answer all of those perfectly in an hour. Or a day. Take your time. Brainstorm. Talk with people you trust.
Video: setting marketing goals
Let me take you through my own story to help you jam on these questions.
In 2021, I knew it was time to take my marketing to the next level. The problem? I felt this immense pressure to “pick the right thing” that would be the most effective. Because I’m in marketing, I should have known exactly what I needed, right?
Far from it. I’m really experienced in SEO, email marketing, and web conversion. But things like paid advertising, cold calling, and Youtube… kinda give me the nervous poops. I felt stuck.
And those various goal frameworks weren’t helping, either. Because they wanted me to define KPIs and objectives, I kept finding myself getting stuck on tactics instead of big-picture thinking.
So by answering those three questions, I got unstuck and had a solid foundation of what would drive my decisions for this marketing strategy. And then, I was ready to fill out ACES (my preferred framework for tracking marketing success).
Question #1 What are your business goals?
Any marketing efforts should serve your business goals. And what you measure and track should directly reflect those goals. So before getting too far into what you will do, figure out what matters to your business.
In my case, I had hit a stage in my consultancy where I wanted to expand outside my local market. I was ready to export, baby!
I also knew I had to be smart and keep things sustainable. I already had a boatload of marketing material I didn’t want to turf just because I was doing something new.
So my answer to question #1 looked like this:
What are your business goals?
- Expand brand awareness nationally.
- Increase consulting revenue by 35%.
- Double the number of speaking gigs.
- Create less, distribute more.
Now, you don’t have to have specific numbers in your goals. I did it for the second one because I felt it was achievable. You do you. You can also have more or fewer goals than I itemized. I do recommend trying to limit it to less than seven. The more you add, the more you have to track.
Question #2 What do you already have that can help achieve your business goals?
This question is important because when you review what you’ve done in the past, it makes the future less uncertain. It’s easier to see the results of the past than speculate (and sell yourself short) what might be required in the future.
By reflecting on the past, you notice patterns that worked. Which I believe is worth doing again! Don’t reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to. Successful marketing is about feel-good results, not doing the latest and greatest thing “just because.” We’re trying to avoid shiny marketing object syndrome, remember?
In my case, I knew that whenever I gave talks publicly or online, I would grow my email list and get clients. This is because people buy from brands they like, know and trust. I knew that once people saw this hair and this energy, the right clients would find their way to me.
I also knew that a majority of my clients were referrals. They came ready to work with me because someone else told them I was exactly who they needed.
I wanted a way to replicate that local network feels without having that prior 1st-person connection. So I answered the question this way:
What do you already have that can help achieve them?
- Speaking increases quality leads because people get to “know” me faster.
- Referral marketing allows other people to “vouch” for me.
- Leaning into my “hyperactive brand” helps me stand out/attract the right-fit clients.
- I can reuse content from past projects and marketing efforts.
Question #3 What else will you need?
Acknowledging the limitations in what you can do is really important. If it isn’t sustainable, you won’t be successful. No matter how the heck you intend to measure it. And since no one is a jack-of-all-marketing trades, it’s important to identify where you might need help.
For this question, don’t get too caught up in what the help “looks like.” Just list it because you don’t know where it might take you…
For example, as I was doing this exercise myself, video marketing seemed the likely solution to what I needed. I had been bumping up against this whole “should I do video marketing?” question for longer than I care to admit. I resisted for a long time. But this exercise was permission for me to explore it in a strategic way finally.
So in my case, I knew I would need:
What else will you need?
- A way to “get to know me” without knowing me (via video content).
- Support in creating optimized video content.
- Support in folding that new content into my existing marketing.
Congrats! You have now set boundaries around what you will define as marketing success and goals. More holistic than you may have anticipated, but I guarantee setting up KPIs, ORKs, or whatever you choose will be much easier.
Marketing goal examples for service-based businesses
Need more inspiration? Here are other examples of marketing goals for service-based businesses.
- Brand-related goals:
- Enter a new market/region
- Grow brand authority
- Collaborate with larger entities with a similar audience
- Add value to existing clients
- Improve internal culture
- Grow team
- Become a B-Corp, co-operative, or other impact-based organization
- Revenue-related goals:
- Increase revenue
- Improve overall sales performance
- Increase quality leads
- Improve outbound sales strategy
- Reduce business costs
- Marketing channel-specific goals:
- Increase newsletter subscribers
- Increase engagement in a particular social media platform
- Rank higher in search results
- Increase diversity of website traffic sources
Weekdone has a wicked in-depth article with business goals for even more inspiration. It’s based on the OKR model. But even if that’s not your thing, it’s still a great read.
How to measure marketing results and success
Sometimes, we get so focused on outputs we expect to magically see patterns in our marketing results that scream, “You did it!”
But have you wondered, “Are these numbers good?” or “What the HELL should we be looking for?”
Regarding what “digital marketing success” means to you, there’s the elephant in the room I’d like to address: reluctance to measure results.
Video: what good marketing results look like
Signs you are reluctant to measure your marketing
Is it possible you or your team are a little reluctant to measure results from your marketing? Maybe you haven’t specifically felt like there was reluctance, but there are signs (especially with really busy small teams) that tell me otherwise. Do any of these situations sound familiar?
- You are unsure what “good results” actually mean
- There is a tendency to abandon projects before their time
- There is no priority or dedication to reviewing data
Don’t tell it like it is, Alison! I know. But I’m here to help. Let’s break down each of these and turn them into winning opportunities for you.
What are good marketing results? “Better than it was before.”
“Good results” in digital marketing are simply results that are better than they were before. I’m serious. And I don’t mean that gross, unsustainable infinite growth bullshit.
As long as you see positive results over the long term from your hard work, you’re succeeding. You see, “successful” marketing results are a hell of a lot more subjective than most marketers will let on.
Think about it: is successful email marketing 100 new subscribers a month or 500?
What about a 30% increase in website traffic within a month of publishing a new blog post? Is that amazing or merely ok?
In each example, the answer is: it depends. I can say that for most solopreneurs and small brands, setting these as standards to reach is probably not sustainable. Or realistic. Because good marketing results are actually much lower and less “impressive” than you would think.
What is an example of good email marketing results?
A good open rate in email marketing is 17-28%. Why such a wide range? It all comes down to industry. And list size. And how well thought out each campaign was. It’s a bit hard to standardize.
If you have 300 people on your list, 17% means 51 people opened your email. Not bad.
But 17% of a 3000 list is 510. Sure, it’s higher than 51, but we tend to assume 1000 people on that list would open. Because round numbers with two or more zeros just seem successful. But those amounts, without context, don’t mean anything.
What is an example of a good website conversion rate?
A good conversion rate for a service-based website is 5-10%.
If you had 500 people visit your sales landing page, then there’s a likelihood of about 25 people buying from you. If you didn’t know about conversion averages and had 19 sales, you might feel defeated. But you were actually pretty close to average.
Factors that determine successful digital marketing:
Ultimately, your results are unique to your business situation. Many factors determine your level of success, even within the same industry or region:
- The seasonality of your business. It’s not fair to compare website traffic data between peak and off-season. You need to account for the natural cycles of your business.
- The unique needs of your target audience. If you serve a specific slice of a niche, you’re already working with a smaller ratio of people than generalists in your field. Stop comparing yourself to them.
- Frequency and length of what you’re putting out. The more you distribute your marketing content, the more people see it. So comparing a campaign that ran a week compared to one that ran a month isn’t advised.
- How often do you tweak things? This is your business – you can tweak and experiment along the way. Keeping note of what you incrementally change in response to monitoring results can have a huge positive impact!
If you averaged 8 clients this month, launched a new sales email sequence, and got 18 clients the following month – damn. Whatever you or your team are doing, your results are better than before. Your marketing was successful!
Don’t let someone else’s benchmark become yours. Compete against yourself.
Ensure you give enough time before you abandon marketing projects
I understand that a lot goes into launching a marketing initiative. But the act of launching something doesn’t get results. Giving it time to be seen, digested, and acted upon by your target audience does.
And that takes time! And different kinds of marketing projects need different amounts of time. For example,
- New workshops don’t sell out from two emails being sent out. You gotta promote that sucker for multiple weeks in multiple ways!
- SEO takes at least 3 months to start seeing results. It’s a slow start. But boy-howdy does it take off once given a chance.
Premature expectations about success will absolutely give you poor results. And may cause you to deem it a failure before it had enough time. That’s like baking a cake without a thermometer, pulling it out of the oven at some random time, and wondering why it’s still gooey in the middle.
I recommend doing research on the longevity of the specific project you’re working on. You might be surprised by how long it takes to get solid results.
Schedule time to review marketing data once a month
The bad news: owning a business means having to find time to review data. You must schedule a time to look at reports and data. There’s no way around it.
The good news is that you don’t need fancy software or dashboards to be effective. Nor do you have to spend hours wading through mountains of data to find meaningful next steps. Most marketing consultants don’t want to admit that a simple spreadsheet is more effective than fancy-looking charts and loads of data points.
Why? Because the more complicated the reporting, the more unlikely you will stay committed to reviewing and understanding it.
Simple marketing reports that are easy to use
I’m happy to share with you some simple marketing spreadsheets I use with my clients. Some I’ve created myself, and others are by other super-smart marketers that are too good not to share.
While all good email marketing platforms have their own reporting systems, it may be useful for your team to have a centralized place for quick access. This Google Sheet has three tabs to track single campaigns, sequences/drips and lead-magnet activity.
This multi-tab spreadsheet uses data from two free SEO tools: Google Search Console for queries/pages and Ahref’s Webmaster Tool for backlink information. Both tools are free and pretty much all you need to track organic results.
Google Analytics Universal can be a beast (and, will be retired in July of 2023 so I am currently working on a similar sheet for Google Analytics 4). This particularly focuses on Acquisition (where traffic comes from), top blog posts, and Goals. If you’re looking for a reference to better understand the lingo and interface, check out my Google Analytics Universal Cheat Sheet.
It’s kinda hard to keep all social media bits in one place. I defer to the experts over at Hootsuite. It’s behind an email wall but I really love the simplicity of it. In fact, it’s presented as a Powerpoint that goes through how to put it all together. And, it keeps overall measuring simple.
Ok, this collection is nothing short of pure organizational awesomeness. All free, this site is your dream if you love Google Sheets. I haven’t gone through them all, but safe to say you can always edit out what you don’t need. This mega mama includes:
- 200+ Google Sheets Templates
- 100+ Marketing APIs
- 50+ Google Data Studio (Looker Studio) Templates
- and 100+ Google Sheets Tutorials
How often should you review marketing results?
In general, I recommend spending 1-2 hours every month reviewing and adding to your marketing reports. Depending on your business cycles (and the goals you set), you may also need to review quarterly or another set of months.
Now if you’re doing a very short time-sensitive thing, checking weekly or daily might be fine. But really, monthly is fine in most cases. Also, you don’t want to make knee-jerk reactions because you looked at data too soon. Give that marketing cake time to bake!
Conclusion: how to tell your digital marketing is working is unique to your business, so make sure you set yourself up for success
How to tell digital marketing is a much more holistic process than it seems. By setting high-level business goals, you create a stronger foundation for more in-depth objectives. And by being realistic and open to what healthy marketing numbers mean for your business, reporting becomes easier to handle.
I trust this pep talk shifts your mindset around what good marketing results should mean to you.
It’s actually a lot less dramatic than we anticipate. And takes longer than we think.
But that’s ok. As long as you’re measuring and adjusting along the way, I am certain good results will come your way.