The Key Performance Indicators and the Elephant | npENGAGE

The Key Performance Indicators and the Elephant

By on Mar 15, 2013


Improve Accounts Receivable Collections

I got a few questions last month regarding my donation form optimization post and wanted to clarify some important things to consider with any KPI (Key Performance Indicator).

If you put 100 people into one form and only 20 complete it, but another site puts 100 people into a different form and 30 complete it, then you could say that your form is not as good as theirs, or that their campaign is doing better than yours.  However, there could be other explanations.

For example, maybe you have a lot of new traffic coming in from your search engine optimization. This traffic will be more capricious, but you are getting your message out to more people and building your brand. A site with mostly repeat traffic might have less abandonment, but less growth.

Does this mean you shouldn’t pay attention to form completion rate (or the reverse metric, form abandonment rate)? No, it just means these are KPIs but not end goals.

When you’re thinking about your online strategy, you are starting with a larger goal in mind, like:

  • Collect donations to fund programs
  • Grow awareness
  • Provide information to members
  • Link people to services they need
  • Get people to visit your location
  • Provide enough information for someone to make a major offline decision, such as choosing your school

If you’re not sure if you have a goal or KPI, pretend that you are explaining the goal to a 5 year old that keeps asking “why?” after every sentence. If you can come up with an answer that would satisfy the 5 year old (like “we need to collect money so we can keep helping people”), then you probably have a good goal. If your first answer is more like “increase website traffic”, then let your inner 5 year old ask why until you come up with a core goal. (This is typically called the “5 whys” because you are supposed to ask ‘why’ 5 times, but I think the “Inner 5 year old whys” metaphor works just as well.)

Once you have your core goals you can start building KPIs, which are each just showing you a piece of whether or not you are on the right track for your goal. Remember the story of the blind men and the elephant? Each feels a different part of the elephant & comes up with explanations of what they think the elephant is. The one that feels the leg, thinks the elephant is tall and strong like a tree. The one that feels the ear thinks that is silly because it is thin and flexible. KPIs without a unifying goal can be like that, and there can be confusion over what a metric means. KPIs with unifying goals can help you diagnose problems while still focusing on the big picture.


And the picture above? That’s my husband and me riding elephants in Thailand at a camp that rescues and rehabilitates injured circus elephants in a lush expanse of jungle. When people asked why we were going to Thailand, my inner 5 year old responded “Because we’re going to ride elephants in the jungle and feed them bananas!” and couldn’t imagine asking why to that!


Alissa Ruehl has been using Google Analytics since the first weeks it came out as a Google product. Through consulting, webinars, and conferences, she has helped hundreds of people at a variety of organizations and companies navigate Google Analytics and use it to refine their online marketing and website effectiveness. She currently uses her analysis skills as a senior user researcher on the Blackbaud products side, but she loves re-immersing herself the world of website analytics for her monthly Google Analytics blog posts. The only thing Alissa likes talking about more than data is food, but that’s a whole other blog.

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