How Do You Differentiate Goals From KPIs?

Today’s Ask An SEO question comes from Sharon (following a recent webinar last December 2022), who asks:

How do you differentiate goals from KPIs?

The nomenclature of digital marketing can be confusing.

Even seasoned marketers can get confused by the latest buzzword or technical definition.

And don’t get me started on how the major search engines like to rename their flagship products regularly.

It will always be Webmaster Tools to me.

Google Search Console doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Before we look at the difference between goals and KPIs, we need to understand what a goal is and what a KPI is.

The problem here is that both of those terms can have different meanings based on the context of the discussion.

Let’s explore the various definitions and scenarios where goals and KPIs are used.

What Are Goals?

Most people have a definition of “goals” pre-baked into their minds.

And that definition usually has something to do with accomplishing a predetermined task to achieve a desired outcome.

That definition is helpful when understanding goals in terms of your website.

A goal starts with the end in mind.

A goal is the completion of a desired action by a website visitor.

We want to create goals that move the needle.

Goals should be items that have a measurable impact on your business.

The goal most people think of first is a simple sale.

That’s a perfect goal – and a very obvious one.

But when you scratch the surface beyond the sale, goals can get tricky.

I’ve seen people set up goals completed when a visitor looked at any page on the website.

This is not a good goal.

If you have a goal like this, it waters down your metrics and clutters up your analytics dashboards.

And frankly, knowing that people visited your website is not a goal that moves the needle.

A more appropriate goal would be when a visitor downloads a whitepaper, fills out a form, or books an appointment.

Goals should be measurable.

Goals should be actions that have a true impact on the bottom line.

Goals can be complex, and they can be simple.

But in the end, they need to give you a snapshot of how your overall digital marketing efforts are going.

If you don’t know whether or not your program is working, the first place to check is your goals.

If you have the right goals and have them set up properly in your analytics program, you’ll know if your digital marketing is working or not.

What Are KPIs?

KPI stands for Key Performance Indicator.

It’s easy to get KPIs mixed up with goals.

KPIs can be goals, and goals can be KPIs.

But there are key differences between KPIs and goals.

Goals, as stated earlier, are the completed actions of website visitors following a pre-set path to complete that action.

KPIs, on the other hand, are items that indicate the performance (good or bad) of your digital marketing programs.

KPIs are typically broader than goals, and they don’t have to have a completed action associated with them.

For instance, a KPI could be a high ranking for a specific keyword in the SERPs (search engine results pages).

This particular KPI is not a goal because there is no completed action by the end user.

But ranking highly for a desired keyword is definitely an indicator that your SEO is headed in the right direction.

But a KPI that is not a goal needs to be evaluated frequently.

Let’s look at the example of a high-ranking keyword as a KPI.

If it’s the right keyword, most sites will see their sales or leads increase.

But if that’s not happening, the word you are ranking for might not be the correct KPI.

Because KPIs aren’t necessarily completed actions, they aren’t appropriate for judging the bottom line of your program.

Unless, of course, your KPIs are actual sales, which very well could be a KPI.

You see, KPIs can be broader than goals.

They are merely signposts that those responsible for the results of a digital marketing campaign agree will serve as the map for where your digital marketing needs to go.

And that’s why it’s important that KPIs are revisited often.

Things change rapidly in our business, and the KPI you used last year may not be appropriate anymore.

In Conclusion

Words mean things.

It’s important to understand what the words in our business mean.

But sometimes, we come from different backgrounds where the words may mean different things to different people.

The key to success is ensuring everyone on your team speaks the same language and knows what KPI or goal means when you say it.

If someone outside your organization doesn’t speak your language, that’s ok.

Just make sure when you bring people together, they know what each other is saying.

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Featured Image: Bennian/Shutterstock

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