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16 ways to manipulate your marketing metrics

16 ways to manipulate your marketing metrics Eric Wittlake

Marketers and publishers can be downright slimy. Not only do they focus on the wrong metrics for success, but they also fake results by turning to underhanded tactics, trickery, and even outright lying. But what's wrong with that?

Today, manipulating results has become so commonplace that you probably feel it is acceptable. And you wonder why advertisers and publishers are at odds or why your CEO doesn't have faith in your marketing department? But I digress.

16 ways to manipulate your marketing metrics

They didn't teach this stuff in your marketing course, so where do you begin? First, understand there are a number of approaches to manipulating your marketing metrics:

  • Inflate your metrics

  • Skip the work, buy your results

  • Spin failure into success

  • Outright lie about it

  • Just take their money (publisher tactics)

Are you ready to get started? Here are 16 ways to manipulate your metrics. Warning: You may need to click "Next" a few times to see them all -- we will cover that soon.

Inflate your metrics

1. Chase irrelevant trends
Thanks to BuzzFeed's success, you know timely topics are more likely to be read and shared, driving visits, page views, and social sharing. Who cares if you have nothing to do with the latest iPhone or you don't offer social media services? Jumping on the hot topic bandwagon will drive a quick increase in results.

For an even bigger increase, be one of the first to write about an emerging hot topic. How about the newest LinkedIn feature, the latest iPhone rumor (even just your speculation), or breaking news in your industry (if you want to maintain a modicum of relevance)?

2. Don't let email recipients go
Create different lists for every type of email you send, and when you get a new subscriber, you add them to multiple lists. Even if they unsubscribe from one or two lists, they are still subscribers. Hey, if they don't unsubscribe, it means they want it!

Bonus: Make the unsubscribe process as difficult as possible.

3. Inflate social sharing metrics
Social shares are validation of your content. When we see your content only has a handful of shares (or none at all), we assume it isn't very good.

Fortunately, social shares are easy to manipulate to feign a degree of credibility, although it won't make you a Mashable rival. With tools like GaggleAMP or Triberr, even small businesses can easily add 30 to 50 shares to every single post.

On Twitter, don't forget to double the number of tweets of your content by saying "Thanks!" and retweeting every time someone else shares your content. Here is an example from the Economic Policy Institute.

4. Turn to idle banter
Yes. You need a high "People Talking About This" (PTAT) on your Facebook. It is the road to social media marketing success and, subsequently, world domination.

There is no better way to increase your PTAT than asking people to "like" or share your inane image or quote. For great examples nearly every day, check out the Condescending Corporate Brand Page on Facebook.

Just buy your results

When inflating your metrics isn't enough, buy the results you need. Back in the internet bubble days, if you had simply purchased your own products, you would have created a huge stock valuation (until someone figured it out).

Today it isn't quite as easy, but don't be discouraged. You can still buy your way to marketing success.

5. Buy social media love
For an above-board (and more expensive) option, you can turn to Facebook, Twitter, or influencer advertising programs -- or roll the dice and buy followers like Mitt Romney (maybe) did.

6. Offer an incentive
People don't want your newsletter, whitepaper, or webcast. Give them a real reason to fill your form: a chance at a big prize, and increase your conversions by 200 percent to 700 percent.

7. Buy a list
Looking to quickly grow your email database? Buy a list of new contacts! For measly pennies per name, you can almost certainly afford to reach your goal.

Alternatively, add a social twist. Using a service like Social123, you can buy the email addresses of your Twitter followers or even your competitor's followers!

Spin failure into success

Is buying results beyond your budget, but you still need to show something positive? Turn to your data and refine your story.

8. Focus on the subtrend
Every program, even the apparent utter failure, has a hidden story. Find the best segments or activities and tell that story.

For example: "Although revenue is down year-over-year, revenue from visitors using iOS and Android devices is up significantly, showing we are well positioned for the critical mobile commerce market."

9. Celebrate failure (it's the modern success)
Every time you fail, you learn. Every time you succeed, you learn. But I digress again -- that won't help you.

So celebrate your failure as a success. Don't worry; even Harvard Business Review is on your side. Just send your boss a link to "Fail Bigger Cheaper: A Three Word Manifesto."

10. Distract
Shift to an easier metric. For online advertisers, the easiest solution is to report on view-through results.

When you switch to view-through results, you just need to reach the right audience to show great results on paper. And with high volume retargeting or audience buys, that is the easy part.

Warning: Look at the big picture. If you claim 40 percent of all website sales or conversions were driven by your new program but overall results were nearly flat, you may find yourself out on the street holding a cardboard sign.

Lie about it

Out of time to find a positive story? Just lie. Little white lies are common in business ("Sorry, my calendar is completely full"). One more won't hurt, right?

11. It's just an Excel formula
You do use Excel for reporting, right? Your reports can say whatever you want.

If you are going to falsify your data, step carefully. Whatever you do, don't touch the numbers that live in other systems (like marketing expenditures). However, click rates, pages per visit, or even revenue can be fair game, particularly if you include view-through results (see No. 10), which are almost never available in broader enterprise systems.

Rest assured: Corporate deception isn't limited to marketing. For inspiration, consider some of the tidbits that have come out around Autonomy, the software company purchased by HP.

Quoted from an article on Going Concern: "When Autonomy Corp. was starting up in this historic university town, founder Mike Lynch stuck a sign on an office door that read 'Authorized Personnel Only.' Behind the door, he told visitors, were 500 engineers working on 'hush-hush' projects. The door, in fact, led to a broom closet, Mr. Lynch recounted in a 2010 speech." 

12. What measurement?
Measurement can be expensive and complicated. This comes in handy when you need a reason to not talk about your results.

"We delivered more than a gazillion impressions and estimate we reached more than 80 percent of our core target market. Although we were not able to measure the revenue, we are very pleased with the results, including the sharp increase in our Facebook 'likes' during the campaign."

Seem far-fetched? If Doritos can turn a blind eye to the sales impact of its Super Bowl campaign (at least publicly), you can too.

Just take their money (the publisher tricks)

As a marketer, you win awards, increase your influence, and accelerate your career by manipulating metrics, but none of that can change your business results. But publishers? They turn manipulation directly into revenue.

13. Buy low, sell high
Like marketers buying social media love, why would publishers want to earn an audience when they can just buy one and resell it for a profit?

From StumbleUpon promotions, like the example below driving traffic to a large scale IBM sponsorship, to publishers buying bot traffic for fractions of pennies per visit, publishers can purchase low-cost traffic and resell it to advertisers for a significant premium.

14. Use navigation to increase impressions and engagement
To read this far, you've probably viewed six pages already. Not only did this increase page views by 500 percent, it also increased page views per visit, making the audience appear more engaged on paper.

How big of a difference can it really make? Check out this recent quote from Sam Slaughter: "We had a slideshow called 'Child Stars Then and Now,' which we would run at the end of every month when we needed to make up ground toward our page view goal." He continues writing, "But as an editor, I knew users were ignoring those banners as they clicked frantically past Leif Garrett's mugshot, and I always wondered: what if advertisers knew how the sausage was getting made?" 

15. Reload, reload, reload
Need more impressions? Just refresh the ads on the page! If you pay attention (just this once) to the sidebar ads as you scroll down your Facebook news feed, you will see them reload.

Traditional web publishers still use this old trick too. Watch the Signal Magazine homepage for 40 seconds, and you will see many of the ads reload. Leave the page open in a tab for an hour, and your visit will be like 90 additional page views! 
16. Chase hot topics
Marketers do it (see No. 1). Hot topics are even more valuable for publishers that directly monetize page views. For publishers with an in-demand audience, the hot topic is a modern day money tree.

What is MarketWatch, well known as a way to reach investors, doing covering the recent Asiana Airlines crash video? What is CIO, known for a business-focused enterprise IT audience, doing with a review of free Google Reader alternatives, as a 17 screen slideshow no less? That's right; it is taking your money.

Your turn
Reach for the stars, and with these tricks, the results will back you up every time. Just don't come crying to us if someone figures it out.

What is your favorite from this list, or what other tricks should your fellow marketers know about? Share in the comments below!

Eric Wittlake is a B2B marketer and marketing strategist at Babcock & Jenkins.

On Twitter? Follow Wittlake at @wittlake. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"Image of young businessman puppeteer" image via Shutterstock.

Eric is a marketing strategist and the head of media at Babcock & Jenkins, where he works primarily with enterprise B2B marketers. He is also blogs about content, social and digital marketing for B2B on his personal B2B Digital Marketing...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Katie Klaus

2013, August 20

Yesterday I analyzed our leads that were generated from a magazine ad. My findings were shocking, we had 6 leads generated on an ad, 5 of these "leads" also generated 77 other leads in the same magazine issue. The next month, I have 7 leads generated and 6 of these leads also generated 170 other "leads" in the same issue. I am finding the same "people" generating hundreds and hundred of leads over the course of a year... how do I trust the magazine I'm advertising in? I'm shocked that these ad performance numbers are so inflated... who would be dummying these accounts and manipulating the numbers? And why would they do that?