Almost all metrics you currently use have one common thread: They are almost all backward-looking.
If you want to deepen the influence of data in your organization – and your personal influence – 30% of your analytics efforts should be centered around the use of forward-looking metrics.
But first, let’s take a small step back. What is a metric?
Here’s the definition of a metric from my first book:
Conversion Rate. Number of Users. Bounce Rate. All metrics.
[Note: Bounce Rate has been banished from Google Analytics 4 and replaced with a compound metric called Engaged Sessions – the number of sessions that lasted 10 seconds or longer, or had 1 or more conversion events or 2 or more page views.]
The three metrics above are backward-looking. They are telling us what happened in the past. You’ll recognize now that that is true for almost everything you are reporting (if not everything).
But, who does not want to see the future?
Yes. I see your hand up.
The problem is that the future is hard to predict. What’s the quote… No one went broke predicting the past. :)
Why use Predictive Metrics?
As Analysts, we convert data into insights every day. Awesome. Only some of those insights get transformed into action – for any number of reasons (your influence, quality of insights, incomplete stories, etc. etc.). Sad face.
One of the most effective ways of ensuring your insights will be converted into high-impact business actions is to predict the future.
Consider this insight derived from data:
The Conversion Rate from our Email campaigns is 4.5%, 2x of Google Search.
Now consider this one:
Our analysis suggests you can move from six email campaigns per year to nine email campaigns per year.
Finally consider this one:
Our analysis suggests you can move from six email campaigns per year to nine email campaigns per year.
We predict it will lead to an additional $3 mil in incremental revenue.
The predicted metric is New Incremental Revenue. Not just that, you used sophisticated math to identify how much of the predicted Revenue will be incremental.
Which of these three scenarios ensures that your insight will be actioned?
Yep. The one with the Predictive Metric.
Becaues it is hard, really hard, to ignore your advice when you come bearing $3 mil in incremental revenue!
Starting your Predictive Metrics journey: Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy.
In a delightfully wonderful development, every analytics tool worth its salt is adding Predictive Metrics to its arsenal. Both as a way to differentiate themselves with their own take on this capability, and to bring something incredibly valuable to businesses of all types/sizes.
In Google Analytics, an early predicted metric was: Conversion Probability.
Simply put, Conversion Probability determines a User’s likelihood to convert during the next 30 days!
I was so excited when it first came out.
Google Analtyics in this instance is analyzing all first-party data for everyone, identifying patterns of behavior that lead to conversions, now looking at everyone who did not convert, and on your behalf giving a score of 0 (no chance of conversion) to 100 (very high chance of conversion).
Phew! That’s a lot of work. :)
What’s particularly exciting is that Conversion Probability is computed for individual Users.
You can access the report easily in GA: Audience > Behavior > Conversion Probability.
An obvious use of this predicted behavior is to do a remarketing campaign focusing on people who might need a nudge to convert, 7,233 in the above case.
But, there are additional uses of this data in order to identify the effectiveness of your campaigns.
For example, here is the source of traffic sorted by Average Conversion Probability…
In addition to understanding Conversion Rate (last column) you can now also consider how many Users arrived via that channel who are likely to convert over the next 30 days.
Perhaps more delightfully you can use this for segmentation. Example: Create a segment for Conversion Probability > 50%, apply it to your fav reports like the content ones.
There is so much more you can explore.
[TMAI Premium subscribers, to ensure you are knocking it out of the park, be sure to review the A, B, O clusters of actionable recommendations in #238: The OG of Analytics – Segmentation! If you can’t find it, just emial me.]
Bonus Tip: I cannot recommend enough that you get access to the Google Merchandise Store Google Analytics account. It is a fully working, well-implemented real GA data for an actual business. Access is free. So great for learning. The screenshot above is from that account.
Threee Awesome New Predictive Metrics!
With everything turning over for the exciting world of Google Analytics 4 you get a bit more to add to your predictive metrics arsenal.
Conversion probability is being EOLed with GA 4, but worry not as you get a like-type replacement: Purchase Probability
Currently, purchase/ecommerce_purchase and in_app_purchase events are supported.
You can do all of the same things as we discussed above for Conversion probability.
To help you get closer to your Finance team – you really need to be BFFs with them! – you also get a predictive metric that they will love: Revenue Prediction
The revenue expected from all purchase conversions within the next 28 days from a user who was active in the last 28 days.
You can let your imagination roam wild as to what you can do with this power.
Might I suggest you start by looking at this prediction and then brainstorm with your Marketing team how you can overcome the shortfall in revenue! Not just using Paid strategies, but Earned and Owned as well.
Obviously in the rare case the Revenue Prediction is higher than target, you all can cash in your vacation days and visit Cancun. (Wait. Skip Cancun. That brand’s tainted. :)
There’s one more predicted metric that I’ve always been excited about: Churn Probability.
The probability that a user who was active on your app or site within the last 7 days will not be active within the next 7 days.
What’s that quote? It costs 5000x more to acquire a new User than to retain the one you already have? I might be exaggerating a tad bit.
For mobile app/game developers in particular (or for content sites, or any entity for whom recency/frequency is a do or die proposition). Churn is a constant obsession and now you can proactively get churn probability. Make it a core part of your analytical strategy to understand Behavior, Sources, Users, who are more/less likely to churn and action the insights.
GA 4 does not simply hand you these metrics willy-nilly. The algorithms require a certain number of Users, Conversions etc., in order to ensure they are doing sound computations on your behalf.
These three predictive metrics illustrate the power that forward-looking computations hold for you. There are no limits to how far you can take these approaches to help your company not only look backwards (you’ll be stuck with this 70% of the time) but also take a peek into the future (aim to spend 30% of your time here).
And please consider segmenting Purchase Probability, Revenue Probability and Churn Probability!
Bonus Tip: If you would like to migrate to the free version of Google Analytics 4 to take advantage of the above delicious predictive metrics, here’s a helpful article.
Predictive Metrics Nirvana – An Example.
For a Marketing Analyst, few things come close to nirvana in terms of forward-looking predictions from sophisticated analysis than to help set the entire budget for the year including allocation of that budget across channels based on diminishing returns curves and future opportunity and predict: Sales, Cost Per Sale, and Brand Lift.
Here’s how that looks from our team’s analytics practice…
Obviously, all these cells have numbers in them. You’ll understand that sharing them with you would be a career-limiting move on my part. :)
I can say that there are thirteen different element sets that go into this analysis (product launches, competitor behavior, past analysis of effectiveness and efficiency, underlying marketing media plan, upcoming industry changes, and a lot, lot, lot, of data).
Supercool – aka superhard – elements include being able to tie Brand Marketing to short, medium, long-term Sales.
Forward-looking allocations are based on simulations that can take all of the above, to answer low, medium, high-risk plans – from which our senior leader gets to choose the one she believes aligns with her strategic vision.
[Note: Strictly speaking what we are doing above is closer to Predictive Modeling, even though we have a bunch of Predictive Metrics. Potato – Potahto.]
I share our work as a way to invite your feedback on what we can do better and in the hope that if you are starting your Predicted Metrics practice, that it might serve as a north star.
From experience, I can tell you that if you ever felt you as an Analyst don’t have influence, that your organization ignores data, then there is nothing like Predicted Metrics to deepen your influence and impact on the business.
When people use faith to decide future strategy, the one thing they are missing is any semblance of what impact their faith-based strategy will have. The last three rows above are how you stand out.
The Danger in Predicting the Future.
You are going to be wrong.
A lot, initially. Then less over time as you get better and better and predicting the future.
(Machine Learning comes in handy there as it can ingest so much more complexity and spit out scenarios we simply can’t imagine.)
But, you will never be exactly right. The world is complicated.
This does not scare me for two reasons, I urge you to consider them:
2. Who is righter than you? The modern corporation mostly runs of faith. You are going to use data, usually a boat-load of it. It is usually far better than faith. And, when you are wrong, you can factually go back and update your models (faith usually is not open to being upgraded).
So. Don’t be scared.
Every time you are wrong, it is an opportunity to learn and be more right in the future – even if perfection will always be out of reach.
My hypothesis is that you are not spending a lot of time on predictive metrics and predictive modeling. Change this.
It is a great way to contribute materially to your company. It is a great way to invest in your personal learning and growth. It is a fantastic way to ensure your career is future-proof.
Live in the future – at least some of the time – as an Analyst/Marketer.
I’ll see you there. :)
As always, it is your turn now.
Please share your critique, reflections, tips and your lessons from projects that shift your company from only backwards looking metrics to foward looking metrics that predict the future.