A metric is a fancy way of asking what you want to count. The right metrics for your campaign are the ones that count activities that matter. Metrics that measure what you are doing are a good place to start. Metrics that measure what your supporters and potential voters are doing are even more valuable. Think of metrics like using a map. You’ll start out needing to know whether you are headed generally in the right direction, but ultimately you want to get to a specific point.

Your website is a two-way street. Think about what you want to measure before you even launch your website. You know what you want to say to visitors, but think about what they can tell you—about themselves, about their intensity for your issues, about their commitment to your campaign.

If you look to your website as a measuring tool, you can begin to think about how you’ll need to slice it up to capture data beyond just basic page view counts. Think of it as a survey, where your visitors tell you what questions they want you to answer and what problems they want you to solve through the links they click and the actions they take.

Counting clicks to boost your insight

For example, on the “issues” page of a typical campaign website, think about how the text could be presented as a short bullet point narrative with a popup window for each point. That way you’ll know not just that someone visited the page but what issues (and combinations of issues) rise to the top of your visitors’ hit list.

Connect the dots

Take this same approach to your online outreach media—email and advertising. When you send an email or place an ad, you know something about the recipient. When these folks click through to your website, you’ll know something about what they’ve done. Together this information is a lot more useful to you if you can track it end-to-end. The real value of these online, direct response channels is the opportunity to measure the activity of specific individuals not just by how often they click an ad or open an email. Now you can see what ad or paragraph in an email triggered each person to respond, allowing you to determine your ultimate success in getting each supporter to complete a specific action.

Why are they coming and where are they going?

The closer you can tie the action (clicking on a link) to a specific item or question, the more insight you will get out of the action itself. In the context of targeted media, this means keeping a tight focus within each email or ad or structuring the communication so that you enable respondents to click on an action tied to a specific message, rather than just a generic link to your donation or volunteer page. It also means setting up landing pages and tracking cookies on your website so you can connect visitors with the triggering message.

Drive through social media

Facebook and Twitter offer tools for insights within their own services that you should review. Ultimately you are trying to make a strong connection with these supporters, so the key metric to monitor for social media is how many fans or followers convert to a concrete action. A like or a tweet is nice, but volunteer signups and contributions are better measures of value.

How to know if you’re on the right road

Obviously your message is central to your campaign. How this message is performing is just as important to your success. If you look under the hood of a well-monitored campaign, you’ll see various page analytic codes, tracking links, customized landing pages, segmented email lists and tracking cookies, along with a commitment to evaluate the data daily and make constant adjustment to your website, email and advertising based on this analysis.

Are you prepared to go the distance?

You can monitor some of this end-to-end behavior with basic web analytics services (such as the free Google Analytics service). If your email service doesn’t integrate with your web analytics tool or your ad campaign doesn’t give you clickthrough tracking to specific landing pages, you need to ask why. If the tracking isn’t available, then you should consider finding another service for your email or advertising. If the tracking is available and it’s not configured, then you need to ask yourself whether you have the right expertise on your team.

Online metrics are accessible for any size campaign, but realizing value from the technology does require taking the time to understand the tools and a commitment to acting on the analysis.

Steve Pearson is president of CivicNEXT. Ford O’Connell is the managing director of Civic Forum Strategies and editor of the Political Quarterback blog.