The Complete Glossary of Marketing Terms
Table of Contents
A marketing skill that’s often overlooked: the ability to pretend to know what others are talking about.
We’ve all been there.
Every marketing professional should have a dictionary on hand to wade through all the jargon and acronyms. But print resources won’t do. Marketing terms evolve, with new ones constantly being added to describe emerging technologies and strategies.
So we’ve created a digital, bookmark-able glossary with the key marketing terms (120 of them).
The terms below are important—they’re likely to come up in any marketing role. Knowing what they mean will make you better at your job.
Because many of them are often misunderstood, you’ll see plenty of myth busting in the following definitions. Also, although we aimed to be comprehensive, we didn’t include obvious terms. We know you know what a hashtag is.
A disciplined test that compares a control (A) to a challenger (B). Your control is what you’re currently doing; your challenger is the variation you’re testing out. Also known as a split test.
The goal of A/B testing is typically to improve the conversion rate of some part of your website, buyer journey, or marketing strategy.
There are many elements you can test, but some examples are:
- A/B test your call-to-action button (e.g., “shop now” vs. “get started”) to see which drives more clicks
- A/B test landing page headers to see which one results in a higher signup rate
- A/B test email subject lines to see which gets a higher open rate
A true A/B test requires statistical significance, which in turn requires sample size calculation. To keep it simple, we recommend using a tool like Google Optimize (free) or Optimizely.
Above the fold (ATF)
The part of a website that you see before scrolling.
“Above the fold” is an old term for the upper half of the front page of a newspaper. It’s where important news stories are published.
On websites, the “fold” is the bottom of a visitor’s view screen when they first arrive at a site. Its location depends on the device being used, since a monitor, laptop, tablet, and phone all have different screen sizes.
Visitors to your site will have one of two reactions to your ATF: stay or leave. There’s a lot you can do to get them to stay—in fact, we wrote a playbook on how to design an ATF that keeps visitors engaged.
The process of turning a new prospect or customer into an active user.
Activation is the second step in the AARRR “pirate metrics” framework, which organizes growth into five stages according to the buyer journey:
- Acquisition: how you find new prospects
- Activation: how you turn interested prospects or new customers into users
- Retention: how you get customers to keep using your product
- Referral: how you get customers to spread the word about your product
- Revenue: the money you get from all these activities
(We explain AARRR in our article “What Is Growth Hacking?”)
For subscription services, the power of activation lies in its compound effect on monthly recurring revenue (MRR). For example, a 25% increase in activation results in a greater increase in MRR than a 25% increase in acquisition would.
A goal of any activation process should be to reduce time to value. That’s the amount of time it takes for someone to experience their desired outcome from using a product or service.
The position of a pay-per-click ad on a search engine results page, in relation to other ads.
In Google Ads, your ad rank depends on factors including your bid, the competitiveness of an auction, and the context of a person’s search. See also pay per click (PPC).
Marketing strategy in which a business compensates people and publishers who bring them customers.
For example, whenever someone visits a PopSugar article on travel bags, clicks a “buy now” button, and then buys a bag, PopSugar earns a commission.
The difference between affiliate marketing and referral marketing:
- Affiliate marketing programs allow anyone to recommend a product, whether they’re a customer or not.
- Referral marketing is specifically designed to incentivize existing customers to share their experience with others.
Affiliate marketing is an especially useful channel for DTC brands.
The moment when a user first experiences the value of a product.
That moment leads to user activation and continued product use.
- Duolingo: complete your first language lesson
- Canva: create your first design
- Spotify: curate your first playlist
To identify your business’s “aha” moment, look for patterns and trends in user behavior. Check to see if there are any correlations between key events and retention. For example, Facebook found that users who added seven friends or more in their first 10 days used the product for much longer than those who didn’t hit that threshold.
We also recommend surveying your customers to figure out exactly when they experience your product’s value.
Broadly, the use of math, statistics, predictive modeling, and machine learning to find patterns and insights in data.
Businesses use analytics to conduct a wide range of tasks, from uncovering trends in customer behavior to tracking key performance indicators (KPIs). A theme for many of them: the pursuit of more effective ways to market and deliver products and services.
In digital marketing, “analytics” often refers to website analytics tools, which report site usage stats like the number of visits, bounce rate, devices and browsers used, and actions performed. Popular website analytics platforms include Google Analytics, Heap, and Mixpanel.
Annual contract value (ACV)
The average annualized revenue per customer contract (excluding any one-time fees).
If a customer signs a four-year contract for $48,000, your ACV is $12,000. If you have 100 customers on a monthly plan at $1,000 per month, your ACV is also $12,000.
The identification of points in the customer journey that contribute to a conversion (called touchpoints).
Customer acquisition is often a multi-channel process. Depending on the product or service, it can take months or even years for prospects to convert to users.
They might see Facebook ads, Google ads, and organic Instagram posts about a product. Maybe they come across a blog article or YouTube video that references the brand. Or a friend mentions it in conversation.
Which one of those led to the sale? The goal of attribution is to find out.
Average revenue per user (ARPU)
How much you earn for each customer you have.
To calculate ARPU, divide your total revenue during a specific period by the number of customers you have during that time:
ARPU = total revenue / customers
It’s often calculated on a monthly or annual basis. At Demand Curve, we use an annual calculation, so the “a” has a double meaning (both “average” and “annual”).
B2B enterprise companies, like Salesforce and Palantir, tend to have high ARPUs. Social media companies like Pinterest and Reddit have low ARPUs.
ARPU is important as a standalone metric, but it’s also important in relation to your customer acquisition cost (CAC). You need to know not only how much a customer is “worth” (ARPU) and how much you can afford to invest in acquiring a new one (target CAC), but also how those numbers do—and should—relate to each other (ARPU:CAC ratio).
A link from one website to another.
There are two types:
- Inbound link: a link from another website to your own
- Outbound link: a link from your website to another
Backlinks are a critical part of off-site search engine optimization (SEO). Two practical reasons why they matter:
- Link equity: Just as the strongest research papers get the most citations, Google’s PageRank algorithm views websites that receive more backlinks as better quality.
- Referral traffic: The more inbound links your site has, the more potential sources of referral traffic it has.
Backlinks from reputable websites carry more weight than ones from less authoritative sites. The relevance of the backlink matters too—a link to your makeup shop from a beauty site will help you more than one from a restaurant-supply site.
Below the fold
Content that’s not yet visible when a visitor first arrives at a web page. They have to scroll to see it.
For a comparison, see above the fold.
The percentage of people who visit a web page, then leave without interacting with the page or going to a second one on the same site.
A high bounce rate often isn’t a good thing. It can mean that visitors weren’t impressed by what they saw and decided to “bounce” (leave) to another site.
But it’s not a concern if it means they found what they wanted on one page and can still proceed to conversion—for instance, if you have a single-page site.
For a comparison, see exit rate.
Business to business (B2B)
A type of company that sells to other businesses, not consumers or governments.
Some products or services that are B2B:
- Point-of-sale systems
- Accounting software
- Steel mills
- Food distribution to restaurants
Business to consumer (B2C)
A type of company that sells to people, not businesses or governments.
Some products that are B2C:
- Home goods
- Grocery stores
- Beauty products
- Streaming services like Netflix and HBO Max
Business to government (B2G)
A type of company that sells to governments, not consumers or businesses.
Products that are B2G (some of these can also be B2B or B2C):
- Voting software
- Plumber agencies
- Quantum computing
- Fertilizer (the government has to tend to its lawns too!)
A profile of your ideal customer. Also known as a customer persona.
Buyer personas are detailed profiles of the (imaginary) people you want to buy from you. They entail a combination of customer research and fictionalizing.
Common components include demographics (age, gender, location), job title, interests, spending habits, and psychographic details like values, challenges, and goals.
Many companies will even name their personas: Julie the CMO, Kevin the Side Hustler.
Your company might have just one persona—for example, a B2G company might have only one client type, the head of purchasing for a specific government agency.
Or it might have several, especially if different personas have different needs from a product and willingness to pay. A health app, for instance, might segment personas into categories like “The College Student Who’s Focused on Stress Reduction” and “The Remote Worker Who Needs Fast At-Home Exercises.” That kind of segmentation will help you personalize and target your messaging and outreach.
Call to action (CTA)
An element designed to get people to take action.
CTAs are usually buttons.
Less commonly, they can take other forms like hyperlinks or clickable content pieces.
There are many different actions you could encourage a prospect or customer to take. Some common ones include:
- Add to cart
- Start free trial
- Download guide
- Create an account
- Register for a webinar
CTAs can be found in virtually any digital space or asset, such as a website, blog posts, emails, ads, and videos.
The copy of your CTA should be succinct (ideally just two to three words) and clear—the reader should know exactly what will happen when they click.
When customers stop being customers.
The opposite of retention.
Click-through rate (CTR)
The number of clicks to something divided by the number of times it was shown, expressed as a percentage.
For example, if an ad is clicked 100 times after 6,000 impressions, its CTR is 1.67% ([100/6,000] x 100).
CTR is a good indicator of how well an ad captures an audience’s interest—the higher the click rate, the more successful the ad is at generating interest.
CTRs vary drastically depending on the medium. Google Ads search campaigns have an industry-wide average CTR of 5.06%, according to Instapage. For email marketing, the average is 3.75%, and for social ads, it’s around 1%.
The act of reaching out to someone you’ve never communicated with before.
Cold outreach is typically associated with email, although Slack and social media direct messages can be forms of it too. The recipient is usually a prospect.
Here’s how to write a cold email.
Content management system (CMS)
Software used to create, manage, and publish website content.
Popular examples include WordPress, Squarespace, and Wix.
CMS platforms let teams maintain their site content in one central, sharable space. Standard features include permissions and roles (e.g., author vs. admin) and SEO capabilities.
The creation and use of content to grow a business.
Though often thought of in terms of blogging, content marketing includes many different content formats, such as:
- White papers
- Slide decks
The aim is to provide information that’s of value to the prospects who come across it. Instead of interrupting people’s day-to-day lives with ads they didn’t ask for, content marketing integrates into their lives by providing information they’re searching for or interested in.
Content marketing is used across the entire funnel. Among other functions, it can help with raising brand awareness, acquiring customers, and improving sales enablement.
The completion of a desired action by a prospect.
“Conversion” doesn’t necessarily mean “sale” (although it can). It could be any action that you want a prospect to complete.
- Clicking a link
- Filling out a form on a landing page
- Downloading a piece of content
- Registering for an event
- Buying a product/service
Conversions can be fast (app downloads) or slow (B2B sales).
See conversion tracking.
Conversion rate optimization (CRO)
The process of improving website performance in relation to conversions.
CRO can be used to improve any metric that’s important to your business.
- You want to get more free trial signups on your landing page. So you add a live chat widget to help prospects who are on the fence.
- You want to get more form submissions. So you shorten your form by removing every field except “email address.”
The process of tracking conversions using analytics tools and ad channel pixels.
Conversion tracking applies across marketing channels such as a website, ads, and email marketing. Its purpose is to clarify attribution.
Tracking conversions lets you make informed decisions about your marketing efforts. For example, it helps with:
- Showing where people are dropping off in your funnel
- Determining if your paid efforts are profitable or not
- Optimizing ads by revealing which ones are leading to conversions—and which ones aren’t
To use ads as an example, when you run any type of digital ad, you need to know whether someone who sees the ad (or clicks it) actually buys on your site. Or installs your app. Or at least spends time on your landing page.
Otherwise, you won’t know if the ad is working.
Each of those steps—landing page visit, app installation, purchase, etc.—needs to be tracked. Events that lead directly to users or revenue are called conversion events.
A fancy word for text.
In marketing and advertising, copy differs from everyday text because it’s deliberately crafted for a specific and trackable outcome, like getting a click on a CTA or purchase on a product page.
The act of creating copy is called copywriting.
See creative for a comparison.
Cost of goods sold (COGS)
All the costs that go into producing a product or service, including materials, overhead, and labor expenses.
To calculate COGS, add up all the expenses that go into creating your product/service, as well as the expenses required to support existing customers (such as tools and salaries for customer success and support teams).
Cost per acquisition (CPA)
The cost to acquire something.
CPA is similar to customer acquisition cost (CAC), with one key difference:
- CAC is the cost to acquire a paying customer.
- CPA is the cost to acquire something that’s not a paying customer. It’s a broad term for the cost of each of some meaningful conversion that’s not a purchase.
For example, you would calculate CPA for:
- Free trial signups
- Sales leads
- Newsletter subscriptions
- App installs
Cost per click (CPC)
The amount you pay every time someone clicks on one of your ads.
It’s also used in the context of how you pay for ads—with CPC, you pay per click. Ad channels like Google Ads generally charge this way.
Paying per click is more results-based than the next two terms, CPM and CPV. Both charge based on views, not clicks.
Cost per thousand views (CPM)
The amount you pay for every thousand views or impressions of an ad. Also called cost per mille (“mille” is Latin for “thousand”).
For example, if you spend $20 and get 5,000 impressions on an ad, your CPM is $20/5,000 x 1,000: $4.
CPM is a common method for pricing digital ads. Facebook and Google both use it.
Cost per view (CPV)
The amount you pay when your video ad is viewed.
For example, if your CPV is $0.25 and your ad gets 1,000 views, then you pay $250 ($0.25 x 1,000).
Typically, a video ad doesn’t have to be watched to the end to trigger a payout. On YouTube, a view is counted when someone watches 30 seconds of, or interacts with, a video ad.
Another way of saying multimedia, such as images and videos. It’s the visual complement to written copy.
Used in this sense, “creative” is a noun, not an adjective. Example: “We’re testing an unboxing video for our ad creative.”
Often, the creative is the first element of a digital ad that audiences will notice. That’s especially the case on highly visual platforms like TikTok and Instagram.
However, the copy helps funnel your audience toward conversion.
See influencer marketing.
To sell related or complementary products.
Cross-selling can be a highly effective method of increasing sales, since you’re targeting existing customers and prospects who are near the point of purchase.
For a comparison, see upsell.
Customer acquisition cost (CAC)
How much you pay—to get someone to pay you.
CAC measures how much you spend to get a new customer. Calculate it by dividing your total expenses to acquire a customer by how many customers you get.
Example: You sell furniture. You pay $100 for a classified ad in the newspaper. You sell two couches through it. Your CAC is $50.
More complicated example:
- You pay a salesperson $10,000 a month to send out emails for you, plus a $1,000 bonus for each customer they bring in. You close five deals a month.
- Total cost: $10,000 + ($1,000 x 5) = $15,000
- Cost divided by 5 deals: $3,000
- Your CAC is $3,000.
The higher the CAC you can afford, the more options you have for growth.
When considering how much you’ll be spending on new customers, factor in all expenses tied to customer acquisition. That includes ad costs, salaries, management systems, overhead, etc. But exclude expenses tied to customer retention—CAC is only for new customers, not returning ones.
CAC is particularly important in relation to average revenue per user (ARPU). All businesses should understand their ARPU:CAC ratio, which informs both acquisition methods and growth potential.
Information associated with individual customers, such as user behavior, demographics, and personal details.
There are three main customer data types, categorized by how information is obtained:
- First-party data: data provided directly to a company by customers. Examples: contact information shared in a form submission, feedback provided during a survey or interview.
- Second-party data: data provided to an organization from another source, for which that data is first-party.
- Third-party data: data bought, collected, and sold by a data aggregator. The aggregator doesn’t interact with customers.
Customer data is a critical business asset. It allows you to personalize the customer experience, which leads to engagement and growth.
But it’s also an extremely sensitive topic—one that should always be approached with transparency, respect, and adherence to privacy laws.
Check out our playbook on personalization for more on how to use (but never abuse) customer data.
Customer data platform (CDP)
Software used to consolidate customer data into one centralized space.
CDPs unite data across all your tools, rather than relying on a series of one-off integrations. They also create and automatically update customer profiles based on user behavior.
For example, say a prospective customer is researching your company. Using a CDP, you can see how they began the buyer journey; attribution touchpoints might include social media marketing, email, SMS, and in-store. When they visit your site, you can see what actions led to them becoming a customer, e.g., where they clicked and what they looked at. From there, you can see how they got set up and activated in your app, and how they stayed retained.
See buyer persona.
Customer relationship management (CRM)
Software used to manage interactions with customers.
Unlike CDPs, CRMs track customer-facing interactions. They’re more center stage than behind the scenes. Sales and marketing teams use them to manage interactions across the buyer journey and customer lifecycle, so everyone on the team knows exactly when and how a lead or customer has been engaged.
Some common categories for CRMs to track are lead status, purchase history, and contact history (all the calls and messages a lead/customer has gotten from everyone on a team).
Salesforce and HubSpot are two popular CRMs.
See email deliverability.
Direct to consumer (DTC)
A type of company that sells directly to customers.
DTC brands cut out the people in the middle, like wholesalers and retailers.
Brands like Casper, Warby Parker, and Dollar Shave Club are DTC. Customers buy their goods on their websites, then get their purchases shipped directly to them.
DTC brands are often digital-first, but they aren’t necessarily digital-only. Both Casper and Warby Parker have physical store locations. Many brands that start out as DTC-only also end up migrating to online marketplaces like Amazon to increase brand exposure.
Automatic distribution of a set of pre-written messages.
Drip messages can be emails, in-app messages, texts, or some combination. Because of the range of forms it can take, drip marketing goes by a few different names, like drip messaging, drip email, and drip campaigns.
What goes into your drip communications will depend on your goal. Some common goals are:
- Turn freemium/free trial prospects into customers
- Turn new customers into activated/retained users
- Encourage users to refer others to your product
It’s common for the initial message in a drip campaign to be triggered by an action (e.g., a prospect signs up for a free trial, then gets a welcome email). Subsequent messages are delivered on a schedule—a second email might go out several days later.
Publicity a business gets from third parties without paying for it.
Unlike owned media, earned media is generated outside a business. Unlike paid media, no money changes hands.
Examples include press coverage, reviews, and organic (unpaid) user-generated content.
The buying and selling of products and services online.
Anything that’s sold or bought through the internet is ecommerce, whether it’s a physical good or a service (e.g., a wedding photographer you book and pay for through a website).
Every store on Shopify is an ecommerce store. Every eBay or Amazon transaction is ecommerce. Examples of what’s not ecommerce: a visit to a brick-and-mortar store, a lawyer on retainer, a restaurant meal you order and eat on-site. (If you order it through GrubHub, it’s ecomm.)
The percentage of emails that reach subscribers’ inboxes.
High deliverability means your emails are reaching more subscribers, for a more effective and higher-ROI email marketing campaign. Low deliverability means your emails are reaching spam folders or getting blocked by firewalls.
To improve deliverability, follow the steps here.
Email service provider (ESP)
Software used to manage a company’s email marketing program.
ESPs are used to create and distribute both campaigns and broadcasts (one-off emails), manage subscriber lists, and track performance metrics. They’re a standard component of any marketing tech stack.
Popular ESPs include Klaviyo, Mailchimp, and SendGrid.
Interactions with your product or content.
Engagement can take a number of different forms:
- Product engagement: user interactions with your product. On Netflix, views are a type of engagement; on WhatsApp, messages sent are. Product engagement is essential to retention.
- Social media engagement: any interactions with your posts, such as likes, shares, comments, etc.
- Site engagement: visitor interactions such as page views and form submissions
- Email engagement: subscriber interactions like shares, forwards, clicks, etc.
Given all those variables and different types of engagement, calculating engagement rate is tricky. If you want to see how compelling your content is, try comparing engagement to another metric, like reach or impressions—e.g., how many likes did a post get compared to how many people saw it?
The percentage of people who leave a website after visiting a specific page.
The difference between exit rate and bounce rate:
- Exit rate measures the percentage of website visitors for whom a page was the last one they visited.
- Bounce rate measures the percentage of people who leave from the first page they visit.
A high exit rate on certain pages (like a checkout page) can indicate a flaw there, such as unoptimized design, copy, or functionality. But a high exit rate on an order confirmation page isn’t something to be worried about—consumers have already completed the buyer journey at that point.
The process of creating hypotheses, testing them properly, collecting data to prove or disprove them, and applying what you’ve learned, for continuous growth.
Business experimentation applies the scientific method to growth. It can be used to validate channels, features, products, and strategies.
“Business experimentation” and “A/B testing” are not synonyms. Experimentation is an umbrella term that covers all types of testing—not just A/B tests but also prototype builds, landing page tests, etc.
We’re working on a step-by-step guide to business experimentation. Sign up for our newsletter to get notified when it’s out.
See customer data.
An acquisition strategy in which a limited version of a service is offered for free.
At a certain point—for instance, when they want to access premium features—a freemium prospect might convert into a paid user.
A common misconception is that freemium is a business model. It’s a way to acquire customers, not get them to pay.
Both freemium and free trials are product-led growth tactics for customer acquisition. They help with conversion by reducing signup friction and getting users to experience a product’s value faster.
The stages a person goes through on the way to becoming a customer. Also called a conversion funnel, sales funnel, or marketing funnel.
There are a lot of variations on it, but in general, a funnel goes something like this:
Prospect develops awareness of a product → gets interested in it → considers it → demonstrates possible intent to purchase → evaluates it → makes a purchase.
Marketing activities that are related to the earlier stages of the funnel are called top of the funnel (TOFU). Content marketing, ads to raise brand awareness, and cold outreach are all top of funnel.
Activities and elements that are closer to the point of purchase are bottom of the funnel (BOFU). Ecommerce checkout pages, for instance, are BOFU.
It’s important to note that the funnel isn’t actually linear. Prospects often enter it at different stages, move backwards, and skip stages.
Accessible only behind a form.
Content that’s “gated” can’t be viewed until a prospect has entered their information in a form.
Gating content is a popular form of lead generation—once you have someone’s contact information, you can start moving them from awareness of your brand to consideration of your product or service. Often, that means entering the prospect into a drip campaign.
The systematic pursuit of business growth.
Growth hacking is commonly misunderstood.
- What it’s thought to be: an easy way to game the system and “hack” growth. Use a few shortcuts, and 10x your growth overnight.
- What it actually is: a discipline that applies experimentation and optimization for continuous growth.
It’s also the belief that product development is at the heart of growth. Create a great product, and it will grow. No billboards or TV ads needed.
We wrote an article that further debunks the wrong interpretation of growth hacking—and explains how to do it right.
A strategic process for constantly optimizing a business’s growth.
It’s essentially a synonym for growth hacking. We prefer it because it removes the confusion that the word “hacking” introduces.
At Demand Curve, we define growth as the output from executing specific marketing activities.
The inputs are your tactics and strategies. Think of them as levers that control a big machine. If you pull them in the wrong order, the machine isn’t going to do what you need it to do. But when you get them right, you build a growth engine that gets you more customers and revenue.
There’s a ton more we could say about growth marketing—we created a whole program on how to do it—but that’s the short version.
A visual representation of how a user behaves on a web page.
A heatmap tool like Hotjar can show you where users clicked on your page, how far they scrolled down, or where they moved their mouse.
That information can be very useful in determining which page sections captured the most and least attention. And that, in turn, can inform decisions about what to test—or change—on your landing pages.
The number of times a post, piece of content, or ad is displayed.
Impressions differ from reach:
- Impressions: How many times your content is displayed
- Reach: How many people see your content
For example, say a Facebook post shows up in your feed twice: first from the original publisher, then again when a friend shares it. If you saw both forms, that counts as two impressions and one reach.
Marketing that brings potential customers to you.
In traditional sales outreach, you go out and find customers. With inbound marketing, customers find you. That usually happens because you’ve created valuable content that attracts their attention—then attracts them to your brand.
Marketing strategy in which a business and an influential person collaborate to promote something.
The term “influencer” (aka creator) can be applied to anyone with an online audience that pays attention to them. They might be high-profile celebrities or everyday people with a few thousand followers (see micro-influencer).
The typical process for influencer marketing:
- A business researches relevant influencers and contacts them.
- Influencers create content to promote the business’s products, services, or campaigns to their audiences. They get paid.
For an 80/20 on how to start working with influencers, check out our influencer marketing playbook.
An ad that appears between content pages, covering a site or app interface.
- Pro: Unlike more discreet ad types, they’re impossible to ignore.
- Con: They interrupt the user experience.
Use them sparingly.
Jobs-to-be-done framework (JTBD)
A methodology for defining a product’s unique value in relation to customers’ needs.
According to the JTBD framework—which we recommend using—companies should ask, “What job are people hiring my product for?” This is a customer-centered approach, with companies designing products around users’ real-life needs, desires, and interests.
A few examples:
- Zoom: Customers “hire” Zoom to virtually connect remote contacts.
- Rent the Runway: Customers “hire” Rent the Runway for short-term designer clothes rentals.
- Robinhood: Customers “hire” Robinhood to make investing accessible.
For pre-launch companies, the JTBD framework helps validate market demand.
- What problems do people encounter and hire products for?
- What job needs to be done that no good products exist for?
For post-launch companies, it helps pinpoint where and how a product provides the most value.
Key performance indicator (KPI)
A metric used to track performance, particularly in relation to a business goal.
For example, if your goal is to increase conversions from your email marketing campaigns, an important KPI to track would be conversion rate. You would measure it over time to see how it changes.
You might also be interested in other KPIs, like your click-through rate and revenue per subscriber. Each of those is an indicator of how well your campaigns are performing.
A word or phrase typed into a search engine.
In SEO strategy, companies aim to improve their rankings for specific keywords on search engine results pages.
A web page that someone reaches as a result of interacting with a campaign.
Landing pages are often where ads lead to: Someone sees an online ad → clicks on it → arrives at a landing page. Email CTAs and referral links can also lead to landing pages.
Landing pages can—and should—be tailored to specific target audiences and where they’re coming from. For example, this Semrush ad:
Leads to this landing page:
Note the consistency in messaging. If someone clicked on the ad because they want better online visibility, they're instantly reminded of that benefit on the landing page. Another ad with different messaging might lead to a different landing page.
The process of attracting prospects to a business.
- Marketing-qualified lead (MQL): a lead who has engaged with your marketing efforts (e.g., read your blog article, watched your webinar)
- Sales-qualified lead (SQL): a lead generated by your sales initiatives, such as a cold call from a salesperson or a demo at a conference
- Product-qualified lead (PQL): a lead who comes to you directly from your product, like someone who signs up for your freemium plan
Once you’ve generated leads, the goal is to nurture them through the funnel until they convert into paying customers.
Lifetime value (LTV)
How much you expect a customer to pay you throughout their relationship with your company, averaged across all users or segments of users.
LTV is similar to ARPU, but whereas ARPU looks at the average revenue that a customer will produce over a certain duration of time, LTV looks at the revenue produced over an entire relationship between a customer and a company.
- If someone pays you $100 per month, and the average user stays with you for two years, your LTV is $2,400 (24 months x $100 per month).
- If people generally buy from you only once and pay $200, your LTV is $200.
- If a customer pays $500 upfront, then $100 every year, and customers stay with you for six years on average, your LTV is $1,100 ($500 + [$100 x 6]).
Young companies won’t always have a good idea of what their LTV is, because they might not know how long customers will stay with them. For that reason, we recommend that early-stage startups focus on ARPU, not LTV, when considering revenue in relation to their customer acquisition costs.
An audience with similar interests and behaviors to your existing customers.
First introduced by Facebook, lookalike audiences allow you to target ads to people who are similar to your customers.
You can create them based on platform engagement (e.g., fans of your Facebook business page) or website/app traffic. Or you can upload a list of customers. Regardless, you’re letting the platform know who has already purchased from or shown interest in your business, so your ads can be surfaced to audiences that are more likely to be interested.
Lookalike audiences often perform better than other types of targeting, such as interest-based targeting.
An influencer with a following in the thousands or tens of thousands.
Compared to influencers with hundreds of thousands or millions of followers, micro-influencers can be a good fit for business partnerships. They often have high engagement rates and flexible payment terms.
Monthly recurring revenue (MRR)
How much revenue a business makes in a month.
MRR is an important metric for subscription-based companies in particular to track. Calculate it by multiplying total paying users by the average billed amount.
Example: If your meditation app charges an average of $10/month across all plans and has 3,000 paying users, your MRR is $10 x 3,000: $30,000.
In addition to the amount, another thing to pay attention to with MRR is constancy. Some subscription services have constant MRR (e.g., Spotify, Netflix), whereas others will see the bulk of their revenue come in later in the customer lifecycle. An example would be a SaaS product that starts customers out on a low-priced entry-level plan, which they eventually upgrade from after using the product for a while. If that’s the case, you’ll probably need a higher ARPU:CAC ratio.
A disciplined test in which multiple variables are changed.
It’s similar to A/B testing, but with more variables.
For example, say you have an above-the-fold image, title, and CTA.
- With an A/B test, you would test only two variants of one element, e.g., one image versus another image. Everything else would stay the same.
- With a multivariate test, you would test more variables: maybe both images, three versions of your title, and two versions of your CTA. A multivariate testing platform would create 12 (2 x 3 x 2) variations of your page with different combinations of elements.
Because the changes are minor and you’re testing so many of them, you would need an immense amount of traffic to make multivariate testing worthwhile—along the lines of Google, Facebook, or Netflix.
Net promoter score (NPS)
A metric that indicates how likely people are to recommend your company to a friend or colleague.
You can find out your NPS by distributing a customer survey.
Subtract the percentage of respondents who are detractors from the percentage who are promoters.
If 50% of your customers are promoters and 10% are detractors, your NPS is 40.
An NPS above 50 is considered excellent. From 0-50 is average. Below 0 is a really bad sign—you’ll need to fix things.
North star metric
The single metric that’s the number-one indicator of a business’s growth.
Improving your north star metric has the biggest impact on growth. Other metrics might move the needle some; your north star exceeds them all.
Whatever you pick, your north star metric should do three things:
- Reflect your product’s value.
- Indicate strategic progress.
- Result in revenue.
It’s not easy to come up with your north star, but it’s crucial. Picking the wrong one could mean you’re not maximizing growth. For instance, “new user activations” might be a great north star for some startups, but for others, that could mean prioritizing customer acquisition over customer retention—for low lifetime value.
Objectives and key results (OKR)
A framework for setting measurable goals.
OKRs have two components: the objective (O) and the key results (KRs). The objective is your goal, and the key results are how you know you’ve achieved it.
For example, an OKR that pertains to growing website traffic might look like this:
- The objective: increase site traffic during Q1
- Key result: traffic increases from 50k to 90k unique site visits
- Key result: keywords in the top 10 pages of Google results increase from 4k to 8k
- Key result: traffic from social media sources grows 30%
The difference between OKRs and KPIs:
- OKRs are measurable goals over a period of time.
- KPIs are measurable metrics. KPIs can be, and often are, the metrics in the key results of OKRs, like unique site visits, ranking keywords, and traffic percentage in the above example.
The process new users go through when they first start using a product or service.
Onboarding is part of the activation process. It must answer the main question new users are thinking: What can this product do for me?
To answer that question, you’ll almost certainly need to educate new users about your product and how its features lead to their desired outcome. Think about any SaaS product you’ve ever used—chances are, you didn’t know how to use it at first without some guidance. (There are some exceptions, like products or apps whose use is self-explanatory.)
Some common onboarding features include a welcome message, product tour, tooltips, progress bar, checklist, and personalization/customization elements.
The percentage of subscribers who open an email.
A common misconception is that your open rate tells you how good your email is.
It doesn’t. It tells you how good your subject line is, and how much subscribers liked your past content.
Here are the email marketing metrics that matter more.
In marketing, “organic” is the opposite of “paid.” A social media post that doesn’t have any ad dollars behind it is organic. A promoted or boosted post is paid, as is any PPC ad.
Many companies apply a hybrid approach to growth marketing, combining organic and paid.
Out of home (OOH)
Ads experienced outside the home.
Billboards, ads on the sides of buses, and stadium signage are all examples.
Digital OOH is a subset of OOH. Think: video displays and digital billboards.
Marketing that involves pushing a message out to prospects.
It’s the opposite of inbound marketing, when prospects come to you.
Outbound marketing channels include direct mail, any type of ad, and cold outreach. What you’re doing with those channels is intercepting your audience’s attention. Outbound is a more interruptive form of marketing than inbound.
Often, the two types work in tandem. For instance, a content marketing strategy (inbound marketing) might benefit from a paid advertising boost that brings traffic to it (outbound marketing).
For more, see “Inbound vs. Outbound Marketing: Full Breakdown.”
Marketing content that your business owns.
Examples include your website, email campaigns, and print marketing collateral. You create that content and have full ownership of and control over it.
Organic social media seems owned, but because it’s so dependent on third-party platforms—and their algorithms—it’s not really.
Pay per click (PPC)
Payment model in which an advertiser pays a platform every time an online ad is clicked.
PPC is used on platforms like Amazon, Facebook, and LinkedIn. When someone clicks an ad on Amazon, for instance, the advertiser pays Amazon.
PPC is probably most often associated with search engine marketing (SEM)—advertisers bid for ad placement on search engines like Google, based on related keywords.
The amount of time it takes to recover your customer acquisition cost (CAC), before you break even.
A startup with a short payback period can reinvest in growth more quickly. They’re less likely to have cash flow issues. On the other hand, if it takes years to earn back the costs you put into acquiring a customer, you run the risk of using up all your resources during that time.
In general, the longer the payback period, the higher your ARPU:CAC ratio needs to be.
The use of customer data to create a unique experience for people interacting with your product or brand.
- Email campaigns with personalized subject lines, or with content based on user behavior and preferences
- Retargeting ads based on user behavior
- Landing page messaging that depends on location or interests
- SMS transactional messages
Companies that use personalization tactics grow faster than those that don’t. But to do it right, you have to be helpful, not invasive. You have to follow the three rules of personalization:
- Collect customer data responsibly.
- Adopt a customer-centric mindset.
- Don’t overstep.
For more, see our playbook on how to get personalization right.
Product-led growth (PLG)
When a business’s product is the main source of its growth.
The idea is that if you build a great product, people will come back to it, build a habit out of using it, and tell others about it, for organic retention and referrals. So growth happens out of natural product use, not because of product-external marketing channels like ads or cold outreach.
Nir Eyal, the author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, identified a four-step cycle for how habits form in products:
- Trigger: what motivates a behavior. Triggers can be internal (emotional states) or external (environmental signals telling you what to do next).
- Action: what a user does when the trigger occurs. E.g., you’re bored (the trigger), so you open up TikTok.
- Variable reward: some kind of reinforcement that has an element of mystery. When you open TikTok, you know you’ll be rewarded with content—but what will it be?
- Investment: what you put into the product to make it better with use. You curate your TikTok follows to get the content you’re most interested in. That’s an investment.
Product engagement is integral to product-led growth.
How well a product fits into its intended market.
Not having product-market fit is the number-one reason why startups fail.
Founders often prioritize creating a product over choosing a market that’s in need of a solution. A startup builds a product they think is wonderful—then never finds a market that needs it.
Even well-funded businesses can crash if they don’t sufficiently consider the market they’re selling to before building a product. Famous examples include Segway and Quibi. In contrast, startups like Uber and Slack clearly have a market for their services.
The act of searching for and reaching out to new potential customers (known as prospects), typically those with little or no awareness of your company.
Some methods of prospecting include paid advertising, public relations, cold outreach, and networking.
Public relations (PR)
The practice of managing the spread of information between a company and the public.
The goal of PR efforts is to foster a positive reputation through unpaid or earned communications.
For example, good PR would be getting a national publication to use your CEO as a source for an article about your industry. Or getting your latest product release featured in TechCrunch.
Public relations are also important during times of crisis, if a company’s credibility is at stake (called crisis management).
A metric used by search engines like Google and Bing to gauge how competitive your ads are.
It’s calculated based on three criteria:
- An ad’s expected click-through rate
- Its relevance to a user’s search
- The user experience for the landing page it leads to
A low score can be an indicator that at least one of those three factors needs to be improved.
The number of unique people who see your content or ad.
For a comparison, see impressions.
The use of incentivized word of mouth for customer acquisition.
Referral marketing motivates your existing customers to recommend your business to their networks. Businesses that do it offer an incentive to the referring customer—and sometimes the referred prospect—to encourage them to spread the word or become a new customer.
- Outdoor Voices gives you $20 off your next purchase of at least $100 when you refer a friend. Your friend gets $20 off too.
- Duolingo offers a free week of their premium program when you refer a friend.
We wrote an in-depth article on customer referral programs—and how to launch your own.
For a comparison, see affiliate marketing.
Reengaging prospects or customers through email.
It’s basically retargeting (the next term we’ll talk about), but for email.
Example: If a subscriber to your email list adds items to their cart but doesn’t check out, you can remarket to them by sending them a friendly reminder to complete their purchase. Or if they haven’t bought anything in a while, you could send a repurchase email based on past shopping behavior.
Reengaging prospects or customers through ads triggered by user behavior.
Retargeting is an effective way to increase conversion rates.
It’s often used to advertise to past visitors to a website who didn’t convert (on-site retargeting). By tracking behavior on your site, you can create ads that are personalized to visitors’ actions, to funnel them back toward conversion.
There’s also off-site retargeting, which is based on behaviors that occur somewhere other than a website, like on social media or search engines.
Facebook and Google are typical platforms for running retargeting ads.
When customers buy a product again or keep using it.
Retention is the third step in the AARRR “pirate metrics” growth framework, after acquisition and activation and before referral and revenue. (See activation for more on AARRR.)
It’s less costly than customer acquisition, yet marketing teams often deprioritize it in relation to acquisition.
That’s a mistake.
Solid retention is an indicator of strong product-market fit and product value. If people like your product, they’ll keep using it, for a higher lifetime value. And they’ll tell their friends about it (see virality).
We provide some retention strategies in our article on growth hacking.
Return on advertising spend (ROAS)
The amount of revenue you earn on an ad campaign for every dollar spent on it.
Measuring your ROAS helps you track the profitability of your campaigns. The formula for calculating it is:
ROAS = (revenue/cost) x 100
For example, say a company spends $1,000 on a Reddit ad campaign in a month. During that month, the campaign earns $5,000.
$5,000/$1,000 x 100 = a 500% ROAS
Seen another way, for every dollar spent, the campaign earns $5 in revenue. The ROAS is 5:1.
Return on investment (ROI)
How much an investment earns compared to how much it costs.
Here’s the formula for return on investment:
ROI = (gain from investment - cost of investment) / cost of investment x 100
Example: You invest $2,000 in TikTok ads. That includes all costs that went into the ads, such as creative costs and ad spend. The ads end up generating $3,000 in sales.
To calculate your ROI, divide your profits ($3,000 - $2,000 = $1,000) by the investment cost ($2,000), for a ROI of $1,000/$2,000, or 50%.
Search engine marketing (SEM)
The use of paid advertising on search engine results pages to increase a website’s visibility.
Advertisers pay to have their ad shown among the top search results.
The difference between SEM and the next term we’ll cover, SEO:
- SEM involves paid ads on search engine results pages.
- SEO involves organic search results.
The biggest channel for SEM is Google Ads.
Search engine optimization (SEO)
The methodology of improving content’s organic ranking on search engine results pages to drive more traffic.
What it primarily entails: optimizing your web pages to make it more likely that Google and other search engines will display your pages higher in their results.
There are on-page, technical, and off-page SEO types.
- On-page SEO practices include incorporating keywords into your content and creating content that meets a searcher’s intent.
- Technical SEO includes optimizing your site architecture, increasing site speed, resolving any indexing issues, and making sure your site is usable on mobile.
- Off-page SEO spans any actions taken off your site to improve its perception as a quality resource. A big part of that is your backlink profile.
SEO is one of the major ways to get organic site visits, but it can take months and a lot of content writing to start generating significant traffic.
See also content marketing.
Search engine results page (SERP)
The page that appears when someone looks up a term on a search engine.
Paid search ads appear at the top of most SERPs, while organic (unpaid) results appear below.
See customer data.
The practice of separating your prospect or customer base into different groups.
Groups can be segmented by any features you choose, such as elements in your buyer personas (e.g., demographics, interests, goals) or actions taken (people who attended an event, added items to their cart, etc.).
Segmentation lets you provide a more relevant and personalized user experience. It can be applied across marketing activities. Some examples:
- Segment results from customer surveys to see if different groups provided different results.
- Segment results from your willingness-to-pay research to see if different groups are willing to pay different amounts for your product.
- Segment your email marketing campaigns to help deliver the right message to the right person—and improve campaign performance.
The use of third-party validation—typically from existing customers—to increase conversions.
Social proof comes in many forms, such as:
- User-generated content (including testimonials, user ratings, and customer reviews)
- Client logos (for B2B)
- Media quotes
Social proof works because acclaim is perceived to be more authentic when it comes from a source outside a company, rather than directly from that company. The idea is that if other people trust your brand, it might be worth trying out.
Software as a service (SaaS)
Cloud-based software that you pay a recurring fee for.
In the past, companies used to sell software (like Photoshop or Microsoft Word) once. Then you could use it forever—or at least until the next big release, when you’d have to buy it again.
Now, companies often charge a subscription instead. Upgrades and updates are automatically included in that subscription fee, which is typically paid monthly or annually. Users access SaaS through their web browser, but it’s hosted elsewhere—the user licenses SaaS, instead of buying it outright.
Office 365, Slack, Mailchimp, and Salesforce are all examples of SaaS.
See A/B test.
The software you use to do your job.
For marketers, this is also called a marketing tech stack or marketing stack.
One of the most difficult parts of marketing is just knowing what technology to use. The reasons it’s a challenge:
- Tech changes so quickly that it’s hard to stay on top of the latest and best.
- Knowing what software integrates with what can be a headache. But your tech needs to be integrated for you to do your job.
We put together a beginner’s guide to tech stacks to make it easier for you.
See customer data.
Time to value
To sell a higher-end version of a product or service, such as an upgrade or add-ons.
Upselling is different from cross-selling. Whereas upselling sells the same item a prospect is already shopping for—but a better version of it—cross-selling promotes related items.
For example, going for the premium package of a new car means you’ve been upsold. If you decide to add some design accessories to your cart based on the seller’s recommendation, you’ve been cross-sold.
User-generated content (UGC)
Content that’s created by users.
UGC can take many forms, from TikTok videos or Instagram posts that discuss a brand’s products to Yelp or Tripadvisor reviews. What distinguishes it is that a company’s team isn’t behind UGC. Real users are.
Example: When an Adobe user creates an impressive digital project, Adobe shares it on Instagram, giving credit to the creator. Everybody wins: Adobe gets varied original content to share, and the creator gets their work exposed to Adobe’s millions of followers.
UGC can happen organically or be encouraged by a brand. Companies then leverage it for their marketing campaigns, like content or email marketing.
UGC is a form of social proof.
What you charge for.
- An umbrella shop charges for umbrellas.
- A food delivery app charges for orders placed.
- Airbnb charges for nights booked.
Umbrellas, orders placed, and nights booked are those companies’ respective value metrics.
Your value metric is the most important thing to get right about pricing. It indicates how much value your buyers get out of your product. When you align your pricing with your product’s value, users will stick around.
Value proposition (value prop)
A positioning statement that explains the benefits you provide to specific audiences, and how you make those benefits happen.
With value props, you’re proposing to someone the ways they’ll get value from your product. Value props highlight how your product offers a better solution than the alternatives that are out there.
For example, Uber’s value props might be:
- With a tap on your phone, you get a car sent directly to you.
- Your driver already knows where you want to go.
- Your payment is handled for you—no need to carry cash.
The overarching value that each of those points to: convenience.
What happens when something—such as product use or content—spreads from person to person.
It’s consumer-spread growth.
There are five virality types:
- Word-of-mouth virality: when people tell others about something
- Pull virality: when users invite others to a product because it improves their experience of that product
- Content virality: when content is shared online
- Push virality: when real-world product usage increases its visibility
- Incentivized virality: when users are incentivized to invite others to a product, for instance through a money offer, a discount, or rewards points (see referral marketing)
Any of these can lead to customer acquisition—and lower customer acquisition costs.
See “The Complete Guide to Organic Virality” for virality tactics.
Willingness to pay
The maximum price customers are willing to pay for a product.
Willingness to pay is a function of factors including:
- Demand (influenced by seasonality, supply, trends, and economic conditions)
- Perceived value—how much customers believe your product is worth
- Your buyer personas
Getting willingness to pay wrong can be the beginning of the end for a startup. For example, Juicero notoriously charged $699 for a juicer that took just as long to squeeze juice as manual juice-squeezing took. Customers weren’t willing to pay that much. Despite raising $118 million in funding, the company folded within 16 months.
Word of mouth
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