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Tracking website statistics can be overwhelming no matter what program you use: AWStats from your web host, the free Google Analytics, or paid alternatives. There are many reports available, and it’s important that you monitor the web stats that matter most to achieving your goals.
So, what are your goals—and what metrics should you watch to measure whether your website is truly effective? Metrics fall under a few key categories: acquisition, engagement and conversion. And, to make matters more complex, some of the “rules of engagement” you may believe about search engine ranking will not give you higher numbers. (After reading this, you’ll rethink planting your site with an excessive amount of keywords.)
Also, website owners often look at the number of visits as the best indicator of their site’s effectiveness. But traffic should not be a primary goal. Even a high number of visits is meaningless unless you’re engaging visitors and converting them to customers or supporters of your cause.
So what are the key metrics to watch, and what can you do to improve if they don’t measure up? Read on…
It’s All About Goals
You need to identify the specific web metrics that matter to your site and marketing goals. If your organization does business internationally, language and countries of origin may have importance to you. On the other hand, if you’re seeking local customers, that information has little if any value.
Primary website tracking goals may include:
- Filling out a contact or request for quote form
- Signing up for a newsletter; downloading a file
- Adding an item to a shopping cart and checking out (Note: There often is a disparity in these two values, and it’s vital to track whether or not people are completing a purchase.)
Secondary goals might include:
- Time spent on the site
- Visits from an ad campaign
- Watching a video or slideshow
- Deciding to follow you on social media
Which Numbers Should You Follow?
Web stats can be generally divided into three categories:
- Acquisition: How many visits and how are people finding your site?
- Engagement: Are you capturing their interest?
- Conversions: Are answering your calls to action?
Now, let’s go into more detail about these metrics and why you should bother tracking these stats…
Visits (aka Sessions)
Site visits are an indicator of your overall marketing effectiveness. Simply having a website does not drive traffic. You cannot simply optimize a site for keyword phrases and expect a high rank in search engines and a dramatic increase in visits. Search engines want newsworthy sites with valuable content, so it’s necessary to actively market and update your site. If your traffic is low and not climbing over time, it’s going to require more than simply changing a few keywords or adding graphics to the site.
Referrals (aka Referrers)
This report shows where visitors came from—whether they clicked a link from Google or Bing, or perhaps a link from a site where you ran an ad, published an article or issued a press release. Not all inbound links are equal; in fact, some could hurt. An inbound link from a recognized source such as a leading industry publication is very effective, as it should both generate traffic and help suggest your organization is authoritative. A link from “Links-R-Us” is not desirable, and could hurt your rank in search engines. Think of it as being judged by the company you keep. Paid or sponsored links aren’t likely to help or hurt with search rank, but they can be a worthwhile source of traffic.
What About Keyword Phrases?
Yes, virtually every website stats program includes a report on keywords and/or keyword phrases. While these may help you understand how people find in you searches, most people put far too much importance on keyword phrases.
Rather than looking at specific keyword phrases, search engines tend to evaluate the content of each page on your site, looking for informative copy that follows a sensible theme. Stuffing a page with multiple keyword phrases or variants won’t help your rank; in fact, that approach is likely to hurt your rank.
If SEO was as simple as picking a few keyword phrases, what would prevent your competition from using the same ones? I’d like to be ranked No. 1 for website design, but so would every other firm that builds sites. The odds of a high rank improve a bit if I qualify “website design” with an adjective and location, such as “responsive website design Cincinnati Ohio,” but that also holds true for our competition. Essentially, writing copy with the same keywords as your competitors will not differentiate your organization or earn you a higher search engine rank.
If you can describe your business with unique phrases or trade names not found on other sites, by all means they should be part of your content. But it’s highly unlikely you can improve your site traffic through keyword changes without improving other aspects of your site and marketing.
Pages per Visit and Time on Site
The number of pages viewed per visit or session and the time spent on your site help measure the level of engagement of the website. If people are spending enough time on the site to read your content, and looking at multiple pages, it shows there’s some interest. If not, you’re likely to see the results of weak engagement in the next metric:
This metric shows the percentage of visitors who come to the site and leave without viewing other pages. In theory, it’s a measure of people who visit the site, quickly decide you don’t have what they want, and then return to Google to check out the next site. However, bounce rate numbers can be misleading. If I visit your product page and click a “Buy Now” button that takes me to a shopping cart, this action may be recorded as a bounce. If I spend several minutes reading about a product or service before leaving that page, that probably shouldn’t be considered a bounce.
While a very low bounce rate is desirable, a 50% bounce rate is average. If your site has a high bounce rate combined with few goal conversions and low time on site value, that’s a sign that your content is not attracting interest and needs to be improved.
Google Analytics (and others) offer reports that visualize how people interact with your site. Following the path users take from one page to the next can help you discover which content keeps users engaged, the more popular sections of your site and sections that seem to bring a visit to an unexpected halt.
Heatmaps provide a graphic representation that shows how people interact with the page—what menus do they click on, do they scroll to the bottom content, and what part of your page is getting their attention. While this is not a typical part of web statistics, we like to use heatmaps when we roll out a new design or create a landing page for a specific campaign. The graphic representation can help you choose the more effective of a couple design options, shift the most important or popular content to areas everyone sees, or add engaging components in weak areas of the page.
Heatmaps are generally separate from web stat programs, and you probably won’t need them once an effective page design has been established.
If you do wish to continue to have details of where people click on your pages, Google Analytics offers the In-Page Analytics report. It shows the percentage of clicks on the specified page (you can change the page shown by going to Behavior > Site Content > All Pages and click on a specific page, then the “In-Page” tab above the graph).
These are the most important numbers of all—how many visits end with the desired result? How many times was a contact form used, a white paper downloaded, a demo tested, a product purchased, or some other site goal met? Not all conversions can be measured by web stats. If someone opts to phone you after landing on your website, that won’t be recorded online (but you should be tracking those calls manually).
Google Analytics allows you to establish multiple conversion goals, so you can measure online purchases, filling out a form, watching a video and many other items. If your conversion numbers are poor, that means there is a problem that needs to be corrected.
Beyond the Numbers
Website numbers and graphs only tell part of the story. To make effective use of them, you need to be a conversion detective.
If your traffic is poor, you’ll need to come up with ways to promote your site, attract more visitors, or give past visitors a reason to return. If people aren’t using contact forms, are you putting them through too many steps? If people are adding products to the cart, but not checking out, are shipping costs or forcing them to create an account for your site sending them to a competitor?
Set goals, and talk to an experienced website designer with a track record for creating high-performing sites about the metrics you should be watching to determine your site’s success. Want to learn more about obtaining a better rank in search engines? Then check out our site’s SEO page.
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