Websites have increasingly become the primary channel for sales of goods and services. Many small and medium enterprises (SME) rely heavily on their websites for their revenue. However, it is surprising how little attention is paid to analysis and measurement of this vital sales channel.
In past articles I have discussed the virtues of statistics as a tool to manage website performance; however, I did not expand on the Key Performance Indicators (KPI) that you should monitor. In this article, I will try to expand on this subject and examine website statistics in more detail. In order to help you appreciate the significance of the data, we will discuss possible causes and some of the remedial actions you could take to improve on the website performance.
But before we launch into analysing mountains of statistics, I would like to cover some housekeeping and general advice on dealing with statistical data. As with all statistical data, the devil is in the detail. You should keep a track of change and performance over a longer term rather than short periods. Don’t just look at this month against last, but compare it with the same time the previous year and where possible get a view of year-on-year performance.
Also remember Google Analytics is not an accurate measure as it does not capture all your visitors. Google or any other browser-reliant statistics packages will only give you trends but not absolutes. Only your server knows the true numbers as servers do not rely on visitors’ browser set up. They count every hit and every visit, regardless of the source of the traffic or browser setting. That is why Server Statistics Packages are so critical in your decision making process.
This is not data that you will find on Google Analytics but can be obtained from your website server or from you Google Webmaster account. Be aware that if you are using Google Webmaster for this data the information is not complete. You will not be seeing the full picture as Google is only reporting on browsers that are Java enabled, whilst only Google searches are included in the Webmaster data. Many people dismiss hits as irrelevant but in my experience this is very important.
Hits tell you the number of times your website was included in SERP (Search Engine Results Page), irrespective of its position or the page it appeared on. This is the start of the traffic stream to your website. If you are not selected to be included in the SERP, then sure as eggs are eggs, your website has zero chance of being visited.
Hits will also tell you if your keywords/keyphrases are worth chasing. Regardless of your position on SERP, you need to be selecting and chasing keywords that are worth having, i.e., those keywords that the potential clients are using rather than the ones you think/hope they use. If your hits volume is low, then you are perhaps chasing the wrong keywords or the volume of search is so low that you are falling into a very narrow niche.
Hits can also be an early warning of falling or rising search volumes, especially if your business is seasonal. Tracking the volumes of hits enables you to respond to seasonality of the demand for your products or services, enabling you to pitch your offers, pricing, and availability at the right time.
Finally, hits volume can be an early warning system of shift in demand or keywords trends. Search terms change over time so you must be prepared to adopt and change your focus accordingly. Fashion, taste, social trends, economic trends, new products, new competitors, advertising, etc., all contribute to the shift in the keyword usage. If you do not have an understanding and view of the search volumes, you can be caught out. For example a few years ago there would have been zero search for Smartphone but now there are thousands everyday, whilst the search volume for “Mobile Phone” is tailing off.
Number of visitors is the indication of your success in attracting traffic to your website, but it is not an indication of how successful you are at attracting the right or relevant traffic. Don’t just look at your visitors’ number and pat yourself on the back because it is higher than last month or last year. Check what is driving the traffic such as keywords and referral links. If the referral links and keywords are not relevant, then these visitors are not your potential customers. You need to get a better understanding of why visitors came before you can pop that Champaign cork!
Check your traffic sources in Google Analytics and your server stats, paying special attention to keywords/keyphrases that bring traffic to you. See their respective Bounce Rate, Average Time-on-Site, Number of Pages Viewed, and of course Goal Conversion. See the rest of this article to see why these are so important.
Bounce rate is important on a number of fronts as it can be an indicator for many aspects of your website. Also remember Google penalises sites with high bounce rate, as it deems them to be irrelevant. Once Google latches on to your high bounce rate, it will demote you on the SERP. So it is doubly important to keep an eye on this.
So what is Bounce Rate? Bounce Rate is the % of visitors landing on a website page and then exiting without visiting any other page. Google Analytics calculates an overall Bounce Rate for your website as well as each individual page and individual keywords. If you exceed 50% on any of these you should start to dig deeper and ask why.
In order to find out the causes of high bounce rate, check if your website is being selected for a keyword that is not particularly relevant. You should find keywords with high bounce rates and take action. Where appropriate and possible you should change the words that are generating irrelevant traffic by rewriting your content.
If the Bounce Rates for relevant keywords are high, then you are not selling yourself well. Check the page presentation, content, navigation key order, etc., so that it can be abundantly clear to visitors that you are relevant their search. Ask some hard questions about your website and the way you present information. It might be obvious to you where the information is but that does not mean it is obvious to your visitors.
Check the navigation keys. Are they really as clear as you think? Things might appear clear to you because you understand your business and product or service, but it does not mean it is clear to visitors. Ask people outside of your company to check your website and give you feedback. Ask them to look for specific product or offer or service, and see how long and how many clicks it took them to find the page (or not as the case may be).
Lastly, check your competition. Are they killing you on price, product or website usability? I have lost count of websites I have visited and left immediately. Why? I can’t stand cluttered websites, confusing navigation, and unclear intent (not forgetting those with a Welcome Page)! The web is supposed to be time saving and used by those who are short of time. Don’t keep putting obstacles in the way of your visitors. Make it easy, make it quick and sell it quick.
This is a conundrum, because you need to pitch your content just right so that people can find important information quickly, but you need sufficient content to register on Search Engine’s radar. Whilst you want to tell visitors all that is good about your product or service, you don’t want to go for trial by words. Truly a Rubik Cube which only a few get right.
Now this is free advice for all those readers with a frustrated Shakespeare in you. The web is not the place for flowery language, long descriptions and perfect Queen’s English with an old fashioned sense of order and decorum. The web is more like ‘Speed Dating’ rather than ‘Courting’. You need to be brief and get to the point. If you don’t believe me, then have a look at the average Time-on-Page stats, which very rarely exceeds 40 seconds and are more likely to be around 20 seconds. Now try all that Shakespeare stuff in 20 seconds and see how far down the page you get. The etiquette and niceties on the web come in the form of ease of navigation, zero pop-ups (or any other interruption), lack of distraction or noise such as too many flashy moving GIF, and most importantly respect for your visitors time (so get to the point).
Of course, the real hoot would be if you could benchmark against your industry. If you are using a SEO professional they can give you an insight to your respective performance, without divulging yours or your competitors’ trade secrets. Your SEO Company should have an idea or will have data mining tools at their disposal. This will give you a view of the industry-wide trends and comparative information against your industry, without needing to disclose individual website performance.
This is the average time on site when all your pages are aggregated. Again, this is a useful indicator of how long you have your visitors’ attention. This is your face time during the sales cycle. Additionally, this should give you a good internal benchmark for the performance of your individual pages.
Depending on your industry you will see wild differences on average Time-on-Site. For example, if you provide insurance quotation on your website, your average will be high due to the amount of information visitors need to provide for a quotation.
So think about what the user should be doing on your website and imagine yourself as a visitor. Better still, ask a few good friends that do not know your website, to visit it. Then ask them to complete a task or find specific information, whilst timing them. That should be revealing in many ways, including the ease-of-use, navigation priority, and average time to complete a visit on your website.
This is often referred to as “Depth” of visit, which in simple terms means how many pages a person visited before leaving your site. Combined with your average Time-on-Site, this will give you a measure of ‘Stickiness’ of your website or how engaging your site is.
This can also indicate your ease of navigation, as low number of pages does not always indicate a problem, so long as the pages include your “Action” & “Thank you” pages. The action page is where you generate revenue or complete a task, for example where people download your software, or make an enquiry, or place an order. The ‘Thank you’ page is the page you present when they have completed the Action page, to acknowledge their order or thank them for registering or making an enquiry. So don’t just dive in to look for a problem which might not exist, ask questions and drill down the data.
Goal Conversion is when a visitor has taken the desired ‘Action’, which could be placing an order, registering, downloading, or making an enquiry. This after all is the purpose of most commercial websites and the ultimate measure of success or failure.
However, unless we get all of the above right, including selecting worthwhile keywords, meeting visitors’ expectations, and making it easy for visitors to interact, then it is unlikely that they will reach this far. Of course, let us not forget having the right product at the right price is the basic premise of the above, so do not expect your website to compensate for an overpriced or undesirable product or service.
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