Larry Chase's Web Digest For Marketers

12 Actionable Things to Measure on Your Website

There are obvious things you can measure on your website like page views, unique visitors and referring sites. But there are also less obvious - but perhaps more intriguing - things to measure, too.

This column takes a look at some of the more unusual things to check out. It also highlights some of the actionable things you can execute once you've developed a larger sense of what is really happening with your site and how it meets up with your visitors.

Managing Editor Eileen Shulock and I (Larry Chase) pooled our experience for you in this issue. She offers you the e-commerce perspective since she directs a hip e-commerce site, while I offer the publisher's perspective.

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1. Segment Your Inbound Links: Track your revenue or leads by source and compare paid advertising inbound links to organic inbound results from search engines and other sites pointing to you. This tells you how reliant you are on paid advertising to drive your traffic and sales. If a major portion of your site traffic comes from places where you advertise, at least you know that your advertising is working. However, it also tells you how much work you have to do to drive traffic organically from link neighborhood inbound links, press mentions, blog mentions and organic search engine results. The more revenue/traffic you can drive from those "unpaid" referrers, the less reliant you will be on paid advertising to drive your business.

This type of analysis can be particularly lucrative - especially because your goal is to decrease your reliance on paid advertising. But because it's somewhat tedious, we notice many firms don't get down to this level of granularity. If you bite the bullet and decide to track this for your company, you'll probably find it is well worth your time. You'll also find some surprises... some pleasant, some not.

2. Count Your Page Views: "Traditional" advice from Internet marketing consultants says you should help visitors get in and out of your site quickly by "putting the milk at the front of the store", as opposed to literally putting it in the back as they do in a real-world grocery store. However, there are certain scenarios or certain sites that run counter to this advice. For example, e-commerce companies want their visitors to look at lots of pages, which means: a) Visitors are more engaged; and b) They have invested so much of their time that they may feel compelled to make a purchase to justify the time spent. Managing Editor Eileen Shulock recently updated her e-commerce site by creating a top-level navigation button for weekly "New Arrivals". The result was that visitors zoomed to that portion of the site and then left her site much more quickly than before. Page views, time spent on the site and revenues went down. This "easy button" was then removed, visitors were once again enticed to come in and browse, and revenues increased dramatically.

Think about it. It is possible that sometimes people want an excuse to browse and spend more money, without actually articulating that desire to themselves. In many cases, shoppers want to be seduced into buying more. "Wham, bam, thank you ma'am" is not always the best strategy.

3. Geo-Locate Visitors and Customers: There are many reasons why you would want to look at the geographic overlay of both your site visitors and your customers. Case in point: Managing Editor Eileen Shulock's day job is with a retailer with over a dozen stores in major US metros. You'd naturally think that the visitors to her e-commerce site would be uniquely clustered around the cities where the stores are. But that's not so. Her e-commerce site gets a very substantial number of visitors and customers from parts of the country where there aren't stores, because her online marketing campaigns quite consciously seek to draw in visitors from beyond the stores' existing geographical reach.

In a different scenario and industry, geo-tracking comes in very handy if you have sales reps with geographical territories. With the use of geo-tracking, you can have an easier time figuring out which rep gets what lead or customer that comes in to your website.

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4. Analyze Inbound Keywords: If you use Google AdWords or a similar PPC program, you have details galore about which keywords are driving traffic to your site. If you are a major brand, you may find top keywords are some form of your company name or products, which means you want to put some PPC budget behind multiple forms of your name (including misspellings), as unnecessary as you may think it is. Next you want to analyze the buckets of keywords that are most successful for you. (Tip: Set up your campaigns as Bucket 1, Bucket 2, Bucket 3 and so on, so you can easily compare one bucket to another.) You want to be running multiple campaigns because you don't want to put all your eggs in one bucket - you want to compare results to see what is performing best.

For example, are people coming to your site because they are searching for popular brand names, as is the case with many e-commerce companies? In the fashion world, where Managing Editor Eileen Shulock lives during the day, visitors look for fashionista brand names like JBrand, Milly or Mystique. In the case of professional service firms, people might be looking for job functions/titles, such as "SEO expert" or "SEO consultant". Or they may be looking for information such as "SEO whitepaper" or "SEO how to". Believe it or not, many people get location specific and search for a consultant near them, such as "SEO Latrobe PA" or "SEO LA, CA". Many normal people out there are geo-specific because they feel a company needs to be close by - the proximity might even be more important than the bona fides. That is probably non-intuitive to many who live their lives online. To optimize your campaign you need to expand upon whatever category works best for you. Remember, you're not always marketing to yourself.

5. Watch Your Content: If you publish content to your site frequently in any form, such as blog posts, whitepapers, research reports and the like, you obviously want to know how each post does in terms of traffic and engagement. But don't make the mistake of ignoring or not continuing to track older content. Over the course of time, it may be garnering much more traffic in total than some of your newer content. If you look at the performance of your aggregate page views by content or content category over time, you may discover that your site visitors would respond positively to a prominent archive on your site or a top-level navigation button to specific content resources. There's no sense in investing time in creating content and then not analyzing how you can keep it on your site as long as possible.

As an e-commerce example, Managing Editor Eileen Shulock publishes weekly fashion "trend" pages on her e-commerce site, which are editorial in nature. Generally, after a week the page disappeared and a new one took its place. Why, because she manages a hip and happening, very trendy site, that's why. What she discovered is her weekly trend pages were some of her most popular, so she created a "trend" section as a top-level navigation button in her site redesign to bring them front and center and archive them for at least a short period of time.

6. Watch Where Visitors Come In: You might be surprised to learn how many or how few people come in to your site on your home page. This is especially true when visitors are coming to your site from search engine results. At the time of writing, I noticed nearly half of visitors to www.wdfm.com did not hit the home page first. Many came in directly to articles that have a link from my home page. This makes sense, since those articles are rich with keywords, which causes them to rank high in search results.

Chances are good many of your visitors get their first impression of your site from pages other than your home page. Are these pages designed to give your first-time visitors access to what they came for? Do those pages make a good first impression, or do they leave visitors out of context or unsure where to go next? Have you ever gone to a secondary page of a website and found yourself wondering what exactly the company does or how they make a living?

7. Analyze the Search Results on Your Site: What are your visitors using your search tool for? This is an excellent way to see what your visitors want from your website. They make their intentions clear, since they're actually telling you what they want. You don't have to guess about what they're looking for by tracking their paths. If you do this over a long enough period of time, you will probably use this information to directly influence changes to your site design. For example, if you notice that people are constantly looking for a given item or piece of information, it's a good idea to move said item or information forward so they can find it more easily. Also, don't forget to look at which specific pages visitors click on from their search results on your site. This, too, can be very telling.

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8. Is It Time to Tech Up Your Site?: As an e-commerce director for a very hip fashion site, Managing Editor Eileen Shulock constantly looks at the "Web Design Parameters" category in her analytics package. This tracks what browsers visitors use, their connection speed, their screen resolutions, the version of Flash they have, etc., which tells her how visitors are seeing her site and what lens they are using. That data directly impacts design projects, as she weighs the value of adding more and more rich media versus potentially frustrating site visitors with too many technical requirements.

It's counterintuitive, perhaps, to want to make your site as technically advanced as possible. We've heard for years to do away with fancy Flash presentations and time-consuming applications that will only frustrate your site visitors. However, there are a growing number of cases and categories where the online world is so competitive that you need your site to be as advanced as possible just to keep up. Some call this Web 2.0. Look at an auto manufacturer's site, for example, where you can practically drive the car right out of your screen. Likewise, hot fashion sites are always looking to up the ante in terms of cutting-edge interactivity, as are any sites targeting a younger audience.

9. Track Email Subscribers: As part of her e-commerce director day job, Eileen Shulock constantly has promotions out there in Webland inviting people to sign up for her weekly email newsletter. Some of them are paid promotions, some are not. Wherever possible, she provides referrers with tracking codes so she can judge their performance in terms of driving traffic to her email sign up page. That's an important conversion metric as it tells you: a) Who is doing a good job of sending subscribers your way; b) Which creative or placement is working best for you; and c) It gives you a baseline to then understand how many of those visitors are actually converting to subscribers by making the decision to share their email information with you.

Eileen found that the conversion rate on that page was quite good, and that led her to offer even more optional fields to collect more targeted information from new subscribers - with no impact on subsequent conversion rates.

10. Follow Your Hot Spots: E-commerce fashionista Eileen looks forward to the very substantial revenues generated from her weekly emails and watches the "email revenue wave" closely to see how it plays out. She also goes right to the source and looks at the performance of each link in the email. Yeah, yeah you may look at numbers, but she looks at colors. Her email service provider offers a visual "heat map" that shows how well each portion of the email performed (3-5% clickthrough is colored orange; +5% clickthrough is colored red; and so on). Her goal is to make sure every main link within the email is red or orange. If it isn't, something's wrong and the email didn't doing its job, which is to drive traffic to her site.

There are cooler blue heat maps (>2% clickthrough) on each email, and if they are clustered together in one particular area she adds them up to get a sum total. When you add small clickthrough numbers that are clustered in one section of your email (or your website, for that matter), their total could be quite significant. That knowledge could have an impact on future design decisions. Ideally, you should make more easily available to your visitors/subscribers what they are telling you they want to see.

11. Compare Year-Over-Year: The Web and its users are a snapshot of a horse race. Pages that were popular a year ago might now be passe. For example, historically the Copywriting resource section on www.wdfm.com usually ranked as one of my top 5 categories. At the time of this writing, that Copywriting section is way down the list of most popular categories. In fact, many secondary pages of other categories get more traffic that the top level page of the Copywriting section. This helps me determine what people are interested in and what topics to publish and focus on in future issues of Web Digest For Marketers.

12. Use More Than One Metrics Package: Each Web metrics application tracks things a little bit differently. Some parse out the robots and spiders better than others. Some let you drill deeper down into referrer logs and paths. It's a good idea to compare the results of one against those of another.

Subscribe FREE to Larry Chase's Web Digest for Marketers Now and get his "Essential Search Engine Marketing Resource Guide " as a bonus (regular price $24.95).


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See Larry Chase's speaking topics

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