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Winning with Practical Analytics

Posted on 1.03.2013

Operating a website can sometimes feel like running a race with no finish line. Every day, you make decisions regarding content development, site design and structure, marketing or advertising campaigns and more based on the information available within analytics solutions. But at times, it can feel like a lot of that data has little-to-no direct impact on your Web business.

Unfamiliarity with the greater spectrum of Web analysis, however, often leads busy professionals to focus on the metrics they are comfortable with, which almost always delivers an incomplete picture of website performance.

When it comes to analytics, the real secret is not in memorizing the definition of every metric — or even in optimizing or improving upon them. You must first create a “winning” strategy that details organizational goals and identifies the metrics (and related data) that provide the most accurate view of site performance based on what “victory” means to your business. By defining a finish line, you’ll know exactly how to prepare and execute a plan to win the analytics race.

Starting with Traffic

Traffic Sources

Though a site’s unique visitor count represents its audience size, it is equally important to know how these users arrived. In monitoring traffic sources, site owners can see which marketing channels (or which specific digital destinations) provide the best ROI. For example, if most of a site’s traffic comes from Facebook, the site owner should consider either increasing the marketing dollars spent on Facebook advertising or ramping up their social content production and distribution.

Traffic data is also helpful when making decisions about content. For instance, if one (or more) traffic sources send a sizeable increase in traffic when multimedia content (e.g. video) is published, then create and distribute that type of content more often. Additionally, traffic sources indicate which channels aren’t sending many visitors, allowing an enterprise to refocus its efforts as necessary.

Studying traffic sources provides an opportunity to quantify the value of the time and/or money spent optimizing for the myriad of different digital channels. While most visitors don’t just stumble upon your site, when they do it appears as “direct traffic” (e.g. when users arrive by typing a site’s URL into their address bar or when they use a bookmark to access your site). Direct traffic is often the best traffic that can be received as it is a good illustration of user loyalty. To increase the flow of direct traffic to a website, reward loyal visitors with features, such as social sharing incentives, or loyalty programs, like VIP coupon codes.

Time on Site

If getting a visitor to a website is the first step, the next is keeping them there. Time on site represents how engaged a visitor is with content and is one of the most informative performance metrics. Analytic solutions, such as Woopra and KISSmetrics, allow their users to track individual site visitors to understand the experience of each on a website. This information reveals how long it takes visitors to accomplish certain tasks, and even helps identify why visitors are on a website in the first place. Know how your analytics solution measures this metric, though, because if it includes the amount of time an idle visitor spends on the website, the information can become inflated — and hence rather useless.

There are many ways to increase consumer engagement. Aside from improving your content, you can add features to boost engagement, such as social login (http://wsm.co/xdJHXQ) or gamification (http://wsm.co/KlNWEd). In fact, according to a recent Gigya study, users that log into a site with a social network profile spend 50 percent more time there and view twice the number of pages.

One innovative way to analyze visitor interaction is with heatmaps, provided by analytics vendors like CrazyEgg. Solutions of this nature let clients understand how visitors are engaging with a digital property in a visual manner and can help site owners pinpoint underperforming content or optimize their layouts for a more effective experience. Heatmaps are an easy, yet powerful way to access actionable data about the best, and worst, performing aspects of your site.

Getting Off Track

Bounce Rate

Although you may not like to hear it, some metrics exist solely to tell us about lost visitors. However, these aren’t meant to be constant reminders of failure; they actually provide valuable information that can be leveraged to find out why visitors are leaving and, ideally, how you can fix those problems.


Studying Social Traffic

Social media is one of the biggest, and newest, sources of traffic for many websites. Since social networks allow users to find and share links on a whim, it can greatly increase your visibility and reach on the Web in seemingly no time at all. What kind of information can this social traffic provide for website owners, and how can they use it to accomplish their objectives and harness the power of social media in the most effective way. Read more about studying social traffic at http://wsm.co/QXXINS.




One of these metrics is bounce rate, or the percentage of single-page visits divided by the total number of entries to the page. According to Woopra CEO Elie Khoury, the most common reason for a high bounce rate is when visitors don’t find a site’s content interesting or useful and leave without exploring further.

“The solution to this is to attract ‘higher quality’ traffic - that is, visitors who will find your website most relevant,” says Khoury. “However, that's a gross generalization. It all depends on the structure of your website and your objectives. A bounce rate may not even be a bad thing if, for example, the majority of your content is on a single page, which is a growing trend in website design.”

In the case of a single-page site design, bounce rate is obviously not an accurate indicator of site engagement. Thankfully, some tools can account for this. Google Analytics for example recently announced support for tracking adjusted bounce rates, wherein an “event” is executed or reported when users spend over a pre-defined amount of time on a Web page. Website owners and managers can decide on the amount of time, from 10 seconds to a few minutes, that they feel is long enough for a visitor to sufficiently engage with their website or content.

Adjusting the bounce rate may work for some Web professionals — namely content marketers, but others will want to focus on obtaining higher quality traffic and engaging visitors for as long as possible. This can be done in a multitude of ways, such as targeting more relevant consumers with PPC campaigns, optimizing landing page design or improving page load times.

To best use your bounce rate numbers, look past the overall bounce rate of your website. Instead, study the bounce rates of different traffic sources including PPC campaigns, individual keywords in organic listings and your most trafficked pages resulting from social media promotions. This data helps identify specific aspects of your site that could use some attention. For instance, low bounce rates from email-based traffic could indicate a problem with your email marketing campaign, such as a low-quality list, broken links or poor segmentation.

Abandonment Rate

It is likely that Web workers operating an e-commerce site will be less concerned with bounce rates and more focused on abandonment rate, the percentage of people that abandon items in their shopping carts before the final checkout. Studying abandonment rates closely uncovers those aspects of a website’s checkout process that are inefficient and inevitably cause customers to head for the virtual door.

Since abandonment rate measures user actions across a precisely defined set of cart and checkout pages, they can provide intricate details about what a customer was doing right up to the point where he or she decided to leave the site.

Like bounce rate, abandonment rate shouldn’t be looked at as a single metric; instead, study it from a variety of angles. Segment abandonment rates by different groups to see how specific factors may influence the decision to desert. This could include marketing campaigns (PPC, search, direct marketing, etc.), referring URLS or looking at specific products or product groups to see if some are more commonly abandoned than others.

Some common ways to reduce abandonment are retargeting consumers through emails and advertisements or by offering a more active customer support solution. For example, insights and analytics platform Woopra offers integrated Live Chat, which is connected to the company’s analytics data. Leveraging this service allows merchants to initiate chats with targeted visitors, including those showing signs of abandoning their cart.

Merchants can also improve this metric by offering promotions like free shipping or coupon codes, providing checkouts for consumers who are unwilling to register as part of the checkout process or by reducing the amount of required information on the checkout data input page. Furthermore, abandonment rates may reveal that customers are going through the checkout process only to find simple information about tax or delivery charges, which can easily be provided elsewhere.

Finishing Strong

Arguably the single most important metric — or at least the most telling — is conversion rate, which is defined as the ratio of visitors who turn content views or website visits into desired actions based on either subtle or direct requests from the site owner.

Although “conversion” is frequently associated with e-commerce, it is actually important for any website that has a desired action it wants its visitors to take. For example, a content publisher may measure email newsletter signups, while an affiliate marketer may consider clicks on display ads to be conversions.

According to Jared Brickman, the Interactive Account Manager at Pinckney Hugo Group, conversion rates, more than most Web metrics, help to quantify the real value that a website is bringing to a business.

“When your website is at or exceeding its target conversion rate, it's effectively driving users to take the actions that help your business grow,” says Brickman.

However, you might have to go to work if your conversion rate is at the other end of the spectrum.

“Conversely, if your conversion rate is underperforming, you may need to adjust the way your website is designed, how it is functioning, the content included on the site, or the promotional assets driving traffic to it,” says Pinckney Hugo’s Director of Interactive Services, Adam Jwaskiewicz.

However, it is important to note that a “good” conversion rate varies from site to site, so two important questions to ask when measuring conversion rates are:

1. Why are consumers choosing to convert?
2. Why is everyone else choosing not to convert?

Site owners can find the answers to these questions by testing everything from the design of a call-to-action button to its placement on a website, or by cross referencing conversion rate data against other site analytics.

“By cross referencing your conversion rate data against an array of supplemental metrics (path, traffic source, geographical location, etc.) you can identify opportunities to improve your site’s performance,” says Jwaskiewicz. “This includes your website's interface design, content strategy, navigation schema and the campaigns that drive traffic to the website.”

A quick fix for increasing conversion rates is to offer promotions or deals to consumers, but Web workers should also look for a real solution to the problem. For example, instilling trust and confidence in consumers can increase conversion rates over time — and do so dramatically. This can be done by displaying security symbols and seals from companies like TRUSTe or VeriSign or by offering product review content or videos that explain why customers should take a specific action.

Rethinking Conversions

It’s easy to get discouraged by a low-conversion rate, as they are designed to reflect the overall performance of a website and its marketing choices. Other than using it as a virtual measuring stick, it isn’t very useful at all. This is because looking solely at one conversion rate presupposes that everyone visiting a website is doing so with an intent to purchase or act upon a unique selling proposition. So, every time someone doesn’t, it assumes it was because of a flaw in your site. Truthfully, many users are coming to your site to research, learn about your brand, look for help, or countless other reasons, none of which are reflected in conversion percentages.

To collect practical, usable information about how well your site engages visitors, try looking at how they complete their tasks based on their intended purpose for visiting. Segment visitors by their objectives, and then study how well your site was able to help. This data can provide percentages about the common reasons consumers visit your site and, comparatively, how well you meet those needs. Of course, to gather this data will likely require asking users to answer questions at the beginning and end of their visit. Many may not participate, but after a while, a sufficient sample size should help reveal the data you’re looking for. If nothing else, this works well in conjunction with your overall site conversion rate.


5 Key Areas to Test

There’s a lot of stuff that you can test and tweak on a website, and depending on what type of site you run, the importance of those different areas varies. That being said, there are some general aspects of a website that always have an impact on user experience and a site’s overall performance. Take a look at five of those different metrics, and gain some more insights into what they’re all about and how they can impact your website, at http://wsm.co/QXYCtM.


 

You are the (Analytics)Champion

Your face may not grace the cover of a Wheaties box anytime soon, but after winning with analytics, you might feel as if it should. Figuring out how your analytics data can be used to help measure your website’s performance — even if that means approaching the information slightly differently or segmenting it to provide more detailed insights — will make any Web worker feel like they have just won the big race.

However, winning at analytics is an ongoing process. You should always be learning from your site analytics and using them to continually improve your site’s performance in order to meet the needs of all of your visitors. According to Brickman, “Periodic reviews help you keep a pulse on the effectiveness of your integrated marketing strategies. They also help inspire real business decisions, such as opportunities to enter new markets, new target consumer groups, and product/service development.”

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