March 25, 2008
“Facts are meaningless. You could use facts to prove anything that’s even remotely true!” I think Homer Simpson really hit the nail on the head with this one. We are told that analytics are the way to go, time and time again. But what exactly does that mean? What exactly do you measure? What is a good measurement? What would are you really measuring to begin with?
Right now it would seem that the most popular form of analytics would be Urchin, now owned by Google. “Urchin 5 analyzes traffic for one or more websites and provides accurate and easy-to-understand reports on your visitors – where they come from, how they use your site, what converts them into customers, and much more.” But while giving you a multitude of numbers what does this really tell us?
So we are still at the very beginning. Before even thinking about running any kind of analytics you first need to define your objective. While this can be a lot easier if you are selling a tangible product, it is not always a clear cut decision. While a quick sale is almost always a good thing, many would agree that the effort made to make that sale far outweighs the profit you may have made. More often than not when dealing with sales you are looking for returning customers. So in this case it’s not a sale you are after but a returning customer.
If this is the scenario that you are finding yourself in, then you would definitely prefer to have a lower number of unique visitors to overall visitors. If however you were providing a newsletter subscription service, then you would want as many unique visitors as possible. With your product being a one-time sale option, the more readers who see your site the more possible subscriptions you are likely to make.
The point here is that the same metric could mean two different things to two different businesses. Here are a few points to ponder:
- A high percentage of your traffic is generated by search engines
- A high percentage of your traffic is generated through direct traffic
- A high percentage of your traffic is generated by referring sites
Each of those could either be a good or a bad sign. If the search engines drive a majority of your traffic to your site this could indicate that many visitors don’t return. On the one hand, this could indicate that visitors do not bookmark your site, or even that the targeted keywords or phrases are driving the wrong kind of traffic to your website. On the other hand this could be an indication that traffic is on the rise or that newly targeted keywords are now generating more traffic than before.
If most of your traffic is direct traffic, this could indicate that many visitors have bookmarked your website and return often, newsletters are driving visitors to your website or that off-line marketing is working for you. This could also be a sign that you are slipping in search engine rankings or that visitors simply aren’t searching for your services/products.
While gaining traffic of any kind is rarely a bad thing, too much traffic generated from other websites could be an indication, that while many need your service or product, they simply aren’t finding your site the first time. This means you are losing out on a lot of first time traffic and that you are probably just getting the scraps. However, this could also be a positive sign; if you are selling a product or service in a highly competitive market this indicates that you have managed to form some very valuable alliances.
There are always two sides to this coin (if not more). Rather than read too much into a single point you really need to sit down and go through everything with a fine toothcomb. You might be surprised at what you find.
A little while back we ran a Google AdWord campaign for a client. It was found that during this period that the bulk of the traffic was coming from direct traffic. While this seemed to prove that the AdWord campaign was failing horribly it would seem that rather than a failure it was actually driving a much better targeted visitor to the website. During this period the number of visits per visitor suddenly climbed. Then another interesting point came up, while initially the page views per visit had increased they were now on the decline. As our client’s website contained many, and frequently updated, listings, once a visitor had seen a listing they often didn’t view it again.
In conclusion it would seem that the AdWord campaign had done its job. Which was that targeted traffic had been directed to the website, these visitors continued to return to the site (often signing up for the newsletter) but often only browsing the newer listings. This would then appear as though they weren’t interested, while in actual fact were dedicated visitors.
While looking as though the AdWords were having little to no affect it actually turned out to be a very profitable exercise. In this case returning visitors are highly sought after as if they don’t find what they are looking for the first time, they might find it on a return visit.
Then again, if Homer is correct, then facts really could prove anything.
Robert Cerff is a search engine analyst and marketing consultant for Prop Data Internet Solutions. He has ten years experience in e-commerce, online marketing and web development. http://www.propdata.co.za