Updated February 15th, 2017
In today’s world of digital marketing, metrics are everywhere. Bounce rate, session duration, leads received, engagement, etc. – the list goes on. The sheer volume of information can be overwhelming.
Does every metric have a purpose? Yes. Do we value every one of those equally? No.
Let’s get into which are our favorites that we spend a little more time explaining when it comes to reports.
Overall Website Traffic
Overall website traffic is one of the first metrics we look at when it comes time to put reports together at the end of the month. While it’s situationally useful, it helps to provide a quick snapshot of the website during that particular time when used comparatively. If there’s a huge drop in overall traffic from one month to the next you’re practically looking at a huge red flag that says something here needs to be investigated further. It’s a great snapshot of an overall picture that can be used to decide what needs to be looked at more closely.
On the other hand, overall website traffic as a metric is just a cumulative summary. This number alone won’t tell you how many conversions resulted, it doesn’t separate out bot traffic, and it doesn’t necessarily prove a site’s overall health on its own. We look at this first because it acts as an investigative tool, not because it’s a number itself that we place a huge emphasis on.
Here’s a metric we love: organic traffic. Organic traffic is simply the number of visitors that got to your site on their own, or in other words people you didn’t have to pay in one way or another through advertisements or campaigns to get to your site. Free visitors. We like those, and you should too.
As a company that focuses primarily on SEO, we want to see this organic traffic number increasing every month, as it’s one of the more reliable signs that shows we’re doing our job well. There’s no better feeling than watching a site slowly blow up with its content consistently bringing in client leads that you had to pay the whopping price of 0 dollars for. By creating great, original content, you offer your site the opportunity to (with some help) continuously bring people to it for years to come.
So when don’t we like organic traffic as a metric? As much as I’d like to say that we never don’t like it, organic traffic as a metric becomes a little less useful when it comes to businesses that seem to experience surges and declines during particular seasons. Take bankruptcy law for example; the holiday season tends to see big drops in organic traffic to bankruptcy law firm sites because Christmas just isn’t a time when people are spending their days Googling how they go about filing for a chapter 13 case. When we see a decline in organic traffic around this time it doesn’t necessarily mean that the site’s performing badly, nor does the increase after the season signal that the site’s doing exceptionally well; instead we acknowledge that the decrease is attributed to the season, and the increase is attributed to a return to normalcy for the site.
Organic traffic is fueled 100% by human nature, so it can also be thrown off by factors you can’t ever predict or account for. If a huge case makes it to national news coverage, you can be pretty sure that attorneys that handle the type of case that’s currently being covered from every angle will see spikes in their organic traffic for that month because more people were searching for it. This looks great on paper, but when that interest from such a large group begins to gradually decline, so too will organic traffic numbers; that’s just the nature of the beast in this instance and not a reflection of your website itself.
The whole point of having a website is to have people visit it, right? Well the landing pages metric helps you to see where they’re spending most of their time. If you notice that most of your conversions are coming from a specific page on your site, you know that you may want to write more on that subject, or structure some other pages on the site to act in a similar way. It opens the door to see what works well.
It also helps with the opposite. If you’ve pumped a ton of time and energy into a page, but you’re realizing it’s not getting very much traffic, you’ve got some signs there that indicate there’s more work to be done to it to get it optimized and ranking consistently. In the event that you’re running campaigns with specific landing pages, this metric also helps you to measure which are receiving the most traffic at a quick glance for comparison.
The referral sources metric is one that usually slides under the radar and gets unintentionally neglected. This has two primary uses we like to focus on:
- Assessing bot traffic.
If you’re noticing a lot of traffic coming from xyzzzsocialbot.com (or other similar sites/strange mixtures of website URLs made up of purely Russian symbols) showing up on your referral sources list, you may want to take another look at your overall traffic metric. Overall website traffic is great as we mentioned above, but it can be easily thrown off sometimes by the presence of bots. These creepy crawlies add nothing of value to your site, can artificially bump up your traffic numbers, and deflate your time on page/bounce rate metrics.
2. Gauging the effectiveness of certain citation sources
As connoisseurs of everything SEO, we spend a lot of our time creating structured citations for our clients to make sure they have a digital profile that’s cohesive and uniform across the board. Not only is it a nice little pat on the shoulder for a job well done when you see said citation sources successfully referring potential clients to your website, but it also helps you to gauge which seem to be areas you want to focus a bit more attention on.
Avvo is a wonderful example of this. Many of our clients in the legal industry elect to have paid profiles on Avvo that we sometimes help to manage. A quick scan of a firm’s referral sources metric can show us just how many visitors arrived to the site from Avvo; if that number is smaller than we’d like for a paid subscription we then know that it may need some work, or in some cases may simply not be worth what’s being paid in.
Of course we’ve saved the best for last with conversions. Let’s be honest, if you’re running a business it’s great to have a website with all the bells and whistles, it’s good to know what people are doing on your site, and it’s useful to see where they’re coming from, but at the end of the day you want to know if it’s made you any money. A website and the work that goes into maintaining it and filling it with useful information is in itself an investment after all, and knowing what your return on your investment is is always important.
While a slow month in terms of traffic can sometimes signal that something’s wrong, we’re a little more likely to overlook it if we saw client inquiries double that very same month.
Conversions are what bring home the bacon, and we like to approach our site development process from the perspective of optimizing for them. You could have 2 million visits to your website in a month, but those visits aren’t too terribly useful if the visitor didn’t do anything you wanted them to do while there.
Do you have a page that’s getting tons of traffic, but nothing’s happening on it? This is a sign that you may need to make your call to action a bit more prominent. Have phone calls decreased steadily from a particular page? Perhaps it’s time to update the information on the page to make it more relevant. Did you write a blog post that ended up bringing in 30 contact form submissions? You now know the type of content that resonates well with your audience to recreate it.
The Bottom Line
Metrics and data are what we live for here, and the basis by which we make our decisions when it comes to the work we do. There’s no arguing with cold hard data, but sometimes some metrics are more useful than others. While each have their own uses and values, ultimately at the end of the day we want to look at how each metric interacts with the others to put together a comprehensive story.
Look at metrics like chapters of a book. If you skip a chapter, you might still be able to get the gist of the story at the end, but the whole story provides the greatest picture. If you go through and skip right to the end? Well, you’ll know how it ended, but not why it ended that way, and what good does that do you?
Not a fan of metrics and numbers like we are? That’s fine, we’d be more than happy to handle them for you.