Web Analytics: “Visits” and Other Junk Metrics

As an analyst responsible for reporting on client web analytics, one of the metrics I am often asked to include in my web traffic reports is the number of visits. Every time I include the number of visits as a standalone metric in my report, I cringe a little bit inside, and I am pretty sure that a fairy somewhere loses its wings.

“Look at all the numbers going up!”

What many marketers don’t realize is that a high number of visits tells you absolutely nothing about the success of your website.

web analyticsTake a look at some examples of super lame and super awesome web metrics in the graphic to the left, which was inspired by my personal hero, Avinash Kaushik.

Are you surprised that I am telling you that the foundation of your (and my) web traffic reports is super lame?

Let me explain why...

The metrics shown on the left are super lame because they only focus on one phase of the customer journey: Acquisition. But what about, Behavior and Outcomes?

A ton of visits is great, but it doesn't necessarily translate into success. You need to focus on the complete customer-business journey to truly measure the success or failure of your marketing efforts.

For example, a high number of visits is NOT a good thing if a high percentage of those visits result in frustrated users.

In one of my clients’ accounts, I applied an advanced segment to show the total number of visits to the site compared to the number of visits that landed on a "Page Not Found" page.

The analysis showed that a staggering 8.21% of visits landed on a 404 page.

Without looking deeper into the Behavior of the visits coming in, you would miss that 8.21% of your visitors had a pretty terrible user experience.

bad data

Think “insight,” not “numbers”

What can we learn from this example? Well, for starters, you need to think about the following three questions when determining your KPI metrics:
1. Acquisition: What are we doing to attract traffic to the website?

2. Behavior: What happens after they land on the website?

3. Outcomes: What was the impact on our business both online and offline?

To quote Avinash Kaushik:

"When you present a large number of Visits or Page Views or Followers, what you are essentially inferring is that more is better. You are inferring something that is not there: success. Or you are hypothesizing, when you report that data, that these large numbers mean that customers are happy and business is successful. I believe it is dangerous to make that inference. Why not seek direct success indicators?"

If the number of visits to a page is not important, what metrics are super awesome? Good question, and the answer is: “it depends.”

Sorry, but it’s the truth. It depends on you, your business, your business goals, and your technical environment. If your web analytics company presents some copy/pasted cookie-cutter report claiming to be all you need, fire them immediately.

The Bottom line is...Garbage in = garbage out.

data insight

  • Do you want to get the most out of your data?
  • Do you want to gain REAL insights into the activities of your website visitors?
  • Do you want to USE the data to improve the success of your business?

If the answer is yes to any of the above questions, GREAT! But don't expect to find a quick fix solution that will fit into a blog post.

There is no quick fix solution. No magic beans. You MUST put in the initial strategic planning to choose the right metrics for YOU, and implement a consistent testing plan for continued measurement and adjustment.

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