The most important metrics in web analytics

Web analytics

Web analytics represent the action of collecting, measuring and analysing data from the web in order to understand how it is being used and then optimizing web usage. Even though many may perceive web analytics as only a way in which to measure Internet traffic, it can also be helpful in defining one’s marketing strategy, doing market research on your customers and their behaviour, identifying the current position of the business and then reworking business goals for the future according to one’s understanding of what customers want.

The reasons behind using web analytics will differ from business to business or person to person. One type of business will look out for different sets of criteria than another business will. For example, an ecommerce site will try to determine at what point potential customers decide not to complete a purchase or empty their shopping cart while a site that relies heavily on advertising revenue will look at how many people click on ads and which ads get the most clicks.

We will look at a few of the general metrics that businesses can measure in order to see whether their website is effectively converting visitors and what they can do to improve their website’s interest levels in future.

Traffic source

Traffic refers to how your visitors came about your site in the first place. This is important as one cannot measure your visitors’ behaviour when you have no visitors to start with. This can often be divided into three main groups of traffic sources.

  • Direct visitors: visitors that enter your website’s URL directly into the address bar of a browser. These visitors obviously are familiar with your site or may have seen the URL somewhere and decided to take a look.

  • Referral visitors: visitors who came upon your website via a link on another website or blog.

  • Search visitors: visitors who find your website by typing in a search query. These search queries usually include keywords that relate to what type of business you are in.

Bounce rate

The bounce rate (sometimes referred to as the abandonment rate) of your website refers to the moment when a visitor enters your website and then immediately clicks away without interacting on the site or clicking through. The bounce rate of your website can be due to many factors, some of which include weak or irrelevant traffic sources and landing pages that are not optimal for effective conversion (usually down to bad design, weak usability, slow loading times, etc.)

Even though it may seem that your home page is the main point at which visitors close your website but there are other exit pages that you need to look at. A call to action is often not seen on the home page but rather only on the second or third page the visitors lands upon. Determine what page is giving the most bounce rates and analyse why this may be the case (why that particular page is making visitors lose interest or become frustrated). Remember to take into account pages that visitors will naturally move away from like a purchase confirmation page or a newsletter signup page.

Top internal search keywords

This is different from the keywords you will find people using in search queries. Internal search refers to the words people type into the search box (if you have one) on your website. This will give you a clue as to what people are looking for on your site. These keywords may be present on your site or they may not be, in which case you will have to ensure that this is included. It may be an indicator as to what visitors are expecting to find, whether they find exactly what they are looking for or come to a dead-end based on their searches (or a confusing layout).

Unique versus returning visitors

Unique visitors are those people who are visiting your site for the very first time. This is a great metric for determining the popularity of your site. Even though all visitors are valued equally, unique visitors are often seen as good since this means more and more people are finding out about your site and then taking a look at it. Returning visitors show you how good your site is as they would not be returning if they had not seen any value in it the previous time. Cookies are often the means by which it is determined whether the visitor has already visited your site or a new visitor has come along. The absence of a cookie therefore normally equals a new visitor. But this can be problematic as cookies can be blocked, deleted or the user may be using a different device the second time around that has not already been assigned a cookie. Therefore be wary of the values as they may not be entirely accurate.

Average time spent (ATS)

This time measurement tells you how much time a visitor has spent on your website from the moment they enter the home page (or whichever page they start their visit from) to the moment they close the tab or window your site is on. This can be a good or a bad indicator, depending on how you look at it. It may tell you that your site is interesting enough to warrant long periods of browsing and reading. But this will depend on the type of website as some websites require longer time spent on the site while others do not need that much time to make an impact. Also, when a visitor spends in inordinate amount of time on your site it may be an indication that your site is confusing and the person cannot find what they are looking for.