If your web site was an employee would you sack it?
Well to be fair you need to know if the employee (Mr www.yoursite ) is doing its job. You can’t know this without delving into the statistics!
When developing a web site for a small / medium business much of the focus is on what the site looks like, how it works, and the functionality delivered to end users. Commonly the site gets final approval, the owner of the business is very happy, the site goes live, and then that’s it.
A little times passes, the site doesn’t do that well (we think, because we don’t really know) and everyone concerned looses a little interest. The web developer is busy working on their next project and the business owner, well, he’s running his or her business.
So much of the internet is full of web sites that don’t ever meet the expectations of the people they were created for, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
So who’s responsible?
Without getting into the finger pointing game, ultimately it has to rest with the business owners. A web site should be like any other marketing effort that a business takes on. Any decent marketing expert will tell you, measuring is the key. There are many in the marketing world that will go as far as stating “if you don’t measure it, don’t do it!”. This is true for your web site as much as any other marketing activity, if not more so.
It does not have to be hard and does not have to take hours a week to achieve, but with a little effort and with some free tools you can gain an insight into what is happening when a visitors looks at your web site. Once thing is for sure: the way a visitor uses your site will almost always not be the way you envisaged it when you built the site (that fancy flash introduction you put on your homepage… that’s right no one cares).
Get some statistics
When buy hosting for your web site, commonly you will be provided with some kind of web site statistics software. These are often free packages that will show you basic information, such as:
- Numbers of unique visitors
- Numbers of page views
- Traffic sources; is the traffic coming from search engines, other web sites or direct traffic?
The way that this software works is by parsing the web server logs where your web site is hosted. It usually will be updated once a day and is usually fairly accurate. Two common options shown here are Webalizer and AWStats, see below for a screen shot of each (you might recognise them):
What do you want to learn from the website statistics?
Let’s start with the simple things, but having said that look past the most common statistic; how many people are visiting my site? Even the most basic web site statistics software will answer that one, but we really need to dig a little deeper.
Website Visitors versus Website Page Views
When talking about visitors make sure you are looking at just that, unique visitors (not ‘hits’ or ‘files’ etc..). This (perhaps obviously) is the number of people coming to your web site each day. Now compare that to the Page Views statistic and we are getting somewhere. These two stats together do a couple of things for us.
Let’s look at an example:
- samplesite.com has 1200 visitors a month and 1400 page views giving us 1.16 page views per visitor
- testsite.com has 750 visitors a month and 1600 page views giving 2.13 page views per visitor
Which is best?
While initially you may think samplesite.com is doing better as it has almost twice the number of visitors as testsite.com, chances are however testsite.com is performing better. Visitors when they come to the site are looking around more, finding something that they are interested in and general working out better for the web site owner as converted leads or sales.
Similarly, more advanced web site statistics software will also show you a ‘Bounce Rate’, that is derived from visitors and page views. This is important as it shows you how many people hit a page of your site (perhaps the home page) and bounce right away, that is they view one page and that’s it. A high bounce rate would mean that people don’t find or can’t find what they are looking for and so they go elsewhere. Whereas a lower bounce rate indicates that visitors come, are engaged by your site and look at multiple pages.
So what conclusions can be drawn?
Continuing with the above example, if I was the owner of samplesite.com I would start to look at why visitors are not ‘sticking’ around on the site. Perhaps the web site navigation is poor, they can’t find what they are looking for, or there is not enough engaging content to get a visitor interested.
Have a look at a lot of popular web sites and you will see that there is a lot of visual appeal to the pages, each article will have a large image associated with it, good clear headlines and copy that is laid out in an easy to read format. All of these things contribute to a better performing site.