It started with, “How many hits?” Nobody knew what a hit was, but it sounded cool. It was the Internet and on the Internet, all things were cool. We all assumed it had something to do with how many people looked at our website.
But soon, people asked just what we were talking about and the truth came out. Each graphic on a page registers it’s own hit to the server log, making the measuring of hits something utterly useless. We’re still trying to find the individual to credit for turning hits into an acronym for How Idiots Track Success. We needed another measuring stick.
Pageviews were the best gauge available for determining popularity, or consumption, or success of a website. Obviously, the more pageviews the better. But, of course, pageviews are fickle. Was that a thousand people looking at one page or one person looking at a thousand pages?
So, naturally, people wanted to know how many people were coming to the site on a given day or month or hour. A bit tricky that, given the problems with people deleting their cookies at varying rates. Nonetheless, unique visitors became the question de jour.
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Finally, “conversion” was on everybody’s lips. What percentage of browsers could be turned into buyers? Some companies that were unclear on the concept tied quarterly bonuses to conversion rate improvement. They ignored “all other things being equal” and set about to boost the ratio. Turns out the best way to boost conversion is to stop advertising. Only happy. loyal customers bother to show up at your site, vastly improving the number of buyers compared to browsers. Conversion improves, bonus paid, website spirals out of existence.
So what comes next? What’s the next, the proper question?
Oh, we know the standard questions to ask: Why did we get a spike in traffic to this section of the site for a solid week? Why are people who click through from search engines dropping out in page three of a five page process? How much impact can we have on their success if we tweak this page? Where does our advertising spend start to experience diminishing returns? If I shorten the copy on a page by 20% does that increase customer satisfaction? DO they buy more? How much less clutter can I publish and still wrack up sales? What changes in process completion should have alarms and what should the threshold be?
There is no web analytics magic here. The standard questions are good ones and they help with incremental, continuous improvement. That’s all well and good. But the best question is the next question. It’s all about intuition, correlation and curiosity.
A large retailer in the US found only a small percentage of their site visitors were Macintosh users. It seemed silly to devote the necessary resources to re-develop the website for the express use of a group that made up less than 10% of visitors. As the discussion progressed about ceasing dual development to accommodate this small group, one of the technologists asked the next question: What percentage of Mac users are buyers and how does that compare to Windows users?
The answer was surprising. While Windows visitors exhibited a conversion rate around two percent, Mac users’ ratio was up around 20%. That represented a healthy chunk of overall revenue. The next question had been asked and the dual development continued.
Online gaming success story William Hill noticed that only a small percentage of site visitors were viewing special, additional content. This content was expensive to create and to maintain and was on the chopping block for the new website roll out. Then somebody asked the next question: Was there something special about those visitors?
Yes there was – they were responsible for an unusually high percent of site revenue. They placed more and larger bets. Rather that bin the content, William Hill emailed the rest of their customers about the value of that content. The result was increased revenue, higher customer satisfaction, and no measurable increase in costs.
A web analytics tool does not provide a wealth of answers. Instead, it is an unending source of questions. Every good analyst uses the tools to sift through the data, searching for patterns and asking the next question.
So what’s the next question for your site?