August 29, 2007

Are You Using the Wrong Web Metrics?

Do you base website success on measuring the volume of visitors and page impressions? Such measures may in fact reflect the failure-rather than the success-of your website.

Just because someone is coming back to your website does not necessarily mean they had a positive experience the last time they were there. They could have felt frustrated, confused, annoyed. They could have given up, and came back again to give it one more try.

Perhaps the less we go to a software vendor’s website, the more satisfied we will be as customers. Why do most of us go back again and again to such websites? To solve problems, perhaps? Wouldn’t it be better if we didn’t have these problems to solve in the first place?

How many visitors to your website are reflections of some weakness in the solution/product you have offered your customers? If you made better, more robust products-if you explained how they worked better-would you have fewer website visitors?

I have heard search engine optimization consultants advise keeping out-of-date, inaccurate content because it helps bring more visitors. That’s like having a sign in a window advertising bananas. People come in looking for bananas, only to find a big box of rotten, blackened, stinking bananas.

In October 2005, Jared Spool, founder of User Interface Engineering, gave a speech about a study the company did on clothes retail websites. The study found that, for example, the Gap website was much more successful at selling clothes than Newport News.

The study also found that the average purchase on the Gap website took 12 pages, whereas the average purchase on Newport News took 51 pages. The more pages people looked at the less likely they were to buy.

It makes sense. You go into what you think is the right section of the website to find that pair of jeans. You find a selection of jeans to choose from, and you spend some time choosing, then you choose.

But supposing you go into what you think is the right section of the website to buy jeans, and you realize that this is not the right section. You hit the Back button, and try again and again. You’re clocking up pages and you are certainly clocking up frustration, until finally you Back button out of the website.

Volume is simply not enough when it comes to measuring the success of a website. Volume can hide failure. Repeat visitors could mean loyal customers but they could also mean frustrated potential and actual customers. Lots of page views/impressions can mean customer engagement but it can also mean lost customers.

Identify the core tasks of your website. Measure how successful people are in quickly completing those tasks. Because it’s not about volume; it’s about successful task completion.