Many years ago, a client called me at 7:30 a.m. “Your f…..g ads don’t work, you f……g a……..e.” In retrospect this is hilarious because his store wasn’t even open yet. Some people make the same snap judgments about websites based on top line data only. This information (see below) may flag a problem on the site, but it’s not the diagnosis. Now what? Say your car doesn’t start. The problem could be everything from a faulty ignition switch to a potato lodged in your tail pipe. We need to get under the hood and get dirty.
Top line numbers fluctuate due to many factors beyond your control, seasonality, popular soccer match, day of the week, or job postings on your website. The numbers go up, and they come down. And they will not tell you important dimensions about the size of your core audience, or the surge in traffic driven by social media.
So slap on a pair of coveralls, grab a wrench, and let’s do a deep dive on your website until we reach the core. As for the hard charging, results driven, monkey on your back, you’ll have a few more bananas to pitch at him.
Last October, Ideopia redesigned a website. Traffic growth was almost immediate. Eventually the growth slowed, but growth in visits continued to increase. Then boom! Traffic spiked over 300%. Champagne corks popped like gunfire at Ideopia. And yes, we were quick to point out this accomplishment to our client.
We poked underneath the traffic to find the mystery traffic. And the bump wasn’t do to earned traffic at all. By checking traffic sources, we found the culprit, an Adwords account that was running amok. While it’s nice to take the credit, our job here was to shut down the rogue Adwords account. And we did.
One reason website analytics get wonky is because they’re based on averages. For example: web traffic might go up, but pages per visit go down. Has your content broken down? That’s possible, but it also might be a slow download speed for your site.
Other and possibly deceitful metrics – time per visit, and pages per visit – are based on averages of all your site’s data, too. Now hear this: There is no average visitor. One visitor might hit one page on your site. Another may visit a hundred making the average number of pages per visit 500. Again, we love to report the good news. But it’s not helpful for decision making. So lets take an example using Pareto’s 80/20 distribution. For the sake of this example, our website pulls in a whopping 100 visitors per month.
Traffic Segment A
- Web Traffic = 20
- Average page views per visitor = 10
- Total Pageviews = 200
- Time per visit = 5 minutes
Example Segment B
- Total traffic = 80
- Average page views per visitor = 1
- Total Pageviews = 80
- Average time per visit = 1 minute
Averaging A & B segments together yields the top line data you would see on your dashboard.
- Total traffic = 100
- Total page views= 280
- Average page views = 190
- Average time per visit = 3 minutes
The point here is to show how averages misrepresent the values in both A & B segments. Knowing that we have 2.8 page views is useless. What’s interesting is that 20% of our traffic views 10 pages, and 80% account for 80 page views. See how unhelpful averages are? Depending on your objectives, you might be more concerned with core visitors, or overall traffic. If only you could determine what’s sticky for the core group, and what’s turning off the fringe visitors.
Well, you can with custom segments from Google Analytics. It’s a power tool for defining your key audience segments, and a component of decision making about content, user experience, and SEO. The answers aren’t on top. Drill down, and start finding customers.
Find Customers in the Core
Use Google’s custom segments to define your target audience. Describe it by demographics (18-24), keywords from search, affinity categories like sports and gardening, and traffic sources, like social media or Adwords. The core is the group of visitors you want to tantalize with your content, capture their email addresses, and eventually contact them personally. This report shows engagement by comparing numbers of users in different time segments.
Rules of Engagement
A metric like engagement should make you swoon. On Google Analytics, it’s called “Engagement,” located under Behavior on the left-hand navigation. Let’s take the table below as an example, and say that we consider anyone who has made a visit of 180 seconds, or 3 minutes, to define a core visitor.
380 or 21% of visitors accounted for 6,116 or 56%, of page views lasting more than 3 minutes. According to our definition, this is the core audience. To refine further, choose from a slew of pre-configured reports to import into your accounts. Custom segment in hand, you’ll want to apply it to other reports in GA. Find out how much of your core audience visits from social media, and what platform. What pages are most appealing to this group? Who is performing what actions on your site.
Increasing Website ROI
While it’s fun to gloat over top line numbers, it can lead to rash decisions based on them, like trashing your existing site, revamping the home page, or stuffing copy for SEO. Keep in mind that your site still needs to cater to the other 80%. They will become the new core, and fodder for content marketing programs. What are your top analytic tricks? Please add them to the comments.