The answer to these questions might be less obvious than you think. For example, you may think your site’s job is to win conversions. But what constitutes a conversion? If you sell products, you might think that only visitors who make a purchase count. But what about someone who signs up to receive your newsletter or catalog? They could make a purchase in the future – perhaps even in the very near future. Shouldn’t they count in some way as well?
In discussing this issue, Mike Fleming writing for Search Engine Guide noted that you not only need to lay out “the ultimate reason the website exists,” but also consider “the micro-actions that signify the movement of a prospect toward that outcome.” He advocates sticking with three to five of these actions so you don’t lose focus. They could be purchases, or they could be behaviors, such as signing up for a newsletter or scheduling a consultation. “Whatever these actions are, they are the ones that tell you if your site is successfully accomplishing its business purpose,” Fleming explained.
At the same time, he cautioned against focusing solely on e-commerce metrics. A visitor might spend some time on your site without making a purchase or an obvious move toward opening their wallet – yet it could still be a worthwhile visit from your perspective. Did they look for a job? Research a future purchase? Get support for a product they already own? Were they able to complete the task that brought them to your website in the first place? Then your site actually did its job, regardless of whether there’s more money in your pocket as a result.
So if you need to look at metrics other than just your site’s conversion rate, what should you be checking? One obvious metric is your site’s cart and checkout abandonment rate. Why don’t people start to check out after they’ve added an item to their cart? Why don’t they finish the checkout process after they’ve started it? Getting the answers to these questions and fixing any issues you find will put “more money directly into your pocket,” Fleming notes.
Another metric you might consider deals with research. Depending on who you sell to and what you offer for sale, your potential customers may do a lot of research before they actually buy something. This could involve downloading a free PDF from your site to peruse the information it contains at their leisure. According to Fleming, if the PDF contains the kind of information that leads to conversions, then the download counts as a success and should be measured as such.
Fleming believes that you should also measure how frequently visitors return to your website within a particular time period, and how much time passes between their visits – what he refers to as “Visitor Loyalty and Recency.” This matters a lot for content-based websites that make their money from page views (because of ads). Improving this metric will have the same effect for such a website as improving the shopping cart abandonment metric has for an e-commerce site; it will directly affect the bottom line.
Coming back to e-commerce sites for a moment, another metric you might want to examine is your average order value. It is entirely possible to increase the quantity of your orders, and yet see your revenue go down if the average value of your orders goes down. This is another metric you may want to improve, possibly by doing some judicious cross-selling.
By taking a closer look at these metrics, you can get a better idea of how well your website is working for you. You’ll also get a realistic picture of what you need to improve. Keep these metrics in mind when your analytics system throws you a score of numbers and you’re trying to decipher their true meaning. Good luck!