In life, it’s often the small details that define success over failure—and it’s exactly the same when running your own website.
Now, I know that statistics and website metrics are not the most glamorous subjects, but you should never underestimate their importance.
Even tracking the most basic of numbers relating to your website will give you an advantage over someone who doesn’t bother at all. You can use real-world data to confirm what works on your website and what doesn’t, identify room for improvements, and spot any abnormal results (such as those caused by a site outage). That’s why all the top websites will allocate resources to tracking key site metrics—something you should do, too.
Today I want to help you get started with performance tracking by discussing seven of the most important website metrics. Head over to Google Analytics, add the code to your website, and you can start tracking some of these important metrics, today.
1. Website traffic
The top level metric most webmasters obsess over is traffic—specifically, total number of visits to a website.
Of course, traffic is fundamentally important for any successful website, and it’s incredibly easy to track using Google Analytics.
Generally speaking, your website’s traffic figures are a good indication if your website is growing, stagnating, or declining. It’s also useful for tracking the efficacy of certain promotional activities. For example, if you experience a huge traffic spike after publishing a guest post on a top blog, this is an indicator that you should be doing more of the same. However, if you’re witnessing a steady, long-term traffic decline, this tells you that what you’re doing isn’t working—you need to try new things, fast. . .otherwise your website will fail.
Of course, traffic figures will only reveal so much, but if you’re looking for a quick snapshot of the overall health of a website, it’s a good place to start.
Taking this one step further, total visits can be broken down into unique and repeat visits—unique visits tells you how well you attract new visitors, while repeat visits tells you how well you retain visitors.
Now, in an ideal world, unique visits and repeat visits will grow simultaneously, giving you a healthy increase in total visits.
However, what if total visits growth is driven entirely by repeat visits? In such a scenario, the metrics are telling you that you are successfully building a loyal following (awesome!), but you aren’t doing enough to attract new visitors. You should be adopting new strategies to improve your discoverability, which will bring new eyes to your website.
2. Traffic sources
As well as knowing your top level traffic numbers, you should also know where your traffic is coming from. Again, this information is available using a tool like Google Analytics.
Google Analytics breaks down your traffic sources into four broad categories:
- Organic Search: traffic coming via the search engines
- Referral: traffic from another website
- Direct: traffic typing your domain into the browser
- Social: traffic from social media
Each source of traffic will tell you a few important snippets of information about your website.
Even if SEO is less prevalent than it used to be, the organic search traffic will give you an idea of how well your website ranks in the search engines. With around 40,000 searches per second on Google alone, the search engines will always be an important source of traffic, and this metric will tell you how effective your SEO strategy is.
Referral traffic shows how many visitors come from other websites—either because you wrote a guest post, or because another website linked to your content. If you’re regularly linked to by other websites, not only will this help you rank better in the search engines, but (ironically) it will reduce your dependence on the search engines, too. Besides, lots of links pointing your way shows you are doing good work, and is a great testimonial of your content.
Direct traffic is the number of people typing your website into their browser—for example, torquemag.io. A good percentage of direct traffic visits is a good indicator of a loyal following. After all, it is your regular visitors who are more likely to go straight to your site.
Finally, social traffic will tell you how many visitors come from the social networks. The more sharable your content is, and the more engaging your social media posts are, the more social traffic you will receive.
Which source of traffic is best? Well, that’s hard to say, and will depend on what type of website you run. However, I would always be more comfortable if my traffic came from a variety of sources. This minimizes the risk of your website being decimated if your main traffic source dries up.
3. Bounce rate
Your website’s bounce rate is another important metric—and one rumored to have an impact on SEO.
The bounce rate metric, displayed as a percentage, tells you how many visitors leave your website immediately after arriving—Google defines these as “single-page sessions.” The lower your bounce rate, the more visitors there are sticking around to enjoy your website, and (hopefully) converting.
Bounce rates do differ based on the type of website—blogs will differ from landing pages which will differ from eCommerce stores. You also have to apply some logic to the situation. When I changed my website from a multi-page site to a one-page site, my bounce rate declined. No need to panic, though, as the change is easily explained: my information is all on one page now, so visitors have no need (and are unable) to click around my site.
However, if you make changes that are continually improving your bounce rate, you are heading in the right direction.
A poor bounce rate tells you one important thing about a website: visitors are leaving, quickly.
It doesn’t tell you why they are leaving—you will have to dig a little deeper for that. However, common reasons for a high bounce rate include: slow load times, broken websites, bad first impression (poor website aesthetics), and badly targeted keywords.
With these reasons in mind, you can improve bounce rate by making sure your website looks great, works properly, and your content is high quality.
It’s also worth pointing out that if Google Analytics is installed incorrectly, you may see abnormally low bounce rates.
4. Top pages
If you head over to the Behavior section of Google Analytics, you’ll be able to see your best performing pages in terms of traffic volume—Analytics displays the number of pageviews, and how those pageviews look as a percentage of total pageviews across the entire website.
Knowing what pages receive the most traffic is hugely important because it gives you real-world data showing what your audience responds to. If you experiment with different types of content, this is where you can begin to analyze what’s working, and produce more of the material your readers like.
However, traffic numbers is not the only way to determine your “top” pages.
You could also look at the number of social shares per page as an indicator of a strong article. This information isn’t available in Google Analytics, but plenty of social media tools and WordPress plugins will provide this information, including Social Metrics Pro.
When you know which content your audience likes best, the next step is straightforward: produce more of it!
5. Conversion rate
Conversion rate is another crude top-level metric, but it’s arguably the most important metric of all as it can have a significant impact on your site’s profitability—if you can increase your conversion rate from 1% to 2%, your profits double.
Total conversion numbers are important, but it’s the conversion rate that tells you how well you encourage your traffic to perform a desired action.
Your conversion rate is easy to calculate: Unique Visitors / Conversions
You can also track how your conversion rate changes over time using Google Analytics.
Now, what qualifies as a conversion will vary from site to site, and you could also have many different conversion “goals” on one site. For example, an eCommerce store might have three conversion goals:
- A sale (most important!)
- A subscriber to an email list
- A social share (least important, but still valuable)
Obviously, the higher the conversion rate, the better your website is doing. A low conversion rate indicates that you are attracting the wrong traffic, your call to action is weak, and/or your sales copy is ineffective.
Because your conversion rate can have such a significant impact on profits, you should be continually optimizing your website for conversions—even minor tweaks can have a substantial impact on your bottom line.
6. Conversion by traffic source
I’ve already mentioned that it’s a good idea to have traffic coming to your website from a variety of sources.
However, it’s undeniable that not all traffic sources are created equally. This can be seen clearly by looking at the conversion rate by traffic source metric.
Conversion rate by traffic source is calculated using the same four traffic source categories: organic search, referral, direct, and social.
Let’s look at a hypothetical example website with the following performance metrics:
- Organic search traffic: 4% conversion rate
- Referral traffic: 10% conversion rate
- Direct traffic: 12% conversion rate
- Social traffic: 1% conversion rate
So what do these numbers tell us?
For a start, direct traffic is the most valuable traffic source for this website. Direct traffic is usually driven by loyal visitors, so with this in mind, this website should take steps to encourage loyalty and repeat visits.
Similarly, social traffic is the least effective, so while receiving free traffic from social media is always nice, this website would be crazy to chase it too hard.
You can also see that referral traffic converts 250% better than search engine traffic. This is an indicator that the strategy for generating referral traffic is good (you’re being linked to from the right places) but your search engine strategy is less effective (you’re targeting the wrong keywords).
Of course, all these numbers are hypothetical, but it gives you an idea of the thought process you should employ when looking at your= conversion rate by traffic source. When you know your strengths and weaknesses you can target your most valuable traffic sources, and change strategies for ineffective traffic sources.
7. Customer’s lifetime value
The final metric in today’s list is the customer’s lifetime value. This metric is a little more difficult to calculate, but is fundamentally important when making forecasts and setting marketing budgets.
Now, most websites will have an idea of their average transaction size. This is useful to know, but ignores the fact that when a customer becomes part of your sales funnel, they are more likely to buy again. The lifetime value metric addresses this by factoring the customer’s future purchases into the equation.
Take a membership website, for example. (Admittedly the nature of a membership website means they are more likely to be aware of their customer’s lifetime value.) If membership costs $100 per month, and the average customer remains a member for 6 months, then each customer is worth, on average, $600 to that business.
This is well worth knowing, as it will help this website to allocate their resources more effectively—if they use paid advertising, they could afford to spend more to attract customers based on the $600 lifetime value rather than the $100 transaction value. This higher lifetime value means they can spend more on advertising and promotion, will attract more customers, and will allow their business to grow more quickly—what’s not to like!
If you’ve never tracked website metrics before—and especially if you’re bad at math—all of those numbers, charts, and percentages can seem intimidating. However, it really doesn’t need to be: most of the top tracking software presents the data in relatively straightforward terms, meaning anyone and everyone can digest it. The metrics themselves may sound sophisticated, but in reality they are tracking quite a simple set of behaviors.
That is why everyone should be tracking at least some website metrics. Remember: when you track metrics you get the true picture, rather than just going off assumptions.
If you can continually improve any of the metrics included in today’s list, you are making real, noticeable improvements to your website. This will put you in the best possible position going forward.
What do you think is the most important website metric? Let us know in the comment section below!