User behavior metrics are among the important Content Analytics & ROI factors that solopreneurs should be very conscious of. They show us how any user typically interacts with your pages and posts. By studying user behavior metrics, you can figure out not only how many people are interacting with your site, but also which pages bring them to your site in the first place, and which pages they engage with the most.
But beyond these insights, user behavior metrics have also become important factors affecting how Google ranks your page in the SERPs. Google sees user behavior on your site as an indicator of how relevant the user feels your page is to his search intention. The big six metrics that I see as most indicative of the performance of your site’s “user engagement power” are the ones described below. These metrics can help show if your Content Marketing is able to hold the people who come to your site, or get them to come back often. (Some of these metrics also have their flip sides, which you have to be aware of.)
1. Page Views:
The Page Views metric shows you the total number of times a particular page on your website was visited. Page Views gives you a basic understanding of how good your post or page is, in comparison with other posts published during the same time period. This metric can also indicate what kind of topics on your site are attracting the most attention from your target audience.
What is the difference between a Page View and a Visit? A Page View does indicate a Visit to a page on your website. But, if the visitor reloads a page, for instance, this counts as an additional Page View. If the user navigates to a different page and then returns to the original page, this will count as yet another Page View. A Visit, on the other hand, can consist of several consecutive Page Views (without a 30-minute break). Thus a Visit will always contain one or more Page Views.
Okay, one more thing to add here: a Page View is a request for a full page document rather than an element of a page, such as an image or video. Let’s say, for example, a single visitor views 15 pages during a visit, then 15 Page Views are counted. If a visitor views the same page three times during a visit, again three Page Views are counted. But what did the visitor return to the same page for more than once? That we cannot say!
Did he read something and move off, only to have second thoughts? Was he distracted something else (the phone ringing, perhaps), when he lost the thread of what he was doing and went to another page, only to recall where he was before? Was he prompted to cast a second look to some other part of the page he had glossed over cursorily during first peep-in? Or was he short of time to watch the video, or read a slide presentation. and did he return to the page he’d bookmarked to catch up?
You see, Page Views can be both a useful metric and at the same time a slightly shallow metric. It cannot tell us “why” the person visiting registered so many Page Views of the same page. If we knew that, we would have the opportunity to re-layout the elements of the page, depending on why more people were returning for repeated Page Views – and what exactly had prompted that action. That’s why some marketers see Page Views in conjunction with “heat maps” (which show regions of pages visited more times). This combination of data can give them a deeper idea of why some pages tick.
Below is an example … if a business were to see a sudden increase in Page Views, and be able to correlate it with a Heat Map of the much viewed page, they may get a glimpse of the exact areas of content on the page that may have attracted more Page Views. You can never be dead sure, buy you may get insights over time that indicate a pattern.
2. Unique Visitors:
The Unique Visitors metric indicates the total number of visitors who viewed a particular page on your website. This metric may sound similar to Page Views, but it is not quite the same thing.
Unique Visitors can provide you with more accurate insights on how many new visitors your content attracts. As we said before, a Visit can include a lot of Page Views. When we evaluate the number of Unique Visitors, it helps us determine overall traffic our site has received in terms of people who have visited during a given time period. Again, we cannot know what their behavior or interactions have been during their visits.
There are two metrics within the idea of Visits – we have Visits and Unique Visitors. What’s the difference?
Visits refers to the number of times your website has been visited during a reporting period. Note here that a single person can make multiple Visits. On the other hand, Unique Visitors refers to the actual number of people who have come to your website, at least once during a reporting period — this number does not increase if a previous visitor returns to a page several times.
Are you confused already? Well, there’s even more to all this to chew on …
Scott Bateman in his article “How to Understand Unique Visitors in Google Analytics” says the Unique Visitors metric is calculated by using browser cookies and other such means.
- A single person can use a computer at work and then at home. He or she will be counted as two unique visitors via cookies but be only one person.
- A family of four people can all use the same computer. The computer will be counted as one unique visitor when in fact four people are using it.
- Someone manually clears their cookies. They may be treated as two unique visitors because of two sets of cookies.
Below is a great graphic example of how one person can sometimes register as three Unique Visitors, while several people can sometimes register as just one Unique Visitor! Moral of the story? A Unique Visitor need not be a person, but it can be a Unique Computer!
Image courtesy: Dana Chinn
3. Pages Per Session:
The Pages Per Session metric is a very interesting one. It generally shows you how many different pages a person visited on average, during a session on your website. If your interlinking between the pages of your site are good, and reading one page makes people want to continue seeing more of your site, using the links and navigation you’ve provided, this is a very healthy sign. It shows that your content is engaging and organized, and is motivating visitors to discover more of your site.
It’s generally difficult to capture 100% of a user’s time-spent-on-site, but the Pages Per Session metric does a near good job. With every new page load, your analytics tool will record the clicks-led journey, so nothing is lost.
The Pages Per Session metric is also very useful to content marketers who want their content to align closely to the buying journeys of their target audiences. If you have a buyer journey roadmap in mind, you can use Pages Per Session metrics to see if customers are following the path you wanted them to take – or where exactly they are deviating from the routes that may not lead them towards purchase of your products. (Marketers often also analyze “Clickstream Data” to see the clicking-routes of buyers).
One of the most important tenets of Content Marketing is that customers must find content valuable and relevant to their search intention – and search intention usually changes with the stage of the buying journey they are on. The Pages Per Session metric can give you terrific insights into the inflexion points when search intentions change during buying journeys. If you have many different target audience personas, they may all follow the same buying journeys for part of the way and then branch out in different paths – to know when and how all this happens will be an excellent learning for you.
Below is an example of a customer-journey map planned for by a business (IdeaRocket) against which they can then check their actual customer journeys on their site. They can ask themselves where customers fall off this map or deviate – and why?
Image courtesy: IdeaRocket
While Pages Per Session is thus a great metric for genuine content marketers who want to create very engaging pages and excellent internally-linked site structures, there is a negative side to this that some unscrupulous marketers use. For example, marketers may need to prove that many pages on their sites are seen by visitors, to gain more advertising revenue from advertisers on their sites.
You will sometimes find that content is purposely broken up into separate pages – or small amounts of content are packed into a slideshow type page-after-page format – just to increase the Pages Per Session count of visitors. Such tactics, though, put advertisers above readers, and in the long run, you’ll never get out of the rut of being dependent on advertiser-derived small earnings and graduate to customer-derived bigger earnings.
4. New vs Returning Users:
This is an important metric to see if your website is building some sort of relationship with some users. New vs Returning Visitors is a metric that shows the ratio between New and Returning Visitors.
The number of New Visitors indicates the number of potential new people you are magnetizing to your site, while the number of Returning Visitors shows how many of the people who visited liked your content enough to want return to your site more often. It is better to have a healthy mix of both New and Returning Visitors.That means your content is able to attract new users and retain the interest of old ones.
Now,there’s one thing here that can confuse a lot of solopreneurs looking at the New and Returning Visitors metric within a given time period – say one week. You can have a situation in that time period when a person can be BOTH a New and a Returning visitor — he may be a New Visitor on Monday, but a Returning Visitor on Tuesday and Wednesday. So don’t try to add up New and Returning Visitors and think you have had such a great week!
There’s also another question here to ponder about. You may ask, what’s the big deal if my New vs Returning Users ratio is more of one and less of the other? So what?
Christopher Penn in his article “Google Analytics: When Are New Vs. Returning Visitor Ratios Useful?” says the ratio is less important if seen as an aggregate of our overall site’s performance … but it sure helps more when we’re looking at individual marketing channel performance. He shows us both his overall chart, as well as his individual channel charts.
Images courtesy: Christopher Penn
Notice how the second chart helps us gain better insights of channel-wise performance comparisons! You’ll get an idea of which channel is attracting which type of visitor more – the New ones or the Returning ones.
5. Average Time On Page:
The Average Time On Page metric indicates if your visitors are reading your content with absorption or just skimming through it. If the “time on page” on some content pieces is significantly lower than on others, it can show you which types of content are liked less. You should ideally analyze the best-performing articles and compare them to your least-performing articles. See why some pages of content are doing better than others. Is it the length of content, or format, or topic? Is it the presence of some types of infographics, images or video on the page? Look for patterns in the data you collect.
Is there a benchmark for the Average Time On Page? Tammy Borden in her article “How to Improve Website Bounce Rate and Average Time on Page” has this to say:
“The ideal average for time spent on a page will vary. As mentioned, a short average time for a blog post or a page with lots of content is suspicious and definitely not good news. You’ll need to use your intuition for each page to figure out how long you think someone should be on it. If someone is staying, on average, for 40-50 seconds, consider that a good start. It may not sound like much, but try browsing the web with your morning coffee and have a stopwatch going (sounds crazy, I know, but consider it an experiment). Start and stop it for each page you go to. This will give you a good idea of how much time you’re spending on certain types — and you might be surprised at how little time was actually spent on each.”
Having seen the good side of Average Time on Page, there’s some bad news to know about this metric. No one explains it better than Brandon Andersen, Chief Strategist at Ceralytics, in answer to a query on Quora. Brandon has this to say:
“There is something INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT to know about Time on Page in Google Analytics. Imagine a reader hits your site and spends 10 minutes reading your in-depth post about the mating habits of dung beetles. That user gets to the bottom of the page, feels like they have a much better understanding of dung beetle dating, and they close their browser. The time on page for that visit to that page should be 10 minutes right?
WRONG. The time on page for that visit will be 0 seconds. It will be treated as a bounce. “But, they were on my site for 10 minutes? How can that count as 0 seconds and a bounce?!” you say. Google Analytics calculates time on site AFTER a user has clicked on another page on your site. If the user above had read your content for 10 minutes and then clicked to another page on your site, it would have registered as a 10 minute time on page. But since they didn’t take another action on your page, it counts as 0 seconds and a bounce.
Ulp! Because Google has this contradiction, between bounces and Average Time on Page metrics, you often have Average Session Duration showing one thing and Average Time on Page showing another thing entirely (like in this example below).
Images courtesy: Megalytic
You would think if someone spent nearly 4 minutes on a page, their session duration on your site would be just as long? But, hey … this is what you get!
6. Low Bounce Rate:
It’s easy to visualize what the metric Bounce Rate means. It’s when someone visits your site, finds it “yech”, and bounces off to another site. Now the question we have to ask is, why would they find it “yech”? Experts think these reasons below could be contributors:
- Slow-to-load page
- Too less content on the page (like only one form, or a few lines of text)
- Misleading title tag or meta description
- Blank page or technical error
- Bad or broken backlink from another website
- Low quality content
- Total mismatch to user’s search intent
- Terrible user-experience
The best exposition of Bounce Rate comes from a video by Avinash Kaushik, the web-analytics guru. His description of Bounce Rate has become famous as “I came, I puked, I left”. Watch his video below on the topic. He says it all about why Low Bounce Rates are desirable as good indicators of the connect between your content and your audience!
So what are your thoughts on this topic? Do share!
This post is incomplete without your input. The community of content-marketer solopreneurs would feel galvanized to hear from you … so do share your thoughts on this topic with us, in the comments field below this post.
Other articles in our series “Content Analytics & ROI”:
- Emotional Analytics: The New Way To Measure How Audiences Feel!
- Calculating Content ROI Accurately Is Tedious – But Worth The Time!