Measure Your Site’s Performance, But Don’t Get Stuck In Numbers. Get Insights On User Behaviour.
Measuring the performance of your website, to see how users interact with your content and products, is something all solopreneur Knowledge Marketers should do regularly. But it shouldn’t just be about the data and metrics you collect. What will you do with all the data? What do you aim to find out?
From the statistics you gather, you have to analyze if user behavior on your site is what you want it to be. You have to get insights on how your potential customer sees your site’s value.
User behavior shows you how any user typically interacts with your pages and posts. By measuring site performance and studying user behavior, 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.
At Solohacks Academy, we recommend studying site performance and user behavior via three sets of parameters. One, see how people behave on arrival at your site from Google. Two, see how site users behave with the usage of your site. And three, see how they behave with your social media posts. Organic search traffic from Google, and social media traffic, are usually the two biggest sources of site visitors. So user behavior in these areas is very important to monitor.
1. Measuring How Your Site Users Behave On Arrival At Your Site
Before we begin our performance measurement, we have to mention that Google’s Search Console and Google Analytics are both free tools from Google, that have an enormous amount of detail on many useful parameters to track. The problem we faced is that those tools were way too detailed for our needs. So we opted for Monster Insights, a plugin, that gives us just as much as we want to know for these first three parameters we want to measure and analyze.
Here are the first three measurements we like to watch.
a. 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.
b. Unique Visitors:
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
c. 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.
2. Measuring How Your Site Users Prefer To Use Your Site
To get better insights on how users use our website posts and pages, we use, in addition to Monster Insights, a tool called Hitseps. This is a great tool to give us detailed ideas of how people linger on our pages, what they see on each page, what pattern do they follow in moving from one page to another … and so on. Monster Insights and Hitsteps, we find, to be an unbeatable combination.
Here are the three measurements that help us understand site usage.
a. 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.
b. 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 is 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 with 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 the 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 the 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 inflection 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 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.
c. 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 videos 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!
3. Measuring The Three Key Social Media Metrics
Avinash Kaushik is the last word of Web Analytics. He is the author of two best-selling books: “Web Analytics 2.0” and “Web Analytics: An Hour A Day.” He has also been the Digital Marketing Evangelist for Google, and the Co-Founder and Chief Education Officer for Market Motive.
We love the way Avinash has simplified the understanding of social media user behavior. We religiously follow his method as shown below …
a. Conversation Rate:
Conversation Rate is measured as the number of Audience Comments (or Replies) Per Post. In other words, it shows people are engaging with your posts enough to want to add something, some contribution of ideas to it. You can measure this easily for almost every social channel … your blog, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram or even YouTube.
As Avinash explains:
We know little about who is on the other end of the TV set and the limits of the medium restrict what we can do. So to make our marketing more efficient we shout more loudly, more frequently. We don’t have to do that on social media. We can get a very good sense of who is following, friending or subscribing to us. We can measure if what we are saying connects to them.”
Sure, getting people to read your article or social post is easier than getting people to be moved enough to comment on it. You cannot raise the Conversation Rate on your posts unless you have a deep understanding of your audience and what they value about your brand and content.
Here are some salient insights, though, to get from the Conversation Rate:
- If you are measuring the Conversation Metric, it forces you to do your social media marketing with the right aim of “engagement of your audiences”. You are not just counting how many fans and followers you have, but how much they interact with you.
- You should aim for a higher Conversation Rate, because higher rates imply that you are having “meaningful conversations” with your audience.
- Comments and contributions to your post won’t just come by posting preachy articles. They will come when your articles are offbeat, provoke new thought, challenge the status quo, or shatter some prevalent industry myths. People are short of time and attention, and they only react, via reciprocal action, to things that qualify as “outlier information”.
- At the same time, beware of the temptation to say provocative silly things on social media just to get a high Conversation Rate. That would only erode your brand in the long run.
- Some of the smartest ways of getting more genuine Conversation Rate brownie points is by asking questions that people may want to answer; writing about a new hot topic and raging debates in your industry; or in analyzing the pros and cons of new trends, technologies or online happenings. You can’t just post old hackneyed stuff on social media (like “10 ways to grow your email list”) and expect people to want to reply. They may, however, be tempted to reply if you had titled your piece as “10 new tools that help grow your email list unlike before. Are they worth the price?”
b. Amplification Rate:
Amplification Rate measures how far people go with every social post of yours e.g. how many retweets, how many shares, how many shares of shares, etc.
When a brand knows exactly what types of posts or content gets that increased Amplification Rate, it then knows exactly what type of content inventory to build. The idea is to have more pieces that go a longer way.
Read this quote from Avinash to get an idea of how important Amplification Rate is:
Social media has a profound advantage you can tap into. Not only do you have a network, but every node in your network has a network of its own. If you post something “incredible, relevant, of value” to your audience, then they can allow you to break free of the limitations of your network and spread your word around to a more massive audience. Take me as an example. I have, as of today, 57k followers on Twitter. That’s the limit. Even if every single person who follows me reads every single thing I write, I can at most reach 57k people on Twitter. But the size of my second-level network (the unique people who follow the people who follow me) is 6.3 million. My real “reach” it turns out is not 57k, it is 6.3 million.”
Here are some of the salient features of the Amplification Rate metric:
- As you post and tweet, measure which pieces of content, and what types of content, cause amplification. In other words, look at the potential for virality in your post. See if your social contributions spread to your 2nd, or even 3rd, level networks online.
- Don’t just look at amplification in your geography, see if are able to track deeper into times of day, geo-locations and topics that seem to go further.
- When you have a fair idea of what kinds of posts get amplified more, create more of those. You’ll get more sharing and spreading of your content.
- The psychology of sharing is very important on social media. When people share, they like to share what makes them look good to others. Give your audience content they’d want to share because of it’s positive rub-off on their brand.
- The proof that your amplification strategy is working will come from the fact that soon your 2nd tier network will become your first tier network. People who were further away from you will get progressively closer, while other new people fill your 2nd and 3rd tiers. This is how you become the hub that generates value for a lot of people online.
c. Applause Rate:
Applause Rate is the number of times your social posts got “likes” or “favorited” or “friended” – or receive other such symbols of expressed appreciation.
This kind of applause for a brand matters even more than we give it credit for, because applause is seen not just by you, but also by other members of the target audience as well. It is an open and public endorsement of your brand and therefore has a force multiplier effect.
The thing that works here is that when your social post gets an applause (say, a “like”) it shows on your social graph. as well as the graph of the person who “liked” you. That like a double-dose of publicity.
Again, in Avinash’s own words:
If you like my blog or social post, you’ll not help me understand its relative quality, but when someone in our extended social graph does a search on Google for Social Media Metrics your endorsement of my content will show up in the search results. That’s reassuring to your social graph as well – and it is great for me, because your endorsement makes this post stand out over others and I get a relevant visitor or customer.”
Here are some of the key features of the Applause Rate metric:
- It is often misunderstood that people who have no time to comment or retweet may just click the “like” so that they can run off quickly to something else. But in fact, that’s not true. The Applause intention is very different from an Amplification or Conversation intention. People don’t just applaud when they have less to say or are reluctant to go further, they may also applaud because they are momentarily surprised or lost for words. They may store the information for later mulling.
- Applause Rate is important socially, because when one person first applauds your social post, a lot of other people also like to leave an applause. On the other hand, when we come across posts that no one before us has “liked”, we too may not be moved to applaud. Applause begets more applause.
- Very often, the Applause may not be for the quality of what you have written, but because it provided an “Aha!” moment in the applause-giver’s journey. He may have come across your post and said to himself “Good point! Useful to me!”. Thus an Applause could either be kudos to you, or a moment of truth to the applauder. Either way, you have given the applauder something that lifted his day.
- Looking at who “liked” your post will also tell you many things about the people who have come across your post. Chances are you may have aimed at a particular target audience, but if you find you are getting “likes” from those you haven’t aimed at, think about what that means. Applause from the right quarters, the people you are aiming at, is what matters.
In Summary …
- Measure your site’s performance, but don’t get stuck in numbers. Get insights on user behaviour.
- From the statistics you gather, you have to analyze if user behavior on your site is what you want it to be.
- Two tools we recommend for measuring site performance and user behavior are Monster Insights and Hitsteps.
- Three metrics that show behavior of people on arrival at your site are Page Views, Unique Vistors and Bounce Rate.
- Three metrics that show behavior of people in their usage of your site are New Vs Returning Users, Pages Per Session and Average Time On Page.
- Three metrics that show behavior of people towards your social posts are Conversation Rate, Amplification Rate and Applause Rate.
So What Are Your Thoughts? Do Share!
This post is incomplete without your input. The community of Knowledge Commerce 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.
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