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Marketing | Jan 21
Kiera Abbamonte on May 22, 2019 (last modified on December 4, 2020) • 15 minute read
The trouble is that there are so many metrics that it’s almost impossible to track them all in a sustainable and actionable way.
That’s why it’s so important for marketers to narrow in on the performance metrics that are most relevant and useful for their unique company or site.
Which metrics are those? As Blast Analytics & Marketing’s Lara Fisher puts it, “The answer is it depends. Everyone’s goals are different and there’s no one size fits all metric.” In other words, there is no right answer. The best metrics to track vary for each business and each website out there.
“While most websites share the goal of generating revenue, the conversion process is different for each,” said Best Company’s Alice Stevens. “I recommend understanding your conversion process and goals first. Then, choose metrics that best illustrate the success of each conversion step and revenue.”
To help you decide which metrics your team should pay attention to, we talked to more than 50 marketers about the web performance metrics they consider most important—plus why you may want to track each one.
Here’s what else they shared.
Acquisition metrics are focused on how effective your website and other marketing efforts are at driving people to visit your site. More than just generic traffic volume, acquisition metrics can help you dig into who’s visiting and where they came from—so you can better contextualize traffic numbers.
Editor’s note: Want to see how different sources contribute to your overall website acquisition? Download this Google Analytics (Acquisition Snapshot) dashboard for free to see traffic and sessions broken down by source and campaign.
Few marketers will complain when website traffic numbers rise. People are visiting your site—it’s a good sign. That said, understanding where significant traffic changes are coming from can help you identify the efficacy of different marketing channels and campaigns.
“Context is everything when it comes to traffic channel. It’s so important that you look at engagement and conversion in the context of the channel or campaign they come from,” shared Neil Walter of Walter Analytics. “If you just look at overall conversion rates, you don’t get a good gist of what’s actually working and what isn’t.”
Sam Olmsted of Poke Loa agrees, saying, “We’re using multiple strategies to attract visitors, so the source/medium filter in Google Analytics is most useful when it comes to determining our marketing ROI.”
Hosting Tribunal’s Harsha Reddy says they use traffic by source information in a similar way. “If I notice an increase in my website’s traffic for a particular month or period, I use Google Analytics to find out which page is attracting the most visitors and where they’re coming from.”
“By tracking this change,” Olmsted added, “we can see which marketing methods are working best to get us the right kind of customers.”
“There are three main website metrics that digital marketers should put emphasis on when analyzing a website’s performance. These are bounce rate, average time on page and unique visitors,” noted Ian Kelley of Vital Design.
Kelley was one of the first marketers who noted they track unique visitors, so we wanted to hear more about the reasoning. Kelley shared that monitoring unique visitors helps Vital Design find and target warmer leads who’ve already been to the website. “Unique visitors help us determine who exactly you should put emphasis on, as these visitors are returning to your website and are more engaged than first time visitors.”
“The reason that digital marketing is great is because absolutely everything can be tracked,” said Joe Tucker of Traffic Jam Media. “From an SEO perspective, metrics such as rankings and domain authority are important factors.”
If your focus is on SEO, search rankings and domain authority are one of the best measurements to track—because they show how your content, promotion, and technical SEO improvements build up your authority and clout in the eyes of search engines.
Of course, as Jolly Content’s Morgan Taylor pointed out, “High domain authority doesn’t matter if you’re not getting visitors.” That’s why Taylor holds that organic traffic is actually the most important metric for SEO. All other metrics and actions are designed to ultimately grow that number.
“Engagement metrics track how effective your site is at keeping visitors and, most importantly, converting them into paying customers,” says Katherine Rowland of YourParkingSpace. “It’s all well and good to attract these visitors,” Rowland added. “But if you’re unable to keep them long enough to convert them into a lead or a sale, what’s the point?”
McCall Robison of Best Company echoed Rowland, saying “Traffic is an important factor, but it isn’t as important as engagement.” For Robison, engagement metrics are the true measure of success: “If we don’t have an effective website that promotes engagement and encourages people to interact with our content and leave reviews, then our website’s performance isn’t where we want it to be, even if it’s getting the traffic.”
That sentiment was a common one among the marketers we talked to. When asked what they value most in terms of website performance, a whopping 76% chose engagement over acquisition.
Jay Kang of Referral Rock centers engagement metrics on bounce rate monitoring. “My focus is SEO, so the most important metric I focus on is Bounce Rate.”
“Bounce rate is something I can control,” Kang added, “based on the content we produce and SEO optimization like title and meta description.”
Full Stack Talent’s Roxanne Williams shares that emphasis, saying, “I look at bounce rate in conjunction with average time on page a lot.” Williams uses bounce rate to answer key questions about how their visitors relate to their content. “Are users only clicking the link and leaving right away? Are they doing a quick scroll and then leaving? Are they staying and reading the entire article?”
As Osiris Parikh of Summit Mindfulness noted, “A high bounce rate generally means that a website does not contain information valuable to a prospective customer.”
That’s why the answers bounce rate metrics offer can help inform your content strategy—enabling your team to craft content that’s more relevant and engaging to your target audience. As Williams put it, “They enable you (after some testing and refining) to craft content your audience will want to stay and read.”
Speaking of answering questions, tracking the amount of time customers spend on your website or a given page can clue you in on a few important answers, too—like whether your audience is finding value in your website.
“From a content perspective, it’s a big indication as to how valuable your content is to your readers,” said Bridget Poetker of G2. “Time on page is a pretty black and white metric, meaning it doesn’t lie,” Poetker added. “If your time on page is low and your bounce rate is high, you’re most likely missing the mark on search intent and not answering readers’ questions.”
Victoria Munday of Energy Creative shares that mindset. “For B2B websites,” Munday said, “we’d look at time spent on page and drop off rates. It’s the quality of traffic you need to attract, not necessarily the volume, particularly if you’re operating in a niche sector or offering a specialised service.”
“Page dwell time is extremely overlooked,” said Andrew Schutt of Schutt Media. ”It’s an indicator of how effective your website really is because it shows you how many people are taking the time to actually digest the content on your site.”
“If none of your viewers are taking the time to read your content,” Schutt added, :then your website probably isn’t very effective at moving visitors down your sales funnel.”
In addition to helping marketers understand how valuable visitors find their content, dwell time is also commonly believed to be one of Google’s ranking factors.
“If a visitor finds your page through search, goes through your page, and quickly hits the back button, that sends a signal to Google that your content isn’t fulfilling searcher needs,” said Faizan Ali of WPBeginner. “You have to control dwell time by providing value to your visitor and by matching the user intent for the keyword,” Ali added.
And that means tracking dwell time and how it changes over time.
“The best way to evaluate website performance is to look at scroll depth and pages per session,” said Blair McKee of Constellix. “These metrics will tell you if the information on your landing pages is valuable and engaging.”
“Higher pages per session indicate a sense of trust between the user and the website,” noted McKee. “They’ve already gleaned valuable information from one page, and trust that other pages will provide additional, trustworthy information.”
“Interactions per visit will tell you how visitors are behaving on your site,” explained Community Tax’s Jacob Dayan. “Even when they don’t make a conversion, you can track which pages they’re visiting, how long they spend on each page, and what they do on the page.”
“Mapping out how a visitor travels through your site,” added Dayan, “will help you turn them into purchases, downloads, subscriptions, and more.”
“Ultimately, profit is more important than any other metric,” stated Marc Andre of Vital Dollar. “Things like email signups, sessions, and bounce rate are all things you can track, but they won’t directly determine the success of the website.”
Instead, Andre advises focusing on conversion metrics that measure how effective your website is at actually driving real business. “There are a lot of low-traffic websites that make a lot of money, and there are high-traffic websites that are losing money,” Andre added.
Steve Kozma of Be Found Online looks at conversion metrics from a slightly less zero-sum perspective—as a vital part of a successful website. “At the end of the day, I care about sessions/users, bounce rate, and conversions/KPIs. If those three things are performing well, then you’re 90% of the way there.”
Similarly, Dan Moyle of Impulse Creative says they track acquisition metrics, but focus the bulk of their analysis on conversion metrics. “Of course if no one’s coming to your site, nothing else can happen. But we quickly move to specific conversion-centered metrics.” The metrics Impulse Creative tracks include:
Editor’s note: Looking for a better way to see how website performance leads to real sales and revenue? You can download this free Google Analytics Product Revenue dashboard to get a deeper look into how website traffic turns into sales.
Meghan Hultquist of HQdigital said, “We like to focus on website conversion rate, and conversion rates by traffic source. These numbers represent the number of potential sales opportunities out of all website traffic.”
Hultquist also noted, “We pay special attention to conversion rates by source because you can use CRO tactics specific to each traffic source to improve your numbers.”
Luke Wester of Miva agreed, saying, “Conversions are the main metric to pay attention to. It tells you if your strategy is working and if people are actually taking the action you want.” For most, that’s the ultimate measure of website success—are you driving people toward your main CTA?
Explaining, Jonathan Aufray of Growth Hackers added, “If you get 1,000 unique visitors on your website, but only 5 people enter their email, your conversion rate is 0.5%. But if your website only attracts 200 unique visitors, and you generate 20 leads out of it, your conversion rate is 10% and that’s much better.”
“Don’t focus too much on traffic,” Aufray added, “Focus on relevant, qualified, and targeted traffic and on the number of leads you generate.”
In explaining why Kaleidico focuses heavily on visit-to-lead and visit-to-signup rates, Bill Rice said simply, “With our clients, leads are everything.”
“A great website will speak to the user and present the right offer at the right time, and turn them into a lead,” noted Andrea Moxham of Horseshoe + co. “You can spend all the time and money in the world trying to get people to find your site, but what good is it if they don’t convert?”
The Advisor Coach’s James Pollard shared a similar point of view, saying, “I would rather have a website with a high bounce rate and more sales than a website with a low bounce rate and no sales.” In other words, it’s all about the leads.
“Your value per visit metric is essential,” added Ollie Smith of ExpertSure. “It aids you in understanding the value you get out of every visit.”
Gabriel Marguglio of Nextiny explained, “Sessions show you if a website is getting more visits over time, but leads show you if those people are converting over time, which means the website is doing its job.”
“In the end,” Marguglio added, “we want to understand if these visits that turned into leads are actually becoming opportunities that the sales team can close.”
While it isn’t it’s own metric, many of the marketers we spoke with recommended tracking your own metrics by setting up individual goals in Google Analytics. “Making the most of your website metrics requires situational awareness and a deep understanding of what your goals are and how to achieve them,” said Laurent Ross of Oxygen.
“Goal completions have the most tangible ROI for our clients,” said Dylan Myatt of Advice Media.
“Analyze each page based on the goal of that page, not by a standard metric,” added Ross. “At the end of the day, the goal of your website is to convert visitors, but that can be achieved through many different methods and stages of content.”
Nate Tower of First Scribe echoed the need for unique and individual goals, saying, “The most important metric for measuring your website’s performance depends entirely on your business goals and how the website fits into those goals.”
“Every business will have a different metric that should be measured,” noted Jorge Sheffy of Loclweb. “If you’re a local store that doesn’t sell online, your metric might be how many users call or download directions to your store. If you’re a service area business, your might measure how many visitors schedule an appointment.”
“I’m amazed by how many clients come to us with no goals set up in Google Analytics,” Tower added.
Marcel Digital’s Dan Kipp talked about how GA goals make it easier to measure success where the goals are less traditional. “At the end of the day, we’re judged on the primary KPIs we’re delivering for our clients. Filling the top of the funnel with traffic is important, but we’ve deoptimized a client for certain keywords in favor of lower-search, local-based terms that produce a drop in organic traffic but an increase in organic conversions.”
Tim Troiano of SFA Marketing had similar experience: “We develop websites for a diverse range of clients so the metrics we measure success on vary.”
“For example, we recently developed a website for a manufacturing company that was getting ready to sell products but had none available yet. The most important metric for us in evaluating that website’s performance was email signups.”
“Conversions are welcome, but our singular, primary goal is to give our users something of value every time they come to our site,” said Andrew McLoughlin of Colibri Digital Marketing. “It’s not enough just to make a great website to generate conversions and drive engagement. At the end of the day, the most important metric for us is user experience.”
Nikita Bhagat of Wealth Words noted that they measure several UX-focused metrics, including:
In advocating for marketers to pay more attention to technical aspects of their website, including page load time, Thumbprint’s Tod Ellington said, “Page load time measures the time to load content on a webpage, which is a very important metric to monitor because every second translates into dollars earned or lost.”
“If your website has a slow loading time,” explained Andrew Ruditser of Maxburst, “users will leave your site, costing you to those visitors and potential conversions.”
Mobisoft Infotech’s Ritesh Patil said there are many factors that can affect load time—so tracking changes and working to improve page loading is a vital part of improving other website performance metrics. “A lot of factors affect the page load time,” Patil said, “such as the hosting server, design of the page, the number of elements on the page, the user’s location, the browser type, and more.”
Whether you’re looking for traffic or high conversion rates, it’s vital that your team has the right web metrics to accurately and actionably measure what matters for your company.
With the advice and recommendations above, you can build smart KPIs that actually drive toward your unique goals.
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