How do you know if your web site is ‘succeeding’?

I recently worked on a website that was all about conversion. Every week, the marketing and sales people would get together and look at ‘the figures’.

They’d look at total views and unique visits and views to our latest content marketing article. Then they’d look at the total number of sales that were either made through our online form or through the phone number that we only published on our website.

In other words, all the sales that could be attributed to the digital team.

Then they’d try to guess why the sales had gone up or down.

There would be talk about what incentives the call centre had to make a ‘digital’ sale. A digital sale was either one made by answering the unique digital phone number or by calling a person who’d filled out our “I want to be contacted by a consultant” form.

We’d then move to any improvements that had been made to the sales form since last week. Mention would also be made of any changes our competitors had made to their offering in the market.

At no time would the discussion touch on any other aspect of the website. The focus was 100% on our sales channel.

This always puzzled me. What was the point of the rest of the site? Was it just window dressing? Something to pad out the site and give the sales form a place to sit?

Was success purely down to whether the Submit button was green or orange?

I felt there was more to it.

So I started to play with ‘the figures’.

Why I love statistics

When I got my hands on my first intranet, I was so excited! After years of creating radio and print content, with no idea whether anyone was listening or reading, I finally had a medium where I could see what my audience was doing.

That transparency has fascinated me ever since. So it was to the site statistics that I turned to see what was really going on with our website sales.

What is success?

Allow me to digress a moment to talk about success. Simply put, the success of a website depends on that website’s purpose.

If your website is a commercial one, like the one I was working on, success is often defined by the number of online sales you make. If your website represents a university, tafe or school, it’s fairly easy to define success by the number of students who sign up to courses, using that website.

Websites that provide product help and support stand or fall by the calls they stop from going to the call centre, i.e. how many customer questions they answer.

These definitions are fairly simplistic and only measure one aspect of a website’s function. But they’re also the measures most site owners care about.

Simply put, is the website making me money?

More than meets the eye

There’s a lot more to a website than simple conversion and there’s more to measuring conversion than counting how many orders came through the sale channel.

Websites are the first port of call for most people researching any transaction, be it a sale, an enrolment, a support call or booking a restaurant. More people research online than through any other media.

Websites are often the most viewed envoy of an organisation’s brand. Your website may be the only interaction your customers have with your company. It may define their entire experience of your brand.

A successful website can make its visitors feel good enough about a product, service or company that they decide to buy the product or service, or transact with that company directly – on the phone or in a bricks and mortar store.

I often research restaurants online, but I’m not very good at eating their meals through my browser.

What do you measure?

So what do you measure to know if your website is succeeding?

The first thing you have to do is define what success means for your website. The obvious answer, “Does it make money?”, will only take you so far.

Success can be many things.

Your website is only one conversion channel for your company. Success on your site can be giving your customers the information they need to pick your product, find your nearest bricks and mortar outlet and go there to shop.

Success can simply be your customer finding your phone number or email address so they can contact you.

Success is giving your customer whatever they need to complete the task they came to your site to complete.

If you really want to know how well your site is working, you need to dig deeper.

There are a few aspects to ‘success’ for a website.

  1. Search engine ranking – how your site stacks up against your competitors on the search results pages of Google and his mates is a key indicator of how well your site is performing.

    You will need to decide what keywords or terms are important to each page or section of your site and measure your ranking for those terms.

  2. Visits to your site – obvious but still a vital statistic. More people coming to your site means more people possibly transacting with your company.

    It’s a good idea to look at your unique visits as well as repeat ones.

    Unique visits show the success of your site marketing – cross linking, search engine ranking, EDMs etc.

    Repeat visits show the success of your site content – the page content, calculators, info graphics and other content your site provides.

  3. Behaviour on the site – what your site visitors do while they’re on your site tells you a lot about what the site is telling them. A very insightful exercise is to follow a site visit from beginning to end:

    How did the site visitor enter? – what search terms did they use to find your site or a page on your site

    Where they go once they were on the site?

    How did their path through your site match the way they came in? Did the pages they looked at match the search term or entry page they chose?

  4. The Exit – how and where your site visitors leave your site can tell you if they found what they were looking for.

    If a site visitor exits your site via the Contact us page, it’s good bet that they ended up calling you. This can either mean success – a customer called – or failure – they had to call us because they didn’t find what they needed on the site. Which one depends on where they went on the site before the Contact us page.

    If a site visitor exits your site from a product page they may not have found a product that suits their needs or they could still be in the research phase of the buying cycle.

    Where site visitors leave your site half way through your conversion channel – sales form, enrolment form etc – you can be fairly certain that there is something about the site that has put them off or blocked their task.

Measure these together and you’ll get a pretty good picture of how well your site is working for your customers.

So what did I do?

You thought I’d forgotten, didn’t you?

I looked at each measure detailed above and I learned a lot about our customers. I learned that they used different words to describe our products than we did. This meant we were targeting the wrong keywords and, as a result, we were not faring well in the battle of the search engines.

Then I looked at visits to our site, what people were doing when they visited us and where they were exiting. I found it took around 3 to 4 visits for a person to commit to buying our services, on a good day. What I also found is that the most popular task on our site had nothing to do with sales, but was all about revenue. Yet we put all our time and effort into our sales channel.

Our digital sales team were all over the pluses and minuses of our sales form, so I looked at the paths to it. I found that many people were dropping out before they got to the form, as we made the path to the form confusing and the messages about our services unappealing.

I pulled these findings together and shared them with my team and our managers. We changed the way we measure our site success and we changed how we prioritise our site improvements.

We started winning the search engine game, more of our customers found their way to our sales channel and we put a bit more spit and polish on that other revenue generating channel.

Now it’s up to you

All this requires a bit of lateral thinking and a large amount of Excel spread-sheeting, but I’m confident that you’re up to the task. You made it this far.

If you want to know more about how to measure and improve your website, I can help. You can find me at www.ftwo.com.au.

Dog with leash in its mouth

Obedience training for your website

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