“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
When it comes to website metrics, we’re currently faced with an embarrassment of riches. Just about anything you can imagine can be captured, measured, and rendered in a snazzy chart or table. We literally have hundreds of metrics readily available to us. Some are quite valuable, providing us with the information we need to evaluate a website’s performance. However, a lot of the metrics that get bandied about aren’t actually tied to any real world business objectives. They may sound impressive at first, but they can be meaningless or downright misleading.
Here’s a list of some popular metrics that aren’t quite as useful as everyone thinks:
Number of Hits
Back in the primordial days of traffic analysis, this was the go-to metric for measuring traffic. Every time a file is requested from a server, it marks down a “hit” in the log file. So somebody had the great idea of counting up the number of hits and presenting it as a visitor count—a questionable practice that persists to this very day.
The problem is, each “hit” doesn’t represent a unique visitor. Most web pages consist of multiple files, which means each visit will actually register several hits. So using the number of hits to gauge your website’s popularity is going to result in some inflated and inaccurate numbers. This may be good for your self-esteem, but it’s not very useful as a website metric.
Number of Visitors
When it comes to website visitors, you should be more concerned with quality than quantity. This metric may be more accurate than “number of hits,” but it’s not necessarily a meaningful measure of your website’s effectiveness. If a lot of people are coming to your website, it’s a pretty good indication that your SEO efforts are working. However, if they’re clicking away as soon as they get there, then your website is failing, no matter how impressive this number may be.
Not to be confused with bounce rate (which is actually a very useful metric), exit rate is the percentage of visitors that end their session immediately after viewing a page. On the surface, this sounds like a valid thing to track. After all, if you have one page that appears to be driving visitors away, you’d certainly want to know about it. But if, for example, your website returns visitors to the homepage after they make a purchase, you may see a rather high exit rate for that page.
Exit rate isn’t a useless metric. If you’re analyzing the paths visitors will take through your website (such as purchases, surveys, etc.) and you want to see if folks are jumping out early, it can be a handy way to identify problem spots. If a page has a high exit rate and it isn’t performing its intended function, then it may very well need to be redesigned or deleted. But don’t make the common mistake of automatically assuming that a high exit rate means a page is broken.
Average Time on Page/Site
This metric tracks the average duration that users visit a website (or remain on a specific page). I wouldn’t go so far as to call this metric useless, but its importance as a standalone metric has been overemphasized. Without additional context, it’s impossible to determine a “good” amount of time that visitors should spend on a given page (or on the entire site). You might assume that longer is better, but that’s not necessarily true. If someone is lingering on a page, they may be thoroughly engaged by your awesome content, or they could be struggling with your impenetrable navigation scheme.
By itself, average time on page/site means virtually nothing. However, when used in conjunction with other metrics, it can provide some much needed insight. For example, let’s say you have a video on your home page with a sales pitch occurring at the one minute mark. If your average visitor is only staying on the page 20-30 seconds, then you know your message isn’t reaching them.
Pages per Visit
Pages per visit (or average page views) is a metric that tracks the average number pages loaded by a visitor during a session on your website. Like average time on page/site, this is a metric that people tend to oversimplify and mistakenly assume that a higher value means higher engagement. If the average number of pages loaded by your visitors is low, it could mean they have no interest in your content, or it could simply mean that they’re finding what they need quickly and easily. Without any context, you can’t really judge your website’s performance with this metric.
Total Page Views
Total page views is a measure of the total number of pages viewed by a single visitor during a session on your website. The problem with this metric is that it defines a page as a unique URL (plus any additional parameters). Back in the olden days, this was a reasonable way to keep track of pages. However, the proliferation of rich media (streaming videos, interactive graphics, etc.) have blurred this distinction considerably. If you’re interested in determining the traffic load of your website, or if you sell advertising space and charge by the impression, then this metric might be of some use to you. Otherwise, it’s pretty much obsolete these days.
- 4 (Usually) Useless Web Analytics Metrics (BEM)
- Web Analytics – Separating the Good Data from the Useless (Webstrategies)