Successful Web strategy is in enticing visitors to stay awhile

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

Easily navigated pages trumps number of hits logged

Gillian Shaw

What if you build a website and nobody comes? Or web surfers are dropping by but your bottom line is still dropping? How do you measure success?

Not by website hits, according to Avinash Kaushik, Google’s analytics evangelist and the man who debunks many traditional attempts to measure the rate of return on companies’ website investments.

“‘We got this many visits to this many pages, or people spent this much time on the site’ — all these metrics don’t matter,” said Kaushik, author of Web Analytics: An Hour a Day and his soon to be released Web Analytics 2.0: The Art of Online Accountability and Science of Customer Centricity.

“What I want to know is what is the loyalty of those visitors. Measure behaviour, not hits.”

Kaushik is blunt in his assessment of many of the numbers companies bandy about as proof of a successful web strategy.

HITS is his acronym to describe it: How Idiots Track Success.

His description for website bounce rate is even more graphic: “I came, I puked, I left,” he said, describing visitors who flip over to another site instead of clicking through to pages in the same site.

And his rule number one? “Don’t suck. If you suck nothing matters – no amount of data can make up for the fact you suck.”

While it sounds harsh or perhaps a little irreverent for those who spend hours tallying up web hits, Kaushik’s no-nonsense approach to web analytics has companies listening.

In his presentations Kaushik is ruthless in ripping apart websites. Research in Motion’s Blackberry site didn’t escape attention in one session in which Kaushik criticized it for targeting information technology specialists, the traditional focus of Blackberry marketing, and not the wider and growing market for the device.

While Kaushik doesn’t claim it was his doing, he said: “I went to their website and it is different than it was six months ago. They sent me a [Blackberry] Curve as a thank you for critiquing them.”

Companies spend time and money to get to the top of the search results but often their efforts only upset potential customers, Kaushik said. If clicking on the search result takes them to a home page that doesn’t answer their search query, many will simply bounce to a new site rather than taking the time to dig through for the link they need.

In one example, Kaushik searched on the terms “cheap flights Toronto to Vancouver.”

Among the sponsored links that showed up were companies that don’t even have flights from Toronto to Vancouver.

“Don’t let your company write cheques that you can’t cash,” said Kaushik, in reference to search results in which companies fail to deliver on their promise.

“Most of the results took me to pages so I could click to somewhere else to find the form to search for a flight,” he said. “Typically what I will do then is I will bounce back and find a site that will delight me.

“The average person who comes to your website will give your website two-and-a-half seconds before they leave.”

Kaushik said companies constantly miss opportunities to please their customers, even with such simple things as recognizing where the person is located and automatically taking them to the relevant site, instead of asking that they click on where they live.

Kaushik has similar disdain for Facebook, Twitter and other social media numbers. He said the biggest mistake companies make is thinking social media sites like Facebook and Twitter are essentially places to push their products.

“They are thinking ‘how can I push a product, a press release, a coupon,'” he said. “They don’t grasp the fact it is a two-way conversation.”

Alexandra Samuel, chief executive of Social Signal, who recently wrote an online post, Six Tips for Scoring with Social Media for Harvard Business Publishing, would agree.

“If you have an ad on TV and the phones start ringing then you know your ROI [return on investment],” she said.

It is not as straightforward when it comes to the Web. Instead, companies should be looking for qualitative measures, not quantitative, she said.

“Companies looking for ROI want to know how many more products did we sell this week because of an ad we put on Facebook,” she said. “It is not about that.

“You are trying to get your customers to love you, but your customers are not going to love a number like how many site visits you get or how many followers you have.

“You can’t put a price on that loyalty but it can transform the way you work.”

Chris Goward, chief executive officer and co-founder of Vancouver’s WiderFunnel Marketing Optimization, said there is a shift towards measuring more relevant metrics.

“Most people who have a business, or even in a marketing department, they don’t have a framework for creating a website that actually converts people to action,” he said.

He lists six conversion factors — that is, factors that will make the difference between someone merely stopping by a website and moving on or actually taking some action. That could be anything from signing up immediately for a product or service to something less easily linked to the action — like deciding to test drive a certain car.

The factors:

– The value proposition: What are you offering in exchange for what you are asking?

– Relevance of the presentation to the person’s needs and where they came from. If you clicked on an ad that said red socks were 60 per cent off and it went to a page that said socks were on sale, it failed to deliver on the promise.

– Clarity of the content and clarity of the call to action.

– Anxiety, or anything on the page that causes uncertainty.

– Distraction or lack of focus. How many things are you asking people to do on the page? The more options you give people the less they will do because you are confusing them.

– Urgency. Why should I act now? Give web visitors a reason to become a client or customer.

Goward said the strategy works.

In one case, sign-ups for a webinar shot up 290 per cent after just a few small design changes.

Tourism BC, he said, increased newsletter subscribers by 12 per cent after similar website tweaking.

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Start with an answerable question. Commit to reviewing your analytics only when you have a specific question you want answered. Numbers are meaningless unless you know what you want them to tell you.

Test a hypothesis. If you’re using analytics to guide your business strategy, you need a testable hypothesis: a provable answer to the question you’ve posed.

Focus on what’s actionable. Identify the resources (dollars or people hours) you have available to invest in expanding or changing what you do online, and use analytics to guide the allocation of those resources.

Stop making comparisons. Comparative benchmarking has its place. But once you know what you’re aiming for, focus on achieving your goal rather than getting consumed with constant comparisons.

Accentuate the positive. When you catch yourself stewing about your latest unfollows, take note of the five people who just retweeted you. When you’re frustrated by your stagnant site traffic, stop to celebrate the blog post that still gets a steady stream of comments.

Know when to take a break. If you have an emotional reaction to your online analytics, it’s a sign that you need to stop looking at numbers and take the time to recharge with an activity that reinforces your sense of self-worth.

Source: Alexandra Samuel, Social Signal, adapted from Scoring with Social Media, Harvard Business Publishing, online at

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