August 15, 2017 | By: Rustin Dodd

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Do you understand how your website is performing?

You may work with a marketing company to manage your digital marketing, or you may manage your digital marketing yourself, but either way, you probably find yourself looking at a website marketing report on a regular basis.  If you don’t, you should.

The question is, when you’re looking at your report, do you understand what is being reported?  Do you know what to take action on and what to take with a grain of salt?  Are you focused on the right metrics or the wrong metrics?

Digital marketing can be complex, and understanding what the reports are telling you can be even more complicated.  However, getting a firm grasp on the basic high-level metrics and what they mean from a marketing perspective can quickly empower you to have more productive meetings with your marketing company or make better decisions about your digital marketing efforts yourself.

In this post, we’ll cover the high-level metrics that you should find on any website marketing report, what they mean for your website, and how you should approach making decisions based on them.

Website Traffic – Visitors and Sessions

Website traffic is probably the best-understood metric on any website marketing report and something that we could easily gloss over.  As a general rule, people understand what their website traffic metrics indicate, but we’re going to look at it a little more closely because we will be circling back to it later in this post.

website traffic

On any website marketing report, you should see two traffic metrics, users (also called visitors, or unique users or unique visitors) and sessions (also called visits).

Users or visitors are just that, the number of individuals, or more accurately devices, that visited your website in a given timeframe, regardless of how many times they visit.

Sessions or visits, on the other hand, are the number of times your website was visited regardless of who, or what device, was doing the visiting.

This difference can hold a lot of meaning depending on the type of website that you run.  If one of your goals is to operate a website in which people return on a regular basis then comparing your sessions with users is an important comparison to make.  If your sessions are twice that of your users, then you can reasonably assume that your users are visiting roughly twice a month on average.

It’s important to note that as a digital marketer, except for websites that are monetized by displaying ads, I view traffic metrics in many ways as a vanity metric.  It’s a metric people like to throw around to show that their website is successful, but on its own does not itself indicate success.

Yes, it’s important to watch which direction your traffic is trending and to understand why, but giving value to the number of visitors is arbitrary and usually only gives a false sense of achievement.  Give me a site that with half the traffic and twice the conversion rate and I’ll give you just as many leads.

Website Engagement – Bounce Rate and Session Duration

As a business owner, you don’t operate a website for fun; it serves a function.  You may use your website to generate leads, share information, or for any number of functions.  Regardless of your goals for the site, you need to be able to ensure that when a user hits your website they:

  1. find themselves in a place that is relevant to where they want/need to be
  2. can navigate your website with ease and accuracy

While there are many metrics and layers of analytics that you could dive into to better answer these two questions, your website bounce rate, and session durations should be found on any report and can give you good insights into performance.

website engagement

Session Duration

Session duration is an easy concept to understand.  The term session simply refers to a visit to your website from a single visitor.  So, session duration is simply the average amount of time visitors spend on your website when they visit it.

As you can imagine, for most websites a higher session duration is a positive indicator.  Longer session durations indicate that the visitor is consuming your content, using the available tools, shopping your products and services, or otherwise engaging with your website in a meaningful manner.

What you should strive for regarding session duration is dependent on your website and how you want your users to interact with it.

For example, if you are operating the website for a restaurant, you may reasonably expect that a fair number of visitors will go to your website solely to grab your address to plug into their phone.  These short site visits will impact your average session duration.  In this case, session duration should be taken with a grain of salt and given less importance.

If you operate a B2B business website, a good session duration can fall within a range of times depending on your industry.  If you’re completely unsure of where to begin, try shooting for a session duration goal of between 1:45 and 2:00.

Bounce Rate

Bounce rate is a little more complicated than session duration but still fairly simple to understand.  On Google’s support site, they explain it as follows:

“A bounce is a single-page session on your site. In Analytics, a bounce is calculated specifically as a session that triggers only a single request to the Analytics server, such as when a user opens a single page on your site and then exits without triggering any other requests to the Analytics server during that session.”

Essentially what they are saying is that a bounce is a person that hits your website and then leaves without performing any other actions.

We use bounce rates to help improve visitor targeting and usability both.  A user who finds the content that they expect to find generally will not bounce, whereas a user who finds content that does not align with their expectations will often abandon a website immediately.

Similarly, if a user hits a website that is poorly designed, visually overwhelming, or not formatted correctly for their device, they will often abandon it, regardless of whether the content fits their expectations or not.

Bounce rates, like session durations, can vary.  If your website has a bounce rate north of 65-70%, it may be time to evaluate a few factors seriously.  If it is between 50-65%, you may want to try tweaking some things to improve this if possible.  If it is below 50%, you’re doing good so keep up the good work, but never stop trying to improve your results.

Taking A Deeper Dive

There are many more layers that can be peeled back on the website engagement onion.  If your report has a user behavior section, look for metrics like

  • How many pages does each user view on average?
  • How long do users spend on each page on average?
  • Which pages are users most likely to visit?

website engagement drilldown

Getting to know how people use your website is one of the best ways to improve your website, don’t shy away from keeping an eye on any one of these metrics or discussing them in more detail with your marketing company.

Website Effectiveness – Conversions

Conversions are the lifeblood of your website.  A conversion can be many things, but generally speaking, it is a new lead (at any stage of the sales cycle) or a purchase being made.

website conversion metrics

Most reports will list your conversions in terms of goals and goal completions.  Goals can be setup to track almost anything including:

  • shopping cart checkout
  • form submission,
  • a link being pressed (like a click to call link),
  • or even engagement metrics like session duration – though engagement metrics should be used very carefully as they can drastically skew conversion metrics.

While it is good to look at goal completions from a numbers perspective, especially as it pertains to building a trend line or projecting future conversions, it’s often more useful to look at conversion rates.

Using conversion rates allows us to follow a metric that is more helpful in the optimization process.  Regardless of how much traffic a website gets, the conversion rate can be compared across time periods, whereas the specific number of conversions will be more dependent on opportunities to convert, a.k.a. traffic.

While every industry and business are different, the median conversion rate across industries falls in the 2.5 – 6% range.  If you are converting in that range, you can feel comfortable that you are converting efficiently, though there is always room for improvement.  Top websites across all industries convert in the 11 – 28% range.

Putting It All Together

We’ve covered the high-level metrics provided on most website marketing reports, but it’s important that you approach the reports with the right mindset, or you could draw the wrong conclusions.

Let me give you an example.  A very common scenario that we see in the digital marketing industry is what I’ll call the “my website must suck” scenario.  It often goes something like this:

“I’m spending my marketing budget on X, Y, and Z.  It’s generating great traffic to my website, but I’m just not getting many leads.  My website must suck and need to be redesigned.”

If this sounds familiar, take heart in knowing that you are not alone, and not by a long shot.  Furthermore, your assessment of the situation could be correct; you may have a poorly performing website.

But there is a problem with this line of thought.  It assumes that the only answer for your website performing poorly is your website itself.  It is just as likely that the traffic that you are getting from X, Y, and Z is poor and not your website design.

A great way to test this is to stop spending money on X, Y, and Z for a couple of months.  I know this sounds counterintuitive, you’re getting such great traffic numbers after all, but what you want to watch are the engagement and conversion numbers after you make this change.

If the problem is poor quality traffic, there will be a small drop in conversions, after all even a stopped clock is right twice a day.  But the change won’t be too drastic, and your engagement metric will start moving in the right direction.  In this scenario, you should audit your spend on traffic and work to target your traffic better.

If the problem is, in fact, your website, you may see a higher drop in conversions, but you will continue to see your engagement numbers stay stagnant or even decline indicating poor website performance is likely to blame.  In this scenario, website improvements should be made.  Ideally, you can improve your conversion rates and generate more leads without reinvesting in X, Y, and Z until your website is more optimized to convert the extra traffic.  After all, why would you want to pay to send traffic to a site that doesn’t convert?

The Take-Away

A lot can be gleaned from your website marketing reports, but it’s important to understand what you are reading.

Equally important is the ability to understand the metrics you are getting in relation to each other, and what conclusions you can draw from what you are seeing.

If you are working with a digital marketing company, ask questions, have conversations, and work to better understand what they see in your reports so that you better understand how your website is performing.

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About Rustin Dodd

Rustin Dodd, a marketing strategist with MARION, has more than a decade of marketing experience in both the B2B and B2C industries. His experience includes graphic design, front-end web development, e-commerce management and digital marketing. He has worked on projects for various clients as a freelancer, within an agency setting, and as a member of an in-house team.