Effective Web Metrics

As the web evolves, we also need to evolve how we measure website success. In my quest to find a good definition of what measures should be used for basic website measurement (suggestions more than welcome) I have not detailed a list, but I determined there is one thing I will stop doing and another thing I will start.

Time on Site Is a Bad Metric

Time on site is quite possibly one of the worst indicators of visitor success or engagement because so many factors can increase or decrease it without having anything to do with a user’s interest.

For example, if someone opens a page, then takes a phone call before coming back to the page, that time on site is artificially high. Or if someone can’t find something and spends some frustrating minutes looking around on the site, the extra time spent doesn’t indicate greater interest. In fact, the person may have a long time on site metric but never come back.

Types of content, such as a video, also increases the average time on site simply because users are spending time watching it. It doesn’t mean they’re any more or less inclined to complete an action.

Other factors decrease time on site artificially — for example, the person found what they were looking for immediately through site search. The person was very satisfied and left the site after completing a mission.

And finally, if a someone only stays on one page many analytics packages can’t even report time-on-site because there isn’t a “second page” that can be used to calculate the end time.

Time on site was a useful construct in the early days of the Internet when the majority of the sites were content sites, such as newspapers. When someone spent more time on the site, it implied they were reading content that they found useful and interesting. This is no longer an accurate or useful indicator of interest.

Search Use Is Good

Visitors who arrive as a result of searching for something have half the bounce rate, stay twice as long, and view three times more pages on that the average site visitor. Similarly, data shows that visitors who use on-site search are more likely to visit multiple pages and to take desired actions, like sign up for a newsletter or make a purchase.

Tracking search behavior – both from search engines that bring traffic to your site and use of your site’s search-

Finally, the myth of “view throughs” deserves to be debunked. Because CTRs are so dismally low, ad networks want to claim credit for type-ins (people going to an advertiser’s site by typing the URL instead of clicking on an ad).

This is called a “view through” and ad networks want these to be given credit for showing the ad somewhere on their network. A view through occurs if the user happens across any site in an ad network, a banner is served, the user receives a cookie, and then during an arbitrary time period negotiated with the advertiser, the ad network claims credit for the user visiting the advertiser’s Web site even if the user typed in the address manually.