Let us begin by telling a story…
We have a client who was with an “SEO Specialist” who built them a site, and promoted it. While we normally think that full scale active SEO (vs a more localized or social approach) is not really needed for most businesses, this customer legitimately needed it. While this “specialist” did manage to do fairly well in getting this site ranked, the content was not really human friendly and we suspected that the site could do better, so we recently hooked into analytics (and gave access to our client as well) and setup some goals, and while the data that we got only covered 2 weeks, we discovered some trends. Not to get into to many details, we discovered that
- A good portion of visitors tried to view the site in a different language (which had a link, but had no implementation).
- Some of the landing pages (particularly the SEO specific pages) had a very high bounce rate (some pages at 100%).
- Some of the keywords that the “specialist” was pushing for had no impressions.
- Some of the keywords that the “specialist” was pushing for had impressions but no clicks.
- While people where finding the contact form, no one was filling them out.
What does all this mean?
- Some of the visitors who wanted the site in a different language but couldn’t get it probably left the site. That’s potential clients lost.
- The high bounce rate indicates that either the information presented wasn’t the information the visitor expected or was difficult for the visitor to make sense of. It could also indicate the lack of a strong call to action. This is also potential clients lost, and is a sign the page isn’t doing its job.
- The keywords with no impressions are money thrown out the window. It’s great to be #1 in the search ranking for a keyword, but if no one is searching for those keywords, than you’re wasting your effort. This is money wasted.
- Impressions with no clicks either means that the page title or description doesn’t fit the keywords that where searched for. Changing these may impact your search ranking, but if no one is clicking, what good does the ranking do? This is potential clients lost, and money wasted.
- The lack of completion indicates that the Contact form is too long or too complicated. The rate at which people where finding the form was encouraging, showing that it was well indicated, and on some pages, had a good call to action. The completion rate however indicated that the form was just too long. This is potential clients lost. It might be argued however that clients who do fill out the form show more motivation and are more likely to follow through, there are still some clients lost.
This isn’t unique to this client, it is in fact quite common to see. One of the best ways to make sure your site is performing is to monitor the sites analytics (In this case we am talking about google analytics, however it applies to any web statistics that you may have implemented). Not having access to your sites analytics is one of the biggest mistakes you can make. Analytics gives some accountability to your website, without analytics you have no way of judging how well your website is doing its job. If you have spent or are spending any money on SEO, having analytics will help in determining if the money is well spent, and help to plan a strategy.
Some of the things to look at/do other than page rank.
- Impressions – How many people are searching for your keywords?
- CTR (click through rate) – How many people are clicking on your site based on keywords they searched for?
- Bounce Rate – How many people leave your site without visiting any other page?
- Goals – How effective is your site at converting?
- Content – Is your content readable, and can it stand alone?
- Behavior – What are your visitors doing? How can you improve their experience based on that knowledge?
To begin with, let’s talk about impressions. As mentioned Impressions are the number of people searching for a set of keywords. We liken impressions to window shopping, not having a lot of foot traffic and a great façade vs having a lot of foot traffic and an uninviting façade. If you are trying to get good SEO performance, a high page rank of a set of keywords with a high number of impressions is what you are going for. For example, if you rate highly for the term “Web Programming“, but less than 10 people are looking for that term, rating highly isn’t that great. Alternatively, if your rate low for the term “Web Design“, and 100, 000 people are looking for that term, it still isn’t great. The end result is the same, very little traffic. Ideally you want to be ranked well on a term that has a large number of impressions on a set of keywords that accurately reflect your site. This brings us to our next subject
Click Through Rate (CTR) is how many people are clicking on your site vs how many people see your site in search results. We liken this to how many people actually go into a shop. A low click through rate indicates that the title and description aren’t relevant to the keywords searched, or that a more trusted result (ex. wikipedia) is showing up before or around. Let’s say that you search for granite countertops, and you see in the results a page with the title “The FloorShop – Canada’s best hardwood floors” this is obviously not what you were looking for, and even if they do sell granite counter tops, that title will discourage you from visiting as it doesn’t seem relevant. Luckily this is easily fixed by modifying the page title and description to better fit the key words. While this may impact the search ranking being number one means nothing if no one is clicking. Of course there is always a chance that other search results sound more authoritative or more relevant, for example if a wikipedia article about your keyword shows up in your search results above you, chances are that people are going to click on the wikipedia article.
Bounce Rate, so they clicked your page, saw the page and bounced. Bounced is a metric that shows visitors who only got to that one page, and left without visiting any other pages. I liken it to the “just browsing” people It represents a wasted opportunity. A high bounce rate can indicate a few things
- Information wasn’t what the visitor expected.
- Information was the only information the visitor needed.
- Information was not understandable or confusing to the visitor.
- Page did not render correctly for the visitor.
- Page that looks dated or poorly designed.
- Page is lacking a strong call to action.
Now if the information isn’t what the visitor expected, that can be remedied by making sure that the keywords, description and title accurately reflect the content of the page. Of these, only #2 is a good reason, and even there, a strong call to action (view similar items for example) may help reduce the bounce rate for that reason. Confusing information could be caused by a few things, and I’ll get into that more a bit further down when we discuss content. If the page is broken or looks dated or is poorly designed, the visitor will question how reliable the information on the site is, and ultimately will bounce. A well designed standards compliant site such as the ones designed by us at Last Rose Studios is definitely a help, as is having your site redesigned every few years to keep it looking fresh. Finally a strong call to action will push your visitors into completing a task. Ultimately this task should coincide with the goal of your website (to generate leads, to build a mailing list, to get them to buy something, to guide them to other pages, like it, +1 it, follow you on twitter etc.). If your page is well done, it should cause the visitor to move on to a different page. This is discussed further in the next section.
Everybody needs goals. The same can be said about websites. Whatever the reason for the website, there must be a goal. Sometimes the goal is just in building one, others sites are built to turn a profit. Regardless the reason, having a clear goal, and monitoring that goal is a must. The discussion on building websites with goals will be saved for a future discussion as we want to focus more on monitoring that goal. If you don’t monitor your goals, how do you know if you are achieving your goals. The better question is how do you know how effective your site is at converting. This is a good indication at how good your call to action is. An effective call to action should stand out from the rest of the page. It should attract the eye, and it should let the visitor know what it will do. We’ve seen a call to action that said “click here to sign up”, however it failed to describe what it was we were signing up for, we’ve also seen a call to action that simply stated “become a member today” without describing why we might be interested in becoming a member. These are ineffective call to actions. Without monitoring your goals though, it is impossible to say how effective your website, or a page really is, and by not setting goals, you are doing a disservice to yourself and you may be leaving money on the table by losing potential customers.
It is said that content is king, and this is the truth. Every page needs to be able to stand on its own, and be able to drive visitors to your goals. Good content will usually cause visitors to want to read more, and continue further into your site. Poorly written content will cause a high a bounce rate and lose you potential customers. Always make sure that your content is clear, concise and written for the appropriate audience. Make sure it isn’t too technical (or technical enough depending on the audience), and that it is free of spelling and grammar mistakes. If you’re not a great writer, we recommend hiring a copy writer to write your text, and/or that you read “Web Word Wizardry – A Guide to Writing for the Web and Intranet” by Rachel McAlpine. Content is not something that you measure with analytics, however a high bounce rate is usually a good indication that there is a problem with the content. It’s always better to have good quality content vs content written for SEO and SEO only.
Looking at how your visitors interact with your site can give you a good idea of how to make improvements. Things like heatmaps are good to show where the users are looking, and the analytics in-page analysis shows which links are being pressed. Ideally you want to drive your visitors towards your goal. Looking at behavior can also give you insight into your target market. Not so long ago a department store closed down their online store, because when they looked at the visitor behavior, they discovered that the site was being used as a catalog to research products before the clients went to the store. Based on that behavior the store decided to abandon the store, and instead improve the catalog. Had they not been monitoring behavior or goals, they would not have come to this conclusion, and probably would have continued to lose money in supporting a feature that the visitors weren’t taking advantage of.
Ultimately you should be looking at the statistics that you are getting and use them to tweak your websites, pages, and marketing efforts to get the best result possible. Only by looking at how your website is performing are you able to make an informed decision as to what changes if any are required, and what those changes are. It used to be you got a website, put it online, and called it a day, but in today’s competitive world, building a website for your company isn’t just a onetime deal. It requires monitoring and tweaking and effort to make sure that you are getting the most for your dollar, and that your website is the effective tool that you want it to be.