Gerry McGovern // New Thinking

Are your website metrics reliable?

May 4, 2008 -- Gerry McGovern

Not only do many websites have unreliable metrics; they're usually measuring the wrong things.

"75% of the data Web marketers collect are either misleading or inaccurate," according to MarketingExperiments, a website optimization research company.

According to MarketingExperiments, poor data quality can be due to:

  • Inadequate tracking;
  • Improperly configured measurement tools;
  • Faulty test structure and protocols;
  • Validity threats;
  • Inconclusive results.

However, many websites have an even deeper problem; they are obsessed with volume. You'd be surprised how many web managers measure their success by how many pages were looked at, and/or how many people visited the site.

Every month my website gets about 20,000 visits and about 40,000 page views. These measures are as close to meaningless as any set of measures can be. One thing I do know is that most of these visits come from search engines and most of these visitors leave pretty much straight away. What does that mean?

For many websites, search engine traffic is a great polluter. For most websites, search engines throw huge quantities of useless traffic at the website. The behavior of the small fraction of people you would actually like to track is often smothered under the huge piles of search data junk.

Does anybody actually look at all those log files generated by website traffic analysis software? I've never met anyone who had the time and energy to dig into the huge reams of data they spew out and find anything meaningful.

Example: A customer clicks on page A, then leaves after 1 minute. What does that mean? If they stayed for 3 minutes would that have been better? Why? Supposing the person who spends 3 minutes on the page finds it cluttered and full of verbiage?

Example: A customer clicks on page C, then clicks on page M, then goes back to page C, then leaves. What does that mean? Did they think they were going to get something on page M that they didn't get? Or did they get what they needed on page M, and were simply using the Back button to navigate out of the site?

We need to radically simplify how we measure the success of our websites. Here's how:

Identify the top three tasks of your website.Give these tasks to your customers and measure whether or not they are able to complete them.

If you're a university, a top task should be to find a course. Observe potential students as they try to find a course on your website. If you're a health website, finding out the symptoms for a particular disease is probably a top task. How easy is it to do that? If you're running an intranet, finding other people is unquestionably a top task. How easy is it to do that?

Web managers can't spend their days hunched over screens. That is quite simply not management. Metrics are the lifeblood of management. The essence of web metrics is the observation of our customers as they are hunched over their screens. Were they able to quickly do what they came to do? Web metrics can be boiled down to two words: task completion.

Marketing Experiments