Does it help to track visitor behavior on websites through software?
Yes is the simple answer. No debate is required but I’ll offer a simple explanation. If you don’t measure, how do you expect to know what to improve? You can guess and hope you get it right, but if you have effective tracking software, then you simply have facts in front of you.
Effective measurement is more than simply having good software though; it’s analyzing why things happen. One thing we measure is bounce, the number of people arriving at one page and then leaving without doing anything. The lower the bounce rate the better, because it means people are using the site more effectively.
One perfect example comes from a recent client. She had two pages with different articles on her site with exactly the same navigation left and centre. Most articles had a bounce rate of about 53%, but one had a better bounce of about 50% and another had a much worse bounce of around 90%. We looked at both and found that the one with the 50% bounce was much more relevant to the reader arriving at the page. It had better and more relevant links at the bottom of the article than the one with 90%. We concluded that by being relevant on the poor page in the same way, the bounce rate would be reduced. We would simply not have known that this was occurring at all without tracking software. So yes, it most definitely helps to track visitor behavior.
What measurement software tools would you recommend?
We use IRIS Metrics. However apart from IRIS, I would also recommend browser-based software such as HitBox, WebTrends Live, RedSheriff, and Omniture. Generally, you get what you pay for. And while these systems are not cheap, they do provide the level of detail required to run an effective web campaign.
People have asked me if it’s possible to use webalizer (free log software) to run an effective web measurement campaign. While it’s possible to get a lot of useful information from free and cheap systems, you don’t get path tracking, bounce rates, repeat visitor information, accurate visitor counts, accurate page counts and loads more information which is critical if you want to base business decisions on your measurements.
What is the difference between log-based and browser-based measurement?
Tracking tools that rely on server-based measurement are typically programs that are installed on your web server (by your ISP if your site is hosted) or installed locally on your PC using the log files taken from the server. Server-based measurement programs measure activity based on the text files held on the web server (referred to as log files).
I recommend the use of ASP measurement because it only measures how people using a web browser use your website.
The log files record everything visiting your pages. They need a number of added filters to stop email harvesters, search engines and a variety of other software generated crawlers or bots from being counted as ‘visitors’; without them, you can get seriously skewed results. Server access is often required to get log file filtering right; otherwise, you’re relying on your ISP to report your tracking correctly. The log files for one of our clients had 10 times as many page counts and visits recorded than shown by using an ASP. That’s a 1000% error!
What is an average conversion rate?
This is a very good question and is the topic of serious debate. In other marketing industries they don’t guess. They have standards that everyone follows. It’s what’s needed in online marketing before any real answer can be given. Analytics companies, the big research companies, and digital media associations are going to have to come together to define these standards and then people are going to have to follow what is agreed before accurate numbers can be delivered consistently.
Currently, we’re in the process of trying to establish a worldwide benchmark with a number of other prominent people (The Web Analytics Association and the IAB to mention two) in the industry who also want to know the answer to this question. But meanwhile, here are some statistics we’ve gathered from different sources published both recently and over the last few years. I have figures for 3 types of websites: sales (e-commerce), lead generation, and subscription-based websites.
Generally, sales sites seem to range between a 0.5% and 8% with the average rate being 2.3% according to FireClick statistics published this year and figures published in 2003 by e-consultancy.com. In 2000, the average figure for sales conversion as published by shop.org was 1.8%. The high-end figures, I hasten to add, are the top e-tailers according to all sources. My own experience shows sites hitting between .5% and 5.3% so this seems to correlate with the published figures. Of course since there is no defined standard, these numbers have to be taken as a rule of thumb.
The only source we have for lead generation sites is e-consultancy.com. They quote 2-3% of users completing an optional or free registration process, with 5% being best in class. Our own experience again falls within the same ballpark.
Subscriptions to sale conversion is typically between 1 and 7% again the source is e-consultancy.com
We don’t have figures for visitor to subscription conversion, but our own experience with clients has been between 1 and 8%. Our own site has consistently hit 15% for 6 months though the traffic is pretty well targeted and our methods very well tested.
How do you go about consistently improving conversion?
This is the million dollar question. What it really boils down to is treating web marketing as a science. We do it by consistently measuring how people use a website. Over time you will learn what works and what doesn’t and stop wasting your time on the things that don’t work.
First we look at the technical aspect of the website. It’s amazing how many people overlook and ignore thousands of people who don’t use Windows XP with Internet Explorer at a screen resolution of 1024×768. First make sure that you develop something that works for everyone.
One of the next areas we look at is where the traffic comes from. It allows you to concentrate your efforts on your best chance of generating converting traffic. Then we get into reducing the average website bounce rate. The lower the average bounce, the higher the number of people surfing your website and seeing the value of your offer. The higher the number who see your offer, the better the chance of a sale. Checking bounce rates also usually brings up some juicy problems to be solved.
Then look at testing and improving copy and graphical content, running split tests and measuring bounce rates on copy or simply testing the click-through on links. We do much more, but the basic premise is this: test and measure, follow up with experimentation, and then with more testing and more measuring. Sounds like science class doesn’t it?
In part three of this series of articles we’ll be looking at where traffic arrives from and how that effects conversion, specific search engine queries, PPC issues and other general topics. To summarize, I am suggesting that if you begin to scientifically measure and improve your websites based on facts and findings, not guesswork and theory, you will begin to improve your conversion rates.