Most small business owners and independent professionals invest considerably in their websites. They pay good money for design and content, and in return, they expect the site to perform well.
But what does that mean? How do we measure website performance? And what are the benefits of website performance monitoring and assessment?
Some website owners track their statistics obsessively. They log in to their statistic tools several times a day to see how many visitors they’re getting. They think of website performance purely in terms of traffic. How many hits? How many page views? Then they go out and try to increase those numbers. This is certainly a good first step, but a proper assessment is far more involved.
Website Performance Monitoring Tools
There are a vast number of website performance monitoring tools available. Some of these tools require payment while others are absolutely free. My favorite statistics tool is Google Analytics, and it happens to be one of the free options. It offers plenty of detailed information that you can use to understand how your website is performing.
Google offers a variety of useful tools for webmasters, which is why I recommend setting up a dedicated Gmail account for your business. That account can then be used for Google Analytics, Google Ads, and a host of other tools that are helpful for monitoring and managing websites.
At the most basic level, you want to have an idea of how many people are visiting your site on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. Additionally, you should know what the visitors are doing while they’re on your site. How many pages are they viewing? How much time are they spending on your website?
Below is a list of data that Google Analytics and most other statistics tools provide so you can assess your website performance:
- Visits is the number of times your website was visited in a given period of time. This is also sometimes referred to as the number of hits your site is getting.
- Unique Visits is the number of unique visitors to your site. One person might visit your site five times in a week. This statistic tells you how many visitors you had instead of how many total visits.
- Page Views indicates how many pages on your site were viewed. One visitor might have looked at five pages, so comparing the number of page views to the number of visitors can help you determine how much content the users are experiencing.
- Time on Site shows how much time visitors spent on your website. This number is averaged, so this data has the potential to be misleading; however, it is worth noting.
You’ll find that the language referring to these elements of your website’s statistics varies, and sometimes it changes. Google seems to regularly update the terminology they use for the items on this list. For example, they now refer to visits as users.
All of these statistics help you gain a basic understanding of your website’s performance. But knowing how many visitors are coming to your site might not be helpful in a true website performance assessment. To get a better perspective, you’ll need to dig deeper and ask some probing questions.
Before you engage in any kind of website performance monitoring, your first step should be to identify your website’s primary purpose or goal. The purpose may very well be to attract as many visitors as possible, in which case the basic statistics could tell you almost everything you need to know.
However, most businesses are concerned with another primary goal: turning a profit. So the real question is not how many visitors are coming to your site, but how is your website contributing to your business’s revenue? Are the visitors who are finding their way to your site looking for what you offer? When they get to your site, are they responding to your call to action (clicking on a link, subscribing, or making a purchase)?
Let’s say you’re a makeup artist who provides services for bridal parties. In your bio, you’ve stated “I started learning how to apply makeup when I was nine years old. My mom was a beautician, and she always let me experiment with her cosmetics.”
One day, you check your statistics and are thrilled to discover that your site is getting over 1,000 visitors per day. You sit back, thinking that business is going to boom any minute now. But what if out of those 1,000 visitors, 999 were searching for “how to apply makeup?” Those folks weren’t looking for your services, and it’s doubtful they need your services at all.
Digging deeper into your statistics will help you assess your website’s performance in a meaningful way that contributes to your business and online success, and this means going beyond the basic number of visitors or number of pages those visitors are viewing on your site.
Let’s look at some of the more advanced statistics that you can use to assess your site’s performance:
Traffic Sources: How are people finding your site? Are they entering your URL into their browsers (direct hits)? Are they using a search engine? Are they clicking on a link from some other site? Understanding the channels through which visitors are arriving is essential, especially if you plan on growing your traffic.
Traffic-source information will not only tell you how visitors are arriving at your site, it will specify which sites are sending traffic your way. You can also learn which search engines send you the most visitors. Then you can leverage this information to your advantage during future development and expansions to your site.
Keywords is one of the most important statistics because it shows you which keyword searches are generating traffic to your site. Why is this so important? Because this data tells you whether search engine users who are landing on your site are a match to your business offerings.
Going back to our example of a bridal makeup artist who is gaining most of her website traffic from the phrase “how to apply makeup,” one would assume that folks searching for “how to apply makeup” are not looking for a makeup artist, but are looking for articles or tutorials that deal with application of cosmetics. Instead, our makeup artist should work at gaining traffic that is more targeted to her service offerings.
Content gives you an in-depth look at which pages on your site are most (and least) popular. You can extract an ordered list that shows your most-viewed and least-viewed pages. If your goal is to lead the majority of visitors to your sales pages, then this information can tell you whether you are reaching that goal.
Top Landing Pages shows you which pages are the point of entry for visitors. There’s a good chance most visitors are landing on your home page, but you might want to make some adjustments if visitors are instead landing on a less desirable page (especially if they’re then quickly clicking off-site).
Top Exit Pages gives you the same information, but focuses on which pages visitors are looking at when they decide to leave your site. Perhaps you’ve got a link that’s driving visitors (and prospective customers) elsewhere. Try to keep visitors on your site until they respond to your call to action!
There are additional statistics that you might want to look at. For example, let’s say you’re planning to redesign your website and want to use some advanced technology in the new design. It would be helpful to know which operating systems, browsers, and devices your visitors are using so you can figure out whether those visitors will have access to your flashy new site (or whether it will crash their computers).
Some Traffic Statistics Are Misleading
To make matters more complicated, some of your traffic stats can be misleading. Most reports will provide general accuracy, but here are a few things to keep in mind as you evaluate your website’s performance:
- Visits: Do you log in to your reporting tool, check the number of hits your site has received, and then move on? Did you know some of the visits that are registered don’t really count? For example, search engine spiders crawl your site regularly to index it in the search engine result pages. These aren’t real people. Also, one visitor can come to your site a hundred times in a single week. Your reports might show a hundred visits, but your site only hosted a single visitor. Make sure you check and compare both the number of visits and the number of visitors.
- Not all visitors are customers. Some of the people who visit your site will be your competitors. Some will be people who landed there on accident. Some will be your friends and family. The number of visitors does not translate directly to the number of customers or even potential customers.
- Don’t get too excited if it looks like your visitors are spending a lot of time on your site. I often keep several tabs open in my browser. I might walk away from my computer while a website is open. These and other behaviors can make it look like people are spending more time on your site than they actually are.
- Bounce rate: It might look like people are landing on your site and quickly clicking away if you have a high bounce rate. But it’s possible some visitors popped in to grab your phone number or check your hours of operation. A quick visit isn’t necessarily a bad one.
- Search engine traffic: You might get excited when you see that thousands of visitors found your site on a search engine. But it’s important to dig deeper and see which keywords actually brought them to your site. Random phrases from the text on your site can draw a lot of search engine traffic that may not be a match for your business.
- Hidden search-engine information: To protect users’ privacy, some search engines will register that a visitor entered your site via a search but they won’t report which keyword the visitor used.
In-Depth Analysis and Determining ROI
At-a-glance analytics will give you a good overview of how your site is performing, despite the fact that some of the data may be slightly inaccurate. Depending on how big your website is and how often you update it, you can get enough information by checking the basic statistics once a week or once a month. However, it’s a good idea to do an in-depth analysis on a regular basis. For most small business websites, quarterly or annually should suffice.
Here are a few tips for conducting a deeper analysis of your website performance reports:
- Check heat maps: Heat maps show which areas of your site users viewed and clicked. These maps can tell you which links and buttons are getting the most action. Are users clicking on banners? Are they following your call to action? Are they clicking your buy-now buttons? If these elements are not getting clicks, you might want to rethink your presentation.
- Align your website performance statistics with your site’s revenue. Chart the number of unique visitors alongside the revenue the site earned during the same time period and track those numbers over time to see how they correlate.
- Check keywords that drew traffic. This is especially necessary if you’re using SEO on your website. However, even if your site is not optimized, it’s a good idea to examine the keywords that drew traffic, since this might give you insight to what visitors were originally looking for when they found your site. You can then determine whether they were looking for whatever you offer.
- Demographics: If you run a local business, you’ll want to check your visitors’ demographics. A business that serves clients in a particular geographic region won’t benefit from website visitors that live outside that region.
- Technology: Reports can tell you whether visitors viewed your site from a computer or a mobile device. They can tell you which platform (Mac or PC) and browser (Safari, Chrome, etc.) your visitors were using. While this data is not relevant to all businesses, it could provide insight. For example, Macs are more expensive than PCs. That can provide insight into the demographics of your website visitors.
Assessing Website Performance
When you are assessing your website’s performance, it’s essential to first identify your website’s core objective. Then ask thoughtful questions about which statistics will provide you with the data you need to properly assess whether your website is fulfilling its purpose.
Once you know what data to collect, you can use it to draw conclusions about how your website is performing. You can also use this information to make decisions about how to move forward with your website performance monitoring and future development of your website, especially if you’re planning to expand or redesign your site.
Buzz Pro Studio offers a full suite of website management services, such as website performance monitoring, which includes analysis and recommendations. For more information or to get a no-obligation quote, contact me.
Melissa Donovan is the founder of Buzz Pro Studio, providing website services to small businesses and independent professionals.