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, failing to realize that a proper assessment is far more involved.
Website Performance Monitoring Tools
There are a vast number of website performance monitoring tools available. Your website hosting company may provide a statistics tracking tool as part of your hosting package, and if not, there are plenty of other options to choose from. 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 Analytics uses your Google account, so if you have Gmail, then you’ll already have fast and easy access to get set up. Plus, if you use Adwords or any of Google’s webmaster services, everything can be conveniently interconnected.
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 (most statistics tools allow you to specify a time period). 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, and some visitors might keep your site open in their browsers when they’re not actively exploring it, so this data has the potential to be misleading; however, it is worth noting.
- Bounce Rate tells you the percentage of visitors who “bounced” away from your site immediately. If your bounce rate is high, that means visitors are not sticking around to check out your content. If it’s low, that means folks who visit your site are exploring it in more depth.
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. 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 the overall growth of your business and 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 and browsers 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).
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 regular website performance monitoring, which includes analysis and recommendations. For more information or to get a no-obligation quote, contact me.
Melissa Donovan is a website consultant and copywriter. She is also the founder and editor of Writing Forward and the author of over seven books.