How to measure website success when rankings, Google PageRank and sheer traffic have gone the way of “hits”: All these older metrics become more and more meaningless in the current web environment.
- Why measure rankings when they differ from location to location and from computer to computer due to localization and personalization efforts by Google and other search engines?
- Why look at a site’s PageRank when Google itself admits that it’s only one of 200 signals that determine the assessment of a site’s authority in Google and sites with PR 3 outrank PR 7 sites?
- Why brag about traffic when you can get hundreds of thousands of people visit you via Digg and the likes just to make’em run away in an instant?
The good old days of primitive measurement of website success are finally over. Business people demand more than just traffic and rankings, marketing professionals get more web-savvy than 12 year old kids who almost were born on the Web and new web analytics tools finally make it possible to consider far more and specific metrics than ever before. So check out these 33 website success metrics instead of rankings, Google PageRank and traffic:
People doing business online, be it with eCommerce sites like Shops, publishing companies, consulting firms etc. do want to see results in Dollars, which in most cases makes sense although blogs for instance do offer ROI which is not easily measurable though. Often it’s more brand recognition, reputation building etc. For most commercial websites measuring revenue is the best possible was of determining success.
ROI means Return on Investment. If you spend 1000$ on your website and earn 2000$ your ROI is 200%. So calculate the cost and the financial benefits and compare both. There are whole books about that.
ROI sometimes gets difficult to define. What is the investment exactly, is the time spent on social media e.g. an investment or only the work on the site? Thus measuring sales, especially for shops, is much easier. Higher sales = good website optimization of course.
You do not sell directly on your website? You do want users to contact you via your site insetad? Measure leads. A SEO campaign that brought 100 leads is better than one which brought a million page views but no new potential clients.
OK, you do not sell anything directly and you do not sell services either, but you want people to join, participate in a survey, recommend your site or simply subscribe to your email newsletter? Measure conversions. You should do it for sales and leads too but even without these conversions make a very reliable website or marketing campaign success metric.
While subscribers can be referred to as conversions you can count the sheer number every site should by now offer RSS and track RSS as well as email subscriptions like blogs do. Your subscribers are the most important users of your website, even if they do not buy anything. So if you don’t have an RSS/Atom or whatever kind of feed get one now.
While not every site’s success can be measured in revenue, sales or leads you always can and should measure the sheer usability of your site. Many sites today still concentrate on being pretty, “having a bigger logo” and some special effects like Flash or AJAX, sound or video. While this might look good in most cases it’s not the most important factor that decides whether your site is going to fail or to succeed, usability is.
This is obvious, only returning visitors really like your site. So the more come back the better, the more successful you are. One time search visitors and casual social media visitors are not the backbone of your site. The subscribers and returning visitors (often the same people) are.
pageviews per visit
While measuring pageviews is sometimes futile as bad websites where you have to click more can have higher numbers of pageviews the number of pageviews per visit often will tell you a whole lot about how much your visitors like your website. A 1 to 1 ratio is bad unless they all click the buy button instantly.
time on page
The time spent on a page can be read in manifold ways but you can deduct from it whether people just skim your content or read your whole article among others.
time on site
It’s not always the longer the better but 5 minutes is in most cases better than 30 seconds, especially for a publishing site or simply a blog.
The bounce rate is one of the most important usability metrics and thanks to Google Analytics or Woopra easy to follow nowadays. 100k visitors with a bounce rate of 95% means that in the worst case only 5.000 actually visited your site while the others just fled. So a site with a much lower visitor number AND bounce rate can be much more successful than a “stupid traffic” site with huge traffic numbers. Targeted quality traffic is key for a successful site.
form/shopping cart abandonment rate
Forms are the most important parts of most websites in business terms, be it the contact form, or the shopping cart which technically in most cases is a form. Now imagine a super market where half or more of the customers abandon their cart in the middle of the checkout process or while perusing the market. Count these people and try to make them stay. The simplest way of checking the shopping cart abandonment rate is by sending a message to customer support each time a cart or other form gets abandoned. Sometimes you might be able to get back to the potential client with the incomplete data he entered.
To make people visit more than one page on a site we use internal links. Some of the links are links that we really want the people to follow. Checking the “next pages” from a particular landing page we can determine whether the readers followed our advice or wanted to see more of it. When on your home page the next page is in most cases the search or the sitemap page you’ve got a problem.
links clicked (heat maps)
Modern “Web 2.0″ web analytics solutions sometimes offer heat maps views or at least a site overlay way of checking clicks. This way you can determine where your visitors click or try to click (to no avail sometimes in cases of not linked logos or underlines words which are not links). Do people click where you want them to click or not?
Even better than heat maps of click behavior are heat maps of actual eye movements. You need more than a web analytics package to check that you need real people to take part in a study but if you are large company depending on your website you should check this for sure. Do people look at your main message at all? Do they actually see the “buy now” button?
SEO experts love to measure. They loved measuring PageRank, rankings and traffic and they still need something to follow this urge. Well, there still is a lot to measure beyond strict business or usability metrics. Old school SEO still makes sense in lots of cases, especially with backlinks which still determine above all your success in Google search. I’d concentrate here on Google, but on the US market it still also make sense to check these with Yahoo and others. Also, checking backlinks with Google is not fun (only a fraction of data is released by Google unless you check your own site in Google Webmaster Tools) so you’re advised to measure them with Yahoo tools are tools that measure it using Yahoo data.
number of backlinks
You still need to know how many people or rather pages link to you. especially if this week more or less do it. The sheer number may be meaningless if you have 10.000 links from one site though. So focus also on domain popularity (links from one domain counted as one).
quality of backlinks
Getting a ton of links may mean nothing in comparison to one link from the NYT. So determine the quality of links: Has the linking page many other outgoing links? Has it PageRank? It it an old authority domain etc.?
Google cache date
Many SEO specialists resort to checking the cache date in Google (Google saves most pages in a “cache”) for determining the quality and success of a website in Google. If the cache date is older than one month the site is either dead (no fresh content) or has a very low authority with Google. Of course you always should check whether a site has a cache at all. Not cached sites probably get de-indexed (penalized) by Google.
Google bot visit frequency
Your cache might be one week old, but if Google bot visits daily it’s OK in most cases. You can check with most server side web analytics solutions, those relying on server logs or PHP.
Last time Google bot visited
This is almost the same as above but only almost. If you have a new content page and the bot visited yesterday and you’re still not in the Google index something might be wrong (like duplicate content problems)
It’s seldom as simple as “the more pages indexed the better” but for small sites it often is. If you have 50 pages online but only 20 indexed your site is not successfully spidered by Google. A “site:yoursite.com” search in Google is enough to find out.
PageRank “pass rate”
While I argue that looking at the actual toolbar PageRank does not make much sense nowadays anymore you certainly want to take a look at the pass rate of PageRank. Google PageRank is passed via the links on your site. A home page with PR 5 should have subpages with PR 4 or at least 3, otherwise you have too many links or your internal link structure is broken.
While Alexa is not really reliable or never was many advertisers use it to check your traffic numbers. Also the Alexa traffic estimates can be compared to other sites, other time periods (more or less trafic this year than last?) and to other traffic estimation tools.
While Compete is said to be more reliable than Alexa it only is for US traffic. This is both good and bad news but at the same time allows, e.g. compared with Alexa, to see where you’re heading. If you server the US market, take a close look at Compete.
Social Media metrics
In the age of social media, user generated content you can’t rely solely on bots and other automatically gathered numbers to collect data on your website success. You have to find out what your users like and what they actually say about you, or at least how often. There ale plenty of ways to find out, these are the most obvious:
While it is not that hard to pay some services to submit you to Delicious etc. It’s still far more likely that a site is a good one if it’s only popular on Delicious but also has bookmarks elsewhere. I’m sometimes surprised how many people bookmark my articles on sites I do not even think of.
social media shares
Do really think getting tens of thousands people visit your site is the ultimate proof of being popular? In contrast the number of submissions and shares tends to allow a better assessment unless of course the “SEO India” service is at work. When not, you can see that popular pages get shared all over the place. Every SEO knows that. The number of shares/votes by real people on Facebook, Reddit, Tumblr counts though.
tweets (Twitter mentions)
Being mentioned or recommended on Twitter is truly a success because here people communicate with their peers and fans and only links pages their truly recommend. Being linked more then 2 or 3 times means you are huge. It means 2 or 3 people telling 200 or maybe 200 other people that you rock. TweetBeep will send you email each time.
niche social sites’ votes
Being successful on niche social news site means recognition by several experts and traffic from a few hundred highly targeted visitors. Each niche has by now it’s own niche social news site, be it YCombinator for startups and tech, Design Float and Design Bump for, you guessed it design or DZone for web development and programming. Here you get visitors and readers who really care and their opinion really counts.
number of “thumbs up” on StumbleUpon
Other than the almost US only elitist crowds on Reddit social discovery site StumbleUpon is populated by the general public from all over the world. People voting for you on StumbleUpon “like you” if you can offer something for the John Does out there. Other than that you only get a limited number of votes. Whether you have “mass appeal” in the positive sense of it you will find out here. My own SEO blog has been very popular on StumbleUpon for years and still gets stumbled. Likewise does SEOptimise.
StumbleUpon reviews feedback
People who review you StumbleUpon really care for you, the StumbleUpon community or the subject. So listen closely. getting 10 or more “awesome” reviews on StumbleUpon means a lot if you want to determine the overall popularity of your website or particular page.
Technorati Blog mentions
A page often mentioned on Technorati is truly popular in the blogosphere. You are part of the conversation if you get linked often by other blogs. The Technorati authority is not reliable though as a metric. It’s based largely on Technorati bookmarks which bloggers can game easily.
Google BlogSearch Links
While the main Google search doe not show you many links the Google blog search is good at it. It’ll show you the legit links by other blogs, not the scraper blogs. Watch out for these, the simplest way to monitor them is by using Postrank.
Some of you might assume now that all this is far too complex for them but it isn’t. Freely available tools like Google Analytics allow every webmaster to find out much more about a website than just a few years ago where we were the obvious numbers of PageRank, rankings and traffic had to suffice. The real web metrics experts will laugh this list off probably as advanced SEO and web analytics starts in most cases beyond the ways mentioned here.
You are certainly much better off checking these 33 web metrics instead of Google rankings, PageRank and sheer website traffic.
Last updated: March 14th, 2011 – Fixed several links, changed the text in some cases.