Small businesses, particularly startups, are often impressed by big numbers, whether in the form of registered users, number of website visitors or the amount of email newsletters that make it past the spam filter. These growth metrics do have some value when it comes to getting a broad overview of the growth of your company and the popularity of your website. However, these statistics are often referred to as vanity metrics as well, and for good reason.
The problem with vanity metrics is that they can be easily misinterpreted. The sensationalist media, for example, thrives on vanity metrics represented by big numbers. A commonly cited example is Facebook's near 2 billion active users, yet the number of fake profiles operated by robots could number in the hundreds of millions.
In the context of a small business, you might have 10,000 monthly visitors to your online store, but these numbers are utterly meaningless if you're not converting. It might be something to boast about to the public, but such figures don't necessarily translate into real growth, at least not when it comes to generating revenue.
So-called vanity metrics certainly aren't completely useless, but it's important not to let yourself be seduced by them. Far more important when it comes to optimizing your marketing strategy and improving your customer relations are engagement metrics. These are the metrics that matter since they are much closer to the actual buyer journey. After all, they're the metrics that determine how people interact with your website and business.
#1. Session Length
Contrary to popular belief, the average human attention span is shorter than that of a goldfish. It only takes about three to five seconds for most people to decide whether they want to stay on a website. The average session length refers to the average amount of time a visitor spends on your website before leaving. On the website level, this is a useful metric for determining the value of your site's content.
Many industries consider a reasonable average session length to be around two or three minutes. This might not sound like a long time, but it is ample enough for most visitors to read the content they're looking for if they're visiting a business website. For example, someone might visit a website of a high-street venue to get directions or check opening times, which typically doesn't take more than a few minutes. Nonetheless, if it takes more than a few moments to find the information they're looking for, they'll likely leave straight away.
Longer sessions point to more engaged visits. These are the people who are most likely to find value in your content and stick around for more. They might even leave comments on your blog posts or share pages on their social networks. While the average session length metric can give a good overview of the effectiveness of your website, it's much more valuable if you look at it in the context of segmented views.
#2. Page Views
The average number of page views per session is, of course, only relevant for websites with multiple pages. This metric does not concern squeeze pages or other landing pages, which are meant to keep people on the page and ultimately encourage them to click on a call to action. However, it can be very important for business blogs and other websites that serve a large amount of content. You should always look at the number of page views alongside the average time spent on the page. If people are quickly skipping through pages, then your website might not be making it easy to help visitors find what they're looking for.
As is commonly said, content is king, and value-adding content is what keeps people on the page for longer. If your website has lots of blog posts, product pages, and other content, a low average number of page views per session can point to a lack of interesting content. It can also point to visitors being disappointed by not finding the content they were expecting when they clicked your link in the search results.
A single-page session is also known as a bounce rate which, again, does not apply to single-page websites. However, if your business website depends on people viewing more than one page, as is likely to be the case with an e-commerce store, a high bounce rate can be problematic. Bounce rates are inherently variable depending on the source, with the lowest rates usually coming from search traffic and the highest coming from social bookmarking websites.
#3. Abandonment Rate
Your abandonment rate refers to the percentage of visitors who initiate some conversion-related activity, such as signing up to an email or adding a product to a shopping cart and then leaving. Abandonment rates are particularly important for e-commerce stores since they can point to a serious problem with your website's usability or performance. As such, they should be addressed as soon as possible.
High abandonment rates are most commonly attributed to things like complicated checkout processes, a lack of shipping or payment options or other user experience- or performance-related issues. By keeping track of this statistic, you'll be able to identify factors that get in the way of the purchase funnel and turn would-be leads or buyers into people you'll probably never hear from again.
A high abandonment rate may also point to a lack of useful information, such as unintuitive or inaccurate product descriptions. Unclear messaging of any kind can leave visitors frustrated and encourage them to look elsewhere. To make sure that nothing gets in the way of your conversion rate, always prioritize user experience. Your website should be easy to navigate and quick to load.
#4. Social Media Engagement
Depending on how you interpret the data, social shares and likes can be little more than a near-useless vanity metric, particularly when it comes to paid advertising. After all, many social media users, as well as countless millions of fake profiles, do little more than mindlessly share and like content without going any further. As with the number of website visitors, this statistic doesn't necessarily have any impact on revenue generation.
Despite the unknown multitudes of clickers and likers, social media is still one of the core pillars of digital marketing. Nonetheless, do not fall into the trap of thinking that more shares mean that more people are reading your content. You might assume that, if someone shares a webpage, they've enjoyed viewing it enough that they decided to share it, but a lot of people don't even read the articles they share. Far more important than the number of shares alone is who is sharing your content. If influential people who themselves have lots of engaged social media followers are sharing your content, then that is, of course, a very good sign.
It takes virtually no effort to click 'share' or 'like,' so rather than tracking social shares alone, focus more on comments and reviews, both on-site and on social networks. After all, visitors will never take the time to write a comment or review if they are not genuinely engaged with the content concerned. Similarly, social sharers who are genuinely engaged will normally accompany their shares with a message of their own.
#5. Conversion Rate
Obviously, like any business, your primary goal is to increase revenue, but what do you want your website to achieve specifically? You may answer the same, but it's important to have multiple goals in mind representing every stage of the customer journey. For example, a specific landing page might be designed to generate leads through email newsletter signups, while a blog post might intend to draw attention to a specific product or service rather than sell it directly.
The most important type of engagement is that which involves taking the desired action, whether that's to sign up to your newsletter, create an account, phone your office or purchase a product or service right away. However, there's much more to tracking your conversion rate than simply thinking about the ratio of website visitors to paying customers.
There are many conversion metrics you should be tracking, including the number of new and repeat buyers and the average cost per conversion based on the amount you spend on marketing. Another important one is the value per visit since it's directly tied to the number of interactions each visitor has with your website. This metric can be difficult to track, however, since it also considers things like the impact of social shares.
In every stage of the marketing process and the buyer journey, businesses need to be able to identify what's working and what isn't. Fortunately, in the case of digital marketing, virtually every activity generates data. By using analytics platforms and learning how to make sense of all this data, you'll be able to focus on constantly improving your strategy.
Engagement is one of the most important areas of analytics since it helps you understand how people see your business and identify with your brand. It's not about how many times people click the Facebook 'like' button or even how many times they download something from your website. Instead, it's about tracking meaningful engagements that give a strong indication of how involved people are with your website and, consequently, your business.