How to Assess Your Website’s Performance: The Basics
There was a time when a website’s performance was summed up by how many hits it had received in a given time period (a day, a week, or a month). It’s still an important statistic, but long gone are the days when the number of hits is the only piece of datum we consider in assessing a website’s performance.
The number of visits is just one of the basic stats we examine for any website, but there other stats we can assess to better understand how our websites are performing. And once we understand how sites are performing, we can make improvements so they perform better. As a result, our businesses will grow.
Luckily, advanced tools like Google Analytics make assessing a website’s performance pretty easy by rounding up data and providing filters we can apply to customize our measurements. Let’s look at the basic stats that we can collect and analyze to determine whether our website is performing well.
For the purpose of this post, we’ll be using Google Analytics as a reference point. One thing to know about Google Analytics is that they sometimes change the name of certain measurements. For example, the number of hits your site received used to be called visits. Now it’s called sessions. However, most web professionals still use the terms visits or hits. I can’t tell you why Google has developed its own set of terms, but luckily when you are logged in to the tool, you can usually hover over any of these terms and you’ll get a pop-up that explains what you’re looking at.
Visits (Hits) and Visitors
Google Analytics calls these sessions; the number of hits on your site indicates how many times it was accessed. Users (or visitors) are individuals who visited your site. One visitor might visit your site ten times in a given time period. You have probably visited your own site numerous times, and some of the hits are not people at all; they are automated web crawlers. It’s important to understand this difference between visits (hits) and visitors.
It’s also important to examine your number of hits in a consistent time frame. Looking at weekly data is ideal, because months have different numbers of days in them and are therefore not strictly comparable.
Every website requires a different number of hits. If you run a service business and need about two dozen clients, you may find that your business performs quite well as long as you’re getting about three thousand visits per month. However, if you run an online store, you may need fifty or even a hundred thousand visits per month to keep your revenue in the black.
It takes some time for most businesses to determine the connection between their website traffic and business performance, and some of the target-setting will be a guessing game. But once you know how much traffic you need and how much traffic you’re getting, you can focus on hitting those targets consistently to keep your business robust and successful.
Page Views and Pages Per Session
Page views are similar to hits, except instead of telling you how many times the entire site was visited, this number tells you how many pages on the site were viewed. Pages per session provides an average number of pages that were viewed during a single session. One visitor might look at ten pages. Another might look at one page and then leave.
Let’s say your site is getting twenty-five thousand hits per month and those hits come from twenty thousand visitors. And let’s say your site has 250 pages but only received ten page views. That means visitors are not accessing all your content. Maybe that doesn’t matter. Maybe you dig deeper and find out they are visiting the most important pages, or maybe you find out those pages are being ignored in favor of a couple of old blog posts that don’t do much for your revenue.
In this way, the number of page views and pages per session can be compared to the number of hits and visitors; the results of this analysis will give you a little insight into how your site is resonating with visitors.
Duration and Bounce Rate
A key question in assessing website performance is understanding what visitors are doing while they’re on the site. Are they glancing at it and then quickly clicking away to some other site? Are they clicking on your ads, browsing your shop, reading your blog?
Duration tells you one key piece of information: how long people stay on your site. If your visitors spend an average of thirty seconds on your site, they probably don’t find it very compelling. If they are staying for three minutes (a long time on the web), then they are probably interacting more with your offerings.
Earlier we talked about page views and the importance of understanding how many and which pages visitors are looking at. Bounce rate condenses this into a quick statistic that tells you how many people are arriving on your site and quickly bouncing away.
This is the percentage of visitors who only viewed one page and did not interact with it.
Bounce rates are often high because people often land on websites, including yours, that don’t offer whatever they’re looking for. Often, a quick glance tells them they are in the wrong place. Older sites with lots of content and search engine traffic tend to have high bounce rates for this reason. So again, each site is will have a different target bounce rate. Some sites can be prosperous with a 90% bounce rate; for other sites, 90% can signal failure in converting a sufficient number of visitors to customers.
Looking at Graphs and Drawing Data-Based Conclusions
The point of all this data is to analyze it and understand where your website’s performance is falling short. Then you make changes to your site, hoping for improved performance in the future.
Suppose you learn your site is getting only a thousand visitors per month. Your revenue is almost zero, and you need to increase traffic. You set up a marketing campaign to draw more visitors. Each month for three months, you launch a different leg of the campaign: first it’s SEO, then social media, and finally, a press release to announce a brand new project. You can then run a report for the entirety of the three months and look at a graph (Google Analytics automatically renders such graphs) to get a fast visual of growth and decline on any number of stats from the number of visits to the number of referrals (other sites that sent you traffic via links).
Graphs like these are excellent for pinpointing slow seasons or periods of rapid growth that can inform how you structure your business calendar and marketing campaigns.
In an upcoming post, we’ll dig deeper into available data points and talk about how to better understand your audience, find out whether you’re attracting your target customer demographic, and determine whether visitors are seeing the desired content and responding to it. Later, we’ll get into advanced statistics, such as traffic sources, keyword traffic, and other tools that can be used by developers and marketers.