There’s an old adage in carpentry and construction that still holds true – “Measure twice, cut once.” It’s funny … this wisdom of the physical world is also valid for your company’s website and other internet assets, but you have to turn it around. When it comes to your website and marketing, you often need to cut first, then measure, then cut again. Let me explain.
A few weeks ago we published an article called “Your Website Is Never Done.” One of the primary take-aways from that post is that the modern business does not stand still, and therefore neither should your website. This is true of every part of your business. The dynamic aspects of entrepreneurship have never been more on display – and have never been more important – than they are today.
Products, services, and technologies are changing so fast and new ideas and innovations arise so quickly that we no longer have the luxury of waiting for lots of data and testing BEFORE we try something new. This includes big things like major platform updates to subtle website tweaks to get a few extra website conversions. Modern business and marketing leaders can spend as much time reading and researching new developments, techniques, and business practices as they do managing their teams. And as our customers and markets grow and develop, new ways of thinking and measuring actual human behavior in real time often leave the tried-and-true rules of thumb in the dust.
I am not saying that we should abandon all wisdom and established business practices. Far from it. What I am saying is that the modern business climate requires constant learning, experimentation, and revision. And nowhere is this more true than in your business web presence – your website, social media, and digital marketing. But there’s another adage from the world of medicine that also applies – “First do no harm.” This means ensuring that you never do something that hurts your core business. In other words, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”
But we live in a world where you rarely have all the information you need to make those kinds of decisions by the time that you have to make them. So how do you balance your company’s need for constant innovation and experimentation against the imperative of ensuring that you are always moving your business forward and never backward? The answer is “measurement.”
Measure Everything on Your Website – But Start at the Top
OK … “everything” is a really big word. So let’s break down what “everything” means here.
Measuring the results of changes you make to your website is another exercise in balance. The last thing that you want to do is to have so many points of measurement that you get bogged down in “analysis paralysis” – unable to affect any productive actions because you are too busy trying to connect the dots on a thousand data points.
But you should be ABLE to measure as much as possible so that you can drill down into the metaphorical weeds when you need to. In other words, you need to keep your eyes on the important stuff day-to-day, but because you are measuring everything – or as much of it as reasonably possible – you can then dig in deep when something goes awry to get to the root of any issue that comes up.
But that means that you need to determine which data points are the most important and start there.
Website Statistics, Analytics, and Reports … Oh My!
Top-level data points are called Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), and every business – and every website – has them. If the goal of your website is to generate leads, then that’s where your KPIs start. If you are selling products in an eCommerce online store, then total sales and number of transactions are where you start. If your site relies on advertising or if you are trying to establish a brand, then you have other metrics at the top of your list. But whatever results you’re looking for likely start with a few fundamental building-block statistics that impact all websites, including:
- Total Visitors
- New Visitors
- Return Visitors
- Bounce Rate
- Page Views
- Conversion Rate
Every business and website is unique, but these are generally the top-level KPIs that most website owners start with. But make sure that your analytics tools are set up to let you drill down when you need to, and don’t be afraid to modify your KPIs and reports to custom fit the needs of your business. In fact, you should review them on a regular basis to make sure that what you are measuring is the important stuff first.
Online Measurement – The Website Theory of Relativity
Now that you are measuring the right things and have the ability to drill down into more granular results, let’s take a moment and discuss how to look at the numbers. The first rule of website performance statistics is the theory of relativity. Not in the Albert Einstein sense, but in the internet sense.
For example, let’s say that you are trying out a new call-to-action message on your website. What if the number of conversions (sales, subscriptions, downloads, etc.) suddenly goes down? If your website had 200 conversions last month but only has 150 this month – a 25% decrease – that stat alone does not tell you enough to take a meaningful action. The number of conversions is always relative to other measurement points – things like total page views and time on page.
If the number of page views was the same from month to month, then something might be wrong with your new call-to-action message. But if the number of page views is also down 25%, then the “conversion rate” is just fine and you have to look at why your page views might have dropped, which is completely unrelated to the change you made in your call-to action. It’s even possible that your conversion rate can go up while the number of actual conversions goes down! That means that your new call-to-action is working awesome, but something else is affecting the total number of conversions.
As you can see, once you have your KPIs, you need to be able to dig deeper to discover what is really going on.
Try To Change One Thing At A Time
One of the biggest online measurement challenges is when you make a lot of changes at the same time. This makes it hard to determine what is really working and what is hurting your website performance. If we use that conversion rate example again, let’s say that you change your call to action AND rewrite your SEO content at the same time and then discover that your conversion rate is dropping. Since you changed two things at once, you don’t know if the new call-to-action is the problem or if your new content is attracting a different set of website visitors who are less likely to convert.
When you are doing a major website overhaul or launching a completely new site, changing a bunch of things at the same time is unavoidable. But when you are operating in the normal course of business, try to change as few things as possible at the same time and then measure the results before moving on to the next change.
It takes a little patience and discipline, but you will be more productive in the long run.
Where to Begin
When you start thinking about measuring results with website analytics, it can seem a little overwhelming. There is a lot to consider. But once you get going, it’s not as hard as it may seem. And there are a lot of great tools and online services to help you accomplish your goals. Start with these simple rules:
- Identify your business and website KPIs.
- Make sure that you have the right website measurement tools in place.
- Avoid making changes that you cannot measure.
- Try to change only one thing at a time.
- Measure the results and remember the Website Theory of Relativity.
- Take action on what you’ve learned, then pause and measure again.
- Modify your KPIs and reports over time to suit the unique needs of your business over time.
If you need any help discovering your KPIs, implementing changes to your website, or measuring the results, send us a note and let us know. We help businesses with these kinds of challenges every day and we’re happy to help.
Thanks for reading!