How to Benchmark Website Success

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By Craig de Fasselle

Benchmark website success graphic

Your site is live, but who’s visiting and are they doing what you want? Last month, we offered suggestions on Setting Successful Website Goals & Objectives before starting your new site design. But what are the best ways to measure your new website’s success once it goes live?

Your initial reaction might be to judge the site’s success by increased sales, traffic or search engine ranking, but those don’t tell you why those results are better or worse. If the new site doesn’t perform as hoped initially, how will you know what changes are needed? You need to select specific metrics to see just how well your site is working.

The Starting Point—Benchmarks

If you already have a website, you need to begin tracking its effectiveness before launching a new site. That way, you’ll have a basis for comparison. Benchmarks also help you compare performance over time or changes you make to your site.

Benchmarks can be divided into three main categories:

  • Acquisition: What most people look at first on website performance
  • Engagement: The hardest to measure and adjust
  • Conversions: These are the most important, but not always properly measured

Let’s examine what you should measure for each benchmark:

Acquisition—Who’s Visiting?

Most site owners measure success by looking at the number of sessions (same as visits), the number of unique visits, new vs. returning visitors, and referrals (visitors referred by links on other sites). But these only provide an indication of general marketing performance. Simply rolling out a new website could improve site traffic if you get a bump in search rank, but your search engine results may take several months post-launch before they improve. A new site does not guarantee more visitors unless there are other effective marketing efforts.

If your site traffic does not immediately and dramatically increase, that does not mean the design is a failure. Engagement and Conversion are better measures of the design success.

Engagement—Are They Interested?

Effective websites capture and keep visitors interested. Even substantial site traffic will not help achieve your goals if visitors leave within the first 10 seconds. Engagement benchmarks include the average time spent on your site, number of pages visited and bounce rate. The first two are self-explanatory, but “bounce rate” may be an unfamiliar term.

We’ll go into more detail about specific metrics and analytic tools in our next post, but for now, let’s talk about bounce rate. This metric is the percentage of visitors who come to the site and leave without viewing other pages. Your bounce rate may need to be adjusted for behavior or content. There’s a big difference between leaving a page after reading it completely or calling, and hitting the back button and checking out the next site Google listed. Likewise, clicking on one of your social media links may be seen as a bounce, when it’s really a conversion if someone decides to follow you.

A lower bounce rate means you’re engaging your visitors: They are interested enough to read your content, visit more pages or contact you. A bounce rate of 50% is average—more than 60% could be cause for concern, and more than 80% means you need to take a critical look at your site design and content. People are stopping in, but they aren’t staying long enough to turn into customers.

Conversion—They Visited, But Were They Convinced?

It doesn’t matter how many come to your site or how many pages they look at if they don’t act.

For the B2B site looking for more leads, measurable conversions include submitting an online form, signing up for an event or downloading a white paper.

Sales are the obvious metric for B2C or e-commerce sites, but sites offering custom, bulk or special orders also should measure online form submissions and email inquiries.

Customer service sites are probably trying to reduce the number of phone calls, so a reduction in those is a measure of how effective your site is in answering users’ questions.

On the other hand, an increase in phone inquiries for the B2B and B2C sites may be a positive. Start asking new callers how they found your company, and log how many answer, “We checked out your website.”

Dealing with Results—What Should I Do If…

The Results Are Great!
After the new site launches, if benchmarks improve and goals are met, congratulations! Share the good news with your designer, and keep monitoring and tweaking the site.

Also remember, even a successful site launch is a beginning not an end result. Ongoing website refinements are necessary. You can’t control what other businesses do online or external market forces, but your website is a flexible marketing tool that can be adjusted so you stay competitive.

The Results Are Lack-Luster
Don’t panic—corrections are relatively easy to make when a website is well designed. Here are some starting points:

  1. Contact the web designer to make sure there are no technical glitches that are causing problems. While it’s unlikely that this is the only problem, a technical issue is often the easiest thing to fix.
  2. Gather those who were involved in the new design effort—marketing, copywriter, and designer—for a frank evaluation of what was done. This should not be a finger-pointing session. Everyone involved needs to reassess the project objectively. If the site isn’t producing the desired results, identify the reasons so the problems can be corrected.
  3. Keep in mind that if you didn’t have a site before, or you had an under-performing website, simply launching a new one is not likely to produce overnight success. Website marketing is like investing in a college or retirement fund—it requires a sustained effort over time.
  4. By measuring your site’s progress—good or bad—you’ll be on the right track. In the next post, we’ll discuss specific analytic tool options and which numbers to monitor.

Written by Craig de Fasselle

June 6th, 2014 at 1:50 pm

Posted in Web Tips

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