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Web Analytics 101


The aim of this article is to give you the few simple metrics you need to measure, and improve, your online activities.

Success on the Web requires getting people to do what you want them to when they visit your site. So the first thing you need to do is decide what it is you want them to do. This is called the Target Action. In most cases, it's buy something or fill in a form. Does your site make it easy for people to engage in your Target Action? Ease of navigation is consistently one of the Top-10 complaints people have about Web design.

The most critical number is your Conversion Rate. This is the percentage of visitors to your site who commit to your Target Action. If you want them to fill in a contact form, your Conversion Rate is the percentage of visitors who submit the form. If you're selling online, your Conversion Rate is the percentage of visitors who complete the credit card payment process. 

The overall average for conversion across the Web is 2 percent. Amazon.com is said to have the highest rate at 9%, and well-known travel sites can hit 7 percent. If your conversion rate is 2 percent or more, go get more visitors. If your conversion rate is less than 2 percent, put your money into improving the site.

If you do want to improve your site, you need to establish where it’s failing. If not enough visitors are committing the Target Action, work back from there. The first thing to ask is, “how many are getting to that point in the site?” This is your Prospect Rate. For example, if you want them to fill in a contact form, your Prospect Rate is the percentage of visitors who viewed the form. If you’re selling online, your Prospect Rate is the percentage of visitors who viewed product pages. You may want to establish different Prospect Rates for different sections, such as product pages and the credit card payment page.

Between viewing these pages and submitting them, the visitor has to do something. If it’s a form, they have to fill it in and hit the submit button. If it’s a shopping site, they have to fill in a credit card page and submit that. People who look at these forms and don’t complete or submit them are said to have abandoned. Each form therefore has an Abandonment Rate, which is the percentage of people who got a page, but didn’t complete it.

The average Abandonment Rate for shopping carts is 40 percent. It can be worse. If you’ve never examined the Abandonment Rate for your contact forms, don’t be surprised if you find it is over 80 percent. You can easily calculate your Abandonment Rate for a form by comparing the number of views of the form with the number of views of the Thank You page, or whatever page they get sent when they submit the form. If you have no discrete, measurable page that is served when someone fills in a form, then change the site design so you have something to measure.

The basic rule for reducing abandonment on forms is to ask fewer questions. For sales, the lesson is to keep selling. Don’t assume that once they’ve put something in the shopping basket they’re committed. They’re only committed when you’ve got their money.

If your Abandonment Rate is OK, but your Conversion Rate is too low, you need to look at the overall quality of your visitors. There are two related metrics here: Committed Visitor Index, and Bounce Rate. 

When someone first arrives on your site and is scanning it to see if they’ll stick around, they are a Scanning Visitor. Once they commit to reading, they become a Committed Visitor. Your Committed Visitor Index is the percentage of visitors who stick around and read the site. Most people count Committed Visitors as those who read more than one page, or spend more than one minute, but you should decide from your site design what constitutes a serious visit.

It helps to separate Scanning and Committed Visitors when you’re looking at how people interact with the site. Getting people to stop scanning and start reading requires different design elements than selling to them once they’re already reading seriously.

The percentage of visitors who merely scan the site then leave is your Bounce Rate. Bounce Rate is used for evaluating landing pages. It will vary according to source: the more people know about your site before they arrive, the lower the Bounce Rate. Bounce Rates for forum listings can be as low as 25 percent, whereas Bounce Rates for banner ads are often 90 percent or more.

You can put all this together to determine your ROI for online advertising. You’ll either be paying for impressions or click-throughs. Either way, the ROI calculation needs to be based on conversions. JupiterResearch has found that 75 percent of people buying online advertising don’t measure the return on investment. This certainly explains some of the prices people are bidding in Google. If you can measure effectively, you can outlast them.

Multiply the Conversion Rate for visitors coming from each source by the cost per visitor. That’s your Cost Per Acquisition. Ask yourself if you can afford to spend that much to get the sale. In order to do this you need to be able to separate out your visitors according to their sources. For any given page, you need to know where those visitors came from.

So by working back from the Conversion Rate, examining the Abandonment Rate for each page between the Target Action and your landing pages, you can easily establish how well your site is performing, and where. Splitting your visitor analysis between Committed and Scanning visitors enables you to get a better handle on how your site handles people at different stages in the visit. With these metrics you can understand and improve your site’s performance.

Brandt Dainow is CEO of Think Metrics, creator of the InSite Web reporting system. Read full bio.

Boring Vines

As with any marketing medium, one of the worst offenses you can commit on Vine is to be boring. This happens often with new platforms simply because brands get so excited -- soooooo excited -- to dive in and start experimenting that they don't put enough thought into the actual results of their efforts. "Six seconds of watching paint peel? Who cares? We're on Vine. Whoooooooo!"

The offender: USA Today
Big props to the publisher for diving into Vine headfirst. But it's time to show some restraint, as evidenced by the below Vine. The intention was good: "Let's give a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the editorial process!" But you know what it ends up looking like? A bunch of people sitting in a meeting. That's it. Most of us have to endure enough conference room monotony of our own. Please don't subject us to yours as well, USA Today.

[vine hzW3FzTHTji]

The publisher should stick to its unique concept of teasing the day's news via a quick scan of the headlines, as seen below. Some of the executions are a bit rough, but it is a clever way to tease out the day's content in a way that might ensnare some readers who are taking a spin through their morning Twitter feeds.

[vine hzZF7hjYiBd]

The offender: Trident Gum
OK, so you're a gum brand. Your videos will likely involve people chewing gum. But there's really nothing -- nothing -- interesting about a person unwrapping a piece of gum and shoving it in his mouth. It's boring. The end.

[vine bQZLKAA2151]

That said, I can give Trident Gum grief because I know the brand knows better. That is obvious from almost all of the rest of its Vines, which at least explore unique ways of getting that gum into the person's mouth:

[vine bjJtOne3rpl]

Neglecting sound

A lot of people and brands forget that Vines record sound while they record video. And given that the interface doesn't allow for any fancy editing, you're pretty much stuck with the background noise that occurs when you press "record." That can be problematic for videos with lots of fast cuts and stop-motion elements. In those cases, the safest route to go is to simply try to keep things silent while shooting. However, if the whole point of your video relates to music or accompanying sound, you'd better figure out how to handle that hurdle.

The offender: General Electric
Econsultancy called General Electric out on this sin first. (And we don't have to feel bad about it because, overall, General Electric is one of the best brands on Vine, hands down. So it gets to have the occasional miss.) But, if you turn on the sound on the below Vine (sound is disabled on Vines by default), you'll see why this execution just didn't work:

[vine bvdXevrLW5p]

If you're going to post a Harlem Shake Vine, the Harlem Shake song really needs to be a part of it. But given the stop-motion effect on this Vine, it just wasn't possible. It would have been best to go with standard online video for this concept, which would have allowed for proper sound editing. Otherwise -- skip it altogether.

The offender: Malibu Rum
Malibu Rum used Vine to promote Malibu Play, a monthly music mix created by guest DJs. Unfortunately, the audio heard in the Vine is fragmented, awkward, and jarring -- certainly not what you would expect from a playlist touted as "audio goodness to keep you and your friends smiling all night long."

[vine bTiAEj69jQH]

But the sound on this Vine isn't the only misstep the brand made. You can easily argue that it also commits the aforementioned sin of being boring.

Using video when an image would suffice

I know, I know. You're having fun making Vines. You want to make them for everything. The problem is, not everything is Vine-worthy. Sometimes an image will do just fine. And in many cases, an image would be preferable. This is especially the case when a decent amount of reading is involved.

The offender: Wheat Thins
The below Vine just doesn't need to be a Vine. It is, essentially, a print ad being shuffled into view. It forces the viewer to speed-read that ad and then provides no additional pay-off.

[vine bP2KqMT5e56]

If Wheat Thins wanted to illustrate these cracker-theft testimonials in some way, it should have done just that. A short snippet of a devious toddler? Vine-grown gold. But the text-only treatment just doesn't deliver. To boot, there's some random noise happening in the background (if you turn the sound on, of course) that is just loud enough to make you wonder whether you're supposed to be hearing something important. (But you're not -- double fail.)

Cramming too much in

Everyone's definition of "too much" is different. But here's a rule of thumb: If you require a motion-sickness bag after watching a Vine more than twice, it's too much.

The offender: American Apparel
At first watch, the below Vine might not seem too bad. But let it play more than once, and you'll start to go cross-eyed. Within the span of six seconds, the video cuts at least 16 times. In itself, that might be OK. Except that each of those 16 snippets has a little bit of unnecessary movement in it, the result of which is an uncomfortable viewing experience.

[vine b2Mam3q3Jpu]

The offender: NASCAR
Econsultancy named NASCAR as another Vine offender based on the "too much" principle. And indeed, a dose of Dramamine is required to make it through more than two plays of the below video.

[vine b6lAOTIFVn1]

In conclusion, brands shouldn't expect that every Vine they produce will be mini-Oscar worthy. But if they avoid the above missteps, they'll be putting themselves in the top 1 percent of today's Vine producers in terms of quality.

Drew Hubbard is a social media strategist and owner of LA Foodie.

On Twitter? Follow Hubbard at @LAFoodie. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"Textured grunge green background," "Ink splash background," "Cracked wall texture, "The hot summer sun-grunge version," images via Shutterstock. 

Brandt is an independent web analyst, researcher and academic.  As a web analyst, he specialises in building bespoke (or customised) web analytic reporting systems.  This can range from building a customised report format to creating an...

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