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Which website performance metrics should marketing directors track?

There's always context to consider when looking at your site's metrics. Here are the metrics you should look at and the pitfalls to avoid.

Regardless of the reporting platform you’re using, you can’t just take the numbers at face value. There’s vital context you should consider before judging your site’s success and adjusting your strategy. 

To judge whether your website is helping your business meet its goals, you need to look at the data

The number of visits your site is getting might seem like a good measure of success. However, because the journey that led a visitor to your site is influenced by many external factors, the insight you can glean from a statistic like this is more limited than it might seem. 

Referrals, on the other hand, count the visitors who came to your site from other sites, rather than finding you through a search engine or other source of traffic. This can help you make decisions about which external sites are worth spending your marketing time on.

With potential pitfalls in mind, here are the most important metrics marketing directors should be looking at, and the context you need to consider when analysing the numbers. 

User engagement metrics

Bounce rate

Bounce rate is a great example of a metric which can be misleading without proper context.

Your site’s bounce rate represents the percentage of visitors who leave after viewing just one page. However, having a high bounce rate isn’t necessarily bad news. 

A high bounce rate might indicate that a page isn’t providing the information your visitors were expecting, but there are other possibilities that don’t reflect as poorly on your site. A contact page, for example, might give a visitor all the information they need very quickly. If they then make an inquiry and become a lead, your site could have fulfilled its purpose even though that one-page visit still contributed to your bounce rate. Context is key. 

Engagement rate

Google Analytics 4 lets you look at your engagement rate, which is effectively the opposite of bounce rate. 

This metric reflects how engaged users are on your site by counting the number of sessions that last 10 seconds or more, have one or more conversion events, or two or more page views.

Learn more about tracking engagement in GA4

Returning visitors

Getting returning visitors on your site is a good sign. It suggests that your content is good enough to bring people back. The problem with this metric is measuring it accurately to begin with. 

The main way to know that the same user is returning to your site is with cookies, which have become increasingly difficult to track since the Data Protection Act 2018 and later accompanying legislation. Innovations like GA4’s machine learning go some way towards filling the gaps cookies left behind, but for now tracking returning visitors isn’t as easy as it used to be. 

Session duration

Session duration is the total amount of time a visitor spends on your site during one visit. Like a high bounce rate, a shorter session duration might not necessarily reflect negatively on your site if users are getting the information they need quickly. 

Long session durations can also be deceiving. If your site is opened and the user then moves to a new tab, the session duration will often keep increasing even though there isn’t any meaningful engagement with your content. Some newer reporting platforms like Google Analytics 4 try to avoid problems like this by not counting inactive tabs, but it’s something to be wary of. 

Pages per visit 

Just what it says on the tin – the number of pages one your site that were visited in a single session. 

Users visiting a lot of pages during a session could be good. It might mean that your site is engaging and people are exploring. It could also mean that your site is tricky to navigate and users have to look across multiple pages to find the information they need. 

Scroll depth

Scroll depth is how far down a page a user is scrolling. 

Scrolling down can indicate engagement, but if the content on your page isn’t more than a page long and doesn’t require scrolling at all this isn’t the most useful stat. 

Conversion rate

When considering context, conversions are different from most other metrics. Instead of looking at conversions and trying to consider the numbers in relation to your goals, you choose what counts as a conversion based on your goals.

In GA4, for example, you might set an event like a file download as a conversion if your goal is to get as many people downloading a pdf guide from your site as possible. In other words, conversions are already contextualised by your goals by definition. 

That said, there are still some pitfalls to look out for. You need to make sure that you – or the agency you’re working with – aren’t defining your conversions too broadly, making less relevant events count as conversions and misrepresenting how well you’re meeting your goals. 

Exit pages

The page from which a user leaves your site is called an exit page. In the case of a bounce this can be a bad thing, but all good things must come to an end, and we can still learn about our users or our site by the last page they visit. 

Do the most common exit pages make sense in your website’s user journey (is it a “thank you” page, for example?) or do they suggest that your visitor is struggling to find the information they’re looking for?

Performance metrics

There are a few different ways the speed of your site can be measured. Google Lighthouse will measure “core web vitals” such as:

  • Loading time (LCP): the time between the user opening the page until the largest visible image or block of text has loaded.
  • Interactivity (FID): the time between the first interaction with your site and when the page actually responds.
  • Visual stability (CLS): how much a page shifts (ever go to click on something and only for another part of the page to suddenly pop up in the way? That’s a shift).

Having a high LCP, CLS or FID isn’t ideal, but that doesn’t mean you should focus on reducing them without considering your goals as context. It’s relative – a page with next to nothing on it will load extremely quickly, but it’s not likely to serve much purpose. There are times, however, when speed might be a priority in the context of your goals, like a site aimed at users with slower devices or poor connectivity.

SEO health checks

Measuring things like the number of redirects and 404 (page not found) errors your site returns will let you know if any technical fixes need to be performed on your site. These are inherently negative, but often relatively easy fixes compared to other metrics. 

Make sure you don’t interpret metrics incorrectly. Look at related metrics next to one another. This will help you get a more accurate image of what visitors are doing when they visit your site, giving you the best picture of how well your website is performing and helping to overcome the analytical shortcomings of any one metric.

More help

For more help making sense of your website data, email me at [email protected].

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