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Is Your Web Site Heading For Trouble?

Three Early Warning Signs

By WG Moore

My goal in this article is to show you how your web traffic statistics can set off alarms long before your web site gets into trouble. The same warning signs can also tell you when you are on the right track to growing your business.

First of all, I'll show you what statistics you will need from your stats service, what analysis should be provided and a bit about how to interpret the information.

Your web stats service should have at least these basic pages:

Summary Page
Visitor Statistics
Pages and Paths
Referrals and Search Engines
Keywords and Phrases
Browsers, screens, cookies and other technical data

The first two on the list are the only important ones for the purposes of this discussion. The others are normally included in any good web analysis service, but we won't need them here. I will discuss them in future articles.

The basics and what the information is trying to tell us:

Summary Page:

The summary page gives you a very quick overview of your web site's progress during the selected time period. It should contain:

Number of page views
Total number of visitors
Number of new visitors
Number of returning visitors
Number of page views per hour
Average amount of time spent on a page

The most important of these is actually the last one. This number is often given just a cursory glance or even ignored entirely. I'll show how to use it in a moment.

To be really effective, your numbers should also be compared to some previous time period of equal length. Though finding a service that provides time frame comparisons can be difficult.

I like to see the numbers presented for a rolling 30 day period. It not only allows me to see my data change on a day-to-day basis, it also covers a large enough time span to show meaningful changes. You should be careful when trying to evaluate month-to-month numbers, since months vary in length.
This is why I like the rolling 30 day period - it is always consistent.

Each item on the summary should be shown with a Trend and Percentage of Change. But if your stats service doesn't provide these, you can calculate them for yourself. The basic formula for Percentage Change is:

((Current / Previous) – 1) * 100.

For example: Say you have 300 visitors this month, and there were 200 visitors in the previous month. The result would be:

300 / 200 = 1.5
minus 1 = .5
x100 = 50

So your visitor count increased 50% during the month.

To get the trend, compute the average daily numbers for both the current and previous time periods and then apply the same formula as above. If the number is negative, the trend is down, if it is positive, the trend is up.

To get the trend for the average time spent on a page is a bit more difficult. You must first convert the amount of time to seconds and then apply our percentage formula. Hint: There are 3600 seconds in one hour.

Now that we have that, we will move on to…

Your first warning sign: If you see the time spent on each page beginning to fall, your visitors are losing interest. This will often occur well ahead of any other signs of trouble.

Your content may be getting stale, or perhaps your competition is creeping up on you with better products, features or offers. You must constantly keep an eye on all of these to stay ahead.

On the Summary page, just look for overall trends in the data. You can look to the detail pages to provide more specifics. If your stats include a trend indicator along with the numbers, this will be a snap. Better still if they do all the calculations for you.

Now let's look at the single most important page you will want to examine. Well, maybe the second most important. Some feel that the 'Sales Results' page is the most important. Anyway, lets look at the…

Visitors Page

The Visitors Page should show you the following:

Total Number of Visitors
Number of New Visitors
Number of Returning Visitors
Pages Per Visit
Visits Per Day
Average Time Per Visit
Visitor Detail Page

The visitor is the most important element in your analysis arsenal and is the basis for all of the other statistics. Without visitors, you get nothing: No hits, no data, no sales and NO Income!

All other data are, or should be, tied to the visitor so you will know how they use your site. By this I mean that you should be able to see where each visitor came into your site, where they came from and where they went while they were there. You should also be able to tell how long they spent on each page, which gives you:

Your Second Warning Sign: If the number of pages per visitor begins to drop, your content is not keeping the visitors' attention. Try to make your pages more interesting. Each page should guide the visitor to make the response you want: click the 'Buy' button.

Try to end each page with a 'cliff hanger' that will make them want to keep reading to find out more.

You can compare the Total Visitors – the combination of both New and Returning Visitors - for the current period against the previous period to get an idea as to the overall direction of your business.

Make sure your stats distinguish between New Visitors and Returning Visitors. This is very important. It helps you determine how effective you are in getting new visitors, and how well you retain them. This is often referred to as 'stickiness'. It is a vital element in tracking sales as well.

Many site owners will tell you that up to 75% of your sales will come from returning visitors. Most people will shop around, compare and then come back to your site ready to buy. They rarely make a buy decision on the first visit. They need to be convinced, so watch for…

Your Third Warning Sign: A drop in returning visitors. A solution to this one is a little more difficult to pin down, as many factors come into play. So ask yourself:

Are you making your offer clear and understandable?
Are you addressing the concerns of your visitors?
Is the buying process easy to navigate?
Have you removed all reasons why they should not buy?
Does your content change frequently?
Are you capturing their email address so you can make special offers or announcements to entice them back?

All of these play a part in getting return traffic. I have seen cases where a competitor has simply built a better presentation, or moved up in the SE ranks and began siphoning off visitors from other sites.

Always keep an eye on what is happening in your market. Research your, and your competitors', keywords. Visit their sites to see what they are up to. Keep your marketing programs working.

Staying ahead in the competitive web market is not easy, but if you are aware of what is going on in your niche, and keep an eye out for early signs of trouble, you will be assured of success in the long run.

I hope that these few warning signs will be of some help. I will discuss more on using web statistics to measure your site's performance in future articles. Enjoy.


Will Moore is the owner and author of a number of websites, including the highly successful Web Stats Gold. www.webstatsgold.com provides high power e-commerce traffic analysis that includes sales tracking, ad tracking, web site
traffic, and more in a single low-priced package. Contact Will at will@webstatsgold.com.

Copyright © August 2004 by WG Moore. All rights reserved

You may reprint this article so long as it is not modified in any way and includes both the author bio and copyright notices, including the link back to Web Stats Gold.





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