We’ve all seen the ballyhoo about how all authors should have a web site to use in promoting their books. There has been a lot of talk about adding a blog, what to show on your web site, selling from your web site, what kind of content to provide and how often it should be updated. But one thing that hasn’t been mentioned much is how to determine if the web site is doing you any good. Statistics will tell you this.
Aside from an increase in book sales, it’s hard to know if a web site is helping you. If you’re trying different types of campaigns which ones work, which ones don’t? The answers often lay in the traffic reports that are available from your web host. That usually looks something like this:
This overview panel gives a graphical representation of your traffic elements over the previous months. Below this summary will be an extensive listing of detailed statistics. I’ll discuss the most important of these as we go along. But first, let’s look at the basic terms, what they mean, and why they are important to you.
Unique visitors: The first column on the chart above is one of the more important statistics. As the name implies, this metric counts only the unique users who visited the site. In this case, unique does not mean “special”, or “out of the ordinary”, but “individual”. It tells you how many people are generating your traffic. If a particular visitor comes to the site every day for a month, it still only counts as one tally on this list. This is important because it tells you how large your audience actually is.
Number of Visits: This metric shows how many users have spent time on your website. If this column shows an average of 15,000 visits each month and the previous column shows an average of 5,000 unique visitors you know that each person is visiting your site an average of 3 times per month.
Page views: Each time a visitor loads one of your pages into their web browser it ticks up the page view counter by one. Keep in mind that this tallies regardless of who visits or how many times they’ve been to the site. In many ways it is a poor measurement of traffic. We all love returning visitors but most authors really care about those valuable first timers.
Using the example I’ve been running; if you see an average monthly count of 60,000 page views being generated by an average of 15,000 visits, you can figure that the average visitor views 4 pages on each visit. Of course, these are averages. In real life one visitor may read only the page she came to read while another will become intrigued and read 10 or 15 pages.
It is also worth noting, as an aside, that some commercial blogs will split up their posts into multiple pages, forcing the reader to click Next Page links to continue reading, this is done primarily to run up the page view counter (and to give more opportunities to display advertising to you) so they can say, “You need to pay us big bucks to advertise on our site because we get 75 quadrillion page views each month.”
Hits: This is king of useless statistics. Some people still try to use this number to impress others by hooking their thumbs under their suspenders and crowing, “I got one and a half million hits on my web site last month!” But, this can easily be inflated by adding lots of small graphic elements (icons, and decorative bits as well as ads and photo links) to each page. Each little ‘bit ‘that has to be downloaded by the web browser to build the page increments the Hits counter. Back in the old, old, days Hits were almost synonymous with page views because pages were almost all text. Today this is very different. Ignore Hits.
The listing that flows up your screen from below this graphic overview will contain lots and lots of tables and lists of information. Some of it very useful, some of it not so much. Different hosts use different software to track traffic and report it to you. Not all software tracks the same things. Your mileage may vary. These are the things I think are most important:
Pages per visit: If available, this metric shows you how many pages a visitor perused during each session, the higher this number, the better. Again, this is an average count, but a high number indicates that visitors are interested in what you have to say and stick around to read more than just the one page that brought them to your site or blog.
Average visit duration: How much time do those users spend on the site during each visit? A good average time spent is 3 to 5 minutes. Most will be far less. Obviously longer is better, but the only site in the world that gets massive visit duration is Facebook, with an average of 25 minutes per visit. If your list is broken down into time ranges with counts, those 30 seconds or less counts are usually bots that pop in to scan your page then pop right back out again.
A related term is “Bounce Rate” which refers to visitors who pop into a page and right back out again. A high bounce rate is a bad thing, because people are not finding what they expected to see and know it right away. But this is not always something you can control.
Percent new visits: This measure is the percentage of your traffic from first-time users: folks who have never been to the site before. If you’re a retailer, you’re eager to get repeat visitors to your site and you’ll want this number lower than your repeating visitor number, if you’re an author trying to expand his audience, you will want this number to be larger than your repeat visitors.
Traffic Sources: The software may divvy this up into lists for links from other sites and search engine referrals. These statistics will give you the most popular pathways people used to get to your site. Search engines, like Google, should be at the top, but you will also see links from other sites that are funneling traffic to you. These may be links in comments you’ve left on other blogs or resource links in interviews and guest posts you’ve done, or articles where others have quoted you or referenced your materials. Looking at the traffic counts for each will tell you which sites are most effective at steering people your way. Direct requests are folks who have bookmarked your site or typed the address directly into their web browser address bar.
A note on Organic traffic: this term refers to traffic that is not bought or manipulated in any way. Paid-for listings and link exchanges are not counted as “organic” and will count against you when Google determines the value of a page in your web site for its search result rankings.
Most Popular Pages: is a list of which pages on your site are most often visited. These statistics help you know which blog posts or web pages are drawing the visitors, helping you to know what people are looking for.
Search Words/Phrases: These lists will tell you what search keywords and phrases brought people to your site. This helps you to know what topics you cover are most popular and which keywords you are most effective in using. While helpful, this list often yields some humorous entries that will leave you wondering why in the world a search engine sent someone to your site for THAT phrase.
Getting to know your traffic pattern and sources is not just important, it’s mandatory if you’re going to know how effective your online marketing strategies are. Cozying up with your statistics report is a great way to start.