Know Your Audience: Online Traffic Sources And Other Meaningful Website Metrics

Understanding your online traffic sources, the bounce rate, page dwell time, and pages per visit are important metrics to understand. They will help you identify the content marketing/social media techniques & strategies that are working (or not).

Even though you can not physically see your audience on your website blog, it’s imperative to know exactly what your audience is doing on your website.

  • Are they reading my content?
  • How did they flow through my site?
  • Who and where did they stop reading my content?
  • At what point did my audience abandon my newsletter signup?
  • What specific type of content are they devouring?
  • Which traffic source has the best Return On Investment?

If you do not know what your audience is doing on your website or which online traffic sources they arrived from, then it’s difficult to tell if your Content and Social Media Strategies are working correctly.

There are many excellent solutions available to help you “see” what your audience is doing on your website. The easiest, cheapest, and arguable the most practical tool is Google Analytics.

Google Analytics is an all purpose website/blog analytics tool – gives you a window into your audience actions on your blog. If you don’t have a Google Analytics account please set one up now. It’s relatively straight forward, painless and it is free.

Google Analytics comes packed with a multitude of individual metrics, which, if used correctly, can be the guiding force behind your content and social media strategy.

Many opt not to use any metrics, which in my opinion, is like sailing a ship on the high seas without a compass, depth finder or navigational maps.

Would you head for the high seas without your navigational aids?

Same thing for you and your blog…

You need to be able to navigate the densely packed social media channels, so you can arrive (alive) at your destination. 🙂 It would be a recipe for disaster without the right navigational tools.

What gets measured, gets managed. Peter Drucker

It’s Not That Complicated

You don’t have to understand every metric and nuance of Google Analytics. Start with the basics. Then build on the basics as your comfort level increases.

Understanding just a few baseline metrics, and how to interpret and combine them into meaningful information, will help your cause tremendously. In fact, to start, you only need to understand 4 metrics. Once these metrics are mastered, the other more complicated metrics will fall into place.

Online Traffic Sources

For those of you that want a quick graphical overview of Google’s Traffic Source Metrics (plus a little more), please click the play button on this short video (1 minute and 34 seconds only).

Just as it says, Traffic Sources gives you more information about the sources of your your web and blog traffic.

Your Online Traffic Source is important:

  • it helps you determine the source of your blog and website traffic (i.e. the people) and,
  • their performance on your web site.

By the way, I tend to use the words Blog, Website and Website interchangeably. For the sake of simplicity, they mean the same thing in this article.

Now, back to the Online Traffic Sources…

You spend time and money driving people back to your website, and it’s a good idea to establish where you should focus your energy.

Which traffic source should I focus on? 

Which traffic source has the best engagers?

Which traffic source converts the best?

Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted. Albert Einstein

As a general rule of thumb, the traffic to your website should increase over time. If there’s a decrease in the online traffic, you then need to assess WHY, and perhaps ask yourself:

Am I using the right keywords?

Am I generating enough post and link activity at my traffic sources?

Has my posting frequency changed? 

What am I doing differently at my traffic sources? 

Has my audience type changed at my traffic sources?

Has my blog content type changed?

Has the quality of my blog content changed?

Is my content correct for my audience?

The Traffic Source metric, when used in isolation, is just a single, high level metric, and you need to treat it as such. However, when you combine Traffic Source with other metrics, such as:

  • Bounce Rate,
  • Visit Duration,
  • Pages Viewed Per Visit

…you will get a more accurate picture of your engagement metrics.

Traffic Source Bounce Rate

Bounce rate is when people get to your site, puke, and leave. Avinash Kuashik

Bounce Rate is a fantastic qualifying metric. It’s a beautiful way to measure the quality of your online traffic, and will give you a good idea about your website “stickiness”.

Technically speaking, Bounce Rate is defined as “A percentage of your visitors that leave your site after viewing 1 page”.

The lower your Bounce Rate, the better your website is performing – your audience is sticking around and viewing other areas of your website. It’s more likely that you’ll accomplish your business objectives when your audiences sticks around to read other pages and posts.

Understanding the Bounce Rates for each online traffic source should give you an indication of how the different audiences at the various traffic sources resonate with the content in your post.

Basically, if your audience likes your content the Bounce Rate will be low. If they don’t like your content, the Bounce rates will be high.

It’s not uncommon to have, for example, an exceptionally high Bounce Rate from your Facebook audience, while your Twitter audience produces a completely opposite Bounce Rate. In this case, it just means your Facebook audience likes your content, and your Twitter audiences does not.

Simple as that. Nothing complicated!

Regardless, high Bounce Rates warrant investigation, and should be compared with your historical Bounce Rates.

If your Bounce rates on a specific traffic sources starts trending up or down, you should assess the reasons.

Has my audience changed?

Has my content changed?

Have my posting activities changed at the traffic source?

Bounce Rate in isolation is only gives you a piece of the puzzle. Adding the Time on Site metric into the mix will give you a better understanding of the behavior of your audience.  This removes the guess work, helping you make rationale and logical decisions on how to navigate your online business better.

Low Bounce, High Site Duration Digression

Can you relate to this?  The more you like something, the more you do it.

When was the last time you did something once, enjoyed it, and came back to enjoy more of it?

For me, it was earlier this morning. I visited a blog – Stand and Inspire.

The writing style of the Brent Peterson is totally captivating. His presentation makes his posts easy to read, and his subject matter is uniquely interesting.

In fact, when I get to his blog I usually read multiple posts, and typically dwell on each word.

What’s the point? Why am I mentioning this?

Think about it. If I represent his audience, the clock is ticking while I dwell on each word – the Average Visit Duration metric is incremented. Then I hop from post to post – my behavior = lowers the Bounce Rate on his site. No doubt, he also understands how I arrived at his website – i.e. his online traffic sources.

The net result (from the authors perspective)  – low Bounce Rate and increased Site Visit Duration. Understanding this information is extremely helpful.

Your audience is doing the same! They come to your blog – scan, read, stay or go. Your Bounce Rate and Average Site Duration will show you this valuable information too.

The goal is to turn data into information, and information into insight. Carly Fiorina

Average Visit Duration

Your Average Site Duration measures the average amount of time that your audience spends on your site per session.

In general terms, the more time they spend on your site, the better it is for both of you. Your audience gets to learn more, and you get the increased likelihood of a conversion (if that’s your objective). Treat an increasing Average Site Duration as is a positive signal.

There is another side to the story though…

Your Average Site Duration can decrease. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Let me repeat…   “Your Average Site Duration can decrease, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing”

Keep in mind:

  • shorter posts,
  • single field data collection on a ‘tightly’ constructed landing page,
  • eCommerce transactions with auto fill fields,
  • an audience that gets more accustomed to your writing style.

…each can lower your Average Visit Duration.

The Average Site Duration is a great metric to use, but you:

  • need to use with at least your Traffic Source and Bounce Rate,
  • must use in context of your website/blog and,
  • need to make sure you compare apples-to-apples.

Imagine these two scenarios:

1. Twitter Traffic Source: Your Bounce Rate – historically consistent; Your Average Site Duration – increases over time and,

2. Facebook Traffic Source: Your Bounce Rate – increasing over time; Your Average Site Duration – decreases over time.

What can you deduce?

First, the positive – Your Twitter audience seems to love your content. They seem to spend an increased amount of time on your site.

The unknown – your Facebook audience. They seem to spend less time on your site, and increasingly exit on the page where they started.

My first inclination is that the audiences at the two different Online Traffic Sources are made up of different people, have different objectives, and are expecting different content.

A direct audience survey would probably serve as validation.

Perhaps a change to the content type for the Facebook audience? Maybe axe Facebook as a Traffic Source? The course of action would, in this case, depend on the survey results.

They key…

The Average Site Duration is an important metric, but should be used as a validation metric. It’s another window to your audiences’ behavior, and helps amplify your site performance when combined with Bounce Rates, and the individual traffic sources.

You’ll be able to tell:

  • which traffic source performs the best,
  • which traffic source should get more attention,
  • which traffic source you should spend less time.

It gets better.

Combine Traffic Source, Bounce Rate, Average Visit Duration with Pages Per Visit, and you are no longer traveling blind.

Metrics are for doing, not for staring. Never measure just because you can. Measure to learn. Measure to fix. Stijn Debrouwere 

Pages Per Visit

Page Per Visit is a more straight forward metric to use for measurement. It shows you how many pages were visited during a single session.

It’s an important metric, one that shows audience interest. Interest is the ultimate expression, by your audience, that your content resonates well with them.

The more good stuff you give, the more it will be consumed. The more it’s consumed, the higher the likelihood of higher conversion rates.

Looking at the Pages Per Visit metric from a different perspective, a decreasing Pages Per Visit count, should raise a flag that something is not working correctly. Decreasing Page Visits per session, more than likely means a declining interest in your content – something that should be addressed.

A decreasing Pages Per Visit count many mean:

  • your content is not right for your audience or
  • your audience is not right for the content or
  • the quality of your content has gone down or
  • the expected frequency of you content has decreased

Obviously, it stands to reason that combining the Pages Per Visit metric with the other metrics I’ve mentioned above, should give you a clearer picture  how your various online traffic sources are performing on your website.

Your Take Away

Without big data analytics, companies are blind and deaf, wandering out onto the web like deer on a freeway. Geoffrey Moore 

There’s a lot more than just Traffic Sources, Bounce Rates, Average Visit Duration, and Pages Per Visit to fully understand your blog and website performance, but the Traffic Source metrics is a great starting point. These metrics will give you a good indication of the performance of each of your traffic sources, and where you should focus your energy.

First and foremost, you need clarity of your business and website objectives before trying to using your Analytics. There’s no point in analyzing metrics if you are unclear what to measure the metrics against.

Are you trying to drive engagement? Do you want more newsletter signups? Are you trying to sell a specific product? Understanding what you want to measure will help to identify what you need to look for in your metrics.

Clear objectives will allow you:

  • understand what you should measure,
  • to develop a framework on how you should measure and,
  • to have a sensible mechanism on how to interpret the measurement data.

The 4 Online Traffic Source metrics that should interest you:

  • Overall Traffic Sources
  • Bounce Rates
  • Average Site Duration
  • Pages Per Visit

Traffic Source metrics should be used as “metrics over time”. A historical reference point will will give you a base for comparison. They give you the information necessary to understand what’s a normal or an abnormal metric for your blog.

Use your Analytics carefully. A quick personal story about what not to do …

My first “statistics and metrics” presentation was a seriously embarrassing moment. I was asked to give a presentation to an audience of Epidemiologists and Biostatisticians, and I neglected to validate the data source, the collection methodology, and the validity of the numbers (oops!). When my audience started asking questions about data authenticity, validity and the methodology I was stumped and left speechless. Thankfully, this was an early career presentation, and I never repeated the mistake again.

To this day, I always treat metrics and statistics with a high degree of caution. I urge the same for you.

Google Analytics is a great piece of software, but it (and many others too) has it’s collection and presentation flaws.

Use it wisely. There are many variables that can skew the numbers – your access, search engine bots, spammers, to name a few.

Understand exactly what the 4 statistics (that I’ve indicated above) mean, and how you can use the numbers to better your conversion results. Be aware that correlation and causation may have no connection.

Any website or content change should be carefully weighed against the reporting metrics, and its always a good idea to be able to isolate changes so you can easily identify the resulting metrics.

In other words, don’t make more than one change at a time. Otherwise you risk not being able to measure what variable changes the resulting metric.

Regardless, once you understand the interaction and relationship of each of these metrics you’ll be in a better position to fix offending issues.

Keeping on top of your reported metrics will definitely help you guide your Content Marketing and Social Media strategy through the choppy water of the online world.

Don’t operate in a void. Use your metrics. Know your online traffic sources. Get to know to use your analytics.

Need help with more relevant traffic to your website? Just reach out to contact me.

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