When Visits and Page Views Won’t Cut It

By • November 26, 2012

By Kelly Donovan

In this age of Web 3.0, you’re probably familiar with using visits, page views, opens and clicks to measure the performance of your association’s emails, newsletters and websites. But those metrics give only a superficial, or introductory, picture of how your digital communications perform.

These measures are good if plenty of people visit your site; they’re not so good if people only view one page each. On the other hand, if only 10 percent of your subscribers open your weekly newsletter, it would appear that no one is interested in what your association has to say. But if only 20 percent of your newsletters are actually delivered, your open rate is actually half (and you need to examine why your email list performs so poorly).

We’ve previously discussed how to use data to better understand your members’ activity and wants. Now let’s discuss the data itself to make sure you’re paying attention to the metrics that really matter.

  • Don’t look solely at opens to gauge the success of an email or newsletter.
  • Time spent per visit and pages viewed per visit help you understand how much the average visitor interacts with your website.
  • Review your website’s traffic sources to learn how targeted and qualified an audience your website attracts.

Visits/Opens: One of the more basic metrics, visits or opens give you a good idea of how popular a website, online directory, eNewsletter or digital edition is among your membership or subscribers. The more visits/opens, the more informed your members probably are, the more exposure any advertisers or sponsors you may have receive, and the wider your content is seen.

Be careful not to look solely at opens for an email or newsletter, however. If opens are the gateway to your content, your delivery rate is the gatekeeper. If your emails don’t reach the intended recipient because of spam filters or ISP blocks on your server, your members will never even have the chance to see your content. Check the percentage of emails that bounce back to you. There’s no standard benchmark for how many is too many (almost always, some emails will bounce because of technical errors, full mailboxes, or closed accounts), but if the percentage creeps above 10, it’s time to update your database.

Clicks: Whether on a website, eNewsletter or digital edition, clicks are the next basic measure of how much online information resonates with your audience and encourages them to stay involved with it. If someone clicks a link to read more, start a video player, open an email to write a reply to you or download a file, you’ve successfully engaged them.

Many communicators and advertisers become discouraged when the click rate is low. With B2B publications, however, most advertisers would rather earn a few quality clicks from people truly interested in their product than many clicks from people who are simply “tire kickers” with no intention of buying a product or service.

For newsletters, some publishers and advertisers pay closer attention to their click-to-open ratio than the raw number of clicks. Click-to-open ratio is calculated by taking the number of unique clicks divided by the number of unique opens. This percentage normalizes the click rate by framing it within the subset of people who opened the publication and had a chance to view the links.

Additionally, clicks are not the only measure of interaction or interest. Look at the time spent on site per visit for your website. Is it more than a minute or two? The average time spent on any given website is 2 to 3 minutes per visit. For news sites, that average increases to 5 to 6 minutes. If your site claims surfers’ attention for more than 2 minutes, congratulations – you’re managing to hold the attention of your visitors for what is an awfully long time in a world of multitasking and multiple, simultaneous device use. They may not be clicking on many links, but your content is still making an impression as they absorb your text, images, video or music.

For newsletters, how many total opens do you see? Divide your total opens by unique opens (most email programs track both numbers) to find the opens per person. If it’s more than one, you now know that your recipients read your newsletter beyond a first glance and may be saving it in their inbox for future reference. That’s a great position to hold: the go-to source for industry information.

In a similar vein, take the number of page views for your website and divide by the number of visits to discover the pages viewed per visit. This is another measure, like time spent on site, of how much your audience is interested in and engaged with your content. The higher the pages viewed per visit, the more interested they are in what you have to say. Think of this another way: would you rather have 1,000 visits of one page each, or 100 visits of 10 pages each? In which case are the visitors more involved with your content?

Finally, look at where your visitors are coming from. Traffic sources can tell you a little bit more about who your real audience is and how they might be interpreting and using your information. All websites have a mix of search engine, referral and direct traffic, and the desired combination of each source will differ based on the nature of your site and your communication goals.

In general, direct or referred traffic is desirable because it is more likely that those types of visits are intentional. People who clicked over to your website, digital edition or online newsletter were probably looking at similar content immediately preceding their visit, and saw your site as a natural step to learn more. It’s unlikely that someone not involved in your industry cared enough to click through to your site from another industry-related source. So if your visits are low but your referral/direct traffic is high, what you lack in quantity you make up for with a highly targeted, quality audience.

These are just a few metrics that savvy web communicators regularly monitor. There are many more metrics available through Google Analytics, Mint and most large email providers. It may take some time to learn how to interpret metrics like these and how to apply them to your communication goals, but the reward of a better understanding of your online audience and its media habits is worth it.

Kelly Donovan is the team leader for online marketing with Naylor LLC.