Gloves Off: What is the 'must-have' Web metric?

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The "must-have" Web site metric is an operational measure of visitor engagement: a metric that combines brand awareness, visitor loyalty, session duration, depth of visit, recency and qualitative inputs like direct visitor feedback and satisfaction data. Too many marketing and publishing sites are forced to rely on poor proxies for success, like bounce rate and average time spent on site, that are indeed useful, but often fail to accurately capture and report on the nuances of visitor behavior over time.

A well-defined measure of visitor engagement allows sites of all kinds to gauge the success of marketing efforts against more a more complex model than number of pages viewed or average page views per session. Even for retail sites, where the traditional view is that conversion is king, a good measure of visitor engagement helps marketers understand how to best communicate to the 97% who don't buy.

By analyzing the components of the engagement calculation, measurement experts are able to determine why the audience under examination is more or less engaged. But, a single measure, calculated using commonly available Web analytics technology, simplifies the reporting process and allows marketers to target more engaged visitors and the sites, search terms and campaigns that bring them to the site.

When considered side-by-side with other critical key performance indicators, visitor engagement allows marketers and site owners to paint a robust picture of where real opportunities to improve the online experience exist.

The best Web metric to capture is market share of visits. In the debate around pages versus visits, visits is immune to the counting issues with AJAX that pages has a problem with. Pages with AJAX code refresh automatically; measuring in pages can lead to a drop in counts. Visits isn't impacted by that and that's one of the reasons why visits is a better metric than pages.

Another reason goes back to data use. We try to provide our clients with as much detail as possible about what's happening online with their competitive set. And, we choose not to extrapolate our data out to visitor numbers. That way, you don't have to worry about whether the calculations are wrong.

The way we report market share of visits just takes the total number of visits to a site over all Internet visits or visits to a specific category and provides a concrete number for what's happening with your site in relation to a competitive site. Market share is a universal statistic versus, for example, time spent on a site.

Time spent is a very important metric, but it can be difficult to determine its value. A long time spent could mean one or two things for a retailer. It could mean that you're keeping people in the site too long and not getting them through the checkout in a very efficient manner. Or, it could mean that you've got your customer very engaged within your site. The visits metric has value to any business be it retailer, service provider, content publisher or search engine.

Eric T. Peterson is an author and blogger on Web analytics.

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