12 Metrics Explained

October 21st, 2010 Shelby Thayer 1 Comment

We’ve been asked a lot lately about how we came up with the 12 metrics, what they mean and why they’re relevant to us.

Before going into the 12 metrics, remember that any benchmarking is a guideline – something to help you get started on your analytics journey. Be sure to benchmark against your own site as well. Your own numbers will give you the best benchmark. There is a time, however, when looking at an industry benchmark can help guide you, especially when you’re just starting out. This is our goal – to get your started.

Why don’t we just use the built-in Google Analytics benchmarks? For a couple reasons, but the biggest one is segmentation. The GA benchmarks throw all sites in together – making the averages even more … average. Through our benchmarking project we aim to segment wherever possible so you can compare like sites with like sites. Google does compare sites of similar sizes, however, we want to go farther. If we get enough response, we can compare admissions sites to admissions sites and alumni sites to alumni sites. If a college website is all-inclusive, then we can compare those as well.

OK, now on to the metrics. Keep in mind that most of these metrics are certainly just that … metrics. They are not key performance indicators (KPIs), especially the first 5 or 6.

Very high level metrics – is our website even breathing?

  • Total Visits: This metric is a building block. We need visits to have outcomes.
  • Total Page Views: Like visits, in most cases we need page views to have outcomes – again, another building block. Page views by themselves don’t mean a lot. However, coupled with other metrics (like visits), you can get a better understanding of engagement. Be careful: page views are becoming less and less relevant on the web. Also, higher page views per visit don’t necessarily mean engagement. It can also mean your website navigation is confusing and things are hard to find.
  • Average Time on Site: Time on site can be a very high level gauge for engagement as well; however, the same thing applies to ToS as does to page views per visit. A longer time on site isn’t necessarily a good thing.
  • Average Bounce Rate: In the words of Avinash, this metric tells you that the visitor “came, puked, and left.”  This metric can tell you at a high level if you have quality traffic or not. The bounce rate of your top landing pages can give you key insights into the quality of those pages (or the relevancy of the page to the type of traffic that lands there – great metric to look at for campaign landing pages).
  • % New Visits: Is your website good at getting new traffic or is it just the same returning visitors all the time? If you’re in the recruitment game, this metric is relevant.

Here’s where it starts to get good …

  • Total Direct Visits: Again, in the words of Avinash, this metric is your BFF. This is brand engagement! How many people know you enough that either a) they’ve bookmarked your website or b) they type your URL directly? Word of caution: filter out those people you know already know you (current students, staff, etc.). Also, be sure to tag all your campaigns. Otherwise they will come in as direct traffic as well.
  • Total search engine visits with *branded* search terms (or % branded search terms): Key for admissions and other websites where “branding” is may be a goal. This metric coupled with direct visits can give you brand engagement that can be used before and after campaigns.
  • Visitor Loyalty: How many times does a visitor visit your website? Visitor loyalty answers that question. This is a great metric to use if you have a long buying cycle or if loyalty and engagement are key to your website success. Rarely do people convert on the first visit. They need to come back. Use this report to show you how many times they do. Use this with campaigns as well. A month after a campaign, do visitors come back or are they one-hit wonders?
  • Visitor Recency: Now that you have loyal visitors, how long is it before they come back? Daily, weekly, monthly? Again, if your website has a long buying cycle, there may not be high visitor recency, it may be more medium (a few days or a week). If you update your website daily with a blog post, IT alerts, or any important daily information, then you’re looking for high recency.
  • % traffic from admissions homepage to application form page: This is our stab at some kind of conversion … for admissions websites. Although this isn’t a perfect metric by any means, we need to start looking at outcomes not just traffic. If you don’t run an admission website, think about the outcome on your website. What is your conversion rate? This metric will surely evolve – possibly into simply conversion rate. Stay tuned.
  • Total visits from social media sites: Social media ROI is all the rage now. Everyone wants to know “is it worth it.” Just using URL shorteners and measuring traffic isn’t enough. We need to measure outcomes. By creating a social media segment, we can make a first step toward looking at outcomes. There are definitely flaws with only creating a social media segment and looking at that. Be sure to get out of your analytics tool and use other tools to measure social media as well.
  • Total visits from mobile devices: Creating mobile websites is popular now as well. Depending on your audience, this is very important. What is the usage, though? If mobile device usage is high for your audience, is your website mobile friendly? By using an advanced segment for mobile devices you can find out quickly.