Measuring success: Is your website a hotel or a homeless shelter?

For many inexperienced webmasters, the hallmark of a successful website lies in its popularity or the amount of ‘hits’ it gets every month. The apparent reasoning behind this fallacy is that if people are visiting the site it must be fulfilling its purpose. People wouldn’t be wasting their time on something that doesn’t work, right?

Think of a website like a ‘hotel’. The hotelier (or webmaster) tells you “3000 people slept here last night,” and whilst that’s an impressive figure, what he has failed to mention is that his ‘hotel’ is actually a poorly-funded homeless shelter, and it actually costs the hotelier money to run it.

With the advent of search engines and sponsored links, driving endless reams of traffic to a site is easy if one is willing to spend money by bidding hundreds of Rands or Dollars on high traffic, yet completely irrelevant keywords.

Think of the things that are searched for most on the Internet: porn, news, videos, games. If the website owner were to show ads when users searched for those items and drove that traffic to the site – the hit number would skyrocket. But is that traffic fulfilling the purpose of the site?

The ‘hotel’ can invite all the homeless over for a free night and get their numbers up, but it isn’t going to do anything for their bottom line. If, however, they invite some CEOs around for a complimentary stay, they could have some of their clientele buying dinner as well, and others might come back the following weekend with their families as paying customers. Such an act would increase the viability of the website as it generates profit and fulfils its purpose.

Despite the analogy above, website visits are incredibly important to the health of a site and driving traffic strategically through paid search is often the route to site profitability. Google wouldn’t generate billions of dollars in revenue if Adwords didn’t work.

Website owners should, however, consider the following before determining their site’s success:

  • Bounce Rates: defined by Google’s resident Analytics guru, Avinash Kaushik, as: People came, saw your site, threw up and then left. Obviously a high bounce rate means people aren’t getting what they asked for; the site is poorly-designed, or it has an irrelevant campaign driving traffic to it.
  • Time On The Site: Depending on the site, this can be a good and a bad thing. For news and analysis sites like The Daily Maverick and Financial Mail, a long time on the site is a great thing – people are engaging with the content. Conversely, if the site is an acquisition site, like WantItAll, and the visitor spends a long time on the site (or views many unrelated pages), it could mean people are looking around for content/pages they aren’t finding.
  • Design/Usability: Does the website do what’s it’s supposed to do in the most efficient and simplest way? On TravelStart, for example, there is a “chat to us” button, which allows clients to make queries by directly chatting to the consultants online.
  • Conversion Rate: This could be leads, business enquiries, reservations or any goals you define. Does your Paid Search spend improve your conversion rate and revenue? Is your Paid Search spend delivering an attractive return on investment?
  • Content Relevant To The Search: Does the data architecture of the site make sense? Does it rank well naturally for important relevant search terms? Does it have targeted landing pages so that a paid search visitor is presented with targeted content highly relevant to his/her search query? All of these measures ensure that the conversion rate of the site is under scrutiny and improved upon.
  • Website Analytics: Google Analytics is a powerful and free website analytics tool that’s easy to install on your website. It provides great insight into visitor behaviour; traffic sources; and destination on exit. It is also a powerful tool for website and online advertising campaign analysis and optimisation.

Site success is about achieving purpose and profitability by driving traffic strategically to deep-linked pages that make sense – and not to a homepage via irrelevant means.

Once this rule is realised, online marketing budgets should be spent to the highest efficiency with providers in markets that provide the greatest return on investment.



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