Know Your Numbers

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About a year ago I was asked to take a look at a website and find ways to increase the income generated from it. The owner was promised an improved return from the website by a third party. There is usually a good chance that a website will receive some benefit from search engine optimization, so I was pretty confident that I could deliver on the promises made by the third party.

This particular business performed custom modifications to cars, which meant there was a strong possibility of increasing their sales through the use of social media sites such as Facebook.

The first problem was that the business was already at capacity for their services and didn’t need any additional service-based customers. After a little digging, I found that the owner was promised increased revenue solely based on the existing traffic that their website generated. While it was still possible to deliver on the previous promises, basing revenue creation off of traffic as opposed to their products and services made the task more difficult.

The first thing that needed to be determined was the amount of visitors the website was receiving each month. In the initial contact, the business owner stated that the website received 50,000 hits per month. With that many hits per month, there shouldn’t have been an issue generating more revenue for the business. However, upon further investigation, I determined that the website was receiving closer to 1,200 visits per month. That was a significant difference.

So where did the breakdown in communication occur? First, the terms used in Web analytics were not clearly understood by either the business owner or the third party that made the promises. As a business owner, you need a clear understanding of what the important Web analytics terms are and what they mean. Without this understanding, you can’t make an informed decision regarding what your web team can reasonably accomplish.

Second, the expectations of the business owner were unrealistic. Your expectation of your Web site’s potential should be governed by accurate analytics information.

The Terminology

Visits: The first term that you should understand is “visits.” If both Bob and Joe look at your website, you now have two visits. If Bob and Joe loot at your Web site and Joe comes back and looks at your website after 30 minutes, you have 3 visits to your website. If Joe had come back less than 30 minutes from his original visit, your Web site would have still had only two visits. Generally, the more visits your website has, the better the earning potential.

Bounce Rate: Bounce rate means that a visitor came to your website and only viewed one page before leaving. As an example, if Bob searched for “fish” in Google and clicked on the result for “Joe’s Fish Emporium,” then Bob left Joe’s website or closed his browser, that would be considered a bounce. The bounce rate can be used as a measure of how interested people are in your Web site’s content.

Landing Page: A landing page is simply the first page that the visitor sees during their visit. If Bob’s search in Google gave him the homepage for Joe’s Fish Emporium, then that would be the landing page. Identifying your top landing pages can help identify what content your visitors are interested in or are looking for.

Traffic sources

There are three main sources of website traffic: direct traffic, search traffic and referral traffic. The more traffic or visits your website has, the better your Web site’s earning potential will be.

Direct traffic refers to visitors that come to your website without being guided to it by another source. There are several ways in which visitors to your website are attributed to direct traffic.

  • The visitor could go to their browser and type your website directly into the URL bar.
  • The visitor could have bookmarked your website and be visiting it by opening that bookmark.
  • Similar to a bookmark, the visitor could have created a shortcut on their desktop that goes directly to your website.
  • Another visit that can be counted as direct traffic is traffic from a bot or Web crawler. A “bot” is simply a computer program that programmatically opens a connection to your website.

Search traffic is any traffic that comes to your Web site through the search engines. Google is generally the highest search referrer, followed by Yahoo and Bing. Search traffic can be broken down further into organic traffic and Pay Per Click (PPC) traffic. You can buy PPC traffic by bidding on keywords through advertising programs such as Google Adwords.

Referral traffic comes to your website through a link on another person’s website. So if Joe’s Fish Emporium website put a link to Bob’s Sushi Bar and you clicked on that link, Bob’s analytics would report that he had one referral from Joe’s Fish Emporium.

Expectations

When it came to the Web site I was working on, the owner had unrealistic expectations due to the fact that he based his expectations on the faulty 50,000 visits number. The reality is that expected returns for your website will depend entirely on the accuracy of your analytics information. Had the original 50,000 visits number been accurate, much greater results would have been realized.

Imagine for a moment that your accounts receivable numbers were suddenly multiplied by a hundred. Think of the effect that would have on the ability of your business to operate effectively. You would make faulty decisions based on the inaccurate information in your financial statements. The same is true for your website analytics information. If you base your Web site strategy on false numbers, your results are not going to be as expected.

Clean analytics numbers

Knowing what your analytics numbers are is not always enough. Oftentimes analytics numbers can be skewed by fake visitors or other Web sites looking to increase the number of visits to their Web site through referral spam. If this problem isn’t addressed early on, it can really throw your analytics data off causing you to make poor decisions with your website strategy.

Referral spam

Referral spam is the practice of getting a website listed in another Web site’s analytics data as a referrer. Using our previous example, Joe could get Joe’s Fish Emporium listed in Bob’s analytics report showing that Joe’s website directed a visitor to Bob’s Sushi Bar website, even though Joe’s website did not direct anyone to Bob’s website. The question is, why would someone do this? The reason some website owners try to get their websites listed in the referrers of another website is to get those website owners to visit the fake referring website. The website owner on the receiving end of the referrer spam would see the spam referrer in his analytics and then visit the website to try and see where the link was located and what was being said. Once the spam referrer is able to get you to visit their Web site, there is a chance that they will earn some additional revenue based on your actions.

The reason why this is bad for the website on the receiving end of referrer spam is because it skews analytics data. The Web site’s bounce rate will increase because the referrer spam always has a 100% bounce rate. The site owner will also see an overstated user interest with the increased “visits” to their website.

Approximately 95 percent of the websites I have managed have been on the receiving end of referrer spam. If you check your analytics data and see a referring website with the word “forex” in the URL, your analytics has become another victim of referrer spam.

Portland Spam

Recently, there has also been an increase in what I call “Portland Spam.” Many Web sites have started getting hit by this. Portland Spam is automated traffic that originates from a computer network in Portland, Oregon. Similar to the referral spam, Portland Spam has a 100 percent bounce rate. What makes the Portland Spam more devastating to your Web sites analytics data is that Portland Spam will hit every single page of your website multiple times per day. This causes an increase of hundreds of bounce visits per day, which will skew your analytics data and make it appear as though you are losing the interest of your visitors.

One of the issues with the Portland Spam problem is that you do not know what the intentions of the originator of the spam are, so you need to assume that the visits are malicious in nature. It’s better to be cautious now rather than sorry later. For example, if the purpose of the Portland Spam visits was to scan your website for security holes, you will need to take action as soon as possible. If a security hole is found, all sorts of malicious actions could occur with your website. Consider these consequences of an ignored attack:

  • Malware can be installed on your website that infects every visitor to your website with viruses.
  • Code could be installed on your website that steals your user’s personal information such as credit card numbers, banking information or login credentials.
  • Code could be installed that redirects your users to your competitor’s website or to pornographic websites.

Another possibility is that someone is scraping the content off of your website to use on their website. High-quality, unique content is one of the most valuable assets for a website. If your content is stolen by another website, that makes your content much less valuable. Search engines can penalize sites with duplicate content and, if the search engines come to the false conclusion that your website is the one with duplicate content, your website could be on the receiving end of the penalties.

While I don’t believe that the Portland Spam is malicious in nature, it still has the negative effect of skewing your website analytics data and you should have the issue fixed.

Analytics spam fix

Fortunately, there is a fix for both referral spam and Portland Spam. For the referral spam, it’s simply a matter of setting up filters in your analytics program. The Portland Spam is a little trickier and requires you to block certain IP addresses. The details are beyond the scope of this article; however, the fix for both can be found by searching Google for “Portland Spam Fix.” Any webmaster should be able to follow these instructions and secure your website against these issues.

Know your analytics

You do not need to be a computer genius or an analytics expert to understand that websites have the potential to bring in additional revenue. However, you do need to have a basic understanding of what your real analytics numbers are and what the common terminology is in the analytics world so that you can properly assess the potential earning power of your website. Knowing these basics will help to prevent you from having unrealistic expectations of your Web site and the person managing your web presence.

About Rick Biederer 10 Articles
Rick Biederer is a web business consultant with more than 12 years of experience working with the Internet on web productivity tools, search engine optimization and reputation management. Mr. Biederer also owns and operates FindIllinoisJobs.com, a website that connects job seekers with employment opportunities in Illinois. Follow him on Google Plus

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