Last week I wrote about how to take action based on data from one of the Web metrics that causes the most anxiety: bounce rate.

But what about the visitors who survive the dreaded bounce and stay on your site?

The next step in the online consumer lifecycle is engagement. They’ve found your site; they came and didn’t run away (aka bounce); and now they’re probably going to do something. Most likely they’re going to look at different pages, play with some of the interactive features on your site, and if everything is lining up they might contact you via a form or just plain call you.

Last week I wrote about how to take action based on data from one of the Web metrics that causes the most anxiety: bounce rate.

But what about the visitors who survive the dreaded bounce and stay on your site?

The next step in the online consumer lifecycle is engagement. They’ve found your site; they came and didn’t run away (aka bounce); and now they’re probably going to do something. Most likely they’re going to look at different pages, play with some of the interactive features on your site, and if everything is lining up they might contact you via a form or just plain call you.

All the things that happen between when the visitor decides to stay on your site and when they contact you are referred to as engagement metrics.

These metrics, like page views and time on site, can easily fall into the trap of being a vanity metric: something you worry about but don’t do anything about.

Let’s take a look at a couple of them and use them to make your Web marketing better.

Page views

One of the oldest Web metrics out there: the number of page views. How many pages were viewed on your Web site? (Note that this isn’t whether all of your pages were viewed, just the raw number.)

If your home page is viewed 1,000 times then you’ll have 1,000 page views. If your contact page is viewed 1,000 times then you’ll also have 1,000 page views. To get much useful insight we’re going to dig a little bit deeper.

The thinking behind measuring page views is: the more pages on your site that are being viewed, the more useful and relevant and valuable the page content is to site visitors.

It’s nice to be relevant and useful. But you should be using your metrics to inform decisions and actions. Here are some ways to tame page views into something you can use:

  • Page views per visitor by traffic source. This report is going to give you a sense of how many pages the average visitor saw on your site segmented by the referring traffic source. For example, you might see that visitors coming from search view more pages than visitors coming from social media sites. Page views per visitor by traffic source gives you a sense of whether the traffic you are generating with your marketing efforts is interested in what you have to offer. You can use this information to change your marketing resource allotment or to tune your Web site to align it more with the interests of your audience.
  • Page views per page. This report tells you which pages were viewed the most often. It’s sort of a popularity report for every page on your site. It can also be referred to as "top content." Use this report to see which pages your audience is most interested in and make sure those pages are optimized to accomplish the site task. Almost always, your home page is going to be the big winner here, but look closely at a few of the top results.

It’s important to note that sometimes having low page views is OK — if your site has only one page or if visitors can accomplish the site task on the landing page, for example. So be sure you have a clear understanding of your site tasks (finding real estate and someone to work with, for example) and how your site architecture is built to support that task.

Average time on site

Time on site is another well-aged Web metric. It’s the total amount of time everyone spent on your Web site divided by the number of visitors. Just like with page views, having a low average time on site might be good: maybe your site is very streamlined, fast and easy to use. …CONTINUED

My favorite use for this metric is to inform decisions about page content. To do that we’ll dig a little deeper and look at average time per page. This works like time on site, but instead limits to a specific page.

When you look at the average time per page, you get a sense of how long someone is looking at that page. Here’s something you can do in five minutes or less once you’ve seen this report:

  • Look at the average time visitors spent on your home page.
  • Set an alarm for that amount of time.
  • Go to your home page and start the countdown immediately.
  • Look at your home page until the alarm goes off.
  • Were you able to read or watch the most important content on the home page?

More importantly, were you able to find the next step the audience should take in that amount of time. You can (and probably should) repeat this for any page on your site. If you have video on a page this is a great way to see how long the video should be.

Widget use and event tracking

Real estate Web sites tend to have a lot of widgets: slide shows, calculators, interactive maps, etc. The thinking is that providing these tools makes your site more engaging, so that visitors are more likely to stay on your site and use it.

The tricky part about widgets is that we can’t really gauge their use with a page view (just because someone saw a mortgage calculator doesn’t mean they used it) and it’s hard to figure out the appropriate amount of time a widget should be used. (How long should they play with that mapping feature, anyway?)

Web analytics packages are now including event-tracking features. So if someone clicks a "play" button on a slide show or the "submit" button on a mortgage calculator then that interaction is reported.

There are also Web tools, such as crazyegg.com, which can help you track where on a page someone clicked — almost like an eye-tracking study.

You can use event-tracking to figure out whether the return on investment of your widget is any good if you’re paying for it. Or you can determine what the most interesting parts of a widget are to your visitors.

Since widgets are the most variable of Web content, you’ll need to determine the business objective of them and then assign a relevant metric. The important thing to keep in mind is that you want to be able to track the use of the widget and use that data to make informed decisions about improving the widget, or discontinuing its use or identifying site visitor interest so you can leverage the information in other ways (like making more content).

Keep in mind that engagement metrics like page views, time on site and widget use are not your ultimate goal. You want to generate leads. So don’t get seduced by how much fun and how interesting it can be to track visitor engagement.

Always be using this data to make your site better and move people forward along the path to conversion or use the data to identify useful content to develop.

Gahlord Dewald is the president and janitor of Thoughtfaucet, a strategic creative services company in Burlington, Vt. He’s a frequent speaker on applying analytics and data to creative marketing endeavors. He will speak during a Bloggers Connect workshop at the upcoming Real Estate Connect conference in San Francisco, which runs from Aug. 5-7.

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