I love analytics. I love measuring stuff online because it’s pretty much the only way to figure out what people are looking for, what problems they’re having, and what problems they’re solving.

But if you are always chasing just the metrics and not thinking through how analytics relates to your individual, specific and unique business, you’re cruising for a bruising.

Chasing just a single metric — like bounce rate, number of visits or time on site — is almost always a recipe for disaster.

Web metrics are things that are most useful when they are put in context. I’d like to tell you about what happens when you take them out of context.

It is possible to royally screw up your website while making the metrics look like you’re doing a great job.


1. Decrease your bounce rate overnight

Bounce rate is one of those large, glaring numbers on the first page of almost every Web analytics report. In most packages, bounce rate is the percent of people who see just one page of your website before leaving.

Bounce rate itself isn’t a very useful metric, but since it resides on that Web analytics dashboard, people like to worry about it. You know how often real estate professionals get asked, "How is the market doing?" I get asked, "What’s a good bounce rate?" about that often.

So here’s a great way to screw up your website by decreasing your bounce rate: Add a splash page.

That’s right, a good old-fashioned splash page can reduce your bounce rate practically over night. That’s because when someone lands on your home page that visitor gets the splash page instead of something useful. Then some of the people will click through the splash page and get to your real home page.

Of course, a lot of people will still get to your home page and decide your site is not for them. But since they already have seen two pages (your splash page and your actual home page) they won’t count as a bounce.

Voila! Instant improved bounce rate, with practically no work. For best results, be sure to make the "skip intro" or "go to home page" button really, really big so people can see it. If they don’t click that button they will still register as a bounce.

Also, avoid music or auto play video or other stuff that scares people away before they get a chance to click "skip intro."

2. Improve your search engine traffic by at least 30 percent: by doing absolutely nothing.

This technique is really only applicable to regions that have a definite season for selling real estate. For example, if you sell vacation homes in an area that caters to snow birds or if you have a climate where it’s really unpleasant to look at houses except in the winter, this technique will work like a charm. In fact, your search-engine optimization specialist may already be using it!

Here’s how it works: Measure your search-engine traffic four to six months ahead of your big selling season. Then, two to three months before the big season, measure search traffic again. The second reading will almost always be higher, regardless of anything you’re doing because as the time nears to the big season more people will be searching.

What you’re actually measuring with this technique is the general rise in interest in real estate leading up to your selling season. It’s very important if you use this technique to only use it once per year. For example, if you have a summer selling season don’t try to repeat this technique in the fall because then you’ll lose almost as much as you gained before.

The excellent part of this little trick is that it works in any business that has a season. If you decide to get out of real estate and sell Christmas trees you can still use this technique.

Just compare search traffic for Christmas trees in June vs. search traffic for Christmas trees in November and you’ll be an SEO guru every single time (remember, you don’t want to compare November to January, though).

3. Increase your time on site by minutes, hours and days with this fun interactive tip.

Time on site is one of those metrics that is nearly devoid of value for real estate (unless you’re selling time-based advertising, that is).

But just like bounce rate, it is one of those large glaring numbers on the analytics dashboard that sits there mocking you, reminding you that people are only spending fractions of a minute looking at your site.

You can change this almost instantly with this weird old tip: Hide the navigation.

That’s right — just put the navigation to your website somewhere unusual. Make it tiny. Make it almost the same color as the background. That way, people will spend forever trying to figure out where the navigation is so they can find what they’re looking for.

All those minutes spent looking for the search page add up.

Advanced variations of this tip (if you want to really show some increased "engagement") include:

  • Animated navigation that the visitor has to sort of chase around the screen. Bonus for auto side scrolling and magnification effects.
  • Lots and lots and lots of drop-down items for visitors to read through.
  • Navigation items that are named vaguely or nearly the same as other items. For example, have a "Community" page and an "Our Town" page.
  • Hide the navigation in different places on different pages. Top nav on the home page, left nav on the search page, right nav on the blog… you get the idea!

There you have it: A metrically improved but totally screwed up website in practically no time at all!

The point of listing these techniques isn’t that you should do them (It would be fun to A/B test some of them, wouldn’t it?), but that you need to think about the greater context of whatever metrics you use.

Here are three things you can consider to avoid the three techniques listed above:

  • Just because the metric is in big type on the analytics dashboard doesn’t mean it has anything to do with your business goals.
  • Consider the context of your metrics–are they effected by things outside your control like seasonal interest?
  • Understand exactly how the metrics you choose to measure relate to your business goal.
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