SEO analytics: The numbers don’t lie. They just mislead.

January 31, 2014 6:50 pm

Visits, unique visits, conversions, bounce rates, page views, referrals and more. There’s much to consider when looking into site performance, but it’s common for Search Engine Optimizers (SEO’s) and clients alike to interpret metrics incorrectly. When interpreting organic search performance results, it is crucial to consider your metrics in light of your particular goals. The savvy SEO knows how these numbers interact with one another and how they are relevant to site goals. Below we’ll detail some common misconceptions and help identify areas of real improvement within your analytics.

These are the clear winners in misleading statistics. If you come across these metrics in a “negative” light, i.e. average time on site is lower than previous months/year, and the number of pages per visit is down, do not panic. While they may have a daunting red glow and a big “-” before them, those downward trends could actually be indications that users are quickly finding more engaging and direct content. For most websites, the most important goal is to get visitors to the information they need as efficiently and intuitively as possible. Furthermore, Google is increasingly catering to long-tail keyword queries in a question and answer format. People who search for more specific information are now often directed to pages that are located a little deeper within your site’s architecture. This is a positive development that could lower both your “page-views” and “time-on-site” metrics, since the user is directly connecting with the content they want instead of having to “fish” through menus to find it.

Bounce Rates and Conversions

The crown jewel of SEO is the almighty conversion. We spend a lot of our time at Delia Associates focusing our attention on conversion optimization. In doing so, we pay specific attention to a site’s Bounce Rate metric. A bounce is when a visitor immediately leaves your site upon arrival. This can happen when a visitor reaches your site and quickly realizes that it is not what they are looking for (which is a great argument for having strong marketing strategy behind your keyword selections). But bounces also occur if the user finds that your content wasn’t engaging enough to keep their attention, draw them deeper into the site, or motivate them to convert. Since a high bounce rate can be a symptom of these issues, decreasing your bounce rate requires attention to your site’s design, content, keyword selection and optimization, and calls to action. Weaknesses in any area can cause bounces.

But bounce rates can also deceive. Companies that conduct substantial business by phone, such as B2B or service companies, may see increases in bounce rates if a designer places their phone number more prominently on the site. Providing highly relevant content directly on the homepage could lead to a user being satisfied and receiving the information they need without diving deeper. Mobile users coming to the site for the specific purpose of calling or checking an address for directions may never move past the homepage. We’ve converted into paying customers of many local restaurants by getting their phone number off of a Google result, without even visiting the site at all. Examples like this are why we highly recommend setting up an account with a system to track lead sources by custom phone numbers. Keep a careful eye on the differences in metrics, if a bounce rate is high but the conversions are strong, don’t sweat it… but if your overall engagement with visitors is poor and the bounce rate is high, you have a lot of work to do.

Unique Visitors and Traffic

Overall site visitor traffic is often used as one of the primary measures for an organic search performance, and it would be natural for anyone to panic if they saw their site’s visitation decrease. But we always remind our clients that it’s not about quantity of visitation; it’s about quality of inbound leads. Inbound traffic usually does have a direct correlation with quantity of conversions, but sometimes more is not better. We encounter many situations where a good portion of a site’s traffic appears to be irrelevant. The traffic comes from low quality keywords or distant geographic locations that have very little chance, if any, of resulting in paying customers. We will happily optimize a site to reduce its traffic if it means that the traffic being received is of higher quality. If Google Analytics reveals a decrease in site traffic, it could actually be a positive sign that the search optimization is working strategically. So if your site is receiving a good volume of traffic that is steadily increasing, but your inbound leads are low quality (or low quantity, for that matter), pay more strict attention to the keywords you’re targeting. Whittle down generic or low-relevance keywords so that you can weed out poor quality traffic while attending to the site’s geographical targets. This will ensure that your visitors are actually in the region(s) you serve.

By looking at your analytics through a strategic lens and interpreting your data in light of both company marketing goals and your own site design, development, and content marketing efforts, you can break yourself from the “green good, red bad” mentality. Rather than taking them at face value, you can have a much clearer picture of what your metrics are actually telling you. And of course, we’re always glad to help.

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About The Author

We specialize in b2b, supporting the clients who are the "The Brands Behind the Brands." These are the supply chain partners of brands, either in Tier 1 or Tier 2 positions, who drive value through the delivery of goods, services and technologies. We enjoy blogging about all things related to Branding, Marketing, Inbound, Tradeshows, etc... And we're always happy to talk about any ideas you may have that might Get You To Your NEXT!