Don’t Oversimplify Action on Web Anaytics

For the most part site owners are beginning to see the value in tracking their sites performance.  Several surveys have indicated that most people gather the data and never do anything with it.  That’s not the best idea as reports are nice but the whole point is to measure improvement.  However, there is a growing number of people that do take action on the numbers.  Unfortunately, many are finding that their actions are negatively effecting site performance.  Take time to critically analyse site data to make sure that the prescribed solution is not an oversimplification of the problem.

I recently encountered a site that had been performing moderately well, providing small niche recorded material.  The site owner had let data compile for two months and sorted through it to see if he could improve orders.  He was reasonably pleased with his traffic but felt that pages were being abandoned too much.  He had a 5% order rate. 

His conclusion was that people weren’t getting the information they needed because the time on page was small.  For his products index page the average time was 2 seconds.  Since it had the lowest amount of time per page he decided to focus his efforts there.  He set out to increase that time and felt some revised content that was more in depth would help conversion.

Here’s the problem, the products index page only listed the items he had for sale with a photo.  It was a good thing that people were only there for a very short period.  Page tracking showed that 93% of them moved off to one of his half dozen products.  The page was working perfectly by getting people to the information they wanted.

He added descriptions to the links and found that time on page increased to around 25 seconds.  He was pleased until he found out his monthly revenue dropped slightly three months in a row afterward.  Upon further analysis we discovered that he had gone from a 93% rate of people making it to the individual product page to a 79% rate.  Site abandonment on this page went from 4% to 7%.  People couldn’t find the product they wanted as easily and were getting lost in added descriptive paragraphs.

The site owners oversimplification of the numbers blinded him to user experience.  He tried to apply a “universal rule” to his numbers and found it was actually detrimental. 

Understand who uses your site and how.  Always think critically about why analytics are showing what they are showing before making changes.  Most importantly track changes you make so that if you miss the mark on an optimization you have the ability to recognize the error and correct it.

Navigation in All Website Aspects

Great content is only good if people can find it.  Some thought towards navigation is always necessary in any internet project.  This means social networking sites, blogs, wikis, traditional sites, forums, etc.  Make sure that all your online efforts provide an easy way to access information.

Most of us know that website navigation is important (look at all these articles).  Navigation doesn’t end with just the website.  Any content driven media online should provide convenient ways for finding desired material.  People tend to ignore navigation outside their website.  The good news is that it’s not too challenging.  It just takes diligence.

A blog is an easy example.  Most of the navigation is built in for you.  Search features are common and adding categories or links is a good way to provide an ability to sort material.  It’s just a matter of doing it.  Many people get caught up in writing content they don’t take the last step to categorize it.  Be diligent and always make sure that people can find what you’ve written.

Another danger is getting caught up in “the rules” or “the style guide”.  Having defined standards on a site, blog, forum, etc. that people can follow is essential.  However, there needs to be some room for exceptions.  Don’t be afraid to buck a rule if it causes confusing navigation.

I recently encountered an example.  The site I was revising had several pages that served as indexes for different sections of content.  So far so good, the sections were all unique categories.  However, the second level provided the quandary.  The site rule was that all lists would be in alphabetical order. 

Not inherently a problem.  However, one of the category pages had a link that 83% of visitors ultimately clicked.  However, the time on the page was much longer than one would expect to simply move on to a content page.  Furthermore the service group routinely got calls asking about the location of this link.  It was by far the most popular link on the page but was not easily located. 

Where should it be placed?  Logically we would expect it to be right on the top of the page, right?.  Wrong, the link started with “Materials” so it was the 21st link out of 28.  It wasn’t even visible without scrolling down.

Now anyone freshly looking at this information would say put the most popular link on top.  Maybe it should be bolded or emphasized in some way as the analytics are clearly showing it’s what visitors are looking for.  However, the site owner fell into the “rules” trap.  The rule was alphabetical lists so “M” was toward the bottom.  No exceptions.

Make sure navigation is available and logical.  It’s important to remember that it has to logical to visitors rather than site owners.   Don’t make rules that work for you but not your visitors.  When visitors can find what they are looking for, the credibility of your content and your organization increase.