Using Analytics: User Behavior & SEO Audits
This is the eighth post in our How to Conduct an SEO Audit in 2018 series. If you're just joining us, we recommend starting at the introductory post.
Now that you've got a handle on SEO to drive traffic to your site and reviewed and documented a content strategy based around your buyer personas and business goals it's time to monitor and review how your users are interacting with your content and website.
You can't sit down with every user and ask them what they personally like and dislike about your site. However, using analytics tools that monitor traffic, behavior, acquisition, track goals and campaigns, and more, it's possible to build a picture of the strengths and weaknesses of your site and content.
We'll be focusing on Google Analytics in this article because it's the platform most users are aware of.
GA isn't your only option though! Studio7 uses a number of other tools like HEAP, Quantcast, Piwik, and FullStory that let us supercharge the way we analyze things. Implementing and using these is beyond the scope of this writeup, but we'd encourage you to check them out on your own if you're looking for some awesome data analytics tools to add to your marketing stack.
One of the most common questions is "what's the most important metric?" The honest answer is that every business and campaign will have different KPIs depending on the goals and what it's trying to accomplish.
Fortunately, there are some high-level and universal metrics that you should always watch.
What is a "Bounce"?
Bounce: A bounce is a single-page session on your site. In Analytics, a bounce is calculated specifically as a session that triggers only a single request to the Analytics server, such as when a user opens a single page on your site and then exits without triggering any other requests to the Analytics server during that session.
This means that your "Bounce Rate" is the percentage of users who visit one page, take no additional action, and leave. So if half your users visit your homepage and leave without interacting with the page, but the other half click at least one link, you would have a 50% bounce rate.
So, What is a Good Bounce Rate?
This all depends on the type of site/business, the page you're analyzing, and if you're filtering by channel (more on this later). Bounce rates vary depending on industry, location, and many other factors - look at how varied bounce rates are just in the European eCommerce space.
If the success of your business requires people to engage with the site and view more than one page, and you have sales funnels that need users to travel through, you're going to want your bounce rate to be as low as possible.
However, if you have a single-page site, or you're examining a static piece of content like an infographic or blog post where you expect single-page sessions from users, then a high bounce rate shouldn't concern you.
The takeaway: A low bounce rate is never a bad thing because it means users are engaging with your site. A high bounce rate can be a bad thing, but it depends on your specific situation.
We're always asked about specific numbers, so here are a few good guidelines. Remember, location, industry, and other factors will influence these numbers up or down. These are looking at Average bounce rate across all channels, channel-specific bounce rates are an entirely separate discussion.
- 70% - 80% is decent. It's not great, but it's not a major issue.
- 50% - 70% is a solid average bounce rate that you should be happy with.
- 30% - 50% is excellent and should be what you're aiming to achieve eventually. This is where most of Studio7's clients perform.
- 10% - 30% is rare, but not unheard of. This is definitely attainable for certain sites and industries, but will require lots of work, and time.
- 0% - 10% is next to unheard of. If you're seeing bounce rates in this range it's very likely something is broken and not working right.
- 80% - 90% may be okay for some pages, but if your average site-wide bounce rate is in this range, you should look into it.
- 90% - 100% should raise alarms and you should look into this immediately. Something is likely broken, either your analytics setup or your user experience. This should be top priority, because if almost everyone who visits your site is leaving, all the other work you've done doesn't matter.
New & Returning Users
The number of visitors who visit your site is a strong indicator of how effective your marketing is. It's also important to differentiate new users from those who have visited before though.
You might ask "Do I want more new users or returning users?", and the answer is the same as whether it's good to have a high or low bounce rate: it depends.
Return visitors are always good, because it means you have additional opportunities to convert them into a lead, subscriber, and customer. It also means you have quality content that is worth returning for, so this is a strong signal for positive user engagement.
However, offline-service-based businesses, like landscaping or contractors, will likely not need users who have converted to customers to return to their conversion-focused site again. In this case, new user acquisition should also be a focus.
Session Duration & Pages Per Session
High numbers for session duration and pages per session mean you have more opportunities to convert visitors into leads and customers.
This is where building effective sales funnels filled with quality, relevant content is most important. If you have a well built funnel that can engage users, make them aware that you understand their problems and offer solutions, and give them resources that address their needs, you'll find time-on-site and conversion rates will skyrocket.
Session duration and pages per session are somewhat subjective. If your site is a single-page waiting list signup for a new widget, then having sessions that last less than 30 seconds and only view one page is okay. And in this case you probably have a robust email and social media marketing strategy built.
For most sites you'll want to shoot for above 2 minutes and 3 pages per session. Everyones funnels are different, so take the time and consider how long an average user will take to go through the funnel and read/consume your content and use that as a baseline.
You can do this in a few different ways. The simplest is looking at word count and dividing that by the average adult reading speed of 200-300 words per minute. Most users won't read everything, so take a percentage of that. We've found around 50% - 60% to line up with real-world results.
Another method is to get real testers. These can be people within your own business, but we'd recommend looking to outside sources who line up with your buyer personas. Definitely avoid the people who have worked on the content or who have viewed it frequently, as those people are most likely to skim and gloss over content they've already seen. Take these people and ask them to use the site like normal and monitor their interactions and time to complete the tasks you give them. This is basic UX research, and can get far more complex, but will give you a more accurate baseline and may even provide additional information on how you can improve your site.
The final method, and one we'd recommend using throughout the entire process, is user session recording. There are tools, like FullStory, that record videos of user sessions and let you watch them later. Some may find this a little creepy, but it's an incredible tool for seeing how real-world users use your site and can give a lot of insight into what you should expect for your session duration and pages per session metrics.
What To Do About Poor Performance
If you're still seeing problems with session duration and pages per session, then it's time to review your content strategy and site .
You may have low-quality content that isn't helpful to users.
You also may have an outdated site that is hard for users to find what they're looking for, or isn't mobile friendly.
With so many high-quality websites with high-quality content, users expect an exceptional experience whenever they're online. If you aren't delivering that, then they'll move on until they find a business who does.
This is a problem for many local and small businesses because they often don't have the time or knowledge to produce the kind of experience they need to convert users.
Additionally, many users who are searching locally are looking for information about the business like hours, contact information, or menus; are price shopping; or both.
The best way to keep people on your site and earn their business is to understand what most of your users are looking for and provide it to up front, and then give them additional helpful content.
By getting users to stay - and then engage - you keep the traffic internal to your site, and you start to build a relationship and trust.
Exit rate is an interesting metric, but provide a lot of information about user interaction.
Keep in mind, users exiting from end-of-funnel pages, or pages that solve a problem for them, are not a bad thing. A user exiting from your contact page after filling out and submitting the form is a positive indicator.
For other types of pages, though, you'll want to determine why those users are leaving after that page over others.
One primary factor for a high exit rate is - you guessed it - poor content, which is a symptom of a poor content strategy. If your users feel that you aren't helping or providing them what they need, they will leave.
As mentioned before, poor page design or technological issues can be a problem too. Non-responsive design, long load times, broken links, broken images, pop-up CTAs, and other issues can result in a high exit rate.
Something people often overlook is ensuring outbound links open in a new window or tab. This is viewed as an exit, even if they intended to stay on your site, so always double check.
From a content front, you need to make sure that you're solving a real problem for your users, make sure it's easy to digest, and ensure that it's following your content strategy.
On the technical side, always device test, make sure your images and links load and function, check page load times and improve speed if it's slow, and if you have to have pop-up CTAs make sure they're implemented delicately.
Checking these items off your list should give you a solid foundation for improving your exit rates and keeping users engaged.
Goals & Conversions
We've saved the most important item for last: Goals.
We've discussed goals in general before, and while they're related to business goals they mean something very specific in Analytics.
Goals measure how well your site or app fulfills your target objectives. A goal represents a completed activity, called a conversion, that contributes to the success of your business.
Naturally, you want to get users to convert to leads and customers for your business. Using Goals in Analytics lets you track and measure those.
Even better, coupled with the other data you're collecting, you'll be able to identify and grow your most successful marketing channels and campaigns, and improve those that are underperforming.
Implementing goal and conversion tracking differs for every business, and it's far beyond the scope of this article, but understanding your conversions with respect to all your other metrics will give you the information you need to drive your business forward.
Source, Medium, Channel, and Other Segmentation
This subject warrants its own article, but we will cover the basics so you can begin to understand what you're looking at in the Analytics console.
In reports, you'll have the option to look at "User Acquisition". This metric tells you how your users got to your site. Under Source/Medium you'll see data that looks like this:
The first entry, the source indicates the origin of your website traffic.
- In the case of google / organic and google / cpc, google is the source.
- In the case of bing / organic, bing is the source.
The item after the slash indicates the medium, which defines the category of the traffic source.
- google / organic has a medium of organic.
- As you'd expect, google / cpc has a medium of cpc.
Finally, the traffic channel is a collection of several sources that share a medium. Segmenting data by channel is a fantastic way to quickly gauge the performance of your SEO work, content strategy, and marketing campaigns. In this example the 6 entries listed would be brought down to three categories: organic, referral, and cpc.
Note that we're not talking about the different Facebook referral URLs, and there's a reason for that. You may have guessed that the m.facebook.com referral is a mobile referral - we'll get to segmentation in a moment!
By looking at your data by channel, you can compare all your metrics between them. Maybe your organic traffic is lower, but has an incredibly low bounce rate, and your referral channel has a lot of traffic and a high bounce rate - what does this indicate about your referral traffic?
In this example, we would dig into the referral channel and look at the different sources.
Perhaps your Twitter referrals are performing okay, but the high bounce rate is coming from Facebook.
You can dig down further and see why. Maybe the bounce rate is only high for mobile users.
What are the top entry pages for that traffic? Are they well optimized for mobile? Are they well optimized for all mobile device sizes? All mobile operating systems?
By now you've taken your bounce rate data and filtered it by channel, source, device, entry point, and possibly even by OS. At the end of it all, you may find that your landing page might look great on desktop and mobile devices with larger screens, but last-generation phones with smaller screens are getting a poor experience.
By using segmentation and a little detective work, you can identify underperforming metrics, follow the thread, determine the root cause, and develop a plan of action to rectify it.
This example is only the tip of the iceberg, but it's what brings all these other numbers together. You can look at global metrics all day long, but understanding how to dig into and translate them into actions that will improve your user's experience and get you more conversions - that is the true value of data analytics.
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