Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Conversion rate is just a number

Web metrics such as pages per visit, time on site, and even conversion rate are all just indicators.  An increase in a given web metric doesn't always mean an increase in business.

I used to work for a web publishing company (basically an online magazine).  Their business model was to pay to bring in new visitors and sell advertisements on each page.  The more pages a visitor viewed, the more money they made.  Their entire business hinged around visitors viewing more pages.  So, they did a few tricks to increase the number of pages each visitor saw.  They broke stories up into multiple pages and forced you to click "next" in the middle of each story.  They also made each photo in their photo galleries into a new page.  So, every time you click "next" to see the next image, the site had to load a new page.  

The result?  The number of pages per visit increased, but the user experience suffered.  The number of returning visitors dropped.  This resulted in the company having to spend more money finding new visitors and making less profit per advertisement.  

Web metrics are just indicators.  Business metrics (revenue, profit, market share) are what really matter.  Whenever you make changes to your website it is important to use web metrics to track your changes, but none of those improvements matter if you don't see a corresponding increase in your business metrics.