Recently, I was a presenter in a teleconference for Sean D’Souza’s
16-week MasterClass. People who attended asked about specific problems
they were having and what I would do in their place. This series of
articles addresses their questions.
In this article, we’ll be looking at measurement software tools, the
pros and cons of logs versus ASP vendors, average conversion rates, why
it helps to track visitor activity using the software which is
available and what you should test and tweak to improve conversion
Does it help to track visitor behavior on websites through software?
Yes is the simple answer. No debate is required but I’ll offer a simple
explanation. If you don’t measure, how do you expect to know what to
improve? You can guess and hope you get it right, but if you have
effective tracking software, then you simply have facts in front of
Effective measurement is more than simply having good software though;
it’s analyzing why things happen. One thing we measure is bounce, the
number of people arriving at one page and then leaving without doing
anything. The lower the bounce rate the better, because it means people
are using the site more effectively.
One perfect example comes from a recent client. She had two pages with
different articles on her site with exactly the same navigation left
and centre. Most articles had a bounce rate of about 53%, but one had a
better bounce of about 50% and another had a much worse bounce of
around 90%. We looked at both and found that the one with the 50%
bounce was much more relevant to the reader arriving at the page. It
had better and more relevant links at the bottom of the article than
the one with 90%. We concluded that by being relevant on the poor page
in the same way, the bounce rate would be reduced. We would simply not
have known that this was occurring at all without tracking software. So
yes, it most definitely helps to track visitor behavior.
What measurement software tools would you recommend?
We use IRIS Metrics. However apart from IRIS, I would also recommend
browser-based software such as HitBox, WebTrends Live, RedSheriff, and
Omniture. Generally, you get what you pay for. And while these systems
are not cheap, they do provide the level of detail required to run an
effective web campaign.
People have asked me if it’s possible to use webalizer (free log
software) to run an effective web measurement campaign. While it’s
possible to get a lot of useful information from free and cheap
systems, you don’t get path tracking, bounce rates, repeat visitor
information, accurate visitor counts, accurate page counts and loads
more information which is critical if you want to base business
decisions on your measurements.
What is the difference between log-based and browser-based measurement?
Tracking tools that rely on server-based measurement are typically
programs that are installed on your web server (by your ISP if your
site is hosted) or installed locally on your PC using the log files
taken from the server. Server-based measurement programs measure
activity based on the text files held on the web server (referred to as
The way that browser-based measurement (or ASP measurement) works is
that information from each browser that visits your website is
recorded, usually in a database, and then the data is manipulated into
reports you can read. Typically, these services ask you to paste some
which user is accessing the site. This is then tracked on a remote
server and you log in to view the reports.
I recommend the use of ASP measurement because it only measures how people using a web browser use your website.
The log files record everything visiting your pages. They need a number
of added filters to stop email harvesters, search engines and a variety
of other software generated crawlers or bots from being counted as
‘visitors’; without them, you can get seriously skewed results. Server
access is often required to get log file filtering right; otherwise,
you’re relying on your ISP to report your tracking correctly. The log
files for one of our clients had 10 times as many page counts and
visits recorded than shown by using an ASP. That’s a 1000% error!
What is an average conversion rate?
This is a very good question and is the topic of serious debate. In
other marketing industries they don’t guess. They have standards that
everyone follows. It’s what’s needed in online marketing before any
real answer can be given. Analytics companies, the big research
companies, and digital media associations are going to have to come
together to define these standards and then people are going to have to
follow what is agreed before accurate numbers can be delivered
Currently, we’re in the process of trying to establish a worldwide
benchmark with a number of other prominent people in the industry who
also want to know the answer to this question. But meanwhile, here are
some statistics we’ve gathered from different sources published both
recently and over the last few years. I have figures for 3 types of
websites: sales (e-commerce), lead generation, and subscription-based
Generally, sales sites seem to range between a 0.5% and 8% with the
average rate being 2.3% according to FireClick statistics published
this year and figures published in 2003 by e-consultancy.com. In 2000,
the average figure for sales conversion as published by shop.org was
1.8%. The high-end figures, I hasten to add, are the top e-tailers
according to all sources. My own experience shows sites hitting between
.5% and 5.3% so this seems to correlate with the published figures. Of
course since there is no defined standard, these numbers have to be
taken as a rule of thumb.
The only source we have for lead generation sites is e-consultancy.com.
They quote 2-3% of users completing an optional or free registration
process, with 5% being best in class. Our own experience again falls
within the same ballpark.
Subscriptions to sale conversion is typically between 1 and 7% again the source is e-consultancy.com
We don’t have figures for visitor to subscription conversion, but our
own experience with clients has been between 1 and 8%. Our own site has
consistently hit 15% for 6 months though the traffic is pretty well
targeted and our methods very well tested.
How do you go about consistently improving conversion?
This is the million dollar question. What it really boils down to is
treating web marketing as a science. We do it by consistently measuring
how people use a website. Over time you will learn what works and what
doesn’t and stop wasting your time on the things that don’t work.
First we look at the technical aspect of the website. It’s amazing how
many people overlook and ignore thousands of people who don’t use
Windows XP with Internet Explorer at a screen resolution of 1024×768.
First make sure that you develop something that works for everyone.
One of the next areas we look at is where the traffic comes from. It
allows you to concentrate your efforts on your best chance of
generating converting traffic. Then we get into reducing the average
website bounce rate. The lower the average bounce, the higher the
number of people surfing your website and seeing the value of your
offer. The higher the number who see your offer, the better the chance
of a sale. Checking bounce rates also usually brings up some juicy
problems to be solved.
Then look at testing and improving copy and graphical content, running
split tests and measuring bounce rates on copy or simply testing the
click-through on links. We do much more, but the basic premise is this:
test and measure, follow up with experimentation, and then with more
testing and more measuring. Sounds like science class doesn’t it?
In part three of this series of articles we’ll be looking at where
traffic arrives from and how that effects conversion, specific search
engine queries, PPC issues and other general topics. To summarize, I am
suggesting that if you begin to scientifically measure and improve your
websites based on facts and findings, not guesswork and theory, you
will begin to improve your conversion rates.
Steve Jackson is editor of the Conversion Chronicles and CEO of Aboavista, a Finnish company that improves Web conversion rates.
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