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10 Steps to Measuring Web Site Success

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Is your Web site working? How would you know? Clients constantly ask me what they should be measuring, and my answer is always, “It depends.”

So for all of you who have wondered the same thing, here is the handy-dandy Sterne How-To Guide for measuring the success of your Web site.

1. Identify Key Stakeholders

Who cares? Inside your company, I mean.

Ensuring the success of the company Web site is not something that belongs exclusively to one job function or title. It's not something that can be forced on somebody. If you want your site to be successful and you want to measure that success, then you'll have to round up the people who are vitally interested.


Perhaps they have an agenda and see the Web as a way to help. Perhaps they are techno-geeks and just love to mess around with whatever is on the leading edge. Maybe they like the distinction of being an Internet person. The people in your company who care about your site enough to complain about it should also be asked to join the team willing to take some responsibility for it.

2. Identify Key Stakeholders' Primary Goals

With the stakeholders listed, cataloged, alphabetized and (with any luck) in the same room, find out what they want. This is a multi-tiered question that involves finding out what they want out of the Web site on behalf of the company, on behalf of their departments and as individuals. Sometimes these conversations even get down to how individuals are compensated.

You'll need to get the comprehensive list of objectives, goals and aspirations for everybody who has a strong enough opinion about the site to come to a steering committee meeting.

But before you start prioritizing those desired outcomes, it's time to shift your attention outward. There's another batch of people whose opinions about your site matter: site visitors.

3. Identify the Most Important Site Visitors

I've had dozens of conversations with corporate executives about who comes to their Web site and which among them are the most important. The answers are all over the map. They talk about the type of visitor that

  • Shows up the most often
  • Stays the longest
  • Looks at the most pages
  • Buys the most stuff
  • Buys the most frequently
  • Spends the most money

Generally, people tend to agree that the most important type of visitor is the type that's the most profitable over some period of time. But your mileage may vary.

4. Identify the Most Important Visitors' Primary Goals

This is really pretty simple: ease of use, speed, selection, price. It's all about the user experience. Can they quickly and easily get want they want?

5. Prioritize Everybody's Goals

Now, you finally have all the cards on the table. You know what everybody wants and can start horse-trading. A great many goals will synchronize, but you'll also find that some people have strong opinions about whether raising revenue is more important than lowering costs, or if improving customer satisfaction is job one.

This is a political ball game. The person who feels the strongest may or may not be sidelined by the person with the most seniority. The person with the biggest budget may or may not be outflanked by the person with the closest ties to executive management. This is the part that always reminds me of why I don't work in a corporate environment and why such places need outside consultants every now and then.

At the end of the scrimmage, you'll end up with a list of priorities that may or may not be the very best, but at least they are identified, discussed and prioritized by one and all in the room. Many of those people will not have their way, but at least they were present during the process and understand why the spinning logo is deemed more important than revenues at the moment.

6. Determine Critical Metrics

Which metrics signal whether you are moving closer to your goals or further away? If the main goal is More Visitors, then a clear definition of how visitors are counted is necessary (cookies? logins? javascript?). If the main goal is revenue, then you'll need to identify the factors that make up the process of getting from awareness to interest to sale. If customer satisfaction is in the mix, then one and all must agree on the methods used to gather satisfaction data and how to weight it.

Again, the accord among the players is more important than the result.

7. Identify the Necessary Technology

With clear goals and metrics in mind, the selection of a Web analytics vendor becomes vastly simpler. You are no longer choosing between an enormous variety of esoteric technologies, but merely asking whether specific data can be captured, collated, correlated and reported—at what cost—and with what flexibility. Flexibility accounts for the fact that you will change your mind in the future about what else you wish to measure.

8. Check References

A robust set of data gathering technologies, a solid financial foundation and a really nice users' group are all well and good, but how does your prospective Web analytics vendor treat their clients? Talk to their references and ask them for the names of other users your vendor might have been reluctant to reveal. Keep asking questions.

9. Distribute Only the Data That Drives Business Decisions

Do not fall back into the briar patch of circulating reports for the sake of spreading the data around. Dole out those reports only to those who need them to make business decisions. Too much data becomes overwhelming and therefore useless.

10. Accountability, Responsibility, Visibility

Liberté, Egalité and Fraternité may have fueled the French Revolution, but the more mundane accountability, responsibility and integrity will determine whether your Web analytics efforts are going to pay off.

Once you have decided what's important and how to measure it, you have to decide what you're going to do about the results, how often you're going to do it and who is going to be responsible.

When the numbers are periodically published, whose work product gets reviewed? When the numbers are going south, who gets the bamboo shoots under the fingernails? When the numbers improve, who gets the Employee of the Month parking space?

Don't go through all this effort just so you can say, “Yes, we do Web analytics and we have the reports right here to prove it!” Instead, make sure those reports are an integral part of a process of constant improvement. Then you'll know whether your Web site is working or not.


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Jim Sterne (jsterne@targeting.com) is the founder and director of Target Marketing (www.targeting.com), founder of the eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit, and the founding president and current chairman of the Web Analytics Association.

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