One million web hits achieved. This is the kind of headline number you see bandied about in the press as a sign of success. Yet in reality, measuring hits is a crazy measure of web success and reflects the bizarre inversion of business values that occurred when people first set up websites.
What is a hit anyway? Most people think that clicking onto a web page is one hit. But it is not. If you open up a really jazzy page with lots of script and pictures, all those extra elements automatically count as hits – even if you don't click on them individually. So clicking once onto a busy page can count as maybe 20 hits, whereas clicking once into a tidy business page might count as only two hits. Clearly this a particularly useless method of measuring web success.
More to the point, who cares? Business measures for web success vary. For an ecommerce site, the measure could be actual sales. For a business to business site, it could be sales leads. For an intranet, it could be information flow.
Whatever the measure is, for most website owners it shouldn't be the number of impressions (or hits) you have per page, multiplied by a random number of unsupervised visitors. Tesco doesn't measure its stores' success by the number of visitors. It measures success by sales. Getting the right visitors is far more important than filling your site with uncategorised unsupervised browsers.
Some may ask why we should care so much about visitor quality? They say that the more visitors a web site has the better. Who knows – they may buy something in the future?
This argument has a certain validity for a small percentage of sites. However, indiscriminate visits can adversely affect your business. They use up bandwidth, reducing the amount available for genuine visitors and slowing down the response they get from the site.
Since less than 5% of companies actually monitor the availability of their sites or their page load times, they are often blissfully unaware that this a problem. They may just become aware of it when the site is unavailable or crashes. Some companies have actually boasted they had so many visitors their site crashed. Really.
If you do monitor your site, designing it based on where your hits are going could end up with a site based on casual browser preference. Meanwhile your real customers, who actually want to buy something, are forced to go to a competitor's site because yours may be slow or too difficult to use.
Most companies would not be interested in running advertising campaigns that caused thousands of callers to block all business telephone lines for days at a time without generating any identified sales.
Yet the same companies actively focus their site development efforts around driving up hits and bringing them through their sites, without analysing the quality of visitors, investment return on advertising, actual business generated and all the measures of success that they apply to the rest of their business,
Interestingly, since most organisations are directly connected to their websites through their internet service provider (ISP), they often get the best possible performance. So they get a distorted view of the actual performance that customers and prospects experience, which may be a significantly poorer one.
What's the solution? Pretty simple really – monitoring, measurement and reporting tools. Use exactly the same approach as you would for your main business. There is no rocket science involved whatsoever.
For your website, look at the site traffic, see where it's going, measure the effectiveness of marketing campaigns, check how long users stay on pages, identify the good, the bad, the slow and the ugly parts of your website.
Your website can potentially provide you with the kind of in-depth information about your business and products that is only available to either small shopkeepers or large store groups with millions invested in information systems.
Insight into performance
You can see every item that visitors look at, how they travel round your website (as if it were a store), how long they look at items and what they choose to download. You can identify broken links, see what people avoid, what search engines they come in from, what search words they use and which pages are too large or too slow. The information is readily available in an easily understood format. It can enable you to develop and grow your bricks and mortar business alongside your web growth.
So why aren't more companies doing this? Well the answer is that the top 5% are. With organisations keen to understand the value and benefits of their web presence, as well as justify their ongoing investments, this area is increasingly important. A range of products is available to help.
There are products to suit most business needs and most budgets. Prices start from around £400 to buy a website analysis viewer and can go up to £25,000 for a real-time traffic viewer for busy ecommerce sites. Intranet and website analysis services are also available from ISPs.
Two of the leading solution providers are WebTrends and Visual Insights, that provide a range of tools for technical and, perhaps more importantly, non-technical managers – such as marketing, sales and finance. These tools deliver information to help managers understand the elements of their website which relate to them, including its performance, design, marketing, sales and development.
With non-technical personnel able to get such insight into web performance, it should be much easier to tie up business needs with what is happening on the web and develop much more effective ebusiness strategies. Websites, in future, can be designed around satisfying buyers not browsers, adding a new dimension to the dotcom age.