The Importance Of Stats: 2

Stephen Yagielowicz
In Part 1 of this series, we took a look at finding out where your traffic comes from, how these folks found your site, and what they'll be looking for when they get there. This is only the beginning of what stats can tell you, however...

Moving Around
Being able to follow the surfer's path into, through, and out of your site, is more important than you might currently think. For instance, if you measure your site's traffic by "How many people hit the home page?" without examining their actions afterwards, you wouldn't know how many actually made it to your second page, or beyond. Knowing the amount and points of this viewer "drop-off" is vital.

On a personal note, I had recently implemented a warning page using an "age verification" script that I read about in an article in AVN Online. While the jury is still out on the amount of any legal benefit that taking such actions might provide (especially in light of the most recent COPA rulings), I figured "Why Not? It can't hurt..." Boy was I wrong!

Adding that warning page (which required users to enter their age at a JavaScript prompt) cost me 60% of the traffic to my main page! My main page, on an ICRA-tagged domain that is listed with most "filtering" companies, is not particularly "hardcore" and not at all "extreme" – so the warning page was toned down a bit, and the JavaScript requirements dropped. As a side note, the alternative was to believe that around 60% of my traffic comes from kids who honestly block themselves from accessing the site, and I would rather believe that a usability and / or design issue (coupled with the standard "just one more click..." loss) is what actually caused this big a drop-off.

The bottom line is that looking at my stats showed me that this was happening.

Time To Leave
Now that I've got you thinking about how surfers move throughout your site, it's time for you to start thinking about how surfers are leaving your site, "why" they are leaving, and where they're going to.

The first thing to consider is that while it's often desirable to move surfers along a well thought out, predictable, linear path through your site, going from warning page into the free tour and then on over to the join page in one fluid movement, this isn't usually the case.

Sure, the fluid movement of surfers is common, but for most sites, this movement is through a rambling stream full of boulders, rather than through a well ordered canal. Instead of a smooth, unhindered path, most site's surfers encounter a myriad of usability issues, including broken, misleading, or missing links, inconsistent, sloppy, or hard to find navigation, and many more impediments to navigational ease.

These obstacles are "boulders in the surfer's stream" – each one an exit point for prospects who simply "splash away" – often before they've even seen your offer. Your use of stats will identify these exit points, helping you to see these "boulders" – even pinpointing the smaller ones hiding "under the water" – and allow you to troubleshoot these problem areas, increasing the throughput to your site's main objective, while helping you to monetize your exit points with targeted offers.

Sell And Upsell
Another area in which stats can help is through directly influencing your marketing plan. Consider the possibilities of knowing what search terms surfers were using to find your site, and then tailoring their landing pages based on this information.

This can be done both actively and passively. For instance, a passive optimization would involve simply fine-tuning the landing page and its textual contents based on information gathered from your stats as to what the surfer is looking for, and even building separate "doorway" pages based on this information.

A more active approach would involve serving dynamically generated pages on the fly in response to specific search requests. In either case, the information that you gain from studying your site's stats will allow you to make an informed decision regarding how you market your site.

I hope that this brief introduction to the powers and possibilities of this amazing tool helps to open your eyes to the secrets of your site. Stay informed! ~ Stephen