Measuring a successful visit to a content site

So you have a content-based site, and you want to know whether your visitors’ time on your site was successful.

You have two options:

  1. Attempt to measure this via their on-site behaviour; or
  2. Ask them, via one of the many “voice of customer” solutions.

This post will deal only with #1.

Content sites can be challenging to measure the success of a visit, simply because there’s not necessarily one path. Rather, revenue is often generated via advertising, where page views = ad impressions = revenue.

If you are trying to measure the success of your content site, there are a few ways you can go about this.

  • Page Views per Visit: Seeing a large number of PVs/Visit could indicate a visitor has found information that is useful to them and has had a successful visit. However, a lost or confused visitor would also generate a large number of page views. How do you distinguish the two?
  • Time on Site: This too could indicate a successful visit. However, it could also indicate that someone is spending time searching for (and not finding) what they want.

So how could you better measure success?

  • Focus on valuable pages. A high number of page views to actual content suggests a more successful visit than a high number of page views that might include, say, site searches. Therefore, focus on PVs/Visit (or Time Spent) to a subset of pages. This can be more valuable than site wide PVs/Visit or Time Spent.

But you can do better. First, you need to assess why your content site exists. What behaviour can a visitor perform that would indicate they successfully found what they were looking for?

  • For example, your site exists to provide information X – that’s the goal and purpose of your site. Therefore, a visitor seeing content X achieves that goal, and suggests they had a successful visit.
  • If your site exists for reasons X, Y and Z, a successful visit could be a one that saw one or more of of X, Y or Z.
  • Setting up goals or segments around these behaviours can help you measure over time whether your visitors are performing these behaviours. Can better navigation drive up the percentage of visitors successfully completing this task? Which tasks are more popular? Are you even doing a good job of communicating what your site exists for? (If very few actually complete that main task or tasks, I’d suggest probably not!)

A final note: the intention of measuring a successful visit to your site is to measure this success from the point of view of the visitor. Is your site doing a good job of providing what visitors want?

This “success” doesn’t necessarily tie to short-term revenue for a content site. After all, a successful visit might be one where the visitor comes in, finds what they’re looking for immediately, and leaves. However, that visitor might generate more ad impressions by getting completely lost on your site. Good for you … in the short term. But doesn’t mean they had a successful visit to your site, nor does it bode well for your long-term revenue.

Therefore, measurement of visit success should be analysed alongside measures of revenue success, while carefully weighing the long-term benefits of successful visits (and happy visitors) against the short-term revenue generated by “lots and lots of page views”.

6 thoughts on “Measuring a successful visit to a content site

  1. Nice post.

    An extension to measuring page views/visit is to use activities/visit.

    On a content site, activities could be things like the number of videos watched (and the various metrics involved with that, such as how far they got through the video), it could be document downloads, or audio downloads, images viewed in an image gallery etc.

    It could also be RSS feed subscriptions (although that’s more of a conversion measure as well).

    Especially liked your comment around measuring success from the point of view of the visitor. Today, so many companies are focused on metrics that support the business, rather than looking at optimization from the customer standpoint (ie customer success) which ultimately leads towards helping the business.

    Nice one Michelle.

  2. Good post Michelle,
    Couple of things to broaden your analysis:
    – I would not use quantitative “or” qualitative, i would use both (like thumbs up/down, rate this article, sharethis, typical VoC, etc): remember “multiplicity” – one tool alone doesn’t tell the whole story
    – I would create a segment representing my target audience. For example, a site in Canada might be receiving traffic from the US – great – but that might not be who my advertisers want to sell
    – if you have competing data, meaure your share of narket. This is not only a great way to measure success but would also show that even in cases where you could be losing visits, you could still be outperforming your competitors (or opposite, you win lots of traffic but competition do even better)


  3. Thanks Tim and Stephane for the comments!

    Stephane – definitely, I don’t see VOC and a web analytics measurement of visit success as an either/or. Just as you should be looking at success from the visitor’s point of view alongside the success of your revenue and business, VOC + web analytics too are definitely a hand-in-hand. I also agree re: looking separately at target audience – location can be one, or even demographics (assuming you have access to that information.)

    Benchmarking against your competitors is definitely important, but the one thing I struggle with iis that most competitive data is pretty high level, so it’s tough to compare yourself on much more than number of visits or PVs. (Which I don’t feel tell the whole story.)

    Tim – love the additions. Agree, there are lots of things you can do on a site that can indicate success, and it’s really about finding the right thing for your site, based on the purpose of it and what you’re trying to provide visitors.

  4. Great post, Michele —

    An additional way to measure the success of your content — assuming you have enough traffic to generate this metric — is content interest index.

    To learn more about it, I suggest you read my posts on Jason Falls’ site. Google “content interest index social media explorer” and you’ll see the four of them lined up there, with the introduction being the “Counting Noseprints” post.

    I’d love to know your thoughts once you’ve checked it out.

  5. One of long-term success ‘investments’ for a content site (that is highly user-focused) is delivering information that will make the user come back regularly.

    So % of returning visits might also go in the bucket of metrics that help measuring content-based site performance. After all, visitor loyalty is a wonderful thing 🙂

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