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Explain Like I’m Five: The different web metrics

Web metrics definitions

 

In my years of working in Digital I have come across a whole host of ‘standard’ metrics that people misuse. I’ve realised that the reason for this is partly because there is no definitive list of definitions that hasn’t been created either by a technical person or by a mathematician.  So, here is Blue Latitude’s big list of metrics explained to you like you are five years old*.

*Explain Like I’m five is a way of explaining stuff in simple, layman’s terms. An actual five year old won’t understand this stuff, but you can use these explanations when talking to your boss.

Hits

Now commonly known as a backronym for ‘How Idiots Track Success’, it was once a useful metric. Hits are a technical term for something incredibly simple: every time a server is asked for something – html, images, cookies, stylesheets, JavaScript – it is classed as a hit. Unfortunately in modern digital virtually every ‘page’ (whether web, mobile, tablet, app, whatever) requests multiple things (sometimes hundreds) on every load, so the term is fairly meaningless. Avoid like the plague unless you want to look like an idiot.

Impressions, Views, Page Impressions, Page Views

We lost interest in the term hits and realised we were only interested in how often the page itself is loaded and created four new metrics to replace it, with nobody really coming up with a winner. An impression now relates to the whole page (or part of page, or video or whatever it is that the user has requested) being returned. For years the values were cursed by ‘caching’ problems, so were unreliable, now commonly dogged by refreshes and back buttons the value of the metric is diminished because it doesn’t really tell you much about how users interacted with the page.

Clicks or clickthroughs

Before moving off impression-based metrics we should meet the click. A click is what it sounds like – when someone clicks on something. Technically this is done either through on page JavaScript or by redirecting the link through a measurement server. This metric is fallible because of things like swipes, back buttons and is only really used by the archaic email and search engine industries.

Visits

A visit is one or more impressions by the same person in a session and is the most useful metric around. It lets you know that a user has seen a page, group of pages, site, widget, search engine or whatever, without boring you with the details of how many times they saw it or how long they saw it for.  This is overly complicated by the misquoting of ‘visits to a particular page’, which really means ‘visits which included viewing a particular page’, it has been confusing Marketers since the dawn of time.

Unique Page Views

Google Analytics, having discovered that it didn’t have the processing power to deduplicate page views decided not to bother and just created a new metric.  Unique Page Views is a non-metric that is used to describe adding up visits including a view of one page, with visits including a view of another without deduplicating those who saw both. The sooner Google get rid of it the better.

Unique Users, Unique Visitors, Visitors, Unique Browsers

What was once seen as a useful metric was thrown out of the water in the early 2000s by research by Redeye (pdf warning) when it was revealed that each month a person, on average, counted as two unique visitors in your analytics system if you were using cookies and seven visitors if you weren’t. This is now a defunct metric that is only requested once in a blue moon by a manager who is attempting (and failing) to compare online to offline.

Average Time on page/site and Dwell Time

The most useless metric of all is average time. It is calculated by working the time between the first page loading and the next or last page loading without taking into consideration the time the person spends looking at the last page making it flawed from the start. It is then skewed ridiculously by one person who goes off to make a cup of tea before reading your post on metrics. A far more useful measure would be median time on page/site, but even this is largely misleading because you don’t know whether people are staying on your page because it is interesting or because they are confused. If you can’t work out how many minutes and seconds represents ‘good’ then it becomes absolutely worthless.

Entries (landing pages), Exits, Single Access and Bounce Rate

Entries are where the user enters the site at the start of their visit, where exits are the points that they leave. If they only view that one thing whilst they are here they are a single access visit. Bounce rate is therefore the percentage of people who arrive and leave without going on to do anything else (usually viewing just one page, but not always) – they came, they puked, they left. Bounce rate is usually seen as the definition of success of your landing page – could you persuade them to carry on in the site. Really bounce rate is just one step in a longer conversion funnel.

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

KPIs are the things that you’ve decided user interaction confirm that the point of the site has been met. If the point of the site is for people to just see any part of it, you’re probably wasting your time and money on building it in the first place. Link your KPIs to your business objectives and make them SMART – the S standing for ‘more Specific than any of the previous metrics mentioned in this post’. They should be the first thing that you decide on when you start to measure the success of your site.

Let us know in the comments box whether there are any key metrics you want defined, that we haven’t listed above.

If you would like help with better understanding how to measure the effectiveness of your digital marketing activity, get in touch by email or call +44 (0)203 328 1886.

This post was written for Blue Latitude by optimisation expert Alec Cochrane.

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