Build a Solid Foundation With Key Performance Indicators, Part 4: Content Sites

In this series on lead generation, e-commerce, and customer service sites, I’ve mentioned how important it is the analytics data you focus on directly relates to your overall business and site goals. No matter what type of site you have, you can apply the four-step process below to maximize the value of the analytics data you gather.

Establish Key Performance Indicators

  1. Define key site goals and metrics.

  2. Configure the tracking tool.
  3. Analyze the data.
  4. Optimize the site based on the findings.

This ongoing process is most effective when periodically repeated to continually fine-tune a site. The overall process fails if key site goals and key performance indicators (KPIs) aren’t established early on and a method to measure the metrics tied to these KPIs isn’t related to information your team can act on to improve your site.

Content Sites

Content sites tend to rely on advertising support, a subscription base, or sometimes both. The success of these models is contingent on attracting repeat visitors who explore the site in depth. Identifying appropriate KPIs can lead to additional insight that improves site performance, leading in turn to a more successful subscription or advertising model.

Note: Many people believe theirs are content sites simply because they’re used to provide information about the organizations. This is not a content site as defined above. Often, this belief indicates the organization hasn’t adequately defined its true site goals.

Customer Service KPIs

A content site’s key objectives vary, depending on whether the site’s supported by advertising or subscriptions. For each of the following types of content sites, there are a number of important metrics to track. Common content KPIs include:

  • Advertising-based content sites, such as ESPN. Note: A portion of ESPN’s site is subscription-based; however, most content is free and advertising-based.

    • Visits per month (or week). If you rely on traffic numbers to support advertising, enticing visitors to return frequently is important. Understanding how often different visitor segments return to the site is key.

    • Page views per visit. This is the depth of site exploration. How engaged are visitors? As a good portion of ad pricing is based on impressions, moving people through multiple pages can be beneficial. However, more page views isn’t always better. A site can go too far in trying to drive page views, leading to a poor visitor experience. When this happens, visits per month would most likely be negatively affected.
    • Visit length. How long do people stay on the site?
    • Advertising click ratio. Since revenue from this site type is generated from advertisers, it’s important to measure traffic to different advertisers based on different ad formats (banner, skyscraper, intracontent placements, etc.). Understanding which types of ads are the most effective and drive the most clicks and, ultimately, sales can help keep advertisers happy and set the appropriate expectations. As new ad formats are tested, this metric helps evaluate the tests’ effectiveness.
    • Ratio of new to returning visitors. Understanding the ratio of new visitors to returning visitors is important. It’s very different if of 100,000 monthly visitors, 95 percent are returning visitors rather than 95 percent are new visitors. In an ad-based model, it’s important to retain visitors and entice them to return. There’s obviously a balance. You always need new visitors to grow the base and replace those who drop off.
    • Recency and frequency. These common measurements basically boil down to: When was the last time a visitor came to the site? How frequently does that visitor come back?

  • Subscription-based content sites, such as WSJ.com.

    • Conversion of nonsubscribers to subscribers. Similar metrics can be used to measure this as it was outlined in the e-commerce or lead generation columns. Look at the of nonsubscribers who start to review the subscription offering compared to those who actually complete the signup process. These are important metrics. Understanding behaviors in this area can lead to identifying what may hold people back from subscribing. This information can be used to optimize the signup process, increasing conversion.

    • Active subscriber base. What percentage of current subscribers are active on a weekly or monthly basis? Obviously, if a given subscriber’s use drops off, the risk of defection increases.
    • Average subscription length. Understanding how long different visitor segments maintain their subscriptions can be helpful when trying to increase subscription longevity. Site owners can examine behavioral differences between longtime subscribers versus those who cancel early.

Understanding the correct metrics to use when evaluating the performance of your content site helps focus attention on the correct behavioral elements. It’ll allow for easy measurement of site changes over time.

In the past four columns, we’ve walked through a sample of KPIs and site goals for the four main content groups. These are only a starting point. Different sites, even within the same industry, may have very different goals depending on site and business emphasis at the time.

The key is to get agreement throughout the organization on the key metrics that are focused on and measured. Using these metrics can help prioritize site changes and resources. Used correctly, this approach will help drive the bottom line when the performance of your site is constantly optimized to drive key metrics.

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