Raw Data to Strategic Wisdom (While You Wait)

I asked a new client the other day what Web analytics metrics she’d been monitoring. She named gross page views, search engine referrals, top viewed pages, top exit pages… the usual suspects. Then, we did a simple comparison that yields a whole understanding of site performance.

We compared those last two metrics she named: top viewed pages and top exit pages. As they so often are, the top 20 viewed pages and the top 20 exit pages were almost identical. But raw numbers don’t tell us enough.

What’s instructive is to take one page and divide recorded exits by recorded views. I call that fraction the exit ratio, an instant read of the page’s effectiveness at holding onto visitors.

Figuring an exit ratio is dead simple. If a page records 20,000 exits and 100,000 views, the exit ratio is 1:5, or 0.2.

I typically analyze all key site pages, or pages supporting a specific goal or task, to compare their exit ratios. The higher the exit ratio, the bigger a sieve that page is.

That’s not always bad, of course. Some pages are natural exit routes. To see if your site leaks visitors in the wrong places, try classifying its pages this way:

  • Home page.

  • Transitional pages. Pages designed to move people further into content, such as the main products page for a financial institution. They try to provide an overview, then steer visitors to more detailed content based on specific needs.
  • Action pages. Pages where a specific behavior takes place: filling out a form or adding a purchase to a shopping cart. There remain specific things we want people to do subsequent to an action page, so a high exit ratio indicates a broken experience path.
  • Destination pages. Pages people reach after completing an action, such as a thank-you page at the end of an e-commerce sequence.

How many of your high-exit-ratio pages fall into the second and third categories? A 0.7 exit ratio for a destination page may not be bad, but an action page with a 0.7 exit ratio warrants examination. If a page that exists only to move people deeper into a site or along a buy path is instead a major exit point, you know where to target improvements.

Some sites are far too large to permit analysis of exit ratios for every page. In these cases, I typically start by looking at a well-chosen subset of pages. These can include the top 100 or 200 most-viewed pages and key pages comprising a sequence of screens that enable desired visitor behavior or site goals.

Figuring page exit ratios is a quick, simple way to isolate pages that frustrate visitors and short-circuit the effectiveness of the whole site. Once targeted, you can craft improvements (design, layout, or language) and test them. Compare the new exit ratios with the initial ratio. As the page becomes healthier and visitors stop abandoning key paths in midstream, you’ll see the number shrink.

If, like our client, you struggle trying to apply exit data from analytics tools, try calculating the exit ratios for a few important pages on your site. Tell me what you learn about your exit patterns. It’s one of the fastest, simplest ways I know to turn raw data into usable information.

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