Understanding Metrics: Introduction
The Understanding Metrics blog series covers how to use and understand web metrics. Each blog will explore a common way to measure the success of your site and the uses, quirks and pitfalls of each. Let’s start by covering why metrics matter and how to choose one that’s right for your business.
The Big Question
At the start of any new web project, it’s easy to jump straight into data collection, user research, design, and even development, and breeze by one very important question: What is this website for?
Your organization has spent plenty of time thinking about short- and long-term goals. You understand what success looks like from the business end. You’re willing to invest in a new website to help drive that success. But, before diving in, let’s consider a couple of key things:
What Will My Site do to Further My Business Goals?
Your site needs a reason to exist. Will it make money? Pull in new customers? Hang onto old ones? Every column inch of content should be dedicated to pushing your business forward. These site goals range from the concrete to the nebulous, but some of the most common include:
- Direct online revenue
- Increasing offline (brick & mortar) revenue
- Generating marketing and sales leads
- Fostering engagement with your brand
- Providing information about your product or service
Odds are, you’ll want a site that accomplishes more than one of these tasks, but it can be helpful to choose a single, primary area of focus to frame design decisions moving forward.
How Will I Know If It Works?
Once you have a handle on site goals, you can get down to the job of measuring progress towards them. Any given goal has several possible metrics that can be applied. A good site metric is:
- Quantifiable. Data science and analytics are all about measuring and comparing, and, to do this effectively, we need numbers that we can aggregate across multiple events. An enthusiastic testimonial is nice, but it’s hard to put numbers on and generalize.
- Meaningful. Clicks, views, and bounce rate are the staples of default analytics configurations and can be broadly useful. But if you can’t draw a line from your metrics to site and business goals, they’ll do little to drive your business forward.
- Interpretable. You can throw plenty of equations and algorithms at complex business questions. This is what analysts and data scientists are for, and it’s not essential that you understand every step. But it is important that you understand the output and can apply it to your decision process. Is it a dollar value? A probability? Or some vague score that takes half an hour to explain?
- Predictable. The gold at the end of this whole rainbow is prediction. Once you can measure success, your metrics will form the base for iterative improvement and optimization. Which customers should you market to? Who gets what product recommendation? How can your site be updated to perform better?
A quality website is an investment of money, time, and energy. A comprehensive set of metrics can help your organization get a solid handle on that investment’s return.
Next up on the blog, we’ll dive down the rabbit hole of the most common goals and metrics and start you on the path to measurement of success.
More from the Understanding Metrics Series
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This article was originally posted in 2017 as a series about Data Science. It has been updated for 2020.