Fun with Web Metrics

What's going on?

Generally Speaking…

Every web site that’s out there started out as an idea that took the form of “wouldn’t if be cool if…?” and with the overall belief “if we build it, they will come…”

The point is that from the very beginning there was ALWAYS some set of expectations of what visitors were supposed to “do” at the site and another set of expectations as to what they were going to “get” from the site.

For commercial situations, it’s straightforward: there’s a product, a sale, and (step 3) profit!   No matter how huge or how complicated your virtual shop is, there’s that bottom line you can look at and get a sense of whether the expense of creating and maintaining your commercial site is meeting needs (and hopefully, expectations).   So “success” can fundamentally be determined from the answer to the question “Did we make (enough) money?”

In non-commercial situations there are still goals and expectations, but the fundamental criteria for demonstrating success becomes more murky and generally harder to detect.  I’ve done a lot of work with web sites whose primary focus is education.   If I were to try to reduce the goals for most of those sites to a single overly-broad question to illustrate success, it’d be “Do people know more after coming to the site than they did before they visited?” That’s harder to ascertain.

When talking to people with far more business sense than I could possibly ever possess, I find we sometimes get into the quandary where we’re spending a lot of time trying to figure out how to turn a small pile of numbers (usually the core stats that are ubiquitously generated for every site) into a proxy for that “bottom line”.  It’s frustrating for the business and marketing-oriented people because what should be a cut and dry evaluation is now extremely opaque, and the small pile of numbers comes with WAY more uncertainty than they’re used to.   It’s frustrating for nerdy scientists like me because what’s in the small pile of numbers generally doesn’t tell the story that I think needs to be told.

The cruel fact is that to have a web presence, to grow our sites, and to make future decisions about them (what to add, what to change, etc.), we need to confidently evaluate what’s going on.

(BTW, chasing those insights is the purpose of this blog. 🙂

As I find myself continually caught up in the process of trying to detect “success,” I also find myself asking that central question: what do I REALLY want to know? That goes ALL THE WAY back to that “it” that would be “cool” if I built it, and the belief that “they” would come.   Did they?  Are they the same “they” I had imagined at the start of all this?   Does my “it” still even resemble my original concept?

Where do I (and you) begin?

Let’s start here: as generically and concisely as possible, can you describe the fundamental goal of your site?   Put another way, fill in the blank: If I could show ___________, then I know that the site is doing what we set out to do with it. While I’m expecting that those with commercial sites would put in the word “profit,” I’m curious what other words/phrases turn up (and interested to see the sites that go with those words…).

Another interesting spin: how do YOU think the people who created the sites that you visit often would answer that question? (And wouldn’t it be neat to put those answers side-by-side…?)


September 1, 2010 - Posted by | philosophy | ,

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