Fun with Web Metrics

What's going on?

Revelation #2

I am a “typical user”.

OK – I might have more experience than some, and understand why and how things are done the way they are.   But my reasons for going to a site (say Amazon, or Google, or Facebook) are pretty much the same as everyone else’s.

So why is it than when I’m evaluating web traffic, what I’m being told to look for as “success” often doesn’t really match my own behaviors? For example, take one of the “conventional wisdoms” that is frequently assumed about web visits:

Stickiness is a good thing

where “stickiness” translates to the length of time you spend on a site (visit duration) with the tacit understanding that longer visits are “better” than shorter ones.  This reasoning makes sense in the commercial world, especially in the physical sense – you’re more likely to be spending money at the store the longer you remain IN the store.   But does that translate well to the Web?    I’m sure it does sometimes – I’ve definitely chanced upon a “neat” site and become lost in perusing the content.

But I also find that my motivation when shopping online is often this:

  1. I know what I want;
  2. I want to quickly locate it (for the cheapest price possible);
  3. Buy it;
  4. Get on with my life.

In a perfect world, I can get most of this accomplished with a search from Google or – if I already know who my vendor is – their home page in one, maybe two page views at most.   Then it’s a matter of customizing the purchase (if there are options, e.g., size, color, etc.), adding it to some kind of cart and going through the checkout process.

The point is that the last thing I want to do is have a long window-shopping experience.  I want the “3 items or less” lane.

Of course, there are other situations where I will spend quite a long time – even an hour or more – within a single visit because I might be researching a future purchase, or just looking to see what’s “out there”.

This is true for both commercial and non-commercial sites.   I find myself doing fact checking and information retrieval all the time with the same sort of session breakdowns:

  • quick look-ups where I want to search and “get to” my desired information in one click.   From the POV of the hosting site, that usually means a single page visit which many analysts see as a “bounce” and subsequently interpret that as a failure, not a success;
  • longer meandering sessions (I’m a sucker for floating through Wikipedia going from related page to related page) that do match the “convention” of a “sticky” visit, but they represent a entirely different motivation for the visit.

What I also find is that with the sites I visit most,  there’s generally no obvious separation of the two behaviors as far as the site goes.   Sometimes I want the short “check-in” visit, sometimes I want to window shop.

Note #1 – I’m noticing that this is NOT the same with my use of mobile browsers.   There I find myself skewing far more to the “quickie” visit.    I’m sure is due to the extremely variable availability of network bandwidth (I’m impatient so page loading frequently feels absolutely glacial), and also the still-limited screen resolution of hand-held devices, I think that some of it is actually that when I’m on the go, I’m on the go, and am more likely to defer my exploratory web meanderings until I can get back to my desktop.

Note #2 – for “social networking” sites, it’s more of a mixed bag.   It seems to come down to whether or not I get drawn in to the discussion (rant, flame war, etc.) or if my friends are having a more interesting day than I am.  ☺  Also, I’m starting to notice that apps developed FOR some of the social networking sites influences my behavior.   I tend to be more “sticky” if the application’s interface gets around some of the aforementioned issues of trying to navigate a web site through a mobile browser…

However, that means (if I truly am a “typical” user) that the whole topic of how to make your site effective on mobile platforms has just become extremely important.   At some point I’m going to want to really look into the differences between my metrics from desktop versus mobile usage, not to mention what metrics you can get from application-level access to site content even if you don’t use a web browser to get to it…

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September 3, 2010 - Posted by | philosophy | ,

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