by Jenni Jones
Is your website doing what it is supposed to?
The very idea of website analytics is enough to keep most people from even trying to mess with it. It’s overwhelming, nebulous, and probably the least sexy topic for photographers (well…that and taxes). But, knowing whether your website is effective and understanding what people are doing (or not doing) on your site is powerful, actionable knowledge. How will you know if you have an effective website if you don’t look at how it is performing?
Website analytics is really just a fancy term for checking the effectiveness of your website. There are, what feels like, eleventy billion different metrics and reports and stats. While many are quite useful, there are a few key metrics that lay the foundation for understanding whether your site is truly effective. But understanding what the information is telling you is only half the battle, knowing how to take action on that information is what will improve your site experience. So let’s walk through two key reports, where to find them, what they are actually telling you, and actions you can take to improve them.
Bounce Rate (this one is a doozy) – bounce rate is the percentage of visitors who came to your site and left without visiting another page (often referred to as “they came, they puked, they left”).
In the Google Analytics dashboard, you can find bounce rate by going to Overview, and selecting bounce rate from the drop down.
What does bounce rate really mean?
It means that someone visited your site, and either didn’t like what they saw, couldn’t find what they were looking for, or got exactly what they were looking for without needing to move forward. That’s right, bounce rate isn’t *always* bad.
The general rule of thumb is if your bounce rate is below 40%, you’re good. However, content websites (such as a portfolio website + blog) generally see higher bounce rates, and that’s ok. Consider a blog post – you blog, you post it on Facebook, and you get a bunch of visitors checking out your post and leaving. That’s just what people do. So if I see 60% bounce rate for my blog posts, I am not too worried about it. But my homepage better not have a 60% bounce rate – it is the primary landing page for all search and direct traffic. If 60% of users are leaving, then I am not getting them the information they want, need, or expected to see.
To find bounce rate information at the page level, you go to Content > Site Content > All Pages
What does a high bounce rate indicate? What do I do with this information?
Blog posts aside, a high bounce rate can often be traced back to a handful of culprits:
Culprit #1 – Page load – Did you know that the average person expects your website to load in under 3 seconds? And did you know that if it doesn’t, 57% of those people will leave?
You can go to Pingdom and check your site load time.
Just enter your site URL, select the city (I chose Dallas since I am from Texas and my potential clients are in Texas), and hit “Test Now.” And there you have it.
If your load time is under 3 seconds, congratulations! Way to go on a speedy site! If your load time is between 3 and 4 seconds, there is room for improvement.
If your load time is higher than 5 seconds, you really need to make some changes. Skip everything else in this post and only read the section below about improving bounce rate. Right now.
You may be thinking, “seriously – it doesn’t really matter if my site takes 5 seconds to load.” Actually it does. There are a ton of user studies out there and they all say the same thing users expect a site to load in less than 3 seconds, if it doesn’t, more than 1⁄2 of them leave. And for every additional second…you lose 7% of people who likely would have converted/accomplished a task/done what you wanted them to do on your site. People are impatient. I am impatient. The faster your site, the better.
How can I improve page load time?
- Compress your images. There are a number of plugins available – I use Smush.it for WordPress.
- If you have a blogsite and your blog is your primary landing page, add a homepage, and include a link to your blog in the menu. Blogs often have a lot of content on them, and if it acts as your primary landing page, there is a lot of other content that probably has to load, content that would normally belong on a homepage. All of that content can leave your visitors twiddling their thumbs – or visiting another photographers website. But if your primary landing page is a homepage, you are breaking up the amount of content that needs to load, thus reducing load time.
- Enable caching. There are also a ton of plugins available for caching – I use W3 Total Cache for WordPress. Once you activate the plugin, you may be tempted to go in and make changes to the settings, and soon after become overwhelmed and confused. Don’t worry – this plugin works very well with the default settings. When I installed this plugin, my page load time was reduced by several seconds. Just do it.
Culprit #2 – Content – Content is king (true story). But when a potential client comes to your site and the content doesn’t match their expectations….they leave. You have to think like your client. What would they expect to see when they land on your site? What would they want to see? What don’t they want to see?
If the content on your site isn’t relevant, or worse, it’s distracting, you are undoubtedly losing potential clients because they up and leave before consuming the content you actually want them to see.
Examples of distractions:
- Auto-start music – You may like music but I can assure you, a lot of your potential clients do not.
- Overwhelming, over-saturated, over use of color – Your potential clients shouldn’t have to work to read your content.
- Animation – It can be difficult to find or digest any content at all when something on the page keeps moving.
- General clutter – You know that feeling when the mail is stacking up and scattered on the counter and toys are everywhere and you want to clean but you don’t even know where to start and it stresses you out? Yeah – don’t do that to your website.
How can I improve content?
- Ask yourself – what is the purpose of my website? What goal am I tryingto accomplish on the site or on this page? Evaluate all of the elements on the page or on your site, and if it doesn’t serve the purpose of your site or help you (or clients) achieve your goal, it needs to go.
- Choose a color scheme that is pleasing to the eye and easy to read. Same goes for fonts.
- Remove animation – whatever it is, it’s distracting potential clients from what you want them to do on your site.
- And above all – do not auto-play music. It’s annoying. You can have music on your site – that’s not the issue. But allow your potential client to decide whether they want to hear music – don’t make the decision for them.
Make your content more engaging. Give visitors a reason to want to visit more pages on your site.
- Add related posts to your blog or link between posts or to other relevant parts of your site. Give visitors a relevant link to click on.
- Consider trying alternate layouts for your content. Perhaps a thumbnail display on your homepage or for your blog. If you photograph a variety of subjects, this could be an interesting way to show off your work and appeal to different potential clients without making the experience overwhelming.
Culprit #3 – Navigation – When it comes to surfing the interwebs, people don’t like surprises. Your visitors have likely been to hundreds or thousands of websites in their life. Throughout those many visits, they have been conditioned on what to expect when a website loads because they have seen certain elements over and over again. One of those learned expectations is navigation.
- Your visitors expect to find navigation either on the left hand side (for vertical menus) or across the top, next to or just under the logo (for horizontal menus).
- Your visitors expect the titles of items in your menu to clearly describe the contents within the pages. When site owners get clever or cutesy, visitors don’t know what it means or where it might take them and will often chose not to click on it. Don’t have the proverbial mystery meat of menus.
- Your visitors do not expect to see every page ever in the history of ever available in your primary navigation. 20 different menu and sub-menu options makes visitors feel like they are choosing paint colors.
How can I improve navigation?
- Consistency – Make sure your primary navigation is persistent throughout your site and keep the location and contents within the menu consistent.
- Logical and Intuitive – resist the urge to get clever or use industry jargon/lingo in your menu titles. Being straightforward goes a long way. Group your sub-menu items in a logical way, logical from your visitor’s perspective. A potential client visits your site….what is their purpose? To get information about your services. If you have your “about me” under an “info” tab, that isn’t logical – as a potential client, I expect “Info”, and all of the items beneath it, to be about your services. Not information about you, the photographer. See where I am going?
- Simple – Menus should not be overwhelming. Narrow it down to the critical few but asking yourself “what are the primary things I want my visitors to do on my site and what are the primary things they want to do on my site?” Those critical few items belong in your primary navigation. Everything else belongs in the footer.
Below is my website navigation. I want visitors to browse by blog, check me out on Facebook, and contact me. I know potential clients want to know more about me, my pricing, and see my portfolio. My menu reflects that, and I put my visitor’s needs before my own.
If you are still following me – you deserve a round of applause and a foot massage. But before I leave you, I want to talk about the second report you really need to pay attention to (I promise I will keep it short and sweet and totally actionable).
To get to the mobile report in Google Analytics, you go to Audience > Mobile > Overview
What % of your traffic is mobile? Earlier this year, my mobile traffic was around 35% of total site traffic. Now it is pushing 42%. That is INSANE! But I am cool with it – because my site is HTML, and operates well on mobile phones and tablets. Does yours?
If you have a flash site, move to HTML. Anyone on an iOS device cannot access your site. 91% of my mobile traffic comes from an iOS (Apple) device. I am confident that a large percentage of your traffic is coming from an iOS device as well. If you have a flash site, you are alienating a shockingly large percentage of potential clients because they can’t see your pretty, slow loading content. Ah yes, another drawback of flash, it has a tendency to be quite slow (see page load time above).
Beyond that, more and more people are accessing web content from multiple devices. They start on their phone, maybe move to their tablet later on, and once they are in front of their computer, they access whatever site they were looking at. What does this mean for you? A need for a consistent experience.
If you have a flash site, you might even have a mobile friendly experience, which is better than nothing. But is there consistency between them? Potential clients can and will be confused by brand inconsistency. Remember earlier when I said peopledon’t like surprised on the interwebs? That includes having to re-learn a site experience because they switched devices.
At the end of the day, having a flash website has many more drawbacks than it does benefits. And the benefits are focused on your needs (having a pretty website) and not your visitor’s needs (accessing your site from any device and having a consistent experience).
There are so many other reports I could tell you to look at. But many of the metrics and reports will drive you to similar, if not the same, conclusions requiring the same actions. Plus I don’t want to bore you.
Why not talk about keywords or SEO as the key metrics to pay attention to?
SEO and keyword optimization are hugely important and absolutely worth optimizing your site for. But if you have a fantastic SEO strategy but users can’t navigate your site or it takes too long to load, that is kind of like building a house without laying a foundation. Let’s get the foundation down, and then build on it.
A quick distinction: Google Analytics vs StatCounter
For the purposes of this post, I am going to walk through reports and metrics in Google Analytics. Those with WordPress blogs/blogsites are probably familiar with StatCounter (or some other site analytics tool), however Google Analytics and StatCounter are two different tools with different purposes. I think StatCounter is great for understanding what people are doing on my site *right now*, however, Google Analytics is a much better tool for measuring success and effectiveness of your site.
If you haven’t installed Google Analytics, here is the link to install the tracking code on your site. And if you have a WordPress site, you can install the tracking code with this plugin.
Jenni Jones, Texas
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Jenni Jones is a part-time photographer and full time digital marketer in Austin, TX, with a background in eCommerce strategy and online analytics. Armed with her Nikon D700 and various prime lenses, she brings a soft, earthy feel to her newborn, baby, and maternity images. She is mother to two shockingly handsome dogs, and is a self-proclaimed dork with an uncanny ability to find humor in just about everything.