HomePostsOct 25, 2011

Using Google Analytics to determine a new page's performance

I think data can solve most problems. Think about it… if you had all the right information and you trusted that information and you were able to get past your emotional response, you would always make significantly better decisions. This is a pretty vague, overarching statement but I believe it can be applied everywhere. Whether or not you’re half-robot, like myself, there’s one thing you can’t deny: data can help you answer some questions with surprising accuracy. The question today is, did I shoot myself in the foot by redesigning one of my pages. The answer: definitely.

Shoot yourself in the foot

I just read “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries and enjoyed it a lot, more than I expected to in fact. I’ll save the pontification about this “Lean” concept for another time but the main thing I got from the book surrounded collecting and using actionable information to learn about your customers and make decisions about changes and improvements. I wrote about this kind of iteration before, it’s something that drives everything I do and, before this book, I never knew there was a name for it.

But I digress. The point is that there are so many ways to gather information about what you’re doing, both online and off, that the excuses for not acquiring and using this data are getting increasingly lame. Take, for instance, Google Analytics (GA). There is a wealth of data in there, as well as a wealth of what Ries would call “vanity metrics.” You can easily dazzle yourself with the numbers and assume that the pretty blue lines going up and to the right are doing you a favor. Many times, you’re just fooling yourself. Here’s how.

Redesign it and they will come

I’ve been making web long enough to know that a site redesign is probably a mistake half the time. Often, a better use of time, effort, and money is to refresh important pages for search engine optimization (SEO) and conversions (are people doing something after they read that page). I’ve taken this to heart on my own site, mostly because it’s the right move but partially because a redesign is time-consuming. In that vein, I redesigned my “Get Help” page back in July.

This page had always been a bit of a catch-all and had some of the oldest perennial content on my whole site. I spent some time focusing my message with a great communication planner, Therese Beale, and I was ready for it to see the light of day. My idea was that I would outline what I have to offer (the first 4 things above) simply and give people a chance to buy in to the process before they even contact me by selecting an option to get started. I would get more information and they would be ready to take that next step:

I built the page, changed the link, redirected the old page, announced it on Facebook and called it a day. That was 3 months ago.

Time to check the analytics

I was thinking about conversions for another site the other day and it occurred to me that I never went back to look how that page was working. I felt like I was getting less contacts in general but didn’t have any numbers to back it up so I dove into GA for the numbers I needed.

Now, here’s where you need to be specific about what you’re trying to do. This is a page I want people to see before they hire me. The next page I want them to see is the contact page and that’s where I’m sending them with the form above. Compared to the old page, I want to know:

What I don’t care about for this analysis is:

This page exists to convince people to move forward. Sure, I want more people on this page but the specific aspects of the redesign don’t contribute to that. How many people saw this page is a vanity metric, it doesn’t help me learn anything. In this case, it went up but traffic on the site as a whole went up as well so that’s not helpful. In fact, there are a number of different things we can count, measure, and analyze that won’t help us decide whether this redesign was a success or not.

In this case, I determined that this redesign was not a success. It was a bit disheartening to see that but it’s much better to learn something than to avoid disappointment. Here’s how I arrived at this conclusion.

Very helpful numbers

Again, to restate our goal, we want to know how people interacted with this page once they got here and what they did next. The below is a list of metrics that helped me determine that. The bold indicates the metric name and the square brackets is the navigation you use to get to that point in GA. Also, when I say “old,” I mean the page before redesign, “new” is after, both span approximately 3 months. To get the same, just follow the navigation path and get that metric for the both the old and the new time spans.

Exits went up, time on page went down, and bounce rate went up. It’s clear that this page is not doing what it should be. Still, let’s look at a few more numbers to be sure.

Somewhat helpful numbers

The metrics here are either secondary in importance to the ones above or just didn’t tell us much of anything.

Using the 5 metrics above, the helpful ones and the somewhat helpful ones, you can determine whether your page change was a success or not. In my case, everything either got worse or stayed the same so I’m going to go with no, not a success. I’ll talk about what I think needs to change in a moment but let’s briefly look at unhelpful numbers here.

Unhelpful numbers

At best, these metrics are ones that make us feel better (“vanity” metrics), at the worst we can use them to deceive ourselves and others into thinking something good has happened. Here are numbers that don’t help us here.

So, we know how to judge the page, now what do we do about this poor performer?

Take a guess, then take action

Here’s what I think is happening:

I’m going to break all the sections out and leave them on-page with links to take the next step. Rest assured I’ll be running this same analysis when I’m complete! If you have any questions or comments about my methods above, feel free to ask my in the comments section below.

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