9 Ways to Gauge Your Visitors' Experience

Measuring tapeOne of the most important factors in the success of a website is the visitors’ opinions and experiences. A site that is liked by visitors will typically be successful, while those that aren’t liked by visitors will struggle. A challenge that all website owners face is determining how visitors feel about their experience on the site. In most cases you won’t have the option to speak directly with visitors to get their opinions.

Fortunately, there are a number of items that can help you to find out what visitors think of your site. Sometimes you’ll have to interpret the results, as a number of outside influences can factor in as well. Here are 9 factors that I feel can help a website owner to understand the opinions of visitors.

Bounce Rate

The bounce rate is a calculation that shows what percentage of visitors are leaving the site after viewing only one page. For example, if 100 visitors come to a website and 40 of them leave before visiting a 2nd page on the site, the bounce rate is 40%. Bounce rates can be calculated for a website as a whole, or for individual pages. Most good statistics programs, including Google Analytics, provide the bounce rate.

What does bounce rate really show? It can give you an idea of your visitors’ first impressions of your site. If a high percentage are leaving without visiting a 2nd page, maybe they don’t feel that the site is really interesting to them.

There are a number of factors that can influence bounce rate, most importantly, the source of the traffic. Some types of traffic will typically not be interested in viewing multiple pages on a site. An example is social media traffic. Most Digg users are not going to click-through to a lot of pages on your site after arriving through Digg. They are more likely to leave after seeing one page and return to the social media site that they were using.

If your bounce rate is very low, it probably means that your visitors are pretty interested in your site when they arrive. Lowering bounce rate should be a goal of any website owner (unless you are using ads that you want visitors to click on in order to earn revenue for yourself).


Page Views Per Visit

Another statistic that is somewhat similar to bounce rate is the average number of page views by your visitors. This number is calculated simply by dividing the number of page views by the number of visitors. It will also give you an indication of whether visitors are leaving right away, or if they are staying for a while and navigating through the site.

Page views per visit will also be affected by the source of the traffic. Again, visitors like social media users will tend to view one page and leave, which will of course lower your average number of page views.

A high number of page views per visit can be a good sign that visitors are staying on your site and navigating from page-to-page. I find it helpful to track the average number of page views from month-to-month. If I notice a significant change in the average than I can assume that the visitors’ experience has changed either for the better or for the worse.

Time On the Site

The time on site is simply an average length of time that visitors are on your site. Longer amounts of time are obviously a better sign than smaller amounts of time.

Depending on the type of website, this may be a better calculation than the first two that were mentioned. An example here would be a blog with long, detailed articles. If visitors are staying for several minutes to read the article you may be accomplishing what you want even if they are leaving after viewing that one page. Having a visitor view 1 page for 5 minutes is better than having a visitor arrive and leave 10 seconds later without even really reading the page. In this case the bounce rate and average number of page views wouldn’t reflect the difference, but the average time on site would.

I tend to not emphasize the time on the site too much, because I think there are so many other factors that play in to the calculation. Most internet surfers have multiple browser tabs or windows open at the same time. While they may be focusing on another tab, your site could be up for 15 minutes even though they aren’t looking at it. Similarly, they could get up and walk away from the computer for 20 minutes.

Even if the number is not completely reliable, it can still help to show trends. If time on the site is increasing or decreasing, it may be a sign that visitors are behaving differently than they had been.

Subscribers (Growth/Decline)

Most bloggers tend to measure their success by the number of new subscribers they receive. Subscriber counts fluctuate every day, so it can be a good indication of how visitors are feeling about your blog. If subscriber counts are jumping it is probably and indication that visitors like what they are reading. Conversely, if your count is falling or standing still, it may be a sign that visitors are not impressed enough with what they are seeing to lead them to subscribe.

The most common way for bloggers to track their subscribers is by using FeedBurner’s service. FeedBurner users should be aware that counts will drop at times when many subscribers are not accessing their RSS feeds, like weekends and holidays.

Inbound Links

Sometimes you can see what visitors think of your website by the inbound links that you are receiving. Most webmasters and bloggers that link to you will have visited the page at some point, and in most cases the link can be seen as a type of endorsement for what you have created. Of course, sometimes people link to a page for some other reason. One time when I was checking the inbound links to this blog I found a post that linked to one of my posts on a list of posts that he hated. While this link didn’t represent an endorsement of my post, it did help me to understand the experience that at least one visitor had on my site.

In general, if one of your pages or blog posts is receiving a lot of inbound links it is a sign that people think it provides some sort of value that others will appreciate. The number of links you get will also be influenced by other factors. For example, pages that get thousands of visitors from Digg or Del.icio.us tend to receive a lot of inbound links. Other pages on your site may be just as appreciated by visitors, but they simply may not be getting as many visitors, and as a result they get fewer links.

Social Media Votes

The point of social media sites like Digg, StumbleUpon, Reddit and others is to allow users to vote for content that they like. If your pages, pictures, or videos are getting a lot of votes on social media sites it can be an indication that people like what you have provided.

There are also other factors in social media voting that you should take into consideration. First of all, the quality of the title can make a big difference. A good title can not only draw more click-throughs, but it can also draw blind votes where users are voting your content up without even visiting. Before I changed hosting companies for this blog one of the posts went to the front page of Digg and the server crashed. The page wasn’t available for several hours, but plenty of diggs kept coming. I assume that most of the diggs were submitted based only on the title without even visiting to see that the site was down. Also, the profile of the user submitting the item can make a difference. “Power users” will usually get more votes that average users.

Comments/Feedback

One of the best ways to learn about the experience of visitors is to get their feedback directly. Blogs are great for this purpose as they make it easy for visitors to comment. Any website should have a way for visitors to contact the site owner with feedback and questions.

One of the problems with blog comments is that a lot of times they tend to only be positive. Just because someone leaves a comment that says “great post” doesn’t mean that it really is a great post. Some people comment just to get a link, and in these cases they usually just leave compliments. Other readers do leave negative comments, but many times these are not any constructive that can help you to improve.

Regardless of what type of website you run, make an effort to get your visitors to communicate with you about your site. It’s difficult for website owners and bloggers to look at their site from the perspective of a visitor, so visitor opinions can be very valuable.

Polls/Surveys

One way to get some of those opinions from your visitors is to use a poll or a survey. There are a few resources like PollDaddy and the WordPress Polls plugin that make it easy to implement a poll or survey into your site.

Conversions

Most websites have something they ultimately want from their visitors. For some it may be the purchase of a product or service. For others it may be opting in to a mailing list. Regardless of what you want your visitors to do, your conversion rate can be an indication of how your visitors view your offer.

Great amounts of time and money are spent on optimizing landing pages to increase conversions for sales. This doesn’t need to be limited to landing pages and product sales. Let’s take an example from blogging. Imagine that you are trying to increase the amount of comments that you get on your blog posts. One of the measures that you could use is visitor to comment conversion. If 100 people visit a post and 2 leave comments, the conversion rate is 2%. Say you write a different style of post attempting to increase comments and 200 people visit that post and 6 people comment. Now your conversion rate is 3%.

There are any number of ways that you can use conversions to gauge the experiences of your visitors. Just remember that there are many, many factors that are involved so try to compare apples to apples.

What other ways do you gauge the experience of your website’s visitors? Which of the measurements listed here do you think are useless?

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15 Responses

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  • Jason Falls, December 19, 2007

    Another great post. My goal is to get the reader engaged in the topic. Hopefully, the posts are interesting. If they get to the end of them, I turn the conversation over to them and ask them to participate in the comments section. Most don’t, but some do and my numbers are getting better.

    I wonder what your take is on using the -more- entry and not showing the full blog post on the front page? Certainly, this can decrease your bounce rate since people have to click through to read entire entires, but it also cuts off your RSS feed there (annoying to most RSS readers) and can be a turn off to folks visiting, realizing they have to work extra to see the whole thing. Just curious!

    Thanks for another great list of food for thought.

  • Karen Zara, December 19, 2007

    I liked the way you analysed tme spent on site in comparison to bounce rates and pageviews.

    I’m not sure that polls and surveys are truly reliable ways to evaluate visitors’ activity. There are just so many factors that can influence their results…

    Those “great post” comments are disapponting and annoying. You can never tell whether the visitor was merely shy, or didn’t really have much to say, or was a typical spammer. By the way, great post. :-P

    I’m going to stumble this post. I hope that this time StumbleUpon will send you some visitors that will spend a long time reading your articles… or enough time to at least subscribe to your feed. ;)

  • Suffian, December 20, 2007

    Great point there about bounce rates from social media traffic. I’d never really thought about it from that angle! But I tend to have similar habits when I discover new sites through social bookmarking. Sometimes, I go on a ‘bookmarking binge’ during my lunch break at work, where I go to sites like del.icio.us and reddit.com and quickly scan through lists of interesting tags. Since I have only an hour to spare, I’ll bookmark pages that I think are interesting to read, and only read through later on in the day – or night, since I work in advertising.

  • Ruchir, December 20, 2007

    In my opinion Polls and surveys are the best when it comes to knowing a reader and to gauge their experience. In other methods, you have to read between the lines. Polls are surveys on the other hand are answers directly from your readers…

  • Matt, December 20, 2007

    Yep, all great ways to check this…I use google analytics to check mine. Sometimes those bounce rates can be discouraging but if you create your site/blog with passion I think the people you are targeting will like/love it.

  • Vandelay Design, December 20, 2007

    Jason,
    I think you do a good job of engaging the reader in your blog posts. You have a nice style of writing. To answer your question, I like excerpts on the front page, not becaue of increasing page views, but mainly because I think it’s easier for the reader. When I’m visiting a blog I like to be able to quickly see what posts are there. I don’t use the more tag, I set it to show excerpts and my RSS feed is full. I’m not a fan of partial feeds.

    Karen,
    You have a good point about polls and surveys. I certainly don’t think they’re 100% accurate, but at least they give you some type of feedback. Thanks for the stumble.

    Suffian,
    I do similar things when I’m surfing. I try not to stop and read an article when I don’t have time, so I use bookmarks as well.

  • Justin Dupre, December 20, 2007

    Interesting write up as always.

    I’m not so sure that time will always be correct, as you said. Unless your average stays very short. I’m having that problem. I get a good amount of visitors daily now, but my average stays below 1 minute. I really have to find something that will keep them connected.

    I think my problem is the layout. (Blogger is so limited. Finally getting hosting so I hope to turn that around with wordpress.)

    What other sites to you recommend to track stats?

    Justin

  • Vandelay Design, December 20, 2007

    Hi Justin,
    I definitely recommend WordPress over Blogger. I have very limited experience with Blogger, but I don’t see any reason to choose it over WP. I use Google Analytics to track stats and that’s about it. I use FeedBurner for the RSS feed stats, but they really don’t provide that much.

  • turtie, December 21, 2007

    very informative posts. I’ve been blogging for a couple of months now, but I didn’t really know what all these terms meant. Good job explaining them and keeping it simple so that its easy to understand. What kind of bounce rates/ pages per visit/ and other stats do you get here at vandelay?

  • SEOBLOG, July 25, 2008

    Yep, all great ways to check this…I use google analytics to check mine. Sometimes those bounce rates can be discouraging but if you create your site/blog with passion I think the people you are targeting will like/love it.