Stats, lies and the Telegraph

A good while ago I heard website editor of the, Marcus Warren, being interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s The Message. He was quoting figures that showed 5 million new users for his site month on month.

I’m sure Mr Warren is no different from hundreds of other managers and directors responsible for websites in that he’s focused on talking about one of the most raw stats available (granted, it’s factual and very impressive). Business numbers in the black and not the red are generally regarded in the positive, but web traffic demands more examination than a cursory look at one or two sets of statistics.

I’m willing to bet that a massive percentage of these uniques, perhaps between 70 and 90%, land deeply i.e. not on the home page or submenu pages (possibly from Digg or Stumbleupon as much as from the big search engines). Of course this is an excellent example of “if you build it, they will come”.

However, I’m also willing to bet their bounce rate (people who exit the site quickly after visiting only one page) is also between 70 and 90%. If I were responsible for targeting Mr Warren I’d want to see visitors staying on site longer and I’d want fewer bouncing – yes, even at the expense of total visitor numbers (presuming my previous guesswork is good). A million visitors leaving inside 3 seconds and returning to Google to improve their search term does nothing for your site. In fact it hinders because it confuses your analytics and success becomes more difficult to ascertain.

I’m in no doubt that the Telegraph’s web traffic is growing because of their increased content. More relevant content equals a larger web presence, which should lead to more search results pointing to you. Just think BBC, the mother of all sites.

Chasing such headline numbers as unique visitors is misguided but commonplace. It’s better to look at how engaged a site is with potential and current customers. How many pages are listed on the major search engines (and how many pages are published)? How often is content updated? How keyword rich is the copy? What does the site offer its audience other than ‘get into my shopping cart’?

Mr Warren and his ilk will tell you this is where the real work comes in: the writing, the images, the advice pages, the tips and FAQs, the alternative viewpoint, the video tutorials, the understanding of your market, the educating of your customer. Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not recommending spamming the system with a load of useless link bait but sites do require deep and relevant content.

Of course, it’s all very time consuming and not directly attributable to today’s sales figure, but it’s absolutely invaluable. Just ask the chap from the Telegraph.

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