Might we be comparing apples to oranges in our visitor analysis?

I’ve written before about the dangers of the “bounce rate” figure in website traffic analytics applications such as Google Analytics. There’s another headline statistic which needs careful interpretation too, however, and that’s “number of pages viewed per visit”. Now hang on, you may say, surely a visitor who looks at three pages is more engaged and a “better” visitor than one who just looks at one page?

Possibly.

I put this scenario to you, which cropped up recently with one of our AdWords clients. The company was getting most of its website traffic from Google searches, with an average of about 2.8 pages viewed per visit. If we eliminated all the visitors who just took one look and ‘bounced’ away, the number went up to 3.8 pages viewed per visit. When we started an AdWords campaign, it nearly doubled the website traffic, but the AdWords visitors, after we eliminated any poor quality ones, were ‘only’ looking at 2.2 pages per visit.

Why was the Google search traffic looking at 3.8 pages per visit, while the AdWords visitors were only looking at 2.2? In other words, why did the Google search visitors appear to be so much more ‘engaged’?

The answer was in where they were going. The AdWords campaign was running on over 600 search terms, with 200 advertisements sending people to about 30 different pages on the site. And there’s the clue as to the difference. Google search was bringing in about the same number of visitors, but 85% of these were being sent to the home page, including traffic for some important product searches. So the average visitor from a Google search on “blue widgets” went to the home page, clicked on the link to “widgets”, and then clicked on the link to “blue widgets”. The AdWords campaign visitor, meanwhile, was taken straight to the blue widgets page in the first place.

There’s plenty to think about here, not just the danger in comparing apples to oranges. If Google search is sending a lot of people to your home page on more specific searches, how easy is it for those visitors to find their way to the page where they need to be?

Discussion

  1. Dave J.

    Bonus, and I’m sure you do this too … Filter out everything but visitors who convert. Time and pages about triple for my site. Which I surmise means they are closely studying our products and are making an educated move by converting (by requesting a price quote).

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