Functionalism and Web Analytics: KPI Stew

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(You may want to download the White Paper on Functionalism as a detailed technical companion piece to this series).

I was talking to a web measurement guy the other day when he casually mentioned that his business partners had given him 300 KPIs they wanted to track! This took my breath away. That’s a lot of KPIs. Now I don’t know if these were good, bad or indifferent or how sensible the thinking behind them actually was. But it does seem to me that businesses can easily be infected with a kind of measurement envy. I can image a conversation like this actually taking place – “You only track 300 KPIs – we track at least 400!”

This profligate KPI stew is the web analytic version of the multi-vitamin – including every conceivable vitamin and mineral to the nth degree and lacking nothing but the essential nutrients and energy to actually keep you alive!

What drives the creation of this sour concoction? The lack, of course, of any guiding principle about how and what is worth measuring. When you don’t know why your measuring things, almost any conceivable number might have a point. “Single Access Pages?” Throw em in. “Exits?” Gotta be important, right? “Average Page Time?” Doubtless a concern. “Top Referrers?” Somebody must need to know.

You can think of Functionalism as a recipe – and the ingredients are the KPIs you use at each step. If the recipe is a good one, then you should get a tasty result. If the recipe is just a mishmash of ill-considered ingredients, you’ll wind up with nothing but KPI stew.

So it’s time, at last, to move into the particulars of Functional analysis – the KPIs by page type. I’m going to tackle each page type in a separate entry, and I’m going to start with Engager pages.

Here’s the functional description for an Engager:

Functional Description: A page whose primary job is to grab the visitor’s interest and get them to do something (almost anything!) on the web site. In general, the pre-supposition to an Engager page is that there is little known about the intent of the visitors landing here. Where more is known about what a visitor desires, there is usually a specific set of directions that the page is expected to drive toward and the page is generally better (or also) classified as a Router.

I often look for elements of the traditional sales-cycle when I’m thinking about how to understand web pages. That’s why pages like “Closers” exist – they are a direct extrapolation of how in-person sales happen. Is there a non-virtual analog for the Engager? Well, in a way an Engager page is like a store-window. The store-window isn’t generally used to sell a specific product. It’s about bringing visitors into the store. So the focus in a store-window is on engagement – showing the most interesting products even if they aren’t particularly likely to sell. That’s why car dealers put flashy sports cars on a pedestal in front. It’s why store windows at Christmas have elaborate displays.

On the other hand, a web site doesn’t have a door that is distinct from its window. So a pure engager may have consequences on the web that it won’t in a store window. That’s why it almost always necessary to think about an Engager page as having Routing functionality as well. On the web, people enter your shop through your store windows – so you have to leave them a good path to tread!

So what are the KPIs for measuring an Engager page? They include the primary measures of basic success: % Engagement Links, % Return Visitors, Organic SE Entry %, Exit Rate and Exit Propensity plus some measures of route effectiveness: Subsequent Page Consumption and Subsequent Success.

The first measure simply tracks how many visitors click through into your content (become engaged). This is a simple but seriously important measure for Engagement.

Tracking returning visitors gives you a way to think about your psychological engagement. Naturally, this isn’t going to be a pure measure – since the other pages of your site are going to have a significant impact on return likelihood. One interesting technique is to measure the return propensity for lands on this page versus lands on others. This tends to capture both the page itself and it’s functional routes.

Organic SE Entry % is useful because Engagers these days have to grab search traffic as well as human. Few pages won’t include some measure of SEO effectiveness – and it’s essential to take this into account for high-level pages on your site.

Exits are, of course, the antithesis of engagement. So the basic Exit rate for an Engager is an important measure of its success. Exit Propensity (a measure of Exit Rate by Depth) helps you understand Engager performance when it isn’t a landing page. This does happen. In addition, by calculating the Exit Propensity for direct lands to an Engager, you can remove the confusion that often results from re-surface behaviors (cases where visitors drill-down to content then come back to the Engager page before exiting).

This set of KPIs comprise the basic measurement of Engagement Function. The next two KPIs are designed to capture high-level routing performance. Subsequent Page Consumption measures whether the paths visitors chose turned out to be deeply engaging. This is especially important for publishing sites.

Measures of Subsequent Success vary. They will always include conversion, of course. But they may also include reasonable conversion proxies – behaviors on the site that are useful for identifying visitor engagement and qualification. In many cases, the Functionalism Paradigm provides an excellent tool for understanding good conversion proxies. Instead of using total page consumption as an intermediate measure of success, you can focus on the page consumption of “Convincer” or “Closer” pages that actually indicate you moved a visitor into the real sales-cycle. That way, routes like “careers” and “press” and the subsequent page views they generate won’t be counted.

The fact that nearly every Engager page is necessarily a door as well as a window (exceptions might be a Flash that pops up off an HTML page and then returns the visitor to the page) means you need to look at more than one type of KPI. Engagement KPIs let you track how well your page is grabbing interest (the window). Routing KPIs let you track whether your entryway is properly directed (the door). Together, they provide an effective way to measure and compare Engager performance.


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Gary Angel is the author of the “SEMAngel blog – Web Analytics and Search Engine Marketing practices and perspectives from a 10-year experienced guru.

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