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Data gathering and analysis is an important part of every marketer’s job. Without data, marketers can’t know what is working and what is not, what needs to be changed and what can remain the same. Thankfully, data gathering is easier than ever

Technology has given marketers so many ways to gather data and insights about prospects, leads and customers, whether baked right in the tools they use such as Facebook Insights, as part of third party analytics tools, or from data aggregators which can comb through connected online properties and pull data into a comprehensive dashboard.

There is now more data than we know what to do with.

Marketers often choose a set of key performance metrics (KPIs) on which to focus, based on their specific goals or the specific strategies being measured. For example, social media marketers might focus on followers or likes (though these are vanity metrics) when evaluating Twitter or Facebook; a content marketer might focus on form conversion rates; and a search engine marketer might focus on cost-per-click.

One tool many of us are familiar with, even if just in a cursory way, is Google Analytics. Google Analytics can give marketers insights into website performance, social media traffic, search engine optimization efforts and even the performance of specific content offers or campaigns. Unfortunately, we sometimes misinterpret the data, don’t use it the right way, or even discount our performance negatively as a result.

Here are four metrics that don’t necessarily mean what you think they mean.

Bounce Rate

A bounce, as defined by Google, is a single-page session on your website. We often look at this rate as indicating some level of satisfaction with site content. Is the site engaging and does it encourage users to visit more than one page or do they simply “bounce” from the site? The overall bounce rate is calculated by dividing the number of bounces by total sessions.  It is also calculated on a per page basis by dividing the number of bounces on that page by the number of times that page was an entry page or first page of a website session (also called a landing page).

A page with a high bounce rate could cause concern. But what this rate doesn’t take into consideration is the page type or the possibility that a site is so well organized, users are able to easily find the information they are seeking without visiting multiple pages.

This is especially true for sites utilizing recent design best practices that include contact information easily accessible via the site’s header or footer. A user could land on any page, find an address, phone number or email address and leave the site, choosing a more direct line of communication. The same can be said of well-optimized pages that answer a specific question.

Blog posts or pages with long-tail keywords can also have high bounce rates, which can be partially attributed to social media. When posts are shared on social media, users often come to the site from social media to read a specific post and then return to their regular social media perusal.

Exit Rate

Exit Rate is often confused with Bounce Rate. Exit rate indicates how many people ended a session on a particular page, divided by the number of times the page was viewed in a certain time period. A website page that has been viewed four times and has two exits has an exit rate of 50%. A page that has been viewed three times and has one exit has an exit rate of 33.3%.

Like bounce rate, this metric is often viewed negatively. However, a well designed page, providing the information visitors need and want could earn a high exit rate because it answers questions, not because it’s a poorly-performing page. This could be true of a job posting, a contact page or another page designed to drive a user to seek an alternative contact method.

Time Spent on Website

It would be nice to think that visitors are spending five or 10 minutes perusing your site and consuming your content. But Google can’t actually measure how long a visitor is actively using a site. Google calculates time spent on a page based on the time between page loads.

As such, this data can easily be skewed by a person who leaves a website open all day to reference it at a later time or someone who is interrupted by a call before navigating to a new site page.

Additionally Google can’t calculate the time spent on the last page or exit page. Therefore, Google eliminates exit pages in page view count when calculating time on site. Thus, while a person may have actively used a site for 10 minutes, if eight minutes were spent on the exit page, it would appear that visitor spent only two minutes on the site.

Pages with high exit rates or high bounce rates could appear to have very low time on site due to smaller sample sizes as a result of the above exclusion. But that doesn’t mean a visitor didn’t linger – or find the information he or she was looking for.

Users

Despite the data gathering advances and all the information Google can gather about you, it doesn’t know who you are. It can’t say, “oh John Doe has returned to website XYZ today.” To Google, you are just a cookie stored in a browser. Therefore, each time you use a different device to visit a website you appear to be a different person. If you visit a site on your tablet, phone, laptop and desktop, you would appear as four people in that site’s analytic data.

And, if you clear your cookie from a browser and visit again, you will appear to be yet another new user. Keep visiting from different devices while clearing your cookies and you could appear as a lot of different users.

As such, users, as a metric, is often inflated and doesn’t tell a good story about how many people visit your site.

Conclusion

Whatever you are measuring, be sure you are measuring correctly and understand what the metric truly indicates. A metric that appears to be a negative performance indicator might not be and numbers that seem wonderfully positive, such as a high user count, may be completely inflated and misleading.

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