“I don’t understand web analytics,” my COO / CFO friend Nichiole Baird told me one day. Nichole and her husband Drew are creating a very cool web business selling the magical audio cable Drew and a growing team hand craft in their Cary, NC office. Nichole manages Moon-Audio.com’s blogging and finances.

She understands “metrics”, but “web metrics” feels overwhelming. Web metrics are like anything else. The more you do it better you get. This Curagami Web Metrics for Non Quants post shares simple ways to understand what your website is doing and why. If you can ask questions you can understand web metrics.

Asking Questions

Here are questions we use to guide our analysis of client websites:

  • Why do we have a company / website?
  • What is our USP (Unique Selling Proposition)?
  • What are our customer’s aspirations (why would they visit our site)?
  • How much traffic is and has visited the site we are trying to understand?
  • How LONG does traffic stay on our site (time on site)?
  • How many pages does an average user view?
  • How much of our traffic is new vs. returning?
  • What is our site’s bounce rate?
  • What are top 10 pages on our site (by money, time, or shares)?
  • Where is traffic coming from and why (i.e. relate to marketing channels such as PPC, organic, email)?
  • WHO is our “traffic”, what are their “personas”?

Web Analytics for Non Quants bulletin board image

How Metrics Are Tied

The hardest web metrics concept for many new to web marketing students or Small to Medium Sized Businesses (SMBs) we’ve advised, taught or collaborated with is the fuzzy logic that ties web metrics together.

Metrics don’t exist in a bubble.

When traffic increases conversions should go up. When time on site increases conversions should go up. When your email list grows conversions and sales follow.

Rising Tide Metrics
Some metrics such as traffic and conversion are “Rising Tide” metrics. When traffic goes up “rising tide” metrics such as sales, email list size and social shares should rise too. Common Rising Tide metrics include:

  • Traffic & Sales or other conversions (buy & email list size are common conversion metrics).
  • Traffic & User Generated Content (UGC).
  • Traffic & Bounce Rate

Seesaw Metrics
Other metrics act in opposition to each other. Common seesaw metrics include:

  • Traffic & Time On Site (increasing traffic usually erodes time on site ever so slightly).
  • Traffic & Pages Viewed (same here, traffic goes up this heuristic measure usually declines).
  • Traffic & Sales (junk traffic decreases conversions).Unrelated Metrics

Unrelated Metrics
The Rubicon between some metrics is so broad one has little to do with the other. Common unrelated mchris_opn_msetrics include:

  • Pageviews & visitors from Texas (or state x, views should be constant, if they aren’t find out why).
  • New vs. Return & state or country data (should act similar no matter what geography).
  • Browser & Operating System to conversion (another set of metrics that shouldn’t skew or change much).

If you see traffic double and conversions remain the same, as happened to our website one October, you are experiencing a spam link attack. If you see Texans spending 3x the time and twice the money on your site FIND OUT WHY. You probably have a strong advocate somewhere in Texas you don’t know about.

If you see seesaw metrics acting like rising tide metrics FIND OUT WHY because you’ve done something great and should know what so you can do it again. First task in understanding web analytics is to know your Rising Tide, Seesaw and Unrelated metrics.

The next task in understanding web analytics for non quants is to know big picture concepts such as:

  • Why Questions.
  • Traffic Questions.
  • Behavior Questions.
  • Testing.
  • Email Marketing.

QDF Implications questions are great question mark image

Why Questions

The web is the ultimate lie detecting amplifier. If you are confused about why to have a website your confusion will be amplified 100x online. Some approach the web as an elixir for marketing problems. Don’t do that. Marketing problems get worse when a million people look at them.

Don’t try to Sistine Chapel perfection either.

A lot of new to the web developers are afraid to publish. Don’t be. Enlist your tribe to help you solve problems, answer questions and find spelling / grammar mistakes. Asking for help is an online community core competency, so ASK and ye shall receive.

Those two paragraphs demonstrate another common and important web dynamic – finding the balance between two ideas is common. First paragraph says be careful to know your reasons for creating a website. The second says ask for help. Doing both of those together and in moderation creates web marketing truth.

Traffic Questions

Traffic is the lubricating oil of any website. Never forget traffic = people. The perfect website, and perfection is a costly illusion online, would have 50% returning customers and 50% new. Most sites are 70% new to 30% returning. You EARN returning customers.

What “sustainable online community” looks like for you and yours may be different than for me and mine, but single overarching goal for online marketing these days is the creation of online community. You CAN and WILL get to the end of the Internet if your new % remains high. New at 90% or more means your content isn’t sticky, your environment isn’t trusted or both.

Behavior QuestionsWeb Analytics for non quants coffee cup image

When people (traffic) visit what do they do? Look big picture first. What do “average users” do? Use “heuristic” or “hands on” measures such as time on site, pages viewed and bounce rates to understand speak to your site’s engagement. If you have 3:30 or better as average time on site your content is sticky.

Sticky is good in most web marketing context.

Reading must lead to conversions. Conversions can be anything from buying something to sharing something. Here is a list of common web “conversions”:

  • Buying Something.
  • Subscribing to your email marketing list.
  • Liking, linking or sharing your content on social media.
  • Linking into your content from a blog or website.
  • Sharing User Generated Content (UGC).
  • Sharing word-of-mouth advocacy (hard to track, but important).
  • Joining your Ambassadors Program.
  • Conversion is the ringing bell. Conversion is any web marketing action’s goal.


Ask yourself, “What will we do different after this test” to test successfully. Testing fails when it doesn’t matter. Learning a pink cause related hero works well in October (Breast Cancer Awareness month) is probably moot. You learn something you already knew. Learn your Breast Cancer Awareness hero should be a man and that  is a test worth conducting.

A friend of mine, a man, had breast cancer. If I was managing a tool website or some other traditionally male focused site I might feature a man on the cover with a “We Get Breast Cancer Too” headline and a contribution to American Cancer Society for every tool we sell during the month of October.

Testing should confirm or deny assumptions and give an actionable conclusion – men best women in our fictional tool website so we tell my friend’s story (with permission and attribution) and make a contribution on every sale.

Never assume. Always TEST.

Key Performance Indicators graphic

Email Marketing

Think of your email marketing as a way to check with customers. Divide your email into groups. We suggest two email marketing groups:

  • Segments.
  • Personas.

Email Marketing Segments
Segments are internal groups. When I was a Director of Ecommerce one of the products we created contributed 50% of our profits. If you purchased that very important product you were in our VIP segment.

We tailored our email marketing to our VIP segment by referencing our product (the one we knew you purchased) AND not pitching the product you’ve already purchased again.Segments help you know who is making money for your site and why.

Email Marketing Personas & Life Cycles

Do you “batch and blast”a single email offer to your entire list? STOP because batching and blasting is close to spamming these days. Know your email “tribe” well.Here are a few ways you can get to know your email tribe:

  • Clearly define 5 – 7 persona groups or “tribes” and triggers that place a visitor in the tribe.
  • Ask your email subscribers to do some simple profiling work and give them something for the help.
  • Categorize their behaviors when they visit your site.
  • Categorize and tag where customers come from (when known).
  • Create “persona bait” and troll it via teases throughout the sit.
  • When your tribe is in subgroups or personas you can create relevant communication.

Email Life Cycles

Your buyers, repeat buyers and advocates go through a “life cycle”. Direct marketers use RFM or Recency, Frequency and Monetary values to help define personas and know where customers are in their “life cycle”. Customers whose RFM scores are higher are HOT and should be communicated with differently than customers with low RFM scores.

One big direct marketing lesson is to double down on the winners and leave laggards behind. Cost of rehabilitating laggards is so high Return On Investment (ROI) can’t be sustained (in most cases), so more important to work with winners than rehab losers.

That last sentence was hard for me to accept. Most Type A web marketers want to WIN and WIN BIG. But there’s a problem. The web is more like baseball than football. You will FAIL more than you succeed. Hit .400 or 4 out of 10 campaigns and you are in the web marketing hall of fame.
Sara Harvey Knitting Gnome image & link to etsy store

Hit more than .500 and you are doing it wrong (lol). Failure means you are learning. Fail enough and you learn faster. Learn fast enough and you open up a small window for a short time. During those tiny, short periods you may be “King of your web World”. Enjoy those moments because the web’s uncertainty principle means they don’t last long. We like to say web marketing is building sand castles on the beach when the tide is always coming in.

Use your metrics to know what to double down on and what to leave. Know your Rising Tide, Seesaw and Unrelated Metrics. Form customers and visitors into tribes. Ask for help and market to movements not a never ending sale and your online marketing will succeed and be fun to create and watch what happens. If you aren’t having fun you are doing it (web marketing) wrong.