Defining Success Metrics for Informational Sites

What does success look like on a non-ecommerce site? And more importantly, how do you measure it? As we mentioned last week, the answer isn’t always obvious—especially if your website follows an informational model; that is, if your primary goal is for users to consume the content on your site.

Here are a few metrics you can start evaluating to measure your site’s success: keyword rankings, time on site or pages per visit, and visits to specific pages of your site. Let’s break ’em down.

Keyword Ranking

Obviously, if your site’s going to be successful, people need to be able to find it. That often means you have to rank well in the search engines. Choose the keywords that are most important to your site, and track your site’s search engine rankings on those terms over time. You’ll start to get a picture of how your site measures up. (Wondering which keywords to track? Here’s some advice.)

Our favorite tool for tracking keyword ranking in the search engines is SEOmoz Rank Tracker. You can easily track the keyword or phrase on a specific URL or the entire domain (this is handy if you’re tracking the results for a specific optimized page, rather than your whole site). You can also view results for specific search engines (Google, Yahoo or Bing) and specific countries (so you can see how you’re ranking on Google UK versus Bing Germany).

Rank Tracker also strips out search engine personalization features, allowing you to see a neutral display of your results.

Rank Tracker requires an account, because once you’ve entered your terms, search engine and country, it automatically tracks and updates the information over time so you’ll be able to return and see how you’re doing or set it up to send you weekly email updates.

Time on Site & Pages per Visit

While these are two separate metrics, you’ll get a more complete picture about the visitors to your site when you look at them together. Here’s why.

If your users are hitting a high number of pages per visit, but spending a short time on your site, it’s likely means that visitors are clicking around, unable to find what they are looking for.

In contrast, if users hit a low number of pages per and spend a long time on the site, it may mean that they are deeply interested in the content. But it also might indicate that the content isn’t clear, and they need to spend more time figuring it out.

As always, before you start tracking these metrics, you’ll first need to determine your baseline. We recommend using at least one quarter (3 months) of data to ensure that you’re not basing your goals on one particularly good or bad week. Determine your average number of pages per visit and time on site for the last 3 months, and then set a goal you’d like to achieve (a 10% increase? 15%?).

Google Analytics (which we use at CDG), makes it easy to measure your progress toward your goal. It allows you to set and track up to 20 goals per site. Here’s how to set a goal for this particular metric:

  1. From your Profile Settings, click + Add goal
  2. Name your goal. This name will appear in reports, so choose something that you’ll remember.
  3. Select the type of goal – time on site or pages per visit, and you’ll see a place to enter the appropriate information for the goal.
  4. Save your goal

Specific Page Visited

This metric is particularly handy for informational sites. Perhaps you want your audience to visit the page of a particular piece of content—such as a daily webcast, a newsletter, or a featured article. This metric makes it very easy to see how many people are finding the content in question.

Again, if you’re using Google Analytics, you can easily track the visits to that page over time by setting a goal for that particular URL:

  1. From your Profile Settings, click +Add goal.
  2. Name your goal.
  3. Select the type of goal – URL Destination.
  4. Select the type of match – This is an optional step. Check with your technical team to see which is the most appropriate for you depending on your system.
  5. Enter the goal URL
  6. Save your goal

Of course, setting your goals is only the start of the battle. No matter which or metrics you decide to use to measure your site’s success, you need to be vigilant about looking at your analytics on a regular basis and thinking about ways to improve performance. Your page views won’t increase on their own, so you’ll need to start thinking about–and testing—changes that will help you reach those goals.

Next up: Success Metrics for Engagement-Based Sites

Lisa Crotty

Marketing Manager

Lisa is a Senior Optimization Specialist at Innate – her friends even teased that she A/B tested her name change. Lisa studied Philosophy of Science & Technology at Virginia Tech and is always asking why.

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