When it comes to evaluating your website’s success, it’s easy to measure--and get excited about--the wrong things. “Website visits are up 2,500% this month!” Pop open the bubbly; throw some confetti. It’s time to celebrate!

But are those visits a true indicator of online marketing success? Without additional context, it’s hard to know if the celebration is warranted. Visitors increased. But are they converting? Are they buying your product? Are they subscribing to your newsletter or blog? Do these new visitors come back, or are they a one-hit wonder? How much revenue does your website generate?

When it comes to determining your website’s success, avoid tracking vanity metrics like the number of visits to your site. Instead, focus on metrics that not only show how your website contributes to business goals, but also show where improvements can be made.

So, what metrics should I use to evaluate my website’s effectiveness?

Don’t know where to start? Here are 4 suggestions to start your list of key performance indicators for your website:

1. Leads

How many prospects contact you to get more information about your products or services? Are your leads high quality or low quality?

Depending on your business model, a lead could be:

  • Phone calls or email form submission
  • Email newsletter subscriptions
  • Free account/trial account signups
  • Ebook downloads
  • Webinar registrations
  • A contact form completion
  • A phone inquiry
No matter what business you're in, one business truth is certain: new leads are a vital part of the growth process. It may seem simple or obvious, but many businesses--and marketers, for that matter--overlook this critical piece of data.

Also, when tracking leads, don't just focus on the quantity; be sure to incorporate qualitative analysis as well. A customer relationship management (CRM) tool is invaluable in the lead-tracking process. With a CRM system, you have a single place to store a prospect's contact information and other details. You can rate how "hot" or "cold" a lead is; or you could assign and track phone calls, emails and other follow-up activity.

Remember, your online marketing isn't only about the number of leads you have--it's about understanding what motivates prospects, finding out what information they seek, and providing them with all the resources they need.

2. Conversions

How many prospects become a customer or client?

Of your prospects, what percentage actually becomes a customer? For an e-commerce website, your conversion rate would look at the number of people who actually make a purchase. Non-profit organizations will want to look at the number of people who make a donation online. A software-as-a-service company might want to look at how many people purchase/upgrade to a full software subscription.

If you find that your conversion rate is low (or non-existent), it’s time to investigate what turns visitors off. Is your checkout process confusing? Is your website copy too formal? Are there doubts about the security of personal data or billing information?

Take some time to conduct a focus group or do usability testing. Your research will help you make an informed decision about the improvements your website may need. And by having concrete data to start with, you’ll have a benchmark to compare new results to.

3. Funnels

Do visitors get "stuck" in your online sales process? Where? Why?

When someone visits your company website, they are "at the top of the funnel."

It's imperative to track visitor behavior and interaction at every stage from start to finish. In doing so, you’ll be able to isolate where missteps occur. From there, you can identify, test and refine solutions.

Consider a financial service firm's website as an example. Perhaps lots of people visit the website, but very few if any actually contact the company. This might be because the prospective clients that visit this website are looking for information, perhaps even for some credibility. Perhaps there's no engaging content on the website, or perhaps the contact information on the website isn't prominent enough. Maybe the copy on the website is written from the perspective of "who we are" rather than "how we can help you" or "here's how we've helped others like you."

Remember: website optimization process is ongoing. The financial firm in this fictional example can continue to monitor key paths people take through the website and test additional improvements. Small changes can improve effectiveness, leading to more business and revenue.

4. Revenue Generated Online

Of your total revenue, how much revenue is generated directly from your website?

Your website can't just be "an online presence" unless you want your company to fail. It is an investment, and you need to know that your investment is yielding results that you can tangibly measure.

Tracking online revenue will help you determine whether you’re on track for monthly/quarterly/yearly goals. If your numbers look “off,” that may signal a problem with your website. For example, people may find broken links, or lead forms may not work properly. Did you introduce another step in the sales funnel this year? People may find the new process too cumbersome. Comparing actual results to benchmarks can help you spot red flags early.

Revenue data can also help you see trends over time. If you know the type of growth you typically see, you can ensure that you and your team set realistic goals for the future.

Website visits are only the beginning of the story. Your website metrics need to look to the actions people take and the tangible results these actions produce.

What other metrics do you consider essential when evaluating your website's effectiveness?

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