Posted to Ben Finklea's blog on August 23rd, 2011

Increasing the Conversion Rate: Critical Metrics for Ad-Driven Sites

Over the last week, I have been discussing which metrics are critical for analysis, depending upon the type of website. The last two posts covered: Critical Metrics for Lead Generation Sites and Critical Metrics for e-Commerce Sites. Both posts covered analytics you need to be paying attention to if you run an e-commerce or lead generation site, respectively, as well as common metrics for all types of websites.

The analytics you should devote your time to depends on what type of website you have. Here’s a quick classification of a few analytics:

Side Note: Relative importance of site metrics based on site type. Critical goals should be measured and improved. Trend indicators can tell you if your site is headed in the right direction. Good means that it's something to keep your eyes on but it's not a primary indicator. Don't waste your time with Not Important indicators.

The final main type of website is ad-driven, which is a different kind of animal than e-commerce or lead generation. Join me after the jump an intensive breakdown of critical metrics for ad-driven websites as well as some secondary metrics worth tracking.

Critical Metrics for Ad-Driven Websites

Ad-driven sites are a breed apart. They want eyeballs—and lots of them. The more people who view their site, the more value it has to an advertiser. Particularly, stats like visitors and pageviews are most important; don't ignore quality of visitors, though. If your advertisers aren't seeing sales then ultimately you're going to have a difficult time generating revenue or you may be forced into receiving a percentage of sales, which is difficult to track. Typical ad-driven sites are content focused—news sites, sports, how-to sites, and gossip are all popular.

Number of Visitors:

This is the raw number of unique visitors to your web site. It's a great metric to take to advertisers, especially if your visitors tend to be in a particular niche. But, counting the number of visitors that visit your site is like counting the number of people who walk by the front of a retail store. If they don't engage then you don't have a business. Make sure you track additional metrics like Bounce Rate and Page Views to add some gravitas to your visitors metric.

Side Note: Careful that you don't skew your visitors metric

Visitors are one of the easiest metrics to accidentally make a mess of. Some typical examples are that your employees have your web site set as the start page when they open a new browser window; your HR department posted a job on Craigslist so potential hires are checking you out; or your webmaster is updating the site and reloading again and again. All of these will create spikes in your traffic and skew your numbers. Some of them can be addressed with the Google Analytics module by turning off tracking of registered users or admins, but it's nearly impossible to remove all the skewed numbers. Don't rely on the absolute numbers—look for trends in the number of visitors.

Total Pageviews:

For ad-driven sites, this is the number. It measures the number of total pages of your site that were viewed. It's a raw number: 'We had 97,000 pageviews last month'. Just like visitors, this metric can be easily misunderstood. A high number of pageviews could be an indicator that your site is popular, or it could mean that it's difficult for visitors to find what they're looking for. It's useful—just be sure you investigate what it means.

Average Pageviews per visit (total pageviews / visits):

Measures how many pages each visitor sees. If you're an ad-driven site, the easiest way to increase your ad revenue is to increase this statistic. If you can increase it from two average pageviews per visit to three average pageviews per visit, with the same amount of traffic you'd then see 50% more ad revenue. 'Since adding links to related content at the bottom of each node with the Acquia Solr Search module, we've seen our average pageviews per visit go from 3 to 4.5'.

Secondary Metrics Worth Tracking

Analytics data is great at showing trends in your site's visitors. These trends may be useful for making certain decisions about your site but they're not necessarily the most important focus of your campaign.

Natural vs. Paid Visitors:

Be sure, when using analytics, that you're aware of whether you're viewing your natural or paid visitors. If you're not running pay-per-click advertising campaign then this is a moot point. If you know your conversion rate for paid traffic can be critical for the profitability of your campaign. Pay careful attention in Google Analytics because the default setting is to lump all traffic together into one report.

Exit Pages:

The last page that someone on your site sees before they leave. If it's not the 'Thank you for ordering' page then you should pay attention. If you're seeing a lot of people leaving on one particular page, chances are good that there is something wrong with it. Take a look. How can you make it better and more attractive? Do people need more options or less? How about an exit survey?

Bounce Rate:

Bounce rate is the percentage of people that enter your site, view the one page they came in on, and then leave. If you wrote a particularly interesting article, that's getting a lot of links, then it may just be that people are coming to read the article and then leaving. This is especially true for how-to articles like 'How to tie a necktie' or 'How to write a testimonial'. People are there to find out something, and then they leave. Keep them around by offering related content. 'Two more ways to tie a necktie' might get them to stick around and read a bit more—if that's your goal. Bounce rate might also be an indicator that your site is targeting the wrong crowd. Maybe you sell windows but people are searching for Microsoft Windows software. It's important to understand what terms are great and which ones are over-used for you to target.


Hits are just plain bad. You shouldn't use them because they are greatly misunderstood and can be so misleading. This is one of the easiest numbers to fudge—simply add more graphics to your site's banner and your hits will move up. If you're performance-tuning your server then this might be a good metric but from a marketing standpoint, it just doesn't help. Fortunately, this stat has just about gone the way of the dodo. But, you'll still occasionally run into someone who will insist that hits is a good measure of the site. Run from that person, quickly!

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