Website Traffic as a KPI: Pros and Cons

Our last edition of “What’s Your (SEO) KPI?” focused on why “Search Rankings are a Terrible Performance Indicator.” This week, we will be discussing the pros and cons of using overall website traffic as a measure of your site’s key performance indicator (KPI).

“Traffic,” in general, means the number of people that are visiting your website. Often, this can be broken down into smaller categories:

  • Referral Traffic – the number of people who get to your website from another website.
  • Paid Search Traffic – the number of people who get to your website through ads on search engines.
  • Organic Search Traffic – the number of people who get to your website from a search engine like Google or Bing.
  • Direct Traffic – the number of people who either have your website bookmarked, type the URL in, or who your analytics program can’t figure out where they came from. Kind of an “other” or “miscellaneous” category.

KPI target

Whether you break it down into individual categories or look at it in aggregate, “traffic to your website” is a number that pops up a lot on lists of SEO key performance indicators. It can provide you with a quick glance at the growth of your website.

In general, more traffic is better than less traffic, and SEOs will often talk a lot about how to increase the traffic to your website, especially “Organic Search Traffic” from search engines (since, after all, the SEO acronym stands for Search Engine Optimization). It’s almost never a bad thing for the traffic to your website to be going up, especially if it continues to go up over a long period of time.

What is the purpose of your site?

There are some things to remember when using traffic to measure the success of your website or online marketing campaign. It can be easy to get narrowly focused on “traffic” and lose sight of the big picture. Ultimately, what is your website for? To increase sales, whether that’s through people buying things from your website or driving more people into your store.

It’s great if traffic to your website is increasing, but is it actually translating into more sales? If you see your traffic going up and up, but you aren’t getting any more people to purchase your products or services, it’s time to evaluate your digital marketing strategy. This leads to a couple different SEO-related points.

Track conversions on your website

Make sure that you are doing your best to track whether or not visitors to your website are actually converting and turning into customers. If you sell products online, this is as easy as setting up goals and conversion tracking in your analytics program.

For example, in Google Analytics there are a number of actions that you can track, such as when someone lands on a “thank you” page after checking out or filling out a contact form. If you don’t sell things online, tracking how many customers are coming into your store because of your website can be a little more tricky. Options include customer surveys asking them how they found out about you, or using a call tracking service to track which customers call your store after finding the phone number on your website. Both of these options give you incomplete information at best, and in the case of call tracking, may actually hurt your website’s standing with Google if you are a local business (although that’s a post for another day).

Google Analytics Goals

However, if you aren’t tracking how many website visitors turn into actual customers, you may never know whether or not your efforts to increase your website traffic and drive more people to your website are actually increasing your sales.

Focused keyword research for your site

Make sure the keywords that you are trying to rank for aren’t too broad. If you sell scuba diving equipment in [city], it may sound like a really great idea to show up number one in search engines for “scuba diving” or even “scuba diving [city]“, but the problem is that even if you succeed in doing that, you will bring in lots of people who aren’t looking to rent/buy scuba diving equipment, but instead are looking for general information about scuba diving, or are looking for locations where they can go scuba diving at, or places that offer scuba certification.

When these people visit your website, they aren’t likely to buy anything from you, but instead become annoyed and leave your website in search of what they’re actually looking for. In this case, the traffic that you have gained from ranking number one for “scuba diving” hasn’t actually translated into any more customers, just more people who are annoyed with you.

In summary, “website traffic” can be a good quick estimator of how well your website is doing and how well it’s growing. However, it’s always important to keep in mind whether those people visiting your website and increasing your traffic are actually turning into customers.

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