Website Metrics 101: Hits, Pageviews, and Rankings

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Do you know whether your website is working?

When it comes to assessing website effectiveness, most lawyers have no clue where to start. Others have just enough information to waste their time chasing all the wrong metrics.

Here are some of the most common ways lawyers measure their websites, why they’re so useless, and how to tell whether your website is really working.

Your Feelings Do Not Matter

Lawyers should be proud of their websites. But most lawyers don’t have that much in common with the people for whom their websites were created (hint: potential clients). In other words, the lawyers aren’t their sites’ intended audience.

Unless the purpose of your site is for you to bask in its glow, your feelings are not a reliable indicator of whether your website is working. So what metrics should you be paying attention to and why?

What’s the Purpose of Your Website?

If you have not specifically defined the purpose of your website, you can not possibly understand whether or not it’s performing. If you have defined your site’s purpose, keep in mind the ways by which you ought to measure performance, are completely dependent on your goals for the site.

For example, if the sole purpose of your site is to demonstrate your knowledge, skill and experience, to people who hear about you via word of mouth referrals, it would be silly to measure the site’s performance by its ability to generate potential client inquiries from organic search traffic.

As Seth Godin puts it:

Pretty websites … are rarely websites that convert as well as unpretty ones.

If the goal of your site is to position you, tell a story, establish your good taste and make it clear what sort of organization you are, then pretty might be the way to go. And you can measure the effectiveness of the site by how it impresses those you seek to impress, by its long-term impact.

But it’s a mistake to also expect your pretty website to generate cash, to have the maximum percentage of clicks, to have the most efficient possible funnel of attention to action.

Obviously, websites can serve a variety of purposes. The key is matching the appropriate purpose with the right success metrics. For example if your purpose is:

  • Giving people directions to your office. A useful metric would be to track how many visitors click on links to driving directions.
  • Demonstrating your expertise. You might conduct surveys or user testing in this regard.
  • Attracting meaningful attention from potential clients. You might track clicks, to calls, to clients, to legal fees.
  • Selling legal services and products. You should track how people are finding and buying them.

Now that we have defined some metrics worth paying attention to, which ones should you ignore?

Hits

“Hits” are a terrible measure of effectiveness, and they probably aren’t what you think they are. To me, lawyers’ misuse of “hits” is akin to their misuse of the term blog.

A hit is:

a request to a web server for a file, like a web page, image, JavaScript, or Cascading Style Sheet.

When a web page is downloaded from a server the number of “hits” or “page hits” is equal to the number of files requested. Therefore, one page load does not always equal one hit because often pages are made up of other images and other files which stack up the number of hits counted. Because one page load does not equal one hit, it is an inaccurate measure of a website’s popularity or web traffic. A more accurate measure of web traffic is how many page views a web site has.

In fact, there is typically a monumental difference between a site’s meaningful visitors, pageviews, and its hits. For example, as Sam once noted:

For comparison, Lawyerist got about 231,000 pageviews per month according to Google Analytics. But our server analytics show over 1.4 million “hits.”

Pageviews

Speaking of pageviews, while generally accepted in the world of online advertising, they usually do not speak directly to whether your lawyer website is achieving its purpose. A pageview is:

a request to load a single HTML file (web page) of an Internet site. On the World Wide Web, a page request would result from a web surfer clicking on a link on another “page” pointing to the page in question. This should be contrasted with a “hit”, which refers to a request for any file from a web server. There may therefore be many hits per “page” view since an HTML “page” can be made up of multiple files. On balance, page views refer to a number of pages which are viewed or clicked on the site during the given time.

Pageviews may be counted as part of web analytics. For the owner of the site, this information can be useful to see if any change in the “page” (such as the information or the way it is presented) results in more visits. If there are any advertisements on the page, the publishers would also be interested in the number of page views to determine their expected revenue from the ads. For this reason, it is a term that is used widely for Internet marketing and advertising.

Unless the purpose of your site is for advertisers to pay you by pageviews or unique pageviews, these won’t pay your rent. However, they can serve as an indirect metric of general website health. For example, they might be somewhat useful in understanding how people are finding you online.

If you’re interested in learning more about various web analytics metrics, Google Analytics Help provides some excellent documentation on the differences between clicks, sessions, and pageviews.

Rankings

As we navigate the “enough information to be dangerous” spectrum, we come to the topic of SEO & search engine rankings. Unless the purpose of your website is for you to see your name in the “Google lights,” search rankings are an absolutely horrible way to measure whether a website is working.

First, accurately tracking rankings is becoming more and more difficult. Search engine result pages (SERPs) are becoming more and more personalized and localized. Furthermore, SERPs are in a constant state of flux. This means that what you see when you perform a search is not what other people (like your potential clients) will see.

It also means that the rank tracking tools you may be using have serious limitations when it comes to accurately reporting rankings.

Second, rankings do not necessarily lead to new clients. In fact, they do not even necessarily lead to traffic.

For example, if the purpose of your site is to earn clients from search engines, and it ranks number one in Google for queries that no one is using, then you won’t get any visitors, let alone paying clients. This is part of the reason that guaranteed rankings are worthless.

Usually, the more purposes a site is designed to fulfill, the less effective it tends to serve any particular purpose. Your website should not do everything for everybody. By clearly defining purpose and success metrics prior to launch, you can know whether it’s working without a gut feeling or server hits.

Featured image: “ Business person analyzing financial statistics displayed on the tablet screen ” from Shutterstock.

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