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Website metrics that matter: how to pick a North Star metric

With so much data available to us, how do we know which website metrics matter? This guide helps you identify the best metrics for your business.

Website metrics that matter and North Star Metrics

Before we dive into finding website metrics that matter to you, you’ll need a way to gather them. There are many tools out there, and we make an analytics tool that’s easy to use, real-time, and gives you everything you need out of the box. And, best of all, – it’s free!

Even when you’ve got a web analytics tool in place it can be confusing to know what to pay attention to. We are overstretched, taking on multiple projects and multiple roles, and all that data can be overwhelming.

Larger teams might have more time to handle and analyse huge amounts of data. But we’re going to take a guess that you’re a little bit like us: lean, efficient, and looking for ways to get maximum return in the simplest, quickest way.

So, instead of juggling thousands of metrics, how about focusing on just one?

That’s right. The idea behind picking a North Star metric is to hone in on one single metric that helps you do your job better.

What is a North Star Metric?

what is a North Star Metric

Taking its name from astronomy, the North Star has colloquially come to be code for the guiding point in your life, work, or business.

It’s a single metric that simplifies down all the data to keep you on the right path.

We’ve found that the most effective way to use North Star metrics is to set them at different levels of the business. Company-wide, by team, and individually.

As an example, for a business that sells any kind of product, the most effective company-wide North Star metric might be the number of sales.

If this number is going up then you can be pretty confident that you’re on the right track.

But sales don’t just happen.

Which is why we work with teams and individuals to define more specific North Star metrics.

For most of our customers at GoSquared, their website is their main place of business. Their digital storefront.

When we start looking at website metrics it can get complicated. With thousands of visitors coming and going, and moving about your site they create a huge amount of data. The skill is not just in collecting accurate data. The skill is knowing which website metrics actually matter.

Before we dive in, if you aren’t already set up with web analytics you can get GoSquared on your website for free. It’s simple to use and will have you accessing effective website metrics in less time than it takes to make a cup of tea.

Let’s break down some of the most useful website metrics and why you would focus on them.

Total Website Visitors

website metrics that matter: total number of visitors. Arrow on a starry background

One of the most common metrics people look at.

This is the total number of people who visit your website, day by day, or month by month.

If you are new to website analytics this is an obvious place to start. It’s a good way to give your website a health check and make sure the numbers are moving in the right direction.

Growth in your overall traffic shows positive outcomes from marketing and SEO. As an added bonus, the more visitors you have the more reliable your analytics data is – in general you’re viewing a larger sample so you’re less likely to be swayed by tiny changes in numbers.

For some businesses and teams, this is one of the key metrics they stick with all year round. For others, it might not provide the level of detail they want.

This is a great North Star Metric if:

  • You are trying to grow your audience, and want a simple, clear way to track this.
  • You are trying to get more customers. More visitors often leads to more customers.
  • Note: if this isn’t holding true for your own site, take a look at some common conversion issues and how you can solve them.

New Visitors

Website metrics that matter: New visitors. Outline of a person against a starry background.

When you are using your website as part of the marketing funnel tracking the number of new visitors is important.

Using the “new visitors” metric is best used for the parts of your site that are marketing focused – you want more new people coming into the top of your funnel.

At GoSquared, this is the North Star metric for our Blog. We want this to be a space where people find useful resources and information that will help them understand their customers better. The more people we can reach with these resources, then the further our message and brand can spread.

One of the primary functions of any marketing is to bring more people to your brand. By choosing to track new visitors as your North Star metric you have an easy way to track the effectiveness of your marketing.

This is a great North Star Metric if:

  • You are using your site as a marketing site
  • You are pushing people to your site from elsewhere (eg. click-through ads on social media) and want to see how effective these efforts are.

Bounce Rate

Website metrics that matter: Bounce rate. A bouncing ball against a night sky.

Choosing to focus on bounce rate is a metric that matters when you are making updates to your website.

When visitors bounce off your website more than usual, or more than the industry average, you are alerted to something being wrong.

Lots of things can impact your bounce rate: page loading time, design and branding, the usefulness of information, ineffective landing page copy…

A high bounce rate not only impacts how search engines will rank your website, but it does a disservice to all the hard work you put in to get that person to click on your website in the first place.

This is a great North Star Metric if:

  • You are making updates to your website and want to test this out.
  • You are concentrating on improving your search engine ranking and SEO.
  • Average engaged time

    Metrics that matter: engaged time. A clock against a night sky.

    There are few quick wins in business. Helping customers understand your product and how you can solve their problems is definitely not a quick win.

    Whether we are educating people through content or informing visitors about our services, the amount of time someone spends reading can be a good indicator of what you’re getting right.

    We have all seen the statistics about our tiny attention spans, so when someone takes the time to browse your website – it means something.

    A customer journey is not a linear upwards line. It’s a winding journey of trust building and problem-solving that starts with capturing visitors attention. When you see visitors spending more time on your site it’s a great indication that this relationship is building.

    This is a great North Star Metric if:

    • You are focusing on boosting up your top-of-funnel marketing activity and building valuable relationships with visitors (and customers!)
    • You are a blog or content distributor aiming to create high-quality content for engaged readers
    • You are trying to get across an important or complex message (a charitable organisation, campaign, or brand purpose project)
    • Your revenue model relies on on-page advertising views and clicks

    Average pages per session

    Website metrics that matter: page views. A page against a night sky.

    When a visitor is familiarising herself with your product or service, and getting closer to buying, they will likely visit a number of pages on your website. This is a key part of the customer journey: the education stage.

    Track how many individual pages are looked at per visit. Again, for content marketers and those of us with blogs, this is a great metric to understand visitor engagement.

    If you want to get more detailed you can use this data to map a picture of the journey your visitors take through your website. What are the most visited pages? What order do they come in? Is there a page where most people leave the site?

    This is a great North Star Metric if:

    • You are a marketing site hoping to engage and convert customers.
    • You are a news site, blog, journal or portfolio that relies on engaged users for its revenue model.
    • You are trying to get people to read more about a topic and gain a deep understanding of a viewpoint (campaign, politics, charity, cause/purpose)

    Pick your starting point

    Picking your North Star metric isn’t a one-time decision. There are very few, if any, things in business that we can ‘set and forget’. As always this is about testing and changing.

    To really find the website metrics that matter for your business it will take some experimenting. Hopefully, this post has helped you to get a good idea of where to begin and how different website metrics can help you meet your goals!

    Whatever you choose, keep it simple and keep it focused.

    If you found this post useful check out our learnings on how audience segmentation can make your marketing efforts more powerful. See how you could improve your website conversion rates without redesigning your website. And understand how to get the right kind of traffic to your website.

    download the analytics guide

Written by
Beth is a content marketer and copywriter. She likes to write about customer behaviour and creative business strategy. She really wants a pet cat.

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