Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Web Analytics: Why are your pages getting no traffic?

I guess this comes as a follow-up to my first web analytics post - how to determine which pages on your site aren't getting any traffic.  The question I'm thinking about today is not which pages aren't getting traffic, but why not?  This comes after my own experience in discovering certain pages have no traffic.  That's not just low traffic, or less than I'd like, but none at all, which is very difficult to prove.  After all, our web analytics tools are designed to show some traffic, and finding the pages which aren't getting much is often a manual case of searching for a particular page's title, name, or URL.

But what if you can't find any traffic at all?  The request comes in from a stakeholder, "Please can you tell me how much traffic my page has had in the last month?"   Yes, it's a reporting question, and we'd like to analyse why the question's being asked, but let's fast-forward that part and just get to finding the traffic.  So, where is it?  There's none at all.  You can only show this because it's not showing up anywhere - Site Catalyst and Google Analytics won't report a zero figure against your page (unless you followed my suggestion a few months ago). 

This means you've reached a tricky point.  Do you really want to tell your stakeholder (who may be very senior) that their page has no traffic?  After all, some people regard traffic to their page as a number which is as much a status symbol as their salary, and so your news update isn't going to go well.  You may have to say it's had no traffic, but there are a few possible reasons why (some of them more palatable than others).

Possibility 1.  The page isn't tagged.

It happens.  Yes, we'd all like all our pages tagged, but occasionally one slips through the net.  Perhaps it's not a typical page built from the content management system's templates.  Maybe the tag got mangled by some other javascript on the page, or an agency or marketing tag, and it hasn't been firing properly.  This means no data - which is a different issue than no traffic.  Any solutions to this one are going to require a confession, and then some creative accountancy.

Fix 1:  look at other pages at a similar depth in the site (which are tagged) and see how much traffic they're getting.  If the page is accessed through the navigation of a page at a higher level in the site, look at the other pages in the navigation.  For example; if the navigation on your Widgets page reads:  Large widgets; Medium Widgets; Small Widgets; Micro Widgets; and you're missing data for one of them, then obtain traffic for the other three.  It would be convenient if they were in a trend, but that's not essential.  Let's say the 
figures are:

Large widgets:  800 visits
Medium widgets:  690 visits
Small widgets - data not available
Micro widgets - 400 visits

You can say that there were approximately 450-600 visits to the Small Widgets page during the period in question.  And no, it's not very accurate, but at least it's a start - it gives you an order of magnitude to work with (which may be enough for your stakeholder until you get the page tagged, double-quick!). 

Fix 2:  did the page have a tag prior to some sort of mangling?  Use a variation of Option 1 and follow the performance of the other pages since the mangling incident, then build up a trend during the 'empty' period.  Either way, fix the tag as soon as possible!

In either case, getting some traffic from now onwards should enable you to better model what the traffic was before it was tagged.  This assumes that you haven't done something like point a large amount of online marketing at it, which has now come to an end.  In this case, you can hope to use the marketing stats (clicks will do if all else fails) to build up some sort of picture.

Possibility 2.  The page actually hasn't had any traffic.

If not being tagged was bad, then this is potentially worse for your stakeholder - as we said, he's as interested in traffic to this particular page as he is in the performance of his stocks and shares.  Again, there are various reasons why this might be the case (and it's worth testing it from your test kit to make absolutely sure it's not a tag issue).

Possibility 3:  Is it actually possible to navigate to the page that's being investigated?  

It's one thing for a stakeholder to send you an e-mail asking for traffic figures for "http://www.mysite.com/my-precious-page.html" and yes, the page is there on the site, but how do you reach it from the home page?  Or from another landing page?  Has the navigation from the hub pages on the site been 'fixed' or 'improved' since the page went live, and has the page lost its source of traffic?  Remember that search engines spider your site through your links, so if the page has lost its links, and it's not got external links (from online marketing of any type), then you're like to lose traffic completely. 

Try navigating to the page, starting from the home page.  Then try navigating from the page in question - follow its navigation links, and in particular, its navigation breadcrumbs (if it has them) and work up and down the site hierarchy.  As you navigate up, towards the home page, are you still able to retrace your steps using the on-page links (without the back button)?  Time to check the navigation and make sure everything's right.

Just because a page is on your site doesn't mean it's getting traffic.  Sorry.

Possibility 4:  It's time to put on a crash helmet:  perhaps the page isn't very interesting or appealing. 

If you're looking for a get-out-of-jail card, it may be better to say that maybe the page isn't promoted well within the site, as the link text from other pages isn't very descriptive.  A page may very well offer interesting facts, opinions, views, get-quick-rich schemes and whatever else, but if the link text on the other pages in the site say, "Click here for more information" or "Find out more about this" then the wonder page is not going to get much traffic.  It depends on where the page is, what its content is, and, equally importantly - how easy it is to find on the site, and how well it's promoted.

I dare not say that an untagged page issue may well be masking problems with the site navigation or the page's attractiveness - just tackle the issues one at a time!

1 comment:

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