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Pageviews & Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

Came across this post on econsultancy a few days ago and it got me thinking about how site design is often destiny. The article gives pageviews its due as a good metric to identify popular content on your site and then suggests several other good metrics that publishers in particular should be looking at and using to make smart decisions and grow traffic.

As some one who helps organizations re-build and re-align their sites as well as content, I find it’ important to remember that metrics have context. For example, a high pageview number might mean that content is seeing strong demand, but it might also mean:

  • It’s the only piece of content that people can reach easily from the homepage.
  • Your “Related Articles” or Auto Suggest tool is giving a particular piece of content too much weight.
  • Someone did a better job promoting this piece than others.
  • You are using auto-refresh on your pages (shame on you!)

The point is that pageviews aren’t necessarily about the content quality or demand. It’s a good metric, but you need to ask deeper questions about why the number moved and why one piece of content might have superiority over another. Your site and marketing tactics need to meet some basic criteria or this metric won’t help you.

Pageviews are a Good Metric When Navigation Balances Discovery & Promotion

big carouselDiscovery is making things find-able via navigation or suggestion tools or search. Think about a Related Articles widget. With discovery, you are telling people what is there for them. Whether they look at it is a test of topicality and user-experience.

[box type=”alert”]If your site has poor tools for discovery, then you are depending on inbound traffic to generate pageviews. Your pageviews will follow your SEO or social referral traffic. Anything that boosts either is going to end up skewing pageview counts. One good link or a few likes on Facebook could corrupt your monthly numbers.[/box]

Promotion is intentionally making something stand out more. Common examples are an article carousel or strong call to action at the bottom of the page. You are telling people what they should look. A carousel with a 500px wide graphic at the top of the page will stick out compared to text links and short summaries for other articles. Accordingly, you should expect that content to get more pageviews.

[box type=”alert”]Carousels and well-positioned CTAs are great, but keep them in mind when assessing content. If you’ve kept an article in a carousel for months, then it’s going to have more pageviews (and also more visits and entrances). When you assess your content, make sure that you segment the carousel posts or benchmark the typical lift from carousel placement. If you don’t, then the data isn’t worth much.[/box]

Pageviews are a Good Metric When You Have a Content Strategy

If your content doesn’t align with a plan, then every piece is a gamble: You may hit big or you may get nothing for your efforts. Looking at pageviews for disparate pieces of content and deciding that something is worth pursuing can lead to a lot of wasted effort & no growth. Rather than look at pageviews, take the time to dissect the traffic sources to see what made an article a winner. With a little research, you could begin growing your traffic consistently regardless of the topic you write about.

Having a content strategy and plan can make writing easier, but isn’t for everyone. Some of us just want to write when the mood strikes us. That isn’t the best approach for a business trying to use inbound, but small sites with a niche focus should follow their muse.

[box type=”note”]Taking the time to analyze traffic sources for different high-traffic pieces will always lead to growth. Things like Headline structure, time of publishing and social sharing are easy to replicate and automate. You may not hit home runs every time, but a little analysis will lead to you getting on base more often.[/box]

Pageviews are a Good Metric When You Are Just Starting Out

You have to start somewhere. The ways to slice and dice your site are damn near infinite; and it takes time to get good at using data to make decisions. If you are just starting out, then use pageviews to see what content people are looking at. Don’t let that be your only guide, but it’s better than ignoring your numbers completely.

[box type=”note”]I’d suggest grabbing a simple dashboard and some reports from Google Analytics to get you started. Here is a basic publisher dashboard¬†from Google Analytics. You can also find pre-built reports with a little research.[/box]

We Should All Look Beyond Pageviews

You probably know better than to depend on one metric to make all your decisions. But we all still do it. Publishers especially are guilty of obsessing about pageviews and impressions. Don’t fall into this trap. It might lead you to growth in the short-term, but you’ll find yourself constantly chasing traffic instead of trying to provide value.

Am I being too hard on pageviews or publishers? Let me know what you think in the comments.

Published in Marketing Ideas Working Blog

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