Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Take the Bird in the Hand

Useful insight from Seth Godin on the dreaded bounce rate:
Silly Traffic
If you do anything related to website analytics or traffic reports, you know about the bounce rate: that's the percentage of visitors who take one look at your website, stick out their tongues, and leave (perhaps never to come back). Industry standard bounce rate is somewhere around 70%-75%, so even if you're doing your job quite well, better than two-thirds of your visitors are leaving your site immediately. To some people, that looks like a challenge: how can we redesign our home page (they say) to capture more of those visitors and turn their disinterest into engagement?

Seth Godin suggests that maybe you shouldn't bother, since most of that traffic is random noise:

"'I'm just looking,' is no fun for most retailers. Yet they continue to pay high rent for high-traffic locations, and invest time and money in window displays. Very few retailers lament all the traffic that walks by the front door without ever walking in. A long time ago, they realized that the shoppers with focused intent are far more valuable. Smart retailers work hard to get focused people to walk in the door and to keep the riff raff walking on down the sidewalk.

Your website can do the same thing. In fact, you might want to make it more likely that bouncers bounce, not less, but only if those changes increase the results you get from the visitors you truly care about."

It's a good point. Website traffic figures conceal far more than they reveal; you know that X number of visitors came by and stayed for Y amount of time, but you don't know (much) about why they came and you know next to nothing about why they left (assuming you're not running an exit survey, which almost no one is). When you know next to nothing about your visitors, it's tempting to think of them all as potential customers who were turned off because of something you did or didn't do. In this light, your bounce rate is a big, ugly missed opportunity.

But when you think about it, Godin is exactly right: you're always going to get some visitors who came to your site by accident, and they left because you're not offering what they are looking for. Those people will never be customers. They'll never become members of your community. Nothing you do will ever change that. Far better, then, to spend your limited time finding ways to satisfy the people who do want to come to your site, and signal that desire by coming, staying for a while, and then coming back a second time.

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, and your bounce rate? That's the bush.