3 Common Misrepresentations on Web Traffic Reports and How to Sniff Them Out

It happens to me all the time: One of our customers calls up and is confused or suspicious about a report that they received from another online marketing agency. Sometimes it’s the local yellow pages or it might be a third party company providing digital ad services. Whatever the situation, you should take these numbers with a grain of salt unless the data can be verified. There is good reason to be suspicious of what some web companies say about traffic because there are ways that the data can be misrepresented accidentally–and perhaps even deliberately–on website reports. 

Certainly, there are web companies that do not misrepresent their data, but wouldn’t it be great if you could learn the right questions to ask to know if you can trust these web companies or not? If you are in a situation where the numbers that a web marketing company show you seem too good to be true or do not match the amount of leads you get, then you may already have a problem that you didn’t know about before. I want to help you know if you are being misinformed, so I have outlined some of the most common things I see being misinterpreted about web traffic. 

Misrepresentation #1: Having a lot of “Impressions” means that your online advertising is successful
Truth: Impressions have little meaning by themselves.

Do this: next time you search something on Google, read the news online, or check Facebook, look around and see how many advertisements are on the webpage. There are probably ads in places you have never noticed before. When these ads are loaded onto the webpage, each ad receives one Impression. It doesn’t matter if you look at the ad or not, it gets an Impression no matter what. 

Think about your normal web browsing experience. How many ads do you normally look at or even notice? If you are like most people, you don’t look at many. An Impression tells us absolutely nothing about whether someone looked at an ad or even clicked on it. All Impressions measure is how many times an ad was loaded onto a webpage. Furthermore, it has been estimated that nearly a third of all Ad Impressions cannot be seen (e.g., ad is not visible without scrolling down the page, or visitor clicks to another page before page loads) (http://digiday.com/publishers/15-alarming-stats-about-banner-ads/)** So why is it, then, that web companies use Impressions as a metric? The answer is that since ads are loaded onto pages many more times than they are viewed or clicked by users, the number of Impressions is much greater than other metrics and therefore appear much more impressive. 

Make sure if you use Impressions that you also look at another metric like Clicks. While I do not think that Clicks are the best metrics (more on that in #2), clicks give you a better idea of how many people engage with your online advertisements than Impressions. If you ask an online marketing company to show you something besides Impressions and they cannot, find another company to do business with. 

Misrepresentation #2: One Click = One Website Visit
Truth: A Click does not always mean the user visits your site. 

The number of clicks in Ad Words or other online sources and the number of web visitors on a website do not always match up. Clicks overestimate the number of visitors that go to your website. Since the number of Clicks is always greater than the number of people visiting your site from an ad, site visitorsare actually more expensive than the common cost metric, Cost Per Click, shows. Looking at Mobile banner ads, it is even worse, as 50% of banner ads are thought to be accidental. (http://digiday.com/publishers/15-alarming-stats-about-banner-ads/

If you have the ability to look at the number of web visitors from an ad source through the Google Analytics on your site, I would recommend using those numbers to calculate the actual cost per web visit that you receive from an ad. (Tip: as an Online-Access customer, I can help you with this). 

Clicks aren’t all bad. They can be tied to keywords so you can see what keywords people are searching for. Just remember that the number of website visitors could be 10% to 30% lower than the number of clicks to your website. So keep that in mind when you look at clicks. 

Misrepresentation #3: All that traffic is local to your Service Area business
Truth: It’s not

When you look at the Analytics for your website you are looking at a picture of web traffic coming from the entire world, not just the cities you service. Has a web company ever taken credit for a sudden spike in traffic that you see in your Analytics report? Chances are, if you see a sudden, very large jump in your web visitors, the additional users going to your website are not in your service area. 

There is a saying in the Internet world that “Content is King.” What is meant by this is that having personalized content on your website will help drive traffic to it. While this is true, it is important to remember that when you implement something like a blog on your site, a majority of traffic it adds will almost always be from outside of your service area. In fact, in blogs I have analyzed, I have seen as little as 10-15% of traffic originating within a company’s service area. It doesn’t hurt to come up in search outside of your service area, but as a Service Area business, it is important to make sure that you are ONLY looking at the traffic from inside your service area when you look at Analytics reports. If a site visitor cannot become your customer, they are irrelevant to your site analysis. Also, do not assume that a web company filters out non-Service Area results. I had a case last year where a third party company was giving Analytics reports to one of our customers. The reports were very impressive until I analyzed their traffic and found that the report included thousands of web visits originating in Russia, Brazil and other countries. 

The problem is even worse when talking about online advertising. I have had customers ask me to analyze the traffic that they receive from a Google Adwords campaign only to find that a third of the traffic that Adwords delivers to their site is from outside of the cities that they service! 

You should think about your web traffic in terms of the number of households in your service area. No matter how good your online marketing and SEO is, there is always going to be a market cap on the amount of visits you can get. If you are seeing more visits to the site than could reasonably be expected based on the size of your service area, it may be prudent to question whether it is valid or not. 

The web can be a great place to do business, but it is important to understand what it is that web companies talk about when they show you reports. This can save you money and also helps to ensure that web companies do not take advantage of you.

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