Web site traffic may not be your most important business KPI, but it’s a basic metric that can tell you a lot about your website’s overall health. It can give you a good indication of how well different marketing strategies are performing. And it’s the source of a lot of additional information that can answer important questions for you. Volatile traffic can make it hard to see the underlying patterns in your data.
How much does your traffic matter?
How important is your web traffic? It depends on your goals. If your website relies on advertising for monetization, then your traffic is the most important metric you’ve got — the one that shows the value of your site as an ad medium. If you have an e-commerce site, the number of visitors times your conversion rate times your average order size is your revenue. Increasing the traffic will increase your income even if the other numbers don’t change.
If thought leadership is your primary goal, traffic is key. The kind of traffic you get and how they behave at your website matters, but the number of people you reach is pivotal. Ditto for a brand awareness site. A lead generation site may not need as much traffic, but traffic times conversion rate is still the important equation.
If your website is more for patient education or customer service, traffic may not be as central a metric, but you still need the data for strategic decision making.
Sometimes, traffic increases are what you have to show the board. If traffic is what proves the worth of your work, then traffic matters to you even if it’s not strongly allied with your business goals.
Forget the absolute numbers for a moment. The average website brings in more people than your walk-in traffic, but the precise numbers depend on a lot of things. For this discussion, consider just the line showing the change in your traffic over time.
This is what we like to see:
A fairly steady upward trend is our goal for our clients. There may be seasonal variations, but year over year traffic increases are the norm.
This is what you’ll probably see if you’re not making any special efforts to increase your traffic:
But what if your graph line looks more like this?
This is volatile traffic. You don’t see steady growth, but it’s also not flat. You may see random-seeming peaks and valleys that make it impossible to tell whether your traffic is increasing or not. Or you may see one peak that dwarfs the rest of the data, making it hard to follow any long-term changes. Either way, it’s hard to say how your web site’s traffic is doing.
Is your data reliable?
First, make sure your data is trustworthy. Test your analytics to make sure that information is being collected regularly. Here are some collection errors we’ve seen recently:
- Data being collected from a different website than the site owner thought
- The connection with Google Analytics being lost and having to be reset
- Data being filtered in ways that compromise the information
We once saw analytics showing precisely one visit each day for the life of the website. The data was collecting only the daily visit of the website owner. We’re not sure how the webmaster achieved this, but reinstalling the analytics made a big difference.
Once you’re sure you’re seeing the real data, you can figure out what’s happening.
First, figure out where the peaks come from. Here are some common reasons for volatile data:
- real-world events
- manipulative content marketing
You can also see volatile traffic if you’re working with very small numbers. If you’re seeing three visits a day, and then you post to your blog and hit 10 visits, you don’t really have enough data to work with.
Clean up the data
Advertising can bring you a spike in traffic — that’s the whole point. Stop paying for the ads and the traffic stops. That’s how ads are supposed to work. Make sure to annotate your analytics, and use the Organic Search traffic report (under Acquisition> Channels in Google Analytics) to monitor your website’s overall health. Print or other traditional media can also cause a spike of this kind, but that can be harder to track, since it’s likely to show up as direct traffic or organic search. In that case, annotate and treat the offline ad as a real-world event.
Real-world events can certainly affect your traffic. Basically, if you have a page or post that ranks well organically for a keyword and that keyword hits the headlines, you will see a spike. Often, the rush of visitors is not primarily people looking for your goods and services, so it makes sense to use date filters to work around the date of the spike. You might also see this around an event you hold or a speech by one of your team members.
Real-world events can also be digital in nature. Our lab site was once in the Google Doodle, so that’s the classic example for us, but it could also be a link from a major news site or a social media post going viral. Annotate the event and set up a segment for the traffic source so you can isolate that event from your overall pattern.
Manipulative content marketing may include paid traffic, click bait headlines, or link wheels. You might do this yourself or you may pay for it. You might even think it’s getting you good traffic. The trouble is, this kind of traffic doesn’t convert. If you’re doing it to inflate your traffic stats for your own purposes, that’s one thing. If you are being shown the results of this kind of manipulation as proof that your website is doing well, you’re being hoodwinked.
Bots are visits to your website from robots. This doesn’t hurt your website, but it can definitely mess up your data. Filter out those bots. Then create a segment in your analytics for the traffic spike that excludes all the bot traffic.
Work with volatile traffic
If you’re seeing spikes from valuable, converting traffic, you want to make it happen more often. Ads should fall into this category, as should real-world events like media appearances or successful charity drives. Make sure the traffic you’re getting is meaningful and configure your analytics to work around the peaks and valleys.
If the spikes are not valuable, you can work to eliminate them.