Screw Traffic – Show Me The Money

Screw Traffic – Show Me The Money

This is a guest post by Dan Norris from Informly.

In my last business I was obsessed with traffic. I started a blog and I clearly remember the day I cracked 5,000 monthly visitors woo hoo! Only took me about 2 years.

When I sold it to start Informly I was hoping I’d get to that level a bit quicker but after 5 months I was already getting 10,000 monthly visitors. Not only that I’d had 3,000+ sign up to use Informly (free signup).

Wowzers rock on, but after stuffing around with payment processors for months I finally put up my buy now button in January 2013 ($9 / month) and guess how many people signed up?….. 1.

And I knew him (thanks Jake if you are reading this).

Be careful what you track

It was a big lesson. I thought things were going very well but turns out monitoring traffic volume isn’t the best indicator of business success. Traffic volume is a vanity metric.

Your traffic is weak

So I was a bit too caught up in vanity metrics like traffic volume and I was happy to say I was getting 10-15K visits a month but is that even good?

  • Ana Hoffman is getting 50k (and not making a lot of money – see this post). That’s 5x my traffic.
  • Corbett Barr is getting 100k (see here), 10x my traffic.
  • Pat Flynn’s getting 200k (it’s a guess, don’t hurt me if it’s wrong), 20x.
  • Neil Patel’s 2 sites get 600k visits (see here and here) – 60x Goddammit I hate you Patel. FML

It doesn’t end, it’s all relative and it’s all meaningless unless you make your money off page views (which you don’t if you are reading this).

I want to show you my amazing traffic trend report

Look I’m not going to tell you that vanity metrics are useless and you shouldn’t look at your traffic stats. Because I know when I get home after a hard day’s work I like to have a glass of wine or 6, lean back and marvel at my amazing traffic trends report.

traffic_trend_640

We all do it. Studies consistently show that people are obsessed with vanity metrics and we suck at measuring actionable data (see this one, this one, I could go on forever….and I will. This one, this one, read what Eric Ries says believe me I’m not making this up!

Rather than tell people to avoid vanity metrics though I think it’s best to maintain the addiction (because there are other benefits) but draw the line at decision time.

What are vanity metrics?

Analytics should guide your decisions – they should be actionable. If they don’t then they are vanity metrics.

  • Traffic volume – Ok so you’ve got some traffic. What do you do know? Get more? From where? How do you do it? How much do you pay? Dunno?
  • Number of Twitter followers – So you’r auto follow strategy has resulted in 10,000 accounts following you on Twitter. Great, what action do you take now? Auto follow more people?
  • Total revenue – Yes total revenue is generally a vanity metric. Great you’ve got revenue. What now? Get more revenue? How? Where from? What about costs?

Broad metrics like this rarely give you actionable data that you can use to make better decisions so they are vanity metrics.

What are actionable metrics?

So how about some examples of actionable metrics. First off there are a few things to remember:

  • There aren’t any metrics that are actionable for every business.
  • There aren’t any metrics that are actionable at every stage of your business.
  • They are often much harder to track than just switching on Google Analytics.

If you are thinking along those lines then you have to change your thinking. It finally clicked for me when after 4 or so attempts I finally made it through The Lean Startup by Eric Ries (my offer of free beer still stands for anyone who can get through chapter 11 on first attempt). The book taught me to think in little experiments. Make an assumption, test that assumption then make changes.

So with that in mind, ask yourself this:

What assumptions am I making about my business and what information do I need to test those assumptions?

Answering these questions will guide you to an actionable metric.

This will vary depending on what stage you are at. Some examples:

Situation 1 – You’ve just come up with an idea and you want to know if others have the problem and are prepared to pay for a solution.

Assumption: Hmm I have this great idea for a new app that helps content marketing experts track what pieces of content are driving leads and who is interacting with their content. I assume people who are into content marketing have this problem and would be willing to pay for a solution. I’d say 80% of small business and startup content marketers don’t track what pieces of content are driving leads and 20% of them would be willing to pay for a solution to this problem.

What info do I need: I need to know if content marketers are not currently tracking this stuff and if they would be prepared to pay for a tool that helps them do it. Let’s survey content marketers and find out what they are tracking (metric – % who say they aren’t tracking, % who say they will pay for the service). Put up an minimum viable product and see if people pay for it (metric – conversion rate of beta user to paid). Potentially a landing page conversion rate could answer the first part of the question also because it’s a measure of the need.

Situation 2 – You’ve just launched the first minimum version of your product / service and you are trying to work out whether you can turn it into a business.

Assumption: Well I’ve got my product now, I’m assuming now all I have to do is get some traffic for a reasonable CPC and enough visitors will convert to customers for me to be able to grow this business.

What info do I need: I need to know if I can acquire customers in a scalable fashion for significantly less than they are worth long term.

Let’s send some paid traffic to the site (metric – CPC from various sources), look at how much of it converts to a lead or a customer (metric – conversion rate) and use that to calculate cost to acquire customer (CPA).

Estimate average monthly spend, churn and fixed expenses to calculate customer lifetime value (LTV).

From there start looking at how much it’s costing you to get your customers vs how much they are worth to you long term. Obviously if if costs you more to get the customers than they are worth long term then you are in trouble (this is often the case with a lot of paid traffic sources). Estimating this stuff early on and constantly revising your estimates is a smart approach. There’s more info on this ratio here if you are interested.

Tools for tracking actionable metrics

One of the challenges in tracking actionable metrics is as put by Eric Ries,Most analytics packages are configured by default to provide mostly reports on vanity metrics”. This is true in many ways because what is actionable to you might not be the same as what is actionable to the next person as I’ve mentioned. So what tools can you use to track actionable metrics. Here are some that I use:

Google Analytics

I use Google Analytics a lot. It can’t do everything but it is extremely powerful once you delve past the main vanity reports. Advanced Segments are a good tool to get stuck into, as are trackable links and campaigns.

Here is a chart showing my various conversion sources in Analytics. Peep’s previous article on How to get traffic that converts goes into a lot more detail.

analytics_chart

Here are some of my recent campaigns. Traffic volume is useful but things get more interesting when you start looking at conversion rate and goal value by campaign. FYI AgencyEmail is cold emailing people, CFH3 is paid ads.

Kiss Metrics

The main thing that Google Analytics can’t do is tell you who the people are that are interacting with your site. I run a SAAS business and if you have a business where users are entering their email addresses (SAAS, ecommerce, membership etc) then Kiss Metrics is very handy (although the learning curve is pretty high).

kiss_metrics

I won’t go into detail about everything you can do with Kiss Metrics but here are some of the metrics you can see I am tracking. The reports can go into a lot more detail about how people are interacting with my site and app.

Spreadsheets

Spreadsheets still rule the data world. They are the top tool used for business intelligence and despite their limitations their ultimate flexibility make them indispensable. Here’s a screenshot of the spreadsheet I’ve been working off for some paid traffic tests for the Agency version of Informly. I use Google Drive for spreadsheets.

spreadsheets

This spreadsheet combines real data with estimates to calculate rough acquisition costs for customers from a range of different sources and it estimates lifetime value and back from that calculates the value of a trial signup (which can be put into Google Analytics as the goal value).

Google Drive Forms

Just this week I literally designed and sent a survey to people for a new idea I’m working on within a hour using Google Drive Forms. Super powerful, they work very well, nice and simple, awesome for quick surveys. The data you get back goes into a Google Drive spreadsheet which is great, the format isn’t all that user friendly but for ease and price it’s a winner.

google_drive_forms

Surveys can provide actionable data at various stages in a business, particularly at early idea stage. They are a great way of testing assumptions.

Skype / email

Analytics are about people, so talk to your customers. I use Skype because my customers are worldwide but depending on your business maybe it’s just the phone. I also use a range of email tools including Gmail, MailChimp and Intercom (another app for SAAS companies).

intercom

Intercom allows me to have regular contact with my customers while also tracking how they are interacting with Informly.

Informly / Geckoboard or other aggregators

Of course I’m biased here but data aggregators or dashboards are awesome. For advanced analytics with loads of integrations check out Geckoboard of CYFE. If you are after something simple and this analytics stuff confuses you a bit then check out Informly. You can use it to track key metrics from different sources and you can even get your report sent directly to your email without having to log in or without having to open an attachment.

Some of the metrics tracked are vanity metrics (like traffic volume etc) but other are more actionable (like conversion rates from top traffic courses or average revenue per customer etc). These tools never replace getting detailed data direct from the source but they do save time, make things simple and consistent and with Informly’s emails they also serve as a reminder system so you don’t have to keep remembering to log in and check your stats all the time.

informly

Informly reports on a range of metrics from various sources (yes vanity metrics included).

Let me know what you think?

You may be surprised to know that I am extremely bored. So regardless of what you post below I’ll respond! If you have a question or a comment or you just want to spam Peep’s blog then please go ahead and I promise I’ll reply.

Featured image credit

Hi I’m @thedannorris, the broke bootstrapped founder of Informly, a dashboard of stats that you (yes you) can understand. When I’m not crying about my measly traffic report I’m helping entrepreneurs understand their data and make better decisions at the award winning Informly blog.

Join the Conversation Add Your Comment

  1. Thanks Dan.
    As well as metrics derived from the supply side (available APIs) it’s also looking at the demand side. i.e. what pain points are there to solve for potential users of the product.

    e.g. For us and other SME’s a “cash on hand” metric is useful. If there’s big lumps of cash coming in and going out each day from several bank accounts keeping track of how much cash is on hand is a pain. At the moment we have to do it manually.

    While the vanity metrics are nice to have (but not essential) a chart that solved a pain point that’s costing us labour is a no-brainer to pay for.

    1. Hey John thanks mate, there are several useful tools to give you better accounting data. As long as you are using one of the cloud solutions like Xero then you can get some good charts. Informly has quite a few Xero charts, I don’t think Cash on hand is one of them but it wouldn’t be too hard to provide that. Peoplemine is another one that has some good data from Xero. The integrations directory for the cloud accounting packages are a gold mine.

  2. So true, yet so tricky to put into practice.

    I’ve always tried to stay away from focusing on vanity metrics and looking more at conversions, revenue, profit and other factors that actually make a difference to my business.

    But I also recently realized that I don’t have enough of a clue of what goes on in my business and I have to get more serious about tracking and testing the right kind of things.

    1. Hey Shane, I think it’s ok to look at both. Vanity metrics may make a difference to your business too but they are just not actionable. For example I’m certain my business is better off getting 10,000 visitors a month than it would be if I was getting 0 but what do I do about that? I like to keep an eye on the trend, I want to see it going up. But I’m more careful now to not make decisions based on this.

      A lot of people are in your position of struggling to know what you track. There is too much to know and everyone has their own advice that may or may not be what you need right now. If you ask yourself the question above it should be come clearer. What do you need to know right now to move your business forward? What assumptions are you making? That should lead you to a good starting point.

  3. I remember my first blog. I spent far too much time trying to get traffic from digg and when I got those site crushing spikes. I realized I didn’t make a dime. Lot to be said for vanity metrics so I will definitely look at informly.

    1. Haha yeah I’ve had a few of my infographics get some attention on Reddit. I would get something like a 2 second time on site compared to a 5 minute average. Great for your traffic trends chart but not much else.

      If you check out Informly send me an email dan@inform.ly tell me what you think. Since switching to paid the results have been great but I still think I’m searching for that killer feature that makes it indispensable.

  4. Thanks Dan,
    Totally agree with you, it’s very important to track right data..
    Just signed up for free trial on informly and the look and feel is amazing.
    Thanks again for the post.

    1. Thanks Sam I appreciate the kind words. Send us an email dan@inform.ly let me know what feature would make it something you can’t live without.

  5. Great post Dan. Good to know I was the first one funding your coffees for a day or so each month :)

  6. Thanks for the article Dan.

    I now want to create a report that ranks my pages on conversion rate, and then work on improving the conversion rate for the low converting pages.

    My analytics goal is a URL for the enquiry form thank you page. How do I measure which pages end up producing that goal?

    Is this a simple thing to do in Google Analytics?

    1. Fantastic Laja

      I was looking at reverse paths for conversions, but I think landing page conversion report is more accurate.

  7. Good advice in the article, but I mostly just wanted to compliment your writing. Most blog posts, even those with good information, are a chore to read. Yours was a pleasure…even laughed a couple times.

  8. Hey Dan

    thanks for your post. I’m in early stages of my online business and I admit I would have (until reading your article) have been quite proud doing well on these vanity metrics.

    Forced to really simplify, what would you say is the first non-vanity metric that a newer business should look at?

    Thanks

    Garry

    1. Landing page conversion rate. Make it look like you are ready for business and see who signs up to buy.

      p.s. nothing wrong with being proud about your vanity metrics, I am too.

  9. Great read. So well written too. A perfect mix of humour, intelligence and actionable advice.

    Vanity metrics become less vain as you segment the visitors. Take for example turnover. Not much use on its own but if you segment it into turnover from certain traffic sources (e.g. organic, paid, referral…) or by landing page the actionable parts of your business become more clear. Just try to increase those lower numbers (e.g by split testing landing pages).

    1. Hey An thankyou! Yes, I think the further you dig, the more effort you put in to get data out the more actionable it becomes. But again it depends on the stage you are at. A lot of advice online has to do with improving your conversion rates here and there but if you are at the stage where you are searching for a business model that may not be the most important thing you need to do. In my example above even if I doubled my conversion rate it would still be dismal and have virtually no impact on my business.

      Thanks for the comment (and the compliment)

  10. Hi Dan, what a comprehensive post. And I read it all, which for someone whose head spins at the mere mention of metrics is a commendation for how readable it was, thank you.

    Can I suggest that there is another reason for posting beyond immediate sales. To make meaningful connections? Build community?

    You may have less traffic but do better business from fewer who love what you do and want to share it with others based on the quality and veracity of what you offer.

    Thanks too about the heads up on Google Drive Forms.

    1. Awesome Sandy great to hear!

      There are definitely different goals you can have that aren’t revenue. With my content for example I want to build an audience of loyal fans so I do measure things that tell me if I’m succeeding at that. But measuring traffic isn’t really useful for that either. There are other things I can measure to determine if my content is reaching new audiences, is generating opt ins (a measure of engagement etc).

      Thanks for the comment!

  11. I really hope you’re not a single founder.

    I’ve been happy putting out 1 post every couple of months or so living behind the excuse “it’s hard being a single founder. If I’m blogging … who does the other stuff”.

    You keep putting out great content and you seem to be everywhere – you’re making me look bad.

    Seriously though – another great post.

    1. Ha thanks yep Justin I’m a single founder. Bust your balls man get on it!

  12. In business money (profit) is the only metric that matters.

    I have one client who’s conversion rate is less than 1% but their average order value is $10,000.

    Are they happy? Very.

    1. Hi Mark I would argue that growth is also important. Particularly for a startups. My profit might be dismal as it generally always will be when you first start a company but if growth is strong then the future is bright (or there is a reasonable chance anyway). Similarly a highly profitable business with declining growth is not a good recipe.

  13. I soooo wish I didn’t have to worry about traffic, but then I might have to change my blog name… :) Definitely wouldn’t be a “Conversion Cafe” since I clearly have no idea how to monetize my traffic.

    Two things: you should’ve written this post for me (no offense, Peep) and I still can’t get Aweber to work in Inform.ly.

    And a third thing: thanks for the mention!

    1. Oh yeah I keep forgetting I owe you a guest post! I have new software that I’m about to release that tells me which content is converting best so that is going to give me some good information for guest posts. I’ll be in touch soon.

      Re the Aweber issue, I’ve emailed you a few times to help with the issue and I never get a response? I really need more detail to troubleshoot it.

  14. i have go through your blog and i have found very helpful information. A lot of advice online has to do with improving your conversion rates but please help is Google webmaster and analytic also helps to increase conversion rate?

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Screw Traffic – Show Me The Money