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The Secret Sauce, Ep. 11: Establish Effective Benchmarks for Your Website

The concepts of metrics and KPIs are thrown around a lot these days, but what do they really mean? Strategist Joe Allen-Black shares an overview of what establishing such benchmarks mean for your web project, along with some key elements you can (and should) implement.

The concepts of metrics and KPIs are thrown around a lot these days, but what do they really mean? Strategist Joe Allen-Black shares an overview of what establishing such benchmarks mean for your web project, along with some key elements you can (and should) implement.

The concepts of metrics and KPIs are thrown around a lot these days, but what do they really mean? Strategist Joe Allen-Black shares an overview of what establishing such benchmarks mean for your web project, along with some key elements you can (and should) implement. Also see: Joe's useful perspective on metrics as they relate to a website redesign on our blog.

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We'll be back next Tuesday with another episode of the Secret Sauce and a new installment of our long-form interview podcast On the Air With Palantir the second Thursday of the month, but for now subscribe to all of our episodes over on iTunes.

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AM: Hello and welcome to The Secret Sauce, brought to you by This is a super short podcast, just a few minutes every week, that offers a quick tip on some small thing you can do to help your business run better.

I’m Allison Manley, an Account Manager here at Palantir, and today’s advice comes from one of our Web Strategists Joe Allen Black, who has some ideas on how to measure Key Performance Indicators, also known as KPIs.

JAB: I wake up every day and put a little black tracker called a FitBit on my belt. It’s quite tiny, with a little screen and white numbers on it that syncs up to an app on my phone. As I take steps each day, the little tracker keeps count of how far I’ve gone and compares my numbers to the number of steps my friends have taken as well.

My goal each day is 10,000 steps — which is easy on the day I run a big race, but it can be seemingly impossible during a day when I’m crunching numbers in a spreadsheet on the couch.

For me, the 10,000 steps is a daily KPI, or Key Performance Indicator. It’s a guidepost for me to achieving my daily fitness goals.

So, what’s the whole point of this story? It’s really to get you thinking about tracking and setting up benchmarks on your websites. You can do this in your real life — thinking about the number of steps you take like I do, or hours of sleep you get each night — or on your site when you’re thinking about why you have your site and the types of things that are really bringing in your revenue.

If you’re a new site, you should make sure you’re adding a tracking system to your site. For free you can use Google Analytics, which many of our clients use. At first, it’s a little daunting when you open it up, but don’t worry after popping in a few times, it definitely becomes a little friendlier.

Of the dozens of types of numbers your tracking system is capturing, you’re going to want to just to key in on just a few for overall health of your site. We’re going to call these your Key Performance Indicators.

What your KPIs are will differ depending on your industry. The numbers will generally fall into just a few categories:

  1. The first one’s conversions: Conversions are the actions you want your visitors to take when they use your site. In some ways you can think of this as what will make money for your site, or what will keep you going. A couple examples of these can include:
    1. On an education website, this can be the number of people who register for a course. The payment they make ultimately is a top way the education site is making its revenue.
    2. On a site like Palantir’s, we’re all about finding new customers and connecting with people who are looking for our services. A main conversion on our site is people filling out a contact form so our sales team can start working with them on a deal.
    3. A news site might be focusing on increasing the number of pageviews, since the ads on those pages are what makes the money.
  2. We then start looking at a bucket that I like to call micro-conversions, which is a fancy way of tracking the things that lead to people taking conversions, but they’re not really quite there yet. The other day I added some items to my Amazon Wishlist, I didn’t really buy anything, I didn’t spend any money, but I’m really getting close to making that conversion. I’m definitely leading toward doing that soon, so I’m making a micro-conversion at that point. Other industries may see this as users taking part in live chats, or filling out a form get an ebook or something of that nature.
  3. Last, but certainly not least, I recommend some overall site health tracking metrics. For commerce sites or sales sites, these numbers don’t necessarily lead to an immediate sale. However, these health numbers lead to knowing if there are problems or opportunities.
    1. Tracking page views per session across devices and browsers is the number one I like to look at. If I am regularly tracking how how people use my site on mobile versus desktop, I can quickly see if there’s any problems for mobile users if I change something on my site ... if I see those mobile numbers go really down, for example.
    2. Bounce rate is another one we look at: Bounces are the number of times people go to a page and then leave without taking another measurable action. If I see a giant fluctuation in that, it could mean I need to reassess some recent choices, or examine why some people to see why users aren’t sticking around on my pages.
    3. I also like to recommend looking at the types of content people are leaving the site from. If see my exit rate on my blogs for instance going really high, I might have a problem I should address over there. If it’s really low on my sales page, I might have an even bigger problem.

As you begin a redesign, it’s important to really think about what those KPIs are from the start. Before a design or development process really begins in earnest, it’s important to explicitly state what those KPIs are and then optimize your site for them.

For example, if you’re a hospital, maybe one of your KPIs could be growing the number of people who make an appointment. In that case, as you design your homepage, or your content, or anything else, it’s important to think about how you can give clear paths to making an appointment on each of those experiences.

Most sites we work with will have 1 to 3 main actions or conversions they want users to take. The sites may have 5-to-10 other actions that they are curious about but those are those micro-conversions, or things that are less important to the overall bottom line.

If you’re someone using Google Analytics, which many of our clients do, you want to set Google Analytics to track those conversions so you know how many visitors are doing what you hoped they would.

It’s a good idea to keep a regular scoreboard of these KPIs so you can constantly look back to see if you’re growing at the rate that you want to, and you can correct if you aren’t.

You can also include the site health metrics, too, so you can find out where you are having those problems, or where you have reasons to celebrate across the board.

Here at Palantir, we like to document and discuss these goals right off the bat with our clients, so we can make sure we are hitting the right points early and throughout the project. We bring this discussion into each subsequent decision about the website from what features should be included, or not included, and even to what type of navigation we’re going to include.

After a site launches, we want to make sure our customers have that same experience I talked about earlier with my FitBit — they have a simple benchmark that lets them know if they’re hitting their goal.

Thank you.

AM: Thank you Joe, and that’s it for today’s Secret Sauce. For more information on how to measure analytics for your site, check out Joe’s blog post from last year all about what metrics to check before a redesign. And the address for our site is You can also follow us on twitter @palantir to always see what we’re up to. Have a great day!

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