December 6, 2016

Let’s Talk Metrics

The monthly progress and income reports have proven to be a great motivational tool over the past year. There have been times that I get too focused in the minutia, and minor dips can feel like major back steps. By keeping monthly totals it’s been easier to see the true progress I’ve been making. Not all metrics are created equal, and some are better at showing the current progress and potential growth.

By far, the best metric I’ve found for tracking growth is Weekly Search Result Clicks, the number of times someone has found my website by clicking on a search result. One of the advantages to Search Results Clicks is that it’s largely independent. What one user clicks on has minimal effect on what another will do1. That makes it easier to see trends. Referral and Social Media Traffic can spike depending on who is sharing the URL and when. I’ve found that if Weekly Search Result Clicks is on the rise, referral and social media traffic will likely follow suit, but that spikes in Social or Referral Traffic generally don’t lead to changes in Weekly Search Result Clicks.

In general I favor tracking users over revenue as revenue is highly dependent on revenue strategy. For example, in November I had twice as many mobile users as desktop users. Almost no mobile users used an ad blocker, where 20% of desktop users did. Despite that, mobile users accounted for 53% of my monthly revenue. Said another way, mobile users are generating approximately 40% less than comparable desktop users. My mobile ad strategy is not working! Changing ad networks could, in theory at least, generate vastly different amounts of revenue. No users means no revenue regardless of strategy.

The other drawback to relying on the revenue metric, especially if you rely on advertising dollars, is that revenue is likely influenced by macro factors that may not be visible to you. Advertisers tend to pay more in the the final quarter of the year then they do initially. They pay more when the economy is strong and consumer spending is high, than when the economy is weak and consumer spending is low. If you’re using an ad network, the cut and quality of the network can fluctuate. If you’re relying on revenue as an indicator of success it may be hard to see the signal in the noise.

Revenue is still an important metric, to be sure. I wish I had had more insight into how much revenue I could realistically expect to make before taking the self-employment plunge. I probably would devoted a little more of my free time, slept a little less, and neglected my household chores a little more than I already do.

Here’s hoping revenue increases before I run out of revenue. The search result click metric is strong, so hopeful a new mobile revenue model will give me a much needed revenue jolt.

1. User behavior can influence search result rankings. If more users click on your website in the search results the search engine may view their behavior that your website is a good result and may boost it’s ranking for future queries.

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