Below, Jim gives us his Top 10 Things You Must Measure On Your Website. Now, without further ado, here’s Jim Sterne. -Larry Chase

Investing more in your website without measuring how well it’s working is simply gambling. You may as well be flipping a coin. How should you measure online success? Below are the 10 things you must measure in order to validate your investment.

1. How Fast Is It?

Customer Care Coach, JoAnna Brandi, put it so well in a 1995 presentation about website load times. “Come on, come on,” she said anxiously, “I don’t have all minute!” Yes, your customers may all have broadband now, but your website has dynamic content, JavaScript page tags, nested cascading style sheets and background-loading Web 2.0 pop-outs and flyovers. If your website takes an additional, unnecessary second to load, you may be chasing visitors away. Usability Expert Jakob Nielsen puts it this way, “Every Web usability study I have conducted since 1994 has shown the same thing: Users beg us to speed up page downloads. In the beginning, my reaction was along the lines of ‘let’s just give them better design and they will be happy to wait for it’. I have since become a reformed sinner since even my skull is not thick enough to withstand consistent user pleas year after year.” So how fast is your website? How long does it take to process a credit card? Are you even monitoring it?

2. How Often Does Your Website Hiccup?

If your website is too slow, not only will your visitors give up on you, your server will give up. Do you know the difference between a 408 Request Timeout error and a 504 Gateway Timeout error? Is anybody looking at how often those happen on your site? Of course you know what a 404 Not Found error is, but are you keeping track of how many your site serves? Do you look to see which links are bad? Stay on top of the HTTP status codes because every visitor that gets an error page blames you. Another black eye for your brand.

3. How Many People Show Up?

Even this early in the game, it’s necessary to point out the precision problem with Web Analytics – the numbers ain’t exact. Due to cache files, proxy servers, cookie deletion and a whole host of gremlins and gotchas, you can only get a relative count of how many people showed up today. But count them you must. While today’s number may not be exact, if you count them the same way tomorrow, then the percentage difference will be true. “There are 5% more visitors here today than yesterday,” is a very valid and useful number. “We got 15% more visitors with keyword X than with keyword Y,” is also useful. So, count those visitors. Graph the line over time and pay attention to spikes and troughs so you can repeat the spikes and avoid the troughs.

4. Which Are the Most Popular Pages?

What on your website is so interesting? Which pages attract the most attention? No, “The Home Page” is not an acceptable answer. People land on your home page and leave. People repetitively use your home page for navigation, so that doesn’t count. You need to know which content people are most hungry for and make it easier for them to find it. Then, give them more. Give them more details if they seem to eat them up and back off where they are not interested. People will look at a dozen pages to purchase a $1,000 digital camera, but only spend about a half a page for one priced at $25.

5. Which Way Did They Go?

A banner ad that brings in a million people is great – unless they take one look at the landing page and hit the Back button so fast it makes their mouse spin. Did those visitors at least look at the next page? And the one after that? Follow them around your site to see where they go, not out of mere curiosity but because you have a path in mind for each journey for each type of visitor. Buying a watch takes a few clicks of research, a few clicks for comparison, a few clicks for pricing and then a very specific path through the purchasing process to the thank you page. There is magic in those navigation paths. Make minor changes to the elements on the pages along that path and track whether the result of each change was good or bad. Don’t let up as you are now in the realm of continuous improvement. For every visitor that clicks through, you steadily increase the probability that he or she is going to subscribe, register, join, discuss or buy.

6. What Are They Looking For?

More and more, people come to your website by way of a search engine. But their searching isn’t over. Google or Yahoo or Ask might have been under the impression that one of your pages is just the right one for this one searcher, but upon arrival, the visitor simply continues searching. You now have two very valuable pieces of information. First, you know which search term brought that person to your site. You know which are the most popular traffic-driving search terms. Tune your site for these search terms in order to attract even more of those types of visitors. You may need to de-tune your attractiveness for other terms in order to attract fewer of that type. The second valuable piece of information is found in the terms people search for once they are on your site. These people like to navigate through your site’s search capability. Inspect the search results pages you serve in response to those terms. Watch to see if those searchers are clicking on any of those links. Can those results pages be improved?

7. How Did They Get Here?

If people flock to your website all by themselves, then congratulations. You bought a piece of property that has gold in them thar hills. The rest of us have to pay for the traffic we get. We buy banners, newsletter ads, keywords and more in hopes that people will click our way. Therefore, you owe it to yourself to note the cost of each visit and the associated value. If you’re paying $2.00 for search engine keyword clicks, then you want to know which keywords are bringing people to your site. You’ll want to track them to see if they stayed and paid or just clicked and split. The process of continuous improvement assures that you will steadily increase your return on keyword investment. Just stop spending on the promotions that bring in low traffic or poor traffic and spend more on those that bring in the results. And speaking of results…

8. Did We Achieve Our Goals?

At the end of the day – or the month – did you end up with more subscriptions, registrations, customers, orders, profits or whatever else you were hoping for when you built your site? Does your company even have a clearly delineated set of desired outcomes for your site? This turns out to be a serious political question for most companies, and I am constantly surprised by the disagreement and cross-purposes I discover during my strategy consulting. Higher revenue, lower costs, higher customer satisfaction, fewer calls to the call center – they’re all on the table and for each one, there is somebody with a vested interest. Taking goal tracking all the way to best practices, the sites that consistently achieve their goals and do so faster have correlated their goals with their compensation plans. Goals and stretch goals with bonuses attached paint a glow-in-the-dark picture of what the company wants from the website. That makes continuous improvement a happy result for all involved.

9. Are They Happy About Their Visit?

So far, we’ve focused on what people do on your site. Now, you need to understand why they do it and how they feel about it. Surveys, questionnaires and usability studies all reveal the thought behind the click. They give you a visitor’s-eye view of your website. People will express confusion, frustration and exasperation at what you think are your best site features. They will point to the things that don’t make sense outside the little bubble of knowledge in your company. They will show you where your website is hurting your brand and may actually be encouraging your would-be customers to click over to your competitors. Listen to them complain – they will expose your site’s weaknesses and identify the places where a little attention can go a long way.

10. Are We Using Our Own Metrics?

How do you know if your website is working? You measure it. But how do you know if your measurements are working? Increases in outcomes may be all you’re after, but you can’t know those outcomes are connected to your metrics unless you measure the number of times your metrics are used. Let’s say you produce a hundred reports every month, but nobody looks at them. At the same time, your sales figures continue to climb. All may seem in order. But, if your metrics are ignored, then that sales increase is due to some external factor – a factor that could have been leveraged had you been studying the metrics and taking action on the numbers.

Set goals. Make changes. Track results. Repeat. Those are the instructions for a bigger, better, faster, stronger website.