Archives for October 2009

All That Bounces Is Not Bad

If you have any connection with web analytics then, I am sure, you have heard about the bounce rates (see Bounce Rate Demystified and Typical Bounce Rates). A lot of analysts and a few web analytics tools are obsessed with the bounce rates. High bounce rate is considered bad. If you are one of those who is obsessed with the bounce rate or think that all that bounces is bad then this blog post is for you.

I do believe that bounce rate is a great starting metrics when you are trying to optimize your site but be careful and make sure that you are measuring the true bounce rate. Below are the three factors that lead to the misreporting of the bounce rates

  1. Links to external sites – Many sites have links to the external sites such as sponsors, micro sites etc. Considering those external links as exits will count visits as bounces even though the visitors are doing exactly what you want them to do (e.g. click on those links that you provided them). See below a screen shot from First Tech Credit Union, there are few external link s contributing to the bounces.

  2. Online Ads – If you serve ads on your site you are providing links to external sites. Visitors who land on your site, see an ad that grabs their attention are going to click on it (isn’t that what you want so that you can command higher rates for the ads?). It is not really a bounce because visitors are taking the action that you want them to take. See the screenshot from Techcruch which is full of ads and I bet this page (and other article pages) has a very high bounce rate.
  3. Destination Pages – Pages that provide the information that the visitors are looking for is what I call destination pages. Usually you will see the visitors arriving from bookmark or search to the internal pages on your site that provide the visitors with the information that the visitors are looking for. Since those pages serve the visitors’ need you are likely to see high bounce rates on those pages. Those bounce are not bad. Some might argue that you should try to drive visitors into the other sections of the site but I can bet that in most of the cases you won’t see significant drop in bounce rate no matter how hard you try. Below is an example of a page on First Tech Credit Union that could have a very high bounce rate. I arrived at this page by searching for the “Phone number for First Tech in Redmond”. When I arrived on this page I got what I was looking for and I bounced.

Are you considering these factors when analyzing the bounce rates on your site? Questions? Comments?

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Web Analytics Jobs
Web Analytics Implementation Engineer at Topspot Internet Marketing (Houston, Texas)

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Web Analytics, Search Marketing and Social Media Analytics Jobs

I have few open positions in Web Analytics, Search Marketing (Organic and Paid) and Social Media Analytics.

Job Requirements
One of the following

  • Web Analytics Tools Implementation: Omniture, WebTrends, Coremetrics, Google Analytics, Yahoo! Web Analytics etc.? Any one tool experience is good.
  • Analysis: Do you have experience making sense of the data collected by the web analytics tool? It does not matter which tool.
  • Optimization – Do you have experience with A/B , Muti-variate testing or targeting? Experience with Google Website Optimizer, Test&Target, Widemile, Optimost etc?
  • Search Engine Optimization – Do you have experience doing search engine optimization? Are you passionate about it? Show me some examples? Show me your process.
  • Paid Search – Have you run campaigns on Google Adwords? Bing or Yahoo? What has been the outcome?
  • Social Media Analytics – Do you have experiencing analyzing and making recommendations based on social media conversation? Do you have experience using tools like Radian6, SM2, and Visible Technologies etc.? Do you have passion for social media?

If you answer is YES to one or more of the above bullet items then send me your resume. Even if you are not actively looking for a job this won’t hurt.

Job Responsibilities:

Our ultimate goal is to help customer get the biggest bang for their buck.
Work in a fast paced environment and do some cool stuff.
Send me your resume and we will take it from there.

Full Time or Contract?

Either will work. If the fit is there we can make either happen.

Why isn’t there more information?

Well because I don’t want you box yourself based on what I want and provide you a laundry list of experiences. I want you to tell me what you are looking for and see if there is an immediate match, if not then there will be more opportunities. I also know some other organizations that are looking for people maybe I can hook you up with them.

How to contact me?
Twitter: @anilbatra
Email: batraonline at gmail(dot) com

7 Ways Of Handling 404 Error Messages

Last week I wrote about 404 errors and how to track them in your web analytics tool. In this post I am going to look at how various sites are dealing with 404 error messages and provide your 7 ways of handling 404 pages on your site.

The best way to handle the 404 error messages is to not have any by properly setting redirects in case of a redesign, proper sitemaps etc. But despite your best efforts there will be cases when your visitors will get the 404 errors so you just have to be prepared. This post will show you how other sites are doing it so that you can decide what will work for you.

I looked at few of the top converting online retailers and few others random sites to see how they are handling 404 error messages.

Here is what I found

  1. Schwan.com

    Schwan.com, the site with the best conversion rate, notifies the visitors that the page does not exist and then provides a link back to the home page. It also keeps the top navigation intact on the 404 page so that the visitors can easily navigate to the other pages on the site.

  2. FTD.com

    FTD.com, does a nice job of providing products recommendations to the visitors on the 404 custom error page. It also shows the top and left navigation on the error page for easy navigation.

  3. Proflowers.com

    Proflowers redirects the visitors to the home page of the site. In some cases it displays a message notifying the visitors that the page was not found but in other cases it just redirects the visitors to the home page. Lack of an error message might confuse the visitors who intended to go to a particular page and not the page they were redirected to (home page).

  4. Coca-cola.com

    Coke adds little humor on the 404 error message page. You can’t avoid reading the page.

  5. Microsoft

    Microsoft makes an attempt to understand where the user intended to go. It parses out the “Not found” url and then runs the internal site search to show relevant results. Good attempt by Microsoft on Microsoft.com, however I did not see the similar attempts at Bing or MSN sites.

  6. Google

    The company that tries to understand user intents on it’s search engine makes no attempt to understand what the visitor is trying to do. It could have used something like “Did you mean…..” but it does not.

  7. WebTrends

    Webtrends does a nice job of providing a site map on the 404 error page. Omniture does similar thing on their 404 error page.

  8. Adobe

    Adobe even asks the visitors to send them feedback on the broken link. Like many other site it provides several links back to other content on the site.

  9. RedEnvelope

    RedEnvelope goes one step further and provides an error message, product recommendations and a 10% off coupon for the inconvenience that a missing page might have caused.
    Go ahead and try it and get 10% off on RedEnvelope.com.

I also checked Roamans, QVC and Coldwater Creek, few of the other sites listed in the top conversion rate list and did not find any custom error pages.

7 ways of handling 404 error messages

Let’s recap and look at the various ways you can handle 404 error messages.

  1. Redirect the visitors to the home page. Make sure it is clear to the visitors that the page was not found and so they are being redirected to the home page. (Proflowers.com)
  2. Have a basic custom error page that notifies the visitors that the page was not found and then provides a link back to the home page. Make sure you have your navigational elements on the page. (Schwan.com).
  3. Add humor in your 404 message just like coca-cola.com.
  4. Show the sitemap (links to various sections and pages on the page for easy navigation. (WebTrends)
  5. Make products recommendations. Recommendation could be targeted based on what you know about the visitors (past purchases, current browsing behavior etc.) or simply show the best sellers list. (FTD.com)
  6. Interpret what a visitor might be looking for and show the possible results/links. You can use the internal search similar to what Microsoft does. (You have to be very careful with this solution as there is always a possibility of misinterpretation).
  7. Provide a coupon for instant conversion. (RedEnvelop)

Do you have any other example to share? Send them to me.

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Web Analytics For 404 Errors

404 errors are a fact of life on the internet. 404 error is a message returned by a server in response to a request for a page that does not exist on the server (http 404 error code).

Let me illustrate this with an example:

A visitor comes to a site, bookmarks a page and then leaves the site.
Next week the owner of the site decides to launch a new site completely replacing the old pages with the new pages (urls were different).
Next month the visitor comes back to the site via the bookmark but the page she bookmarked does not exist as it was removed during the site redesign.
She will get a 404 error message from the server.

Reasons for 404 Errors

404 errors can occur due to numerous reasons:

  1. Misspelled links – A misspelled URL in a hyperlink on the site can causing a broken link and hence a 404 error message.
  2. Bad Site Map – A site map is an xml file containing a list of all the pages on the site. It is usually meant for the search engines to index the pages on a site. A misspelling in a site map can cause the search engines to look for the pages that do exist on the server. Generally theses pages (broken links) won’t be visible to the visitors but they will show up in the search engines indexing report such as the Google webmaster tools. Some sites also show the site maps to the visitors as a form of site navigation; in those cases the visitors will see the 404 errors.
  3. Site Redesign – Site redesigns are a leading cause of the missing pages. Site owners redesign the sites, completely replacing the old pages without thoroughly thinking about the pages that might have been linked all over the web, indexed by the search engines, bookmarked by the visitors etc. Visitors who clicks on old links, bookmark etc. are greeted with the 404 error messages when they click on those links to arrive on the site.
  4. Sever Unavailable – 404 error messages can also occur when the server is unavailable.

Below is an example of a standard 404 error message

If standard 404 error page is the first page that a visitor sees when she arrive on a site, what will her reaction? As shown in the picture above, you can’t even tell which site this page belongs to. It is a dead end. Visitors don’t know where to go. What would a visitor do in this situation? She will most likely leave the site. She will go back to where she came from. The site has just failed to engage her.

Let’s imagine a similar situation in the offline world. Think about how you would feel if you enter a local supermarket looking for a toothbrush and are immediately taken to the location in the store where the toothbrushes aisle is suppose to be. When you arrive at that location, not only that you don’t find the aisle because the supermarket recently rearranged the store and move the aisle but also that the whole supermarket goes dark and all you see is the exit door. You will, for sure, run towards the exit door. That’s what a standard 404 error pages does, the site goes dark and the only thing a visitors sees is the back button or the close button on the browser.

Custom 404 Error Pages

Now imagine that instead of the store going dark, the customer sees a friendly associate who politely says “Sorry, we recently rearranged our store and the aisle you are looking for have been moved. May I show you the new location of the aisle” (or some flavor of it). Friendly associate on the web in this situation is called “Custom 404 error page (message)”, which will say “Sorry the page you are looking for does not exists anymore or has been moved, here are few links that might help you” (or some flavor of it).
A custom 404 error page allows the site to provide a message other than a generic server error message (Figure 1). A custom 404 is an opportunity for the sites to engage the visitors whom they might have lost otherwise.

How do you create a custom 404 error page?

Create a page with a message that you want your visitors to see when they encounter 404 error messages and save it as 404.html (you can use other names and the page extensions as well). Web servers have a setting which allows you to set the page that you want the visitors to see when they encounter the 404 errors. In this case you might set it to 404.html. (Contact your IT department or hosting companies to get further details).

Here is an example of a custom 404 error page

There are several ways to customize your 404 error page. Be creative when designing the 404 page, this is your last chance to reengage a visitors. (I will show you some more examples in a future post)

Web Analytics and 404 error page

Another benefit of creating a custom 404 page is that you can put your web analytics tag on the page to report and analyze the 404 pages. Web Analytics reports can show you the pages (links) that are causing 404 error messages on your site. You can also find out which pages have the bad links, what keywords, external links etc. are driving users to those non-existent pages.

Tracking 404 pages in Web Analytics

Here is an example of Google Analytics Code to track the 404 pages

This code appends “404:” in front of the page name that triggers the 404 error so that it is easy for me to filter the Google Analytics reports for the 404 error pages.

The same concept can be used in the other web analytics tools such as Omniture, Webtrends, Unica, Coremetrics etc.

There are two reports that I frequently use to analyze the 404 pages

  1. Top Content

    Since I prefixed my 404 pages with “404:”, I can easily filter out the 404 pages in this report. This report gives me all the pages that are triggering 404 error messages. This report also shows me how big the problem is and if I am losing visitors on these pages or not.
    If your custom 404 page is unable to engage the visitors (high exit rate or bounce rate) then you should consider changing the content/design etc. of the page. (I am looking into how you can conduct A/B testing on a 404 page).

    You can also drill down into each of the page and do further navigational analysis to see the pages that the visitors saw before they got the 404 error page.

    This leads you to the pages that have old/misspelled links. To track down the external links and sources, that have bad links to your site, you will need to look at the top landing pages report.

  2. Top Landing Pages

    A filter on “404:” in this report will show you the landing pages that result in the 404 errors. Use this report to drill down to the external sources of errors e.g. the external links, keywords etc. Below is an example of a report that shows that most of the 404 for a page on this site occurred from links in the emails.

    Further analysis of the emails led me to the malfunction links.

Do you have 404 error messages stories, examples to share? Send them to me.

Questions? Comments?

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