One of the biggest draws to digital marketing is how measurable everything is. Websites are measured based on popularity, usage and effectiveness. Advertising is measured based on reach and conversions. It’s a marketers dream! But hold on just a sec. How well do you know the metrics that you have in your reports?

Here are just a few popular metrics that we all use, but may possibly be misleading you.

Unique Visitors

Visitors or otherwise known as Unique Visitors is likely the most confusing metric, especially for those not familiar with analytics. Generally, it’s one of the metrics to monitor to determine whether your website traffic is increasing. However with a name such as “Visitors” people confuse this metric as a measure of how many ¬†actual people are visiting their website.

Electronic devices

Why are Unique Visitors Misleading?

Visitors are tracked using cookies. Cookies are attached to web browsers. In a multi-device world, you could be overestimating how many “people” are visiting your website.

Picture this, John Doe browses your ecommerce store from his computer at work…narrows down his wish list from his iPhone in the subway…finally purchases a product from your site from his home computer. John Doe just viewed your website from 3 different devices with 3 web browsers. He now counts as 3 Visitors according to popular analytics systems such as Google Analytics. Get the picture?


Page Views & Time on Site

Increased page views and time on site are a favorite pairing of metrics for many digital marketers. The general assumption is that users who stay longer on your website and visit more web pages are satisfied users because they are consuming more content.

But the page views & time on site combo can lead you to the wrong conclusions. You’re assuming that your website is easy to understand, easy to navigate and is a general pleasure to visit. That’s assuming way too much!

Why are Page Views & Time on Site Misleading?

An increase in page views & time on site could indicate:

  • Users are confused and can’t find the content they’re looking for. For all you know they could be clicking all over the place, not finding what they want.
  • Users could have left their browser open while on your website for the full 20 minute browser session before their analytics session expires.

Below is a graphic showing the click-trail activity of Apple’s website using a heatmap tool such as ClickTale or CrazyEgg. In this example, time on site could have been potentially inflated because users spent time clicking on the leopard’s ear and snout!



Banner Ad Impressions

Banner ad impressions are a common metric touted by many ad salesmen. The term “impressions” actually comes from traditional advertising and is one of the methods of measuring print & TV advertising. The logic is, the more impressions the better! However on the web, no two impressions are the same.

Why are Banner Ad Impressions Misleading?

For most ad networks, ads are served whether you scroll down the web page or not. Some websites have more than 2 or 3 ad units per web page, so if your ad is placed at the bottom of the page even though a user hasn’t scrolled all the way down, it may count as an impression

Top of Fold


Bottom of Fold


Email Open Rates

Open rates are a critical metric in email marketing. Subject lines and list segments are judged based on the percentage of people who opened an email compared to the total number of people who were sent the email.

Let’s say you’re an ecommerce company and no matter how hard you try, your average email open rate is 15% which is lower than the email open rate benchmark of 22%. What gives?

Why are Email Open Rates Misleading?

If you have an email database and you’ve never purged the database of people who have never opened an email from you for the past year or even several years, your email open rate metrics are lower than what it truly is.

You are continually sending emails to people who will likely never open an email from you ever. They’re dead weight. Purge your list periodically to ensure an accurate email open rate metric…which likely is much higher than what you have today.

To sum it up. Digital marketing metrics are great, they inform us in so many ways. But don’t forget to dig deeper to make sure you are confidently basing your decisions on the right metrics.

Hey there, I'm Marc!

I'm the Director of Growth Channels @Hootsuite. I've worked in digital marketing since 2000 for agencies, startups and companies like Electronic Arts & SAP. Thanks for checking out my site where I share digital marketing strategies on how to increase website traffic and generate more revenue.

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