When Users Leaving the Site is Not a Failure

Photo Credit: The High Road Institute

Today I had an interesting question from a client.

“Most of our users visit a site multiple times before they’re ready to purchase. But all of the wireframes and user flows you’ve shown us direct people to call us or purchase. How do we help people who aren’t ready?”

To be honest, that’s not something I’ve ever considered.

Designing for drop off

We don’t often talk about the users who visit our site and then leave – except to consider them failures. We speak of them in passing. They are our:

  • Returning visitors
  • Drop offs (failures)
  • Engagement via anything other than conversion

That last option is key, because though we rarely talk about people leaving and us feeling ok with it, we do talk about multiple options for measuring success. Basically, though we would never measure success via a metric like “drop offs,” we can identify other goals that require other success metrics.

Goals vs Metrics

Lately more and more of my clients are interested in measuring success. HOORAH! I fully support this! And the first step in learning to measure success is to identify what success means, and how it’s measured.

Goals and metrics are not the same thing.

Goals are things like “we want more people to buy our product” or “we want people to associate us with really valuable educational materials.” Metrics are the ways we measure this. We can measure the people who buy a product by online and IRL purchases – easy. But how do we measure peoples’ associations with our brand? We might use page views, traffic, or conversion percentage.

It’s important that we differentiate between goals and metrics. Too many organizations focus on “more traffic” forgetting that their actual goal is more purchases. Since they focus on the “more traffic” as a goal rather than one of a few metrics, they miss the fact that none of that traffic is converting, and so getting additional traffic is a waste of time and energy.

If instead they looked at “more traffic” as one metric, and “conversion percentage” as another, both working as steps towards the goal “increase purchases,” they would do far better.

A goal of drop offs?

For my clients they were aware that our user flows and goals weren’t accounting for people at the top of the funnel – those focused on awareness or education. The solution isn’t to help people drop off the site. On the contrary, we need to identify what our goal is with these people. They are likely the people who we want to associate us with really valuable educational materials. Or they’re the people who we want to think about us a day, week, or month later.

These goals are measurable – and not by drop offs! We can measure time spent on page, percentage of return users, click-thrus to multiple resources, newsletter sign ups, and the list goes on.

When someone leaves our site, it’s not a failure. The key is to measure our goals, not just collect our measurements.

Marli Mesibov

Marli is a content strategist with a passion for the user experience. Her work spans websites, web applications, and mobile. Marli is the VP of Content Strategy at the UX design agency Mad*Pow, where she helps healthcare, finance, and educational organizations communicate with their audiences. Marli is a frequent conference speaker, and has spoken at conferences including Content Strategy Forum and LavaCon. She can also be found on Twitter, where she shares thoughts on content strategy, literature, and Muppets.

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