In economics, inflation is commonly seen as the growth in prices of goods and services, which consequently reduces the purchasing power of a currency. Or in layman's terms, Freddos no longer cost 15p and a can of Coke now costs more than a whole bottle used to in the good old days.
How does this relate to your website? Well, inflation is not limited to currency; traffic inflation is happening right now online, and on a much larger scale than you may be aware of.
There has been a 753% inflation of Internet users over the past 15 years.
Fifteen years ago on the advent of the noughties, there were an estimated 360 million1 people using the Internet. Fast-forward to today and this figure has grown by an enormous 753%!
Internet penetration has now encompassed over 40% of the world population, as a massive 3 billion users surf the net globally. This is a staggering growth for sure, but you’re probably not measuring your website growth against your user data from 2001, and if you are then you should really stop.
Now it’s time to get down to why this is relevant to you and your current data measurements.
Utilising statistics from websites such as Internet Live Stats, we can see that the number of Internet users around the world is already up 300 million2 in 2015. This growth represents 10% of total Internet users; there are 10% more people with access to the Internet today than there were a year ago. Compare that to your 2% session growth in Google analytics and you might start to rethink commissioning that marketing company for a second year.
Realistically, a 10% increase in Internet users will not translate to a 10% increase in traffic to your services, especially when you consider these are global statistics and the largest growth will be coming from third world countries finally establishing a footing in the digital age.
However, an element we haven’t considered thus far is Internet usage in terms of time spent online, and growth in this field can be seen much closer to home.
Ofcom stated in their ‘Media Use and Attitudes 2015’ report that Internet users aged between 16 and 24 are spending an average of 27 hours3 online per week, a 300% increase from 2005. If the 16-24 age group is your website’s target demographic, ask yourself, have you experienced this spike?
When life gives you lemons…
To use an analogy, let’s assume I have been selling lemonade at my lemonade stand every morning for two years and making a tidy profit from doing so. After the first year, I decide I’m ready to expand, so I begin paying a marketing agency to bring me more thirsty customers.
Halfway through year two a new school and business park open up around the corner from my stand. By the end of the second year sales have increased by 50%.
On the surface this looks strong, but when you consider the volume of potential customers walking past my stand each morning has increased by 300% thanks to the newly opened school and business centre, then am I actually doing a better job at attracting custom than I was before I hired the ‘When Life Gives You Lemons Marketing Specialists’ a year ago? Probably not, and I should definitely be sceptical when they try to attribute my 50% growth to the new sign design they put up in June!
What this all means essentially is that when measuring your website traffic, conversion rates, and overall web presence growth, you need to look further than the little green +% signs in Google Analytics. Through Internet usage growth, the advent of the smartphone, and users now being online almost as often as they’re offline, it should not be difficult to see growth in traffic - even in competitive fields.
The Spam Factor
Unfortunately, as with all things profitable, there are people at the heart of digital marketing with nefarious intent.
As if attempting to measure accurate growth was not difficult enough, a growing factor to contend with is analytics/data spam. Analytics spam takes multiple forms, the most common being ‘ghost referrals’, a term coined to refer to sessions generated by firing requests at a client's analytics code without ever touching the website. To the end user this will look like genuine traffic and can severely impede a company's ability to determine real online growth.
I personally have seen scenarios where a website seemingly grew by over 50% in terms of annual website traffic, but upon filtering out the spam, the actual figure was a decline of more than 20%. This is most definitely an extreme case but do not be fooled; spam traffic is everywhere, and if you’re not removing it, then you may not be growing as much as you think.
Luckily there’s a great guide to identifying and removing analytics spam right here, which is definitely worth a quick read.
So what level of traffic increase can be conceived as genuine growth?
That is the unrelenting question. Unfortunately, there is no fixed answer, as this will change for every single website, but do try to consider the following when contemplating the performance of your online marketing:
- Is my target audience growing?
As previously mentioned, if you happen to be marketing your website towards growing target audiences such as those in Northern Africa or young British adults, then you need to ask if you’re getting your share of the pie.
- Is my product/service area growing?
If your website is selling copies of Windows 98 or Asbestos insulation, then even the best marketing agencies are going to have trouble growing your traffic in a declining market.
- Has your offline marketing affected your online traffic?
If you have attended any conferences, sponsored an event, or been independently active on social media, then the answer is almost definitely yes. If you are growing as a company, don’t let your digital marketing provider claim credit for growth you have gained; look for patterns in traffic following offline activities and make sure you allow some wiggle room in growth for your own marketing efforts.
These three questions can help you determine whether you’re receiving value for money or not. Manage your expectations and measure yourself against your competition rather than your past achievements, and wherever possible, look for independent parties with nothing to gain from massaging the truth to provide you with growth projections to work towards.
And most importantly, choose a digital marketing agency that advocate all of the above and live by the all-encompassing mantra ‘we can’t grow if our clients don’t’.
1 Internet World Stats, 2015. Internet growth statistics. [Online] Available at: http://www.internetworldstats.com/emarketing.htm.
2 Internet Live Stats, 2015. Internet users. [Online] Available at: http://www.internetlivestats.com/internet-users/.
3 Ofcom, 2015. Adults’ media use and attitudes report 2015. [Online] Available at: http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/binaries/research/media-literacy/media-lit-10years/2015_Adults_media_use_and_attitudes_report.pdf.
[All information sources accessed 8th September 2015].