The Visitation Theory of Success

by | June 28th, 2007

McDonald’s serves billions of hamburgers, therefore they serve the best hamburgers. Of course that isn’t true, but that flawed logic is applied to content driven Web sites everyday by well meaning individuals. For a few years I have dubbed this the fallacy of visitation. Whatever the measurement folks have called it – hits, page views, visits, impressions – it is all part of the same flawed thinking.

If Sally looks at 30 pages in your site and Bob looks at 2 which is the more successful visit? Hard to say. Sally could be quite excited about the content that you have to offer and finds much to consume or she could be quite angry that she is unable to find what she is looking for. On the other hand Bob might find your site not in line with his aims or simply not interesting and leave right away or he may have quickly found what he was looking for and leave a very happy, successful visitor. You simply cannot tell user satisfaction by trying to read the tea leaves of your logs or analytics reports.

While you can certainly apply some simple heuristics that might give you a clue to what users think such as per page view time there is a far better approach to figuring out what users feel or want, simply ask them. You can ask them directly with surveys or even better simple in-page rating widgets and services. A number of our customers do it, but we warn readers that you should have a thick skin if you employ such a feedback mechanism. Few glowing reports will come back as the satisfied users will often not participate. The others who have both legit and non-legit gripes will, but they may do with energy you or your superiors may not be accustomed to. As we all should know the impersonality of the Internet seems to promote a form of dialogue that would rarely happen in the “real world.” However, manners aside the truism that you should listen to your customer holds more than ever in the digital realm. So stop observing the migratory patterns of your customers like a school of fish and engage in a dialogue with them then you’ll quickly learn the number of visits and page views that may lead to a happy customer – one.

Disclaimer: I have to admit I actually quite like McDonald’s on occasion. The comfort of consistency and familiarity of a BigMac eaten in Hong Kong, Sydney or San Diego is quite nice, but the burger quality rarely matches anything from Hodad’s in Ocean Beach or even my own backyard grill.


Thomas Powell is a long-time web industry veteran, as well as the founder and CEO of PINT.