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Return Visits Show How Much Audiences Value a Site

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Online audience measurement

Return visits is an important metric in website analytics because it reveals the value of a site to its visitors.

Visitor who come back to the site are indicating it has given them more than one reason to engage with it. With return visits, they bring the potential for more ecommerce and advertising sales, more email newsletter subscriptions and a stronger brand presence.

Site publishers find it challenging enough to get visitors to a site in the first place. Competition keeps skyrocketing every year. Multiple sites publish content about the same subject. Visitors usually have many options for choosing which site to visit based on their search engine results.

So a site has to stand out among the crowd to be distinctive and memorable. That way visitors arrive not just because of search engines. They also may arrive because of other marketing tactics such as organic social media. However, organic social media is becoming weaker because social sites are getting stingy about organics and more demanding about paying for ads.

How to Identify Return Visits

Return visitors are easy to identify in an analytics program such as Google Analytics.

In Google Analytics, click on Audience / Behavior / New vs Returning. In the center of the screen, note two data points: New Visitor and Returning Visitor.

Google Analytics uses the concept of “sessions” to track new versus returning visits. Sessions can take place anywhere from multiple times a day to a single time during the month.

The default time frame in Google Analytics is usually one week. Change the start and end dates in the calendar at the upper right to 30 days, the most recent month or some other length of time that is quite a bit longer than just seven days.

The result will show a different breakdown in percentages between new and return visitors. Most likely the return visitor rate for 30 days is lower than seven days.

Returning visitors are more likely to have a lower bounce rate and higher pages per visit. Those important metrics are another example of why return visitors are so important. They consume more of the site when they arrive than new visitors.

Then again, some sites may have a higher bounce rate and lower pages per visit if the visitors are coming back for just one special page. That page may have content that updates on a regular basis. If the visitor bookmarks the page, they will often go just there and leave again.

Site Content and Brand Matter

Someone who has access to the analytics of more than one site may notice that the return visitor rate varies between one site and others. The content of the site is a major factor in return visitor percentages.

A local news site usually has a much higher return rate than a travel site. People have an interest in local news on a regular basis, even daily. They don’t have a daily interest in travel except for short periods of time while they are planning a vacation. Once that vacation is over, they have no reason to come back again.

Brand has a similar impact on return visits. For example, within the travel category, a major national site such as Frommer’s is more likely to have higher return visitors. People may own Frommer’s books or simply see its website mentioned or linked more often online. The same can’t be said of a small regional travel guide.

Regardless, site publishers should regularly use analytics to check the return visitor rate of their websites. They can use tactics such as email newsletters, social media postings and regular content updates to attract more return visits.

At some point, site publishers will run out of ways to increase the rate of return visitors. Then it’s time to move on to other priorities and use the labor and energy on something with a better return on investment.

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