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5 reasons marketers hate web analytics

5 reasons marketers hate web analytics Andrew Edwards

They don't actually say they hate web analytics. They say it's necessary. They say it's an important part of their customer satisfaction delivery mechanism. They say they wish they had more of it, if only the existing web analytics tools were more suited to their needs.

Don't believe them.

I am not -- by a long shot -- tarring all internet marketers (or IT teams) with this brush because I know there are lots of action-oriented marketers who know how to use web analytics and make real changes to drive their companies' online ROI. But I have seen enough over the years to know that some marketers, despite good intentions, can be a drag on the bottom line.

Harsh words? Perhaps. Remember, I'm not talking about everyone. I am talking about the ones who fit into the following categories:

No. 1: Blame the tools

What they say: "The numbers just don't add up, and they never have. The tagging is broken, and even though the site changed since we last tagged, I don't see why that should matter. My developers are saying they've got their own internal tool, and they send me numbers, but even they don't make that much sense. The truth is, these tools have a long way to go."

Translation: "I don't know enough about statistics to be as useful as I should be in a measurement-driven environment. I haven't spent enough time learning the strengths and weaknesses of my tools to know what to count on and what not to expect. I am not senior enough yet to know that a single tool cannot possibly solve problems for me, but only provide information for me to react to."

The cure: There are a number of great books on the market, but you may need more than that. How about the training sessions offered by the major vendors, as well as those offered at industry events like eMetrics? Some companies can even design custom training courses to suit your particular needs. Take advantage of these excellent sources of knowledge about analytics. In fact, immerse yourself in them. Take lots of notes and then get serious about incorporating web analytics into your everyday job.

No. 2: Blame the business owners

What they say: "Our team just hasn't had the meeting yet where we've decided what kind of KPIs (key performance indicators) we want, so we don't feel like we should start measuring until we've done that. Many of our business owners don't have time to understand all the intricacies of the numbers, so I am afraid to show them stuff that's just going to glaze their eyes. Better to hold off until the culture changes."

Translation: "I am not sure I want to be held accountable to my business owners for the success or failure of our online content. So if I invest time in helping develop KPIs and our site does poorly, then what do I say? In any case, I don't feel comfortable making changes to the site without their input."

The cure: If you don't know what your KPIs are, and your business owners don't either, it means you don't know why you have a website -- it's that simple. If you can reduce the KPI question to something more like "what helps me make money," or "what on my site most closely resembles those activities that help me make money offline," you may be getting closer to defining them than you had thought you could be. Once seen in this light, the answers can seem fairly obvious, since even the most reluctant web analytics marketer must know the purpose of the core business itself. (P.S.: You may have to make some changes to the site in order to produce better KPI expression and enable better measurement.)

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No. 3: Blame the developers

What they say: "Our agency just finished creating a great Flash-oriented website, and they have code-lock on it until the year 2020. They have advised us that the numbers are looking pretty good. In any case, the last time we tried tagging the more complicated stuff, it was a disaster. When I presented it to management, everybody lost confidence in the numbers. Also, my developers are pretty backed up right now, so web analytics is the last thing on their list."

Translation: "I have no control over my agency because its people don't report to me -- they report to senior management and are not really accountable for proving how they got to the measurements they show in the glossy boardroom presentations. They are great at presenting their own interpretation of the numbers and that usually makes us all look better. And when I called the guy who does the tagging for them, he didn't return my call."

The cure: Contrary to your personal belief, your agency works for you. As a marketer, you need to know the how and the why of the numbers you are shown. If the agency does not have the technical skills necessary to perform complex tagging that results in meaningful measures, find someone who can help them get the tagging done -- deep analytics expertise exists in the marketplace, but not always inside your agency.

No. 4: Blame the person who left

What they say: "For a couple of years we had a real web analytics maven on staff, but she left and there's no documentation. Now it's been so long since anybody really looked at the stuff, it isn't clear whether it's accurate anymore, or if it ever was. In any case, no one here really has time to do that job, and we have not found a replacement."

Translation: "The web analytics expert realized she couldn't make a difference in an environment that didn't value numbers, so she left for one that does. We did not value her input sufficiently to ask her to write down her methodologies. After she left, we had all hoped the problem (analytics) would go away until management swooped down and asked what was going on with our online marketing numbers. Now we're scrambling but don't know where to start."

The cure: There are no shortage of companies out there that can either supply you with an on-site analytics expert, or provide continuing analytics expertise that will meet or surpass the effort put in by your departed maven. Hint: You will, unfortunately, need a budget.

No. 5: Blame the economy

What they say: "We have established our budget for this year, and it includes little or nothing for analytics. There are so many projects on hold right now, it's hard to see how I can get anyone to pull the trigger on a project that's so esoteric. Everything is in flux -- wait until next year."

Translation: "No one in the company has seen fit to make a claim for the obvious: Even in a down economy, we still have to measure to be able to manage. We have not fully grasped (as a company) that analytics is an efficiency engine and that we should be using these somewhat scary moments to measure, take stock of what the measurements say, and then make changes accordingly so that when things are improved, we are already ahead of our competitors who did nothing."

The cure: In every big company there is enough money to perform web analytics properly. Often the dollars spent on analytics in a major corporation is the equivalent to a rounding error in the overall budget. And the impact can be quite astonishing -- as long as your teams are willing to make changes as indicated by the numbers.

The continuing theme in the above reasons why some marketers seem to hate web analytics is inertia. Many companies suffer from complacency -- folks not wanting to make a fuss, not wanting to get at the real root of things. (I have heard web analytics called "the smoking gun" that you can bring to either creative, editorial, or IT depending on the measurement.) This reveals the real strength -- and weakness -- of web analytics in general.

Done properly, web analytics tells you the truth about your customers' online behavior. It doesn't tell you what they say they will like (as in a focus group), and it doesn't tell you what a small sub-sample of survey responders "liked" or "didn't like" about a site (even if those disciplines have their place in marketing as well). No, web analytics -- the machine-driven delivery of actual online behavior -- when set up properly, reveals the actual behavior of your customers as they interact with your content.

Once you know this, you have to be able to be impartial to the content -- to be able to react, and quickly, to what may be bad news.

Of course, sometimes the news is very good, and the marketer who gets ahead of the numbers will turn out to have taken a leadership position.

For the rest, web analytics is a risk. Many don't like taking any. Many don't get any rewards either.

Andrew Edwards is managing partner of Technology Leaders, a web analytics consulting and technology firm.

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Andrew Edwards is a managing partner at Technology Leaders (www.technologyleaders.com), a web analytics consulting and technology firm based in New York. He is a co-founder and former board member of the Web Analytics Association. A pioneer in the...

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