What your analytics are really saying

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Have you ever allowed the color of the stoplights to decide the direction of your day? I have, and it led me to a street corner at the intersection of bad and worse in San Francisco.

It's the same with analytics: Analytics can serve as a very useful directional tool or map, but if you don't know where you're trying to go with your online assets, or what you're trying to accomplish, you, too, could reach unfavorable results. In fact, you probably will.

Marketers always want to better understand the data coming from their web analytics tools. Yet too often they don't go through the fundamental process necessary to set up a proper analytics strategy. Marketers are buried in data, but how do you know what the data is really saying above all the noise? And how do you make sure the decisions you're making are the right ones?

Here's an outline of the rudimentary process necessary to best understand what you're being told by your analytics, and how to act upon it:

  • Define your business objectives.
  • Integrate data for a holistic perspective.
  • Provide context and humanize your data.
  • Act fast.

Define your business objectives
This is the first and most important step in the process of measuring your online goals and objectives. When it comes to hearing what your data is really saying, this step is akin to writing the questions you want to ask your data.

By defining your business objectives, I don't mean defining your key performance indicators (KPIs) or which metrics are going to be measured (that step comes later). Marketers need to understand what they're trying to accomplish with each new marketing program. At the end of the day, there are only three major objectives that marketers are trying to accomplish:

  1. Increase sales
  2. Decrease costs
  3. Improve customer satisfaction

After defining objectives, the next level down is defining goals, or the steps you need to achieve to realize your objectives. Starting with these definitions puts you in a better place to engage your data in a "conversation." It allows you to ask your data questions and get answers in return.

Now it's time to define key performance indicators (KPIs) and how they map back to the goals. Additionally, once KPIs are defined, it's important to determine which data are necessary to measure the effectiveness of the marketing program as it relates to business objectives, and ensure ahead of time that the proper web analytics tools are in place.

At the completion of a program, marketers want to understand synergy from integrated tactics to reach the overarching goals. By knowing what questions you want to ask the data ahead of time, you can make sure you're taking the right measurements to answer them. Without this collaborative effort in the beginning of a program to ensure a proper analytics strategy has been defined, you are likely to have clients asking questions that can't be answered, resulting in disappointment.

(For more information and context around the differences of KPIs and metrics, Avinash Kaushnik goes into great detail in his blog post called "Web Analytics 101: Definitions: Goals, Metrics, KPIs, Dimensions, Targets.")

Before any online initiative launches, always consult with your web analyst to ensure an analytics tracking strategy is in place to measure performance and marketing effectiveness. The days of slapping analytics code on a website are over. All analytics platforms, even Google's free tool, have become increasingly sophisticated with tracking capabilities. Regardless of the tool you're using, a thoughtful approach must be taken when implementing your analytics. And the best resource for interpreting your data requirements is a skilled and experienced web analyst.

Integrate data for a holistic perspective
Marketers are becoming more advanced in their efforts as they begin to better integrate their initiatives across multiple platforms and tactics. However, when it's time to evaluate the performance from such efforts, individual reports are developed for each tactic executed for the program. From a media perspective, the program might have appeared to perform exceptionally well, driving much traffic to the website at a low cost per click. But one must not stop there to determine the success of a campaign's performance.

Since we started by setting up objectives and goals and establishing an infrastructure that lets us measure against those objectives, the next step is combining the necessary data to see what those users are really doing. Traffic might have increased, but it is even more important to understand how these users converted.

In order to make informed decisions about your campaign, it's important that you understand the information obtained from a campaign, dive deep into the data, and ask the right questions, such as:

  • Traffic is up, but is that traffic valuable?
  • What can be done to obtain these users sooner, or can retargeting efforts be used to close the gap between a lead and sale?
  • Do you find that the audience is interested and engaged, yet not converting?
  • What is it about your program that interests them?
  • Did your marketing efforts target the wrong audience?

Web analytics tools provide a wealth of data. But often, more information is needed to effectively answer these types of questions in relation to overarching business objectives. It's important to know your users' intentions and interests, so incorporate survey tools. For brands with retail locations, make sure you incorporate offline and in-store data. Retargeting tools also provide new insights into customer behavior and abandonment. When you want a holistic view of your marketing efforts, you have to pull in all data that comes into play. Evaluating analytics in a silo is just as dangerous as not using your data at all. Data integration is key.

To truly understand what your analytics are really saying, you have to hear the whole conversation. Analytics experts understand what external metrics need to be considered and how to compile reports that tell the whole story of what's happening.



Spencer Broome
Spencer Broome October 6, 2011 at 1:21 PM

Like this one: Traffic is up, but is that traffic valuable?