Reading most web analytics reports, I am often reminded of Samuel Colereridges' epic, "The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner." Instead of "water water everywhere, nor any drop to drink," I think of "data, data everywhere and one really did think." Far too often I discover that in instead of a web analytics report, I am actually holding a web data report. The problem is simple; there is a difference between web reporting and web analytics.
The web really is the most measurable medium. We are lucky to work in an industry that offers a spate of information to consider. Unfortunately, as any chocolate addict will tell you, too much of a good thing quickly turns bad. Data overload is a problem. Web reporting generates loads of data. Every single action can be measured, recorded, and scrutinized to the 'nth degree. Because we measure everything, we spend inordinate amounts of time recording and sorting it. But reporting that copious amount of data means absolutely nothing. That is simply a data dump that, in and of itself, offers little value.
Numbers don't tell a story. People do. Analysis means understanding the data, thinking about what they mean, and finding a pattern. I liken this to storytelling. After carefully considering the numbers, web analysts translate them into a narrative that even the non-techies can understand. Therein lies the difference between web reporting and web analytics. Reporting regurgitates the what, and analytics explains the why.
Any high school dropout can pull the numbers from Google Analytics or a third-party ad server and paste them into Excel. But only a highly trained high school dropout can interpret those numbers and tell you what they mean. Analysis requires a person see the forest through the trees. Individual data points matter less than the larger narrative. For example, reporting merely lists the number of unique visitors, while analysis attributes the percentage increase to specific factors. Most importantly, after neatly summarizing the information, good analysis includes recommended actions. The next steps are the reason why we do analytics, not simply to measure but to improve too. Distinguish between data reporting and data interpretation; this is the first and most important rule of web analytics.
As anybody who has worked at a large company can attest, only grain farmers love siloes more than corporate America. For our purposes, the problem lies with the chasm between marketing and the IT departments. Marketing manages the paid and earned media while IT runs the website (owned media). So often the webmaster, as part of the IT department, has no contact with the marketing department. This creates a schism between what drove the results and the analysis thereof.
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Andrew,I enjoyed your gentle reminder about getting to the real analysis and telling the story of what and why something is happening rather than just reporting without any real thought. I'd also like to add that knowing what your key performance indicators (KPI's) are, understanding the "why" and testing to see what can be tweaked to increase conversions are what makes excellent web marketers too. Again, I'm glad for the reminder to dig deeper and the encouragement to understand the "what" that will get us to the "why," which is where we can make strategic adjustments that can increase sales/registrations and increase ROI..
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