Web Analytics: Asking the Five Ws

  |  July 3, 2007   |  Comments

When it comes to Web analytics data, ask yourself: Who? What? Where? When? And why?

Who gets what, and when? We often get this question from clients when helping formulate a long-term analytics and optimization strategy.

There's confusion regarding what information to share, when to share it, how to share it, and so on. It got me thinking about the five "W"s (define) of journalism. To tell the full story, journalists answer five questions:

  • Who?

  • What?

  • Where?

  • When?

  • Why?

Thinking in this framework, I began to look at how companies share Web analytics data effectively. And more often than not, how they don't share the right data in the right way at the right time. Let's look at each of these as it applies to Web analytics.


Who should receive the data and insight from analytics? Too often, not enough people are exposed to Web analytics information. Analytics data is held close to the chest, or it's shared only at the most generic, non-business-oriented level. Analytics data and insight are the heartbeat of a business' online portion. If a doctor does research on a new medication and doesn't share her findings, no one benefits from the research. If you don't share data with the people who can act on it and make smarter decisions, those people can't make informed decisions to make the entire group successful.


What should be shared? The answer will most likely differ greatly depending on the "who" and the "when." Notice the "who" doesn't address getting the right people the right data; this is the "what". Avoid delivering just data and long reports. Take it to the next level by focusing on delivering analysis, insight, and recommendations.


Don't just send reports in an e-mail, thinking people will understand, or even review, the information. Work to integrate data into existing processes. Walk people through what they mean and how they can be used. Spend time training people and making data part of existing meetings and discussions around the Web channel.


When should this information be shared? On a regular basis or just when there's interesting information? Is the best cadence daily, weekly, monthly, or even quarterly? This really depends on your audience, industry, and the like. You want to share information on a regular enough basis that people know what's going on, but with enough room in between that people have time to act on it. Again, this comes back to your audiences, how they use the data, and so forth.


The "why" of doing the work must always tie back to identifying opportunities to improve site performance. If you're only reporting metrics and focusing on the past, you won't get into the things that really matter: improvement going forward. As you construct all your deliverables, keep this important fact in mind.

The "why" also refers to why visitors do certain things. Web analytics is behavioral data. It can tell us what someone or a group of people did on a site, but it doesn't tell us why they did it, what they were thinking, or if they perceived it as a positive experience and interaction with the brand or company. Very often, the same visit (or set of clicks on a site) by two different people can be positive to one and negative to the other. Both may lead to follow-up activities or perceptions. Attitudinal measurements, such as customer satisfaction, surveys, and user studies, can help you to understand the "why", which often helps clarify what we're seeing in the behavioral data.

As you can see, sharing analytical data isn't as easy as answering each question just once. You must consider your organization's goals and determine the best combination of these things depending on your situation and audience.

Take the time to start at the top of the list and build out based on your company. Let me know how it goes, and how it begins to change the shift in thinking and delivery around Web analytics data.

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Jason Burby

As President of the Americas at POSSIBLE, Jason is responsible for leading the long-term stability and growth of the region. With more than 20 years experience in digital strategy, he is a long-time advocate of using data to inform digital strategies to help clients attract, convert, and retain customers. Jason supports POSSIBLE's clients and employees in driving new engagements and delivering great work that works. He is the co-author of Actionable Web Analytics: Using Data to Make Smart Business Decisions.

Follow him on Twitter @JasonBurby.

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