Here's a look at the many reasons digital analytics can bother even an expert. But although analytics may be annoying to those in the field, customers need the numbers anyway.
I hate digital analytics because it gives too many marketers the false impression they are doing something substantial by looking at a few not-very-illuminating numbers.
I hate analytics because too many vendors and practitioners seem to believe it's an end in itself when really it's the start of the optimization journey.
I hate analytics because too often it's so poorly implemented that even simple accuracy cannot be guaranteed.
I hate it because too often, it confirms the obvious while providing not enough richness to make truly targeted changes.
I hate it because even with all the above in play, we still cannot run sites without it.
I hate how we have to rely on it to convince ourselves of the obvious when we haven't the courage to trust our own judgment.
Here is a conversation I had recently with a customer:
Customer: What did we learn from three months of running analytics on my lead-gen site?
Me: We learned enough to know that we need to completely redo the site as well as your digital marketing. You're not getting much traffic and you're not getting any conversions from the traffic you're getting. Also we learned how slow it loads.
Customer: We knew all that before we did the analytics. Why did we do analytics?
Me (to myself): Because even though I told you to redo the site and find another developer to do it, you did not want to do that. But now that analytics proved me right, you want to know why we did analytics.
Me (what I said): Well, we also learned that visits were really short.
Customer: So do we redevelop the site with a new developer?
Customer: Good! I can't wait.
I absolutely do not blame the customer for the skepticism. It's true we didn't find out anything well-hidden about the site (except that his company was being ripped off by a CPM advertising network that was charging him for phony impressions).
But beyond catching a bad actor, we confirmed what I had posited within a couple of weeks of engagement: that the developers were paying no attention to his site or his marketing; that the site suffered from poor architecture, poor design, poor load-time, and far too many pages of unhelpful content; and that all of the above were hurting his SEO rankings.
My insights alone were not enough. We had to go through the exercise of tagging the site and running reports on a month of data until we were able to say, based on the numbers, that the site was underperforming.
Only then did we get a go-ahead from the customer to find another firm and get moving on a much-needed redesign.
Here's what I learned from this:
I may hate analytics, but customers need the numbers anyway. They don't have domain expertise in digital marketing, much as I don't have domain expertise in accounting. Would I just go ahead and do what an accountant told me to do without something more than faith in his/her judgment? I would not. I would probably want to see some kind of spreadsheet that showed me something — anything. Something I can claim to have based a decision upon.
The assumptions are two: One, implementation is solid and the numbers are accurate; two, we have a plan to do something based on what we learned.
I would hate it if we had inaccurate numbers and no plan.
At least in this case, we had determined to do something. Too many enterprises are stuck in a self-defeating version of net-neutrality: they don't know how to engage a forward gear and their site just rolls along without drive.
Many marketers think it's their job to make sure the process of site-change takes as long as possible, because they don't have the authority to make changes and don't want the responsibility of having made changes that might prove nothing.
Time for another profile reconfiguration!
Talk yet again to the developers about getting the tags right!
The numbers come through again. OK, now we can trust them. But with no plan for improvement, none of it matters.
That's why I hate analytics.
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Andrew V. Edwards is a digital marketing executive with 20 years of experience serving large organizations, and has been an operating executive and digital marketing consultant since the 1980s. Currently he is a partner at Efectyv Digital, a digital analytics consulting firm. Andrew combines extensive technical knowledge with a broad strategic understanding of digital marketing and especially digital measurement, plus hands-on creative in the form of writing and design.
In 2004 Edwards co-founded the Digital Analytics Association and is currently a director emeritus. He has designed analytics training curricula for business teams and has led seminars on digital marketing subjects.
Besides writing a regular column about analytics for ClickZ, Andrew wrote the groundbreaking "Dawn of Convergence Analytics" report, which was featured at the SES show in New York (2013).
His book Digital Is Destroying Everything, published by Rowman & Littlefield, will be released on June 15, 2015.
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