Why You Can't Get Those Numbers Today (and How You Can Tomorrow)

  |  April 7, 2014   |  Comments

Why can't you get the numbers? It's not because the measurement application can't do it - it's because developers are busy with other things. If you can coordinate closely with your analytics experts and your developers, you will then be in a position to know those numbers.

The site is launching in just a few weeks. Your stakeholders want to know a lot about how users interact with it. They want to know if it's a success. And page view counts won't satisfy them.

For instance, they may want to know whether your e-commerce funnel is working well. They want to track usage of social links. They want to know about search terms, external links, and no small number of e-commerce information that isn't found in the basic reports with data collected from the basic tags.

All these things are knowable, according to the analytics vendors and analytics experts.

So why can't you get the numbers?

Why are you telling your stakeholders that they will need to be more satisfied with less data?

It's not because the measurement application cannot do it. It isn't because the data collection is impossible to design.

It's because developers are busy with other things.

Let me explain.

Analytics tools rely on snippets of code, or tags, as we all know them today. The basic, vendor-provided snippet goes on every page and does quite a bit — in fact, it seems to do enough to satisfy most practitioners. But it doesn't do enough to satisfy some of the demands we noted above.

In order to gather more specialized data, you will need to have developed custom tags. These tags follow some basic rules provided by the vendor, but usually have containers for variables; and the variables have to come from somewhere in the page itself (often the URL but not always).

Over the years I've seen many custom tag specifications go to the developers so they can copy and paste them into the HTML (usually via their CMS), with very clear instructions as to where the variables need to be named. And quite often the developers hardly go beyond putting in the basic tags while setting aside the custom tags for "the next cycle." Then, this gets delayed and eventually ignored. And everyone wonders why the reporting doesn't give much insight.

It's not the developers' fault that they're busy, and don't share your enthusiasm for analytics. They have a lot of other work to do so the site actually works.

But as a marketer, you need to make sure the developers are fully on board with your tagging schema. Often an analytics expert will create it, and it's left to the developers to instrument the pages with the tags. They may need to discuss it with whoever created the tagging document. And then they need to get the tags in place.

Without data collection — tags - there is no data. And no reporting.

This roadblock has done more to stymie good analytics than anything else I have seen in 12 years of working with analytics tools.

If you want to get campaign reporting, e-commerce reporting, funnels, and anything that requires variables and that goes beyond the basic reports available from extrapolating page views and page view characteristics, then you must go on a mission to enlist from your developers all the help you can get.

Don't settle for "the next cycle," as it may never come.

Don't permit a round of half-baked emails suffice for developer guidance.

Get them on the phone with the analytics expert so they can go over the tag requirements one-by-one and one-on-one. Make them stay in touch with the tag expert throughout the process of tag placement. Make sure they let you know when they have placed the tags (or a suitable proportion of them) so that they can be tested. Often enough, they will not, and some adjustments will have to be made. Make sure they go through this testing process with the analytics expert in something like real time. Too often I have seen developers, busy with other projects, leave off a tagging communiqué until weeks after the fact. This will often destroy any chance you might have had to collect meaningful data over the full course of the project.

You may not be able to know those numbers now, but now you know why. And if you coordinate closely between your analytics experts and your developers, you will then be in a position to know those numbers. And your stakeholders will be much better pleased once you've done this.

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Andrew Edwards

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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