Web Analytics: Don’t Overrely on Tech

Over the past few months, I’ve encountered more and more companies putting too much emphasis on technology to solve Web analytics problems. Don’t get me wrong, technology is important in many aspects of the Web including analytics. But many people are struggling to realize: technology is not what keeps most companies from Web analytics success.

There are a number of great tools that will help you track visitors and get data on what they’re doing and thinking. Yes, these tools must be set up and maintained correctly. At the same time, that’s just the beginning. Some basics must be in place to put the data to work and change your business.

That’s the power in Web analytics: taking the insight and acting on it. Too often people get overly excited about what they can do with technology to push it to the nth degree. “What if we could have a system that could do X?” or “We want to take our data and do Y.” To be clear, I’m all for pushing the envelope and determining ways to set a long-term vision of what’s down the road — in many cases this is what we do for our clients.

Make sure the basic blocking and tackling is nailed before trying to boil the ocean and sprint into the distance (think of Forrest Gump running aimlessly as fast as he can for miles and miles).

So what does this mean? What are the basics? I’ve written about them in past columns, but will touch on them here at a high level:

Are your site goals defined?

Has your organization, defined, agreed upon, documented, and shared the overall Web channel goals? Are these easily understood (and again, agreed upon) by the entire Web team and beyond? This sounds simple, but even most Fortune 2000 companies hasn’t done this. It’s the basis for all successful Web analytics efforts — and Web teams for that matter.

Do you have the data you need based on those goals?

You must have access to the data to measure the previously defined goals, key performance indicators, supporting metrics. Is the data accurate? This is the most important role the technology of Web analytics plays — getting you the accurate data you need (not just the generic stats and pre-canned reports). Don’t skimp on this part of the technology.

Are you looking at different types of data together to get a full picture?

If you’re only looking at behavioral data in Web analytics to understand your visitors, you are most likely not going to be able to truly understand them. You must step back and consider the “why” behind some of the behaviors. Attitudinal data (surveys, satisfaction measurements, etc.) are a great way to do this. You can combine this data and often get a very different view on what’s working and what’s not for your audience. You can, of course, look to leverage competitive data, social media data, customer data, transactional data, etc., to get an even richer view of your visitors.

Are the right people getting the right data?

This is a big one. Very often the people responsible for analyzing what’s working on the site aren’t the ones who ultimately make site improvement changes. Typically, this is under the purview of business or group leads. To be successful, get the right data about the right things into their hands so they can act on it and make smarter decisions. This must happen quickly and be performed on an ongoing basis.

Can your organization easily and quickly tune and test the site?

Is there a way to quickly roll out changes to the site and test them? Are you leveraging an optimization tool like Omniture Test&Target (formerly Offermatica) or even Google Web Site Optimizer? There must be a way to quickly act on insight and ideas and test multiple possible solutions to determine which ideas work best with your different audiences.

Are you establishing priorities for opportunities?

There’s never a shortage of initiatives, projects, or ideas. There’s always a shortage of resources, budget and focus. How are opportunities prioritized today? Is there a process in place like estimating the monetized impact of all initiatives and ranking them in order or ROI? (If you are unfamiliar with this, take a look at my other columns for more information on monetization).

Are you measuring the impact of all key initiatives after launch?

Once projects launch, are you helping to determine the impact and reporting success and failures that others can learn from?

How many questions did you answer “no” to? Hopefully, not many. Still, we see companies struggle with each of these areas every day. These factors are fundamental in terms of really leveraging Web analytics to drive your business. Companies must get these issues nailed before moving onto trying to solve every possible technology integration and so on.

Truth is, most companies would be better served to step back, slow down, and figure out how to shift their organization so they can address these factors — and then move on from there.

Related reading

A cartoon depicting web analytics. It shows a bubble with the letters WWW in it, surrounded by "click! click!". An arrow leads from the bubble to a notepad with graphs and charts on it. Another arrow leads to a chart on a piece of paper, with a lightbulb next to it, which leads on to a spanner with the words "tweak! tweak!" next to it. In the bottom left corner is a box with four bullet points in it: gather, report, analyse and optimise.
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