Don’t Get Blown Off Course With Poor Analytics Data

Imagine spending a great deal of time and energy planning a cruise to the Bahamas. You chart your course, get a nifty new GPS to track your progress, and set sail with confidence.

Despite your efforts to diligently gather data along the way, you find yourself in Nova Scotia instead of Nassau when you drop anchor. At this point, you might be tempted to chuck the GPS overboard and revert to dead reckoning.

The same thing has happened to many companies inexperienced with gathering and interpreting their Web analytics data.

One of the first things we do with every analytics or redesign engagement is perform an accuracy audit to ensure the reliability of the data we’ll use to evaluate site performance and identify opportunities.

It’s Possible to Lose Your Way

We often find a 10 to 30 percent discrepancy between reported and actual metrics. In many cases, this percentage is enough to significantly diminish the value and insight that can be gained through analytics.

Some of the more memorable recent findings include:

  • A Fortune 500 company that overestimated site visits by 400 percent. After the accuracy audit, the company made changes to the tracking tool it was using to focus only on true site visits.

  • An e-commerce site on which 40 percent of all visits reported never viewed a single page.
  • A lead-generation site for which the monthly unique visitor count was underreported by nearly 30 percent.

In nearly every case, significant issues are found in the way visitors are tracked and the tracking tool is configured. In some situations, key stakeholders have stopped using their analytics data to make decisions because they can’t trust it.

Many Things Can Cause Data Inaccuracy

A few common problems include:

  • Tracking isn’t based on an accurate, persistent cookie.

  • Internal visitors and traffic are counted.
  • Tracking spiders and robots that visit the site are counted.
  • Missing pages are served by caching servers.
  • Inaccurate filters are set up within the tracking tool.

In some cases, the unique visitors and visit metrics may not change much, but the underlying data detailing visits may improve greatly after analyzing the accuracy of the reporting.

Problems with data accuracy often lead to:

  • Tracking false visits. The tracking tool reports visitors who never actually saw the site.

  • Missing site visits (or portions of visits). Information on true visits isn’t picked up the tracking tool.
  • Recording false paths. The tool tracks visitors who appear to jump from one page to another when there’s no way to navigate between those two pages without typing in an URL.
  • Gathering incorrect information for high-level metrics. These include visits, unique visitors, page views, page views per visit, and other data.
  • Miscalculating conversion metrics. Using conversion metrics, whether built on sales, lead generation, or customer activity that is based on inaccurate data.
  • Falsely identifying drivers to key pages. This is the inability to understand what pages and content drive people to key pages on your site.

As you begin to embrace the power of analytics, review your reporting methodology and your tracking tool’s configuration.

Calibrating your analytics tools and methodology isn’t a one-time project. Like experienced navigators who consistently track and adjust their course, you need to verify and adjust analytics tactics over time to adapt to external changes that may affect the integrity of the data you collect.

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