Don’t Let Your Data Go Sour

As Web reporting and analytics gets more mature as a technique and as an industry, I sometimes hear organizations saying “We’ve finished our Web analytics implementation now and we’re on to the next project.” It’s as if the implementation of Web analytics in a business is seen as an event rather than as a process. While the introduction or the upgrading of an analytics system can be seen as a project, the adoption and the ongoing use of Web analytics data in an organization is something that requires ongoing management and maintenance.

It’s like building a house to live in. A great deal of time and effort goes into the initial construction, and then you move in. At the beginning, everything is wonderful and everything works. The paint is fresh and you enjoy the new environment you’ve created. But after a while, you need to start paying attention to maintenance, fixing a few things here and there. Eventually, you may decide it’s time for a major overhaul. That process might take a few years, but you don’t move in thinking that you’re never going to have to do any work on the house ever again. You may even sensibly think about putting aside some money for the maintenance.

It’s the same with your Web analytics system. At the beginning, there’s a lot of attention and effort and maybe even some excitement of the prospect of the new data that’s going to be coming on stream. Perhaps new processes are developed and implemented to make sure that the right kind of data is being collected and reported in the right kind of way. But once the new system is launched and is up and running, what happens then? Do you have a maintenance program in place? Do you have the right resources available to make sure that the paint doesn’t start to peel and the doors don’t stick?

There are a couple of areas in Web analytics where the lack of maintenance begins to cause problems. One area is campaign tracking and another is content management. Campaign tracking is one area that’s hard to do well in Web analytics. There are too many moving parts. You don’t get campaign tracking out of the box with a Web analytics system; you have to set it up. AdWords integration with Google Analytics makes it easier than most. If you want to track any other channels or use another system, then there’s effort involved. You’ll need to decide what type of attribution model you want to use, think about the structure of your campaign tagging, and set up a process to make sure that all your marketing links and landing page URLs have the right parameter strings attached to them. There’s also some configuration work to be done in the tool itself to generate the right types of reports for your business. Depending on your scale, you may be using a marketing agency to do some of this work for you.

To keep your campaign tracking at the top of its game, it’s necessary to have strong policies and processes in place and to make sure that those processes are being managed properly. If they aren’t, the quality of the data will start to deteriorate. Campaigns will be misclassified or missed out completely. Potentially, people will start to use a different structure to the original one that was implemented. The result is that the reporting will become messy and difficult to interpret and your campaign data will start to go off.

In a similar way, with some sites and systems there will have been initial effort involved in making sure that you can report on content properly. Content aggregation is important for heavy content sites so that you can understand the overall patterns of behavior rather than be constantly working at the detail of the individual page level. In some cases, this configuration might be relatively straight forward, but often it will require a process to design a content reporting hierarchy and to assign individual pages to relevant content sections. This will have been done when the system was implemented, but sites are dynamic and content is continually being created, so an ongoing program of work is needed to ensure that content is being reported on in the right way.

So, implementing Web analytics into an organization is the beginning of a journey, not an event. As part of the implementation process, the right questions need to be asked. How is the maintenance program going to be managed? Do we have money put aside? Do we have the right resources in place to manage the process?

Don’t let your data go bad!

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