Reporting and Analysis: Understanding the Difference

Over the past few years, it’s become easier to share data about site performance. Most of the leading tools can send out pre-specified reports and selected times. Apps are starting to appear for different mobile devices, so people can access metrics for their Web sites. And the Excel clients for many analytics tools continue to become more sophisticated. This is great because it’s easier for people to get at their behavioral site data.

But it comes at a cost and can create bad habits. People can undervalue Web analytics data’s true impact.

Let’s examine two ways of viewing this data. One approach is easier but has minimal impact, while the other is harder to accomplish but delivers more value:

  • “How did we do?” data. The easier of the two views, this is what most companies focus on. It involves looking back (think rearview mirror) to see how you did last week or last month. Very often this approach is focused on generic metrics, but it can also be based on KPIs (define), key conversion rates, and so on. This approach can be interesting but typically doesn’t result in a terribly high ROI (define).
  • “What can we do?” insight. The value really sits here. This approach is where the analysis is done and opportunities based on overall site goals are identified. It separates people looking at data from those really using the data to drive insight that can impact the business.

I’d characterize the “how did we do?” data approach as reporting, while “what can we do?” is based in analysis that has the potential to identify valuable opportunities for improvement.

While it’s important to understand how we did, too many companies stop there and don’t seek out data to assess “what can we do?” Yes, your orders may have been up last month. But when you dig into the behaviors of those who converted and those who didn’t, you might be able to identify a key behavior that drove many of those conversions that you want to point more people toward. Now you are thinking about what you can do.

You may segment your visitors based on how they found your site or something else you know about them. Then you might spot a trend that can trigger ideas on ways to improve your site that you can test. The things you may find are endless.

But, again, too few companies spend the time or have the skills to move past the “how did we do?” phase. Why? Is it because the tools have gotten better at showing how the site has done? It’s unfair to blame the tools making it easier in that area. Truth is, it’s much harder to identify what can we do than how we did last month. It takes an experienced person to do this and it must be based on defined goals. Time and resources must be allotted to allow this to happen. Too often, too few people focus in this area and usually don’t have the right skills. Outside expertise may be needed.

Many companies feel they are using Web analytics tools successfully, even though most don’t move past the “how did we do?” mode. More companies must move beyond that phase if they are to identify opportunities to improve.

Comment below and share with me ways you have helped your organization move from “how did we do?” to “what can we do?”

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