Web Analytics as a Means to an End

Web analytics has generated a lot more excitement in corporate America over the past 12 to 18 months. More people within organizations are seeing the power that understanding visitor behavior online can mean to their business.

People have been getting excited about Web analytics for a while, but instead of just one or two data-heavy people within an organization getting excited, marketers are now getting on the bandwagon. Directors, VPs, and executive also getting excited. This is great, because these are the people you must have on your side to overcome common issues and who can drive change through the data.

All this enthusiasm, though, might make some people think of analytics as the be all, end all. And that risks missing the point of analytics: improving your business. Analytics is simply a means to an end. It doesn’t provide all the answers; just understanding visitor behavior won’t make your company perform better online.

If Web analytics focus is misdirected at your organization, keep these points in mind:

  • Take action. The key to success is taking action on your findings. Ideally, this can be in the form of A/B or multivariate testing or behavioral targeting. This way you can truly see the impact of your changes. If you just roll out a new page, you won’t truly know the overall impact it made or what made the greatest impact on the page, as behaviors and traffic often fluctuate over time.

    You don’t need to test new ideas against your entire traffic base. Depending on your site traffic, you can just carve out a percentage of overall traffic to test. Sometimes this is an easier way to get started politically as well.

    If you aren’t taking action on the data, you’re wasting money on the analytics tool and resources — your ROI (define) is zero! This doesn’t mean you should cancel your analytics tool contract, but that you should find ways to put the data to work.

  • Base decisions on insight. Outside of just testing existing pages and content, it’s often helpful to revisit how you make decisions on Web initiatives internally. I have written about this a lot and cover it in depth in two chapters in my new book.
  • Integrate Web analytics data with other insight. Though behavioral data is great, it can be much more powerful and insightful when combined with other data, like attitudinal, competitive, and customer profile information. When you look at these data together, your findings and insight will begin to change compared to just looking at the behavioral Web analytics data. Don’t get caught in the mode of only looking at a single silo with the belief that it will tell you everything you need to know to make a decision.
  • The tools themselves won’t provide the answers. Tools provide data, direction, and information. It’s then the responsibility of the business to interpret these data and formulate insights, opportunities, and recommendations based on goals. Many of the top tools on the market, like Omniture, are very powerful and can provide nearly any data point, but you must learn how to understand and use that data.

    Think of Web analytics tools as a hammer in a craftsman’s tool belt. It’s one of many tools he uses, but the tools don’t make the pieces he builds amazing. It’s how he applies those tools that lead to success.

Don’t lose focus on why you’re spending the money on analytics tools, resources, and people. We continually ask ourselves and our clients how this will help us accomplish one of the key goals for our site. If we can’t easily answer that question, we need to either revisit our online business goals because we’re missing something or reconsider if we should really be spending time and energy on that initiative.

The key is to redirect the growing momentum to the true benefits Web analytics can provide. If you don’t convert the excitement while it’s hot, the hype will die out and the execs will be on to the next thing. When you see the enthusiasm growing, make sure you help your company see the true opportunities, not just the hype.

Related reading