Drowning in Data
The concept of ‘drowning in data’ cannot be understated when it comes to web analytics. Apart from the sheer quantity of information available, the situation is worsened because the tools we use are so terribly fast and effective; it has never been easier to slice, dice and peel (?) your way through such huge mountains of click-stream data. But just because it’s there and easy to access certainly doesn’t mean it’s easy to make sense of. I believe most companies that fail in this arena do so because they simply don’t know what to look at, but rather flail around in the data following endless and infinite pathways that, whilst ‘interesting’, ultimately lead nowhere fast.
This post describes how to get your head above the water and start swimming in a straight line. The answer lies in what I call a ‘Measurement and Optimisation Framework’, which might sound complicated but is, in fact, simply a strategy for: what you should be measuring; how to do it; and what you should do with the information once you get it.
Developing a Measurement & Optimisation Framework
The process of developing a measurement and optimisation framework is simply about answering 3 key questions:
- Why does my website exist?
- How can I measure the success of that existence?
- What can I do to make it more successful if I find it isn’t achieving what I want it to?
For very simple websites (such as a personal blog), you could probably get away with just spending an hour or so thinking about this. For more complex business sites it could take some time! Following is a brief summary of the top-level part of the process through which I would typically take a client in order to get this up and running:
1: Define your site’s KPIs
How can you fix something or make it better if you don’t know what it was meant to do in the first place? Not setting proper objectives and goals is the most serious and fundamental mistake anyone can make, and not just in web analytics!
Most companies fail to do this because they assume that they intrinsically know what their site is for and what needs to be done to improve it. Take the example of a site selling CDs – it’s for selling CDs, right? What could be more complicated than that?
But, think about it for a moment, who is it trying to sell CDs to? Is it trying to achieve the lowest price possible or is it selling at a premium because it caters to a niche? And where does the company want to be in 5 years time, and what does that mean in terms of the brand that needs to be built? Is it important that people tell their friends about it? Oh, and how does the profitability work? Do we need to reduce the cost per sale by increasing the number of repeat buyers and therefore reducing media spend? And what about our other sales channels? Sales on the web cost much less than those that go through the call centre, so do we need to persuade some of those customers to get on-line? etc etc etc…
The point is, what your website means strategically is not necessarily all that easy to articulate. You need to get a really firm grasp on what your companies corporate goals are and work downwards. For big companies this generally means using something like a Balanced Scorecard approach. The system you use isn’t necessarily important, the point is that you align the goals of your site with the strategic goals of the company or, better still, the strategic goals of your customers!
2: Set targets
Once you have defined how to measure success (your KPIs), you then need to determine what that success IS. Again, this goes back to your corporate objectives: if your site is there to generate advertising revenue, how much revenue do your shareholders need next year? And what does that mean in terms of the number of visitors you need and the number of pages they need to look at? This is how you set targets.
Even if you can’t get anyone in your company to give you these targets, you should make them up yourself! It is incredibly difficult to optimise something to work better if you don’t know what ‘better’ means. If you are not able to prioritise which areas of the site need the most attention at any one time, you will drown – and you cannot do this without a sense of the goal for each KPI. Just do it!
At this point in time you might be able to produce something like this:
[Please note: I doctored this a lot to protect the identity of a client, so it won't necessarily make complete intuitive sense and is provided more as a visual example]
3: Guide your analysis with a KPI dashboard
Now you know what your KPIs are and how to measure them you can produce a dashboard report showing where they are against where they need to be. This is incredibly important because it is the guiding light of your analytics and tells you exactly what to look for. If, taking the example KPIs in the chart above, I produce my weekly or monthly dashboard only to find that my unique visitors are dangerously below target but that all other KPIs are OK, then all my analysis for that week/month will be guided by a very specific question: what drives unique visitors and how can I improve the volume?
By investigating this you might find, for example, that you have saturated your search market and therefore need to optimise the site for different, non-branded keywords – or that the TV campaign you tested sent lots of high quality traffic and should be repeated. The point is that, without the KPIs, targets and the dashboard, you have nothing to focus you and, more importantly, have no solid way of telling your marketing director why they need to spend more on TV!
4: Optimise, optimise, optimise!
Remember finally that web analysis is not about understanding, its about doing. If you think your job is to report figures to someone else so that they can make sense of them, then you are not an analyst. The output of everything you do is about making changes to your site, media strategy, internal processes or whatever. Analysis and optimisation are essentially the same thing!
So what’s the benefit of all this? If it isn’t already obvious think about these two possible scenarios in which you are presenting your ‘analysis’ to your wider team:
- You hold a meeting in which you present 30 charts of data from your analytics tool, moving through geography, time on site, hour of day, browsers, screen resolution and lots of other fascinating charts. At the end everyone agrees that it was really interesting and goes back to their jobs.
- You hold a meeting in which you state that you can make the company an additional £1.5m per year in sales revenue and then proceed to present a road-map for implementing changes to make it happen, with a full ROI justification of likely costs. You get promoted and paid more!
Which one would you prefer?