When you first set up your website with a web analytics service (be it Google Analytics, or another service), it is incredibly easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of data coming at you. There are hundreds of data points that can be combined with other data points, that can be filtered by these data points, but only if it lines up with those data points. It can be exhausting if you don't focus your analytics efforts, and there’s a limit to how much data you can process. When clear goals are not defined from the outset it’s not hard to find yourself buried under a pile of numbers.
It’s like one giant Vegas buffet. You go through the line and all the offerings look so good that you want to pile everything you see onto one ever-shrinking plate. By the time you sit down everything has turned into a giant pile of slop.
Don’t end up under a mountain of unusable data (or a plate full of slop). Whether you do your own web analytics or work with an agency, the message is the same: Identify the metrics that most closely relate to your business goals and then hone in on the data that matters to those goals. Keep your web analytics focused and tune out the noise.
It’s like one giant Vegas buffet. You go through the line and all the offerings look so good that you want to pile everything you see onto one ever-shrinking plate.
What are your goals for your website and how will you accomplish them? The questions, serve as a guide to help you cut through the noise and get right to the actionable data you need to understand your website. The answers, will focus your analysis and help turn mountainous piles of data into actionable bites of information.
Two Case Studies
Recently we have been doing web analysis for a company whose site goals are to build awareness and buzz about their brand through lots of online content and a strong social media presence. They then want this awareness and buzz to turn into attendance at their events and financial contributions.
Our analysis for this client is primarily fixated on trending topics and pages. A lot of time is spent figuring out what types of content are attracting the most visits to their website. Some of the ways we do this is by analyzing what pages are the most popular points of entry, and what content is getting the most views from people already on the site.
We also dive deep into their social media presence to see what content that on their social accounts is driving the most content back to their site. We also see what type of posts on their facebook pages are reaching and engaging the most people and discovering the kinds of tweets that garner the highest number of retweets and favorites.
Another client has a very different purpose for their online presence. This company sells one low-volume, high-price product. There are variations on the product but they are all under one category. Their website serves to build brand awareness for their product as well as generate leads for their salespeople. We refer to this end goal for them as a lead conversion.
For this site we heavily focus on the behavior of the visitors. What paths people take to convert and become a lead? What are the most valuable paths on the website (the paths that lead to the most conversions)? We also track a multitude of smaller goals on their site (watching a video, favoriting a type of the product they sell, etc) and how many of the visitors who accomplish these smaller goals end up becoming a lead.
Different websites with different purposes require different data and analysis. Don’t go up to the buffet line and start mixing yellow curry with mac and cheese. Identifying what we're hungry for before we approach the buffet can help avoid us avoid both culinary and analytical abominations.
Using That Data
After formulating your plan before hitting the buffet line, you’re now ready to sit down to eat and your plate is looking much better. Everything is nicely organized, all the food goes together and each portion compliments the next. Don’t worry if it doesn’t look like there’s enough on your plate, it’s not a one time thing, if you’re still hungry after you finish you can go back and get more. The next question you should be asking yourself is how to go about eating it.
Analyzing and using data is a process and one that should consist of very specific and organized steps. Grabbing fistfuls of food and shoving it into your mouth is unsightly, inefficient and not likely to win you any new clients or friends. As with data collection, whether it is you or an agency that does your web analysis, it is crucial (before any analysis takes place) to take a step back and decide how to organize and process your data.
One process that works very well is to start broad and work your way towards more granular data. This creates a pleasing and logical report flow, while providing historical context for the data that helps those analyzing the report to identify possible patterns and anomalies.
As an example, let’s say we manage a website that relies on ad impressions for revenues. The report we would run for monthly analysis would focus heavily on pageviews - as more pageviews equal more ad impressions. We’ll take a look at three example pages that would follow this broad to granular formula.
- The report would start with a page that discusses all traffic to the website - all the pageviews, the total number of ad impressions, how much money those ad impressions made, etc.
- The next page would show a more detailed look at who generated these pageviews. Was it new visitors or returning visitors? Who spent the most time on the site? Who viewed the most pages and therefore saw the most ads?
- Next up would be an analysis of your web pages. Which pages had the most views? Which pages brought in the most traffic? Which pages did people leave the site from? Which pages engaged people (encouraging longer time on the site) and which made people exit the quickest?
Every page of this report would have clear and concise data and would flow in a logical way. And this report will have actionable data for every level in your company. For instance your web design team can use the most granular data to make decisions directly affecting the website like fixing a display error on a page or redirecting an old/broken link. Meanwhile, the bosses can check out the first page and get a quick feel for the general health and ROI of the site without wading through the buffet line themselves.
Going Back For Seconds
If you've had your first course of data and you feel like you can handle some more then, by all means, go back for seconds! Remember though, the same rules for data collection and analysis that apply to firsts also apply to seconds. Make sure that what you go back for is not a retread of what you have already taken, you’ve had enough pageviews maybe get some bounce rates, or traffic referral sources on the next plate.
Don’t be a data glutton. There can be too much of a good thing and that is especially true with web analytics. Having too much data, without being able to determine what is relevant information and what is noise, will leave you unable to make any informed decisions. So make sure to have clearly defined goals before you dive in, otherwise you risk being swallowed by the buffet. Following this guide will keep your appetite in check and your data clean and approachable when analyzing your website.