Do You Understand Your Analytics?

Online Feedback Strategy Map 2010

A thousand years ago when the dinosaurs roamed the Earth and men were true hunter/gatherers I worked for a manufacturer of diamond tools. We made equipment that you could use to cut concrete, saws, drills and the blades/corebits that were used on them.

My first position in the company was in the Inside Sales department where we would take 50 or 60 calls during the day from contractors/distributors who wanted to purchase equipment and supplies as well as those who needed help because their saws/power packs wouldn’t work.

Some of my favorite calls started with “Listen you %$@%$ bleepity bleep, your bleeping bleep, bleep, bleep won’t work.”

And then I would calmly ask, “did you put gas in it?”  Usually that solved the problem and they would curse me even though I had explained that weren’t legally allowed to ship them with fuel in them.

Schematics and Analytics

Sometimes there were real technical problems that had to be resolved so I would pull out a schematic and try to diagnose the problem over the phone with them. This was always made more fun by the colorful language and or the need to do it in multiple languages.

Anyway, we had several department heads who used to try to figure out how to make our department more profitable and productive. Part of the way they would do this was by developing metrics they could use so they could do some number crunching.

In concept it made sense but in execution it didn’t always work because sometimes the numbers they would pick weren’t really good for any sort of analysis. They weren’t significant and consequently we sometimes found ourselves being judged on ridiculous material.

It is a problem/situation that isn’t limited to my old job or any single industry in particular. Every business tries to figure out how to measure success and many of them struggle because of flawed analytics.

Analytics and Social Media

Social media causes a lot of trouble because it is challenging to measure. It is harder to assign dollar values to Twitter followers, Facebook, Likes, Google Plus circles and blog subscribers.

Combine all those numbers and say you have 10 million people that like, follow, circle or subscribed to you and what do you have? In theory you have a great success story but in practice you don’t necessarily know if any of them have purchased your product/service or told friends and family to hire you.

Put that aside for a moment and let’s focus on blogs. Let’s pretend you have Google Analytics, Clicky or Statcounter installed on your blog. Let’s say you check your stats on a regular basis because you want to know what is going on.

Do you really understand what you are looking at? Do you know what bounce rates, pageviews and users are? Do you know how to figure which if any of those are important? Do you care about the time spent on page? Do you know how to figure out who leaves their browser open on your blog all day long and who doesn’t?

Many people don’t. Many people don’t have a clue what their analytics say beyond the most basic level and that is a problem. Because if you don’t really understand what you are looking at how are you supposed to make an informed and educated decision?

You can’t.

You just end up guessing and in business guessing can hurt you.

A Few More Thoughts To Share

When I used to sell online advertising I would sometimes find myself debating with the media buyers about how effective our campaigns were. One of the things that used to drive me crazy was when they would try to hold my feet to the fire for a $50k buy because they didn’t think they were getting enough out of it yet their broadcast counterparts spent $5 million on television commercials that were aired during some sporting event.

I would sometimes politely ask them how many viewers had x-ray vision that they could use to watch the commercials through the wall between the kitchen/bathroom and the television set.

Sometimes that would work and sometimes they would push back and ask me for analytics they could use to support my side.

The point here is that numbers can work for and against you but for them to be most effective you really need to understand what you are looking at and why they are meaningful.

What about you? What do you think about all this?

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  1. Lori Gosselin May 23, 2013 at 4:42 pm

    No, no no! I do not understand analytics Josh! It’s my short suit for sure! LOL I am very good at collecting data but I’m really bad at analyzing it.
    I don’t see this changing any time soon either! I’m just going to have to find someone who can look over my shoulder (or me over theirs) and tell me what’s going on!

    • Josh May 25, 2013 at 8:19 pm

      Hi Lori,

      It is probably not as complicated as you think. It depends on what you want to figure out. Sometimes it is as simple as figuring out how many readers you have and what your most popular posts are.

      That is the kind of information you can use to build community and increase readership.

  2. Frank Strong May 22, 2013 at 8:40 pm

    I liken your web ads anecdote to social media — with ROI, it’s held to a higher standard. Not sure why, but it is!

    • Josh May 23, 2013 at 8:28 am

      Hi Frank,

      I think people have “funny expectations” about anything that touches the Internet. There is no doubt that we leave cyber cookie crumbs all over the place but that doesn’t take into account lots of the factors and variables that come into play when you involve human decision making.

  3. Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan May 22, 2013 at 7:45 am

    I recently took a webinar on understanding Google analytics for my site and learned a lot. I learned how to compare activity from one period to another, to understand the path that people followed through my site, and what words brought the most visitors to my site. Those three things have made an impact on how I produce content for my site and I hope in about three months I’ll have more of the kind of visitors I really want, the ones who want to form a relationship with me and not just stop by because they were googling “smiley faces” (which is responsible right now for a huge portion of my inbound traffic)

    • Josh May 23, 2013 at 8:26 am

      Hi Elizabeth,

      That sounds like a great course to take. I know that Google Analytics has an awful lot of insight and information to provide, if you know how to use it.

      I have been thinking about taking a course for a while now so that I could use it more effectively. It sounds to me like it really was helpful for you.

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