Understanding Analytics



If you read any news sources even tangentially connected to technology, you’ve undoubtedly heard about Big Data and how it’s being touted as a panacea for any number of marketing or business problems.


While Big Data is indeed powerful, it can’t solve all of your problems, but with the right lens, it can give you help figuring out trends, behaviour, and insight from which to build strategy.


There are so many different events and behaviours to measure online, and so many tools to do it, how can you make sense of it?


It might seem strange, but in order to begin with analytics, you need to know what your ultimate business goals are, and what defines success. The answers to these questions will be your primary metrics.


While you’re learning how to interpret your data, it helps to start with a small set of goals so you can learn how to interpret the data easily without a lot of noise. Once you’ve figured out exactly what you want to track, you need to use the correct tool to measure this goal.


Choosing the right tool for the job comes down to a few things: 1) How deeply it tracks your key metrics 2) How it displays the information and 3) Whether it’s budget-friendly.


The first concern is how much data you have access to. If you’re simply measuring site visits, pretty much any product is going to give you an accurate count, but for cases such as social media monitoring, you want to make sure that your analytics product pulls the maximum amount of data available, so you’re getting the best count. This means, in the case of social media, that you have complete access to things like the “Twitter firehose” (the complete archive of every published tweet.)


Interface is a purely personal question, and it’s one only your team can answer. Generally, for the sake of putting together reports and presentation, look for a product that displays analytics information in a “USA Today” clean-charts-and-graphs format. You want something that you don’t have to explain too much to other stakeholders.


How to Know if What You’re Seeing is Accurate


Numbers don’t lie, but they can obscure the truth. It’s important to know some red flags that might not be giving you accurate data:


Bumps don’t always mean success: If you see a huge spike in traffic, or a lot of traffic hitting an older part of your site, you need to investigate the cause. If you are running a promotion, or you have recently purchased ads, this might be an accurate count, but there are other reasons your site might receive a spike of traffic. You might be the victim of a page breach, which is being linked to as part of a larger spam plan. This happens with some regularity with sites built in WordPress that are not correctly configured, or whose security plug-ins are out-of-date. It’s important to have a look at the page. You can use a free service like Sucuri to check your site’s health to confirm whether the traffic bump you’re seeing is organic.


You might just be receiving a bump on a page because it ranks highly in Google search, and this is important to know also. Sometimes, due to news events or a resurgence of interest in a topic, older content can find a second life. If you can pin down that your traffic bump is coming from organic search, and when you drill down to find the search terms used, you can usually determine why older content is being rediscovered. It’s probably a good idea to leverage the newfound success of this content by distributing it through your social media and e-mail channels.


High Traffic Isn’t Always Good on its Own


There are a few metrics, when put together, that can help you judge what user behaviour patterns are. High traffic might seem like your site is highly successful, but you need to check it against another metric: your abandon rate. In Google Analytics, you will see a metric called “Average Visit Duration.” This, coupled with “Pages per Visit” will paint a cursory picture of what your visitors are doing. If your average visit duration is shorter than a minute, and your average pages visited is lower than 2, you have a problem with abandonment. You should experiment with landing page testing to optimise the experience for new visitors.


Another helpful metric to diagnose this behaviour is the breakdown of new versus returning visitors. In the earliest days of your site, your new visitors will be the lion’s share of your traffic, but that should begin to shift toward a more even split between new versus returning visitors.


Traffic Source Helps You Discern How Your Content is Being Consumed


One of the biggest hurdles when you begin to advertise your site online is where to make your buys, and how to limit your spend. The best way to do this is to use your existing analytics to inform these decisions. You can measure where your traffic to your site is originating and you can discover which sources to test ads on.


You can look at your Traffic Sources in your analytics platform and see how users find you. Often, the top referrer is Google search, or organic visits (bookmarks, or a user typing your URL in by hand)


What comes next is your best indicator of your users’ behaviours. Often, you will see an existing ad buy, or a direct type of marketing (e-mail blasts, for instance). Next, you should see a list of the remaining top sources. Ideally, if you’ve been using social media, you will see links from these accounts here. If you have one social media account that is dominating, you should look into possibly testing small ad buys (Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook now offer pay-as-you-go style advertising campaigns).


If you see links from blogs or outside sources regularly, you should investigate exactly how you’re being mentioned, and why traffic is being sent to your page. If you have a blogger who is a fan, you should reach out to him or her to see if you can leverage an influencer campaign, or buy ad space, or otherwise develop a relationship with that blogger.


Analytics can be the killer tool to figuring out exactly what your customers want and how to best optimise for them. You can help eliminate costly ad buying decisions by using the data available, and then test your assumptions as you go. It’s important to familiarise yourself with exactly what is available to you in the form of data, and how it can help your company as you move forward.



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