Nowadays web analytics is a “mouthful” that everyone is tossing around just to have the feeling that they know what they are doing online. Some people may get very technical about it and start rumble about third parties cookies, conversion funnels, shinystat data without even understanding what the topic of discussion is.
I believe that web analytics is nothing but a tool that can be used (with various degrees of complexity) to backup your decisions on your activity online. Unfortunately the biggest problem with web analytics comes up when it is used not as a “decision tool“, but as a “decision maker“. If the data that we find using web analytics tools are not used to test hypothesis but to guide our decisions, we are taking business decisions based on the interpretation of a sign, as much as haruspices used to do with animals.
The problem unfortunately doesn’t born with web analytics but is far more ancient: the only difference is that in other field we used to call them “statistics”, “market surveys”, “consumer trends” and so on. Any these tools, are just testing methods and you should be the decision maker!
I believe three things about numbers:
- If you don’t know how to read data, don’t read data, they will mislead you! (“Bounce rate in my blog is 99%, I suck big times!” – most of the content in a blog is only in one page, therefore bounce rate doesn’t mean anything!)
- Any data collected can only tell you the truth about the past, the future is just an assumption (Check out the Balck Swan Theory by Nassim Nicholas Taleb)
- If you are good enough with numbers, you can use any data to prove anything you want. (“Statistics show that the government has created 100 thousand jobs this year” = this was a good government! “Statistics don’t show that 500 thousand jobs were destroyed by the same government reforms in the next 3 years!)
My judgement may be biased by my educational background: having a master in international management I firmly believe that you need a strong methodological approach in the way you do any kind of business, and the cornerstone of such an activity is (surprise, surprise!) taking informed decisions.
No matter what you are doing, launching your company website or selling oranges by the freeway, you have to have a vision, an objective and a plan to achieve it. De way you deploy your plan is very much left to your methodology and ability to take decisions. In order to take decisions you need information and to do so we have tools: statistics, marketing surveys, consumer trends, demographics, and, when online, web analytics data.
And now the question: how do I relate with to Web Analytics?
I qualify myself as an online business consultant because my job is to help my clients to use Google AdWords to reach their business objectives. In order to do so I need to give recommendations based on a strong set of data. Some of these are based on the market, and therefore I spend much of my time gathering information on a specific industry and sector (gathering trends, statistics, demographics and so on), but many other are based on my client’s own business and therefore I need to collect information about their business (mainly online) to understand how I can help them to succeed in their goals. Web analytics (and in particular Google Analytics) helps me to do exactly that. It helps me to gather data about my clients’ customers, their website, the success (or insuccess) of their advertising campaign and so on, in order to see what needs to be replicated and what needs to be corrected.
The important thing to understand about web analytics it is a tool to collect data and needs to be to be used exactly for that purpose. Nowadays thanks to technology, we have so many data that we can use to backup our decisions that the true skill is to be able to find meaningful data that, if red properly, will allow us to take the best business decision for the future.