Computer geeks love data. Analysing every last dot and comma of the numbers really excites these people; they want to know why they get such results and love to experiment to see if changes can be made. We need such individuals; without them the improvements we see every day on the Internet would not exist. But do you need to follow their lead?
Many website owners appear to believe they do indeed need to follow the geeks and they get all hot under the collar about their latest report from Google Analytics or Webtrends, for instance. However, it is all a distraction. Concerning yourself with web analytics takes your eye off the ball. There is only one graph you really need to analyse – your sales graph. If that is going up, your website is working. If the sales graph is static, or going down, something is wrong and you need to address it.
True, analytics may help you work out what is wrong with your website and fix some problems, but almost always what you end up doing is simply defined as more and better marketing. If your sales are dipping or not rising as fast as you would like, the answer is always more and better marketing. You don’t need analytics to work that out…!
Here’s the problem with web analytics – it’s not as accurate as you think. Several studies have been completed which compare one web analytics program with another to find sometimes staggering differences. Generally, you will find around a 10% difference in results for various web analytics programs. That may not sound much – but if you are looking at a 10% drop in clickthroughs or trying to increase sales by 10%, your web analytics program could be misleading you.
There are several difficulties with web analytics – some people switch off the necessary scripting to make them work, so you get under-reporting of usage. Indeed, according to Wordtracker, almost 5,000 people each year search for ways to block Google Analytics from measuring their online activity. You have to face the fact that some people simply don’t want you to know that they have visited your website or what they have clicked on.
Furthermore, some people switch off “cookies” which enable some analytics software to be more accurate. And you’ll find that sometimes the web-based analytics software gives up “listening” for results because of server overload or time taken to receive the information from a user’s slow connection.
Even direct analysis of server log files can achieve different results. I tested four different leading logfile analysis programs on this site for a period of a month – only to find significant differences of around 25% in the reporting of what had happened on the site.
In other words, even though the data is potentially useful, accuracy and precision is not as great as it needs to be. Of course, you can make allowances for the error rates and an expert in analytics will do this, interpreting your Google Analytics reports and providing more meaningful information than the raw data themselves.
Analysis of what is going on with your visitors is essential – but whether you need to do it is another matter. If you do, you’ll get involved in trying to calculate the impact of potential error rates and lack of accuracy. Then you’ll get diverted into trying to make sense of all the figures and charts. Meanwhile, you could be doing some marketing and increasing your sales.
So, here’s how to avoid time wasting with the likes of Google Analytics. Firstly, only concentrate on one set of data from your web site – sales. If the graph isn’t going the way you want – fix it with more or better marketing. Secondly, get an expert to do your web analytics for you and interpret the information, taking into account accuracy and precision factors. They can then give you a way of improving things for your site. Don’t ask them for the data – just get them to tell you what you need to do to fix the website and further increase your sales.
Website data is useful, but often it is distracting. So, let the geeks deal with the data so you can get on and market your business and concentrate on increasing your sales. That’s far more important than tweaking your menus, or changing the odd keyword.
Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who studies the way people use the online world, in particular how people engage with businesses. He uses this knowledge to help companies improve their online connections to their customers and potential customers and offers consultancy, workshops, masterclasses and webinars. He also speaks regularly at conferences and business events. Graham is an award-winning writer and the author of 32 books, several of which are about various aspects of the Internet. For more information connect with me on Google+