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FutureNow Article
Wednesday, Apr. 30, 2008

Are Your Analytics Reports Breaking News or Listing Facts?

By Melissa Burdon
April 30th, 2008

web analytics reportI have a friend who works in the online marketing department for a multi-million-dollar clothing retailer in Canada. Because they’re still stuck in the dark ages and don’t yet have an online store, the company’s web marketing team consists of four people.

A week ago, my friend called me to ask, “What’s the industry average time spent on a site?” Her boss asked her to find out because she was doing a presentation to the marketing team and would be attempting to describe what was happening on their website.

My friend was looking at her analytics reports, assuming they should be reporting metrics like “time spent”, but she couldn’t give me any explanation as to why they were measuring certain things or how it all fit together. This marketing team had no idea what their analytics were trying to tell them.

Sound familiar? Whether or not we care to admit it, this problem is all too common. By themselves, the facts can be deceiving. If the facts don’t fit into a larger story line, they’re meaningless. Just because something happened, that doesn’t make it newsworthy. That’s why…

Marketers should think like news editors.

Your web analytics program works for you, not the other way around. It’s the news wire that serves your staff of reporters and, as editor-in-chief, it’s your job to decide which stories are most important.

There are two types of approaches to web analytics reporting:

• The beat reporter reliably follows the same story from day-to-day. If you tell the beat reporter to follow “time spent”, she will diligently explain where visitors spent the most time, how much time they spent overall, and how much time they spent today versus yesterday, last month, last year, and so on.

The investigative reporter tries to find the meat of the story; to get the bottom of what truly matters. If you tell the investigative reporter to follow the “time spent” story, she’ll start to ask big picture questions. She’ll want to know why time spent matters, how it relates to your other metrics, whether “time spent” means one thing on one page and something very different on another, and whether it even matters if visitors are spending more — or less — time on your site verses the competition’s. She even wonders if this whole “time spent” thing is really a distraction. She doesn’t want to spend her time chasing false leads.

Like other default metrics, average time spent tells us nothing on its own. The company that my friend works for has over a thousand employees. Most of the staff in their home office and brick-and-mortar stores use computers every day, and many of them likely have their browser set up to go directly to the company’s homepage automatically. Each day, a large amount of their traffic probably comes from employees, not potential customers. If this is the case, the average time spent on their site tells them very little about the customer experience on their website, because employees’ time spent would skew this number. Likewise, the traffic sources would be skewed and the average page views and bounce rates from the landing page would also be skewed.

Don’t use your analytics tool just to report the facts. Become an investigative reporter. For each piece of information you find, ask yourself why it matters. Ask how the metrics tie together. Most importantly, ask yourself how the web metrics you report on tie into your overall business goals.

That’s how reporters break news.

. .

About the Author: Melissa Burdon is an investigative reporter (or Persuasion Analyst) at FutureNow. She’s also a recovering Canadian. Oh, and it’s her birthday.

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Comments (13)

  1. Totally OT, but I just watched that movie twice this weekend and LOVED it.

    Happy birthday!

  2. That’s too funny! I actually had that exact scenario with one of our corporate websites. The traffic was almost all direct, it was primarily M-F, and it was coming from the same area. It turned out the Dallas office all had their corporate site set as the homepage. Still, it feels good to solve a mystery through analytics. BTW, one solution is to filter the internal traffic from their office…

  3. Recovering Canadian? Please point me to the nearest 12 step program. I think I’m past step one now, I have made it a habit to spell “color” and “behavior” :)

    Great article, and happy belated birthday Melissa!

  4. Thanks Linda. Everyone knows I’m a proud Canadian, they just like to tease me. Do you still say “eh?”

  5. Well said, Melissa, and happy birthday. Most digital marketing departments and/or their agencies are still either too busy or just simply content enough to use analytics reports for ‘reporting’ on current activities rather than for gleaning insights to inform future product, marketing, media, and customer strategies. They’re slowly coming around though..

    And I happened to catch your ‘Bird article as well – now I can’t stop thinking about how long I have to wait to strap on the board again! :(

  6. Small Business Ecommerce Link Digest – May 2, 2008…

    Laser focused links on ecommerce and business strategy, SEO tactics, social media marketing, and web analytics. Read ‘em.

  7. Your example seems to be for a B2C company but I think that this is an even bigger problem for B2B marketers. While time spent on site and pages visited is interesting and can help you in understanding how people navigate through, does your web analytics tool tell you what companies are visiting? A real “investigative B2B marketer” wants to know who is visiting, what pages they are visiting and to be able to look at visitors trends based on industry. The most important feature of a web analytics tool for B2B marketers is to know the companies visiting and then be able to discover the right contacts within those companies. This allows marketing to reach out to these companies/contacts with relevant content and messaging in effort to get them to announce themselves.

  8. Very true, Amy! Where they’re navigating and where they’re spending their time is much more valuable than just looking at “time spent” in and of itself.

  9. Happy bday, Melissa!
    Great article, i really enjoyed it :)

  10. I always take steps to filter out as much internal traffic as possible.

    Setting a user_exclude cookie, loaded by a special “employees only” start page, is my preferred method.

  11. LOL! Love the analogy. When will these companies wake up to the internet and fully understand that Web Analytics is the backbone to their business online.

  12. Wow.

  13. analytics had their corporate site set content enough to use as the homepage. Still, it feels good reports for ‘reporting’ these companies wake up to the internet that on current activities rather and fully understand

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Melissa is a Senior Persuasion Analyst at FutureNow.

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