I 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…
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.