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Monday, Oct. 27, 2008 at 10:45 am

7 Deadly Sins of Web Analytics

By Bryan Eisenberg
October 27th, 2008

It’s a “crime against humanity” proclaimed my Analytics Evangelist friend, Avinash Kaushik, at the eMetrics Summit. I’ve heard Avinash use this somewhat dramatic expression several times before in relation to web analytics. That is why I’m going to take the equally dramatic liberty of explaining “The 7 Deadly Sins of Web Analytics”:

1. Improper Implementation

According to my friend, Stéphane Hamel the developer behind WASP, a FireFox plugin for detecting and reviewing web analytics implementations, nearly 100% of implementations are setup improperly. Common mistakes include: untagged pages, untagged or wrongly tagged transactions (i.e. transaction page is tagged like a regular page) and passing wrong values (especially for advanced tools like SiteCatalyst). In fact, several web analytics vendors websites also have these common errors.

To make sure your analytics don’t suffer you need to pick User Acceptance Tests (UAT) tests and re-run them specifically to look at tag quality (WASP can do a crawl that will work for content areas, but for transactions, there’s no better tests than actually running transactions to monitor the results.) Additionally, you should run continuous audits. Sites evolve and change, and the tagging quality suffers since different parts of the site may have been tagged at different times, etc.

2. No Goals Setup

The purpose of web analytics is to provide information about how well you are doing. Defining goals in the tool defines what game you are playing. How can you keep score without knowing where the goals are? Approximately 80%, of implementations have no goals setup. If you can’t define what is valuable to you, then how do expect to increase your results?

Even if you don’t do commerce you should have goals setup. Common non-commerce goals include tracking your inquiries, subscribers, white paper downloads, webinar attendees, etc. The key to success in setting up goals is aligning your goals with your customers’ goals.

3. No Segmentation

Repeat after me…”Not all traffic is equal.” Any analyst worth their weight in salt will tell you that the greatest insights don’t come from average and aggregated data but from slicing and dicing the data to produce intelligent segments. One of the most obvious is first time visitors versus repeat visitors (there are probably a couple of different segments in your repeat visitors too).

One of the features that thrilled me about the latest Google Analytics release is the ability to setup advanced segments. Bloggers surely know, that rss readers behave very differently than social media traffic. The reason FutureNow develops personas for our clients is to insure that we look at the website from these different perspectives/segments and measure them that way too.

4. Paying Too Much Attention to Irrelevant Data

“Web data is dirty data.” Never in the history of Analytics have we been able to collect so much information about visitor activity. This however leads to a lot of noise, due to things like cookie deletion, individuals browsing from multiple machines, different collection methods and definitions, etc. This is just one of the reason why you should never focus too much on data accuracy but on relative trends.

The second issue here is that all the people who rely on so many data points that they have no way of keeping an eye on them all. My core philosophy is that if you can’t relate all your reports back to how they fit into your financial statements then it should probably not be reporting it. Only focus on the metrics that you can actually control.

5. Not Setting up Milestone Events Documentation

With any luck, your business changes. You send out emails, run new campaigns (online and offline), make changes to your pages and other things that could impact your web results. However, most companies do a terrible job of documenting when these changes occurred and correlating them to their web analytics results. It would be great to have this information in your web analytics solution, but you could also run a private wiki that lets everyone on your team leave documentation about these changes. If your team using Google Analytics and the FireFox browser you can use the just released Google Analytics Notes.

6. Not Combining Quantitative Data with Qualitative Data

What I have learned in my 10 years plus of optimizing websites using customer-centric persona tools is that you need to be data driven but customer focused. If you forget to include Voice of Customer analytics in to your mix, you will tend to skew more to the cold data driven side (left side of the brain thinking) and neglect many of the opportunities on the softer voice of customer side (right side of the brain thinking). The data side is often focused on the what and how many, but the voice of customer side gives you additional insight into the why. Use tools like TeaLeaf, Bazaarvoice*, iPerceptions, Omniture Survey, ForeSee, and OpinionLab. Here is a great example of how to use web analytics and voice of customer analytics together. You can always start for free using 4Q from iPerceptions* to get some early wins.

7. Not Taking Action On the Data

Unless you are in the business of research, collecting data without acting on it may qualify for the definition of insanity (ever seen the underpants gnomes on South Park?). The purpose for investing in web analytics is to make data-driven, informed decisions and not just rely on gut instincts. The reason to invest in turning your data into insights is to become a smarter marketer and to produce better results. This is the very core of a Six Sigma approach to a continuous improvement process. Use the data to make changes to your website, feed your email campaigns and tools like Google Website Optimizer, Omniture’s Test & Target, CoreMetrics Intelligent Offer, or personalization tools like SiteBrand and start increasing your results.

Do you need help with your sinful ways?

* Disclosure: I am on the Advisory Board of Bazaarvoice and iPerceptions.

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Comments (34)

  1. Brilliant Bryan. I have been wanting to write this post for ages – now I won’t need to! I can’t even think of an 8th or 9th right now. If pushed, my 8th would be around aligning the site with offline campaigns or transactions.

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  3. Thanks for point out the 4Q site. I’m gonna give this a try.

  4. Great choice of sins Bryan. I particularly appreciate your choice for #7. In rolling out our post-click marketing tools for personalization we encounter quite a few companies who have loads of stats but no easy way to act on them.

    And I would second Dave’s suggestion for #8, neglecting the broader picture. Too often, offline messaging lands people on web sites that don’t carry on the conversation or track the connection, a conversation and connection that one part of the company paid a lot of money to create, but of which a different part seems unaware.

  5. That’s a great post. Thanks! For point no. 6 I would also add to the list of free services. Recently it seems like more and more website are using this nice small triangle feedback button.

  6. Nice list Bryan, We do not do too bad, but point 6 we are working on and point 7 some times seems hard for managers but I never see why. More Analytics education for the rest of business articles are needed I think.

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  8. My 8th sin would be “thinking I know”… web analytics, and the web in general, is a field were things are changing so fast that we shouldn’t take anything for granted. We constantly have to think outside the box and push the envelope.

    And thanks for mentioning WASP! :)


  9. Are they really deadly? I’m shocked. o_O

  10. Great post Bryan. As always its good to read these as it triggers sometimes small businesses like ours to implement few of these things.

  11. You hit the nail on the head for me. Like with google adwords costing more and more I have to take all of these into account.

    You’ve just made work for me, thanks a lot! ;)

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  15. Great post Bryan. I couldn’t agree more with point 7. Too many people like to collect data but not do anything with it

  16. Informative post. Setting up the milestone events is not something I had considered, but now I can see its value in regards to changes in a site.

  17. Great post! This relates very well to a tongue in cheek post I recently did, all about how to design bad websites that visitors won’t come back too… a couple of similar principles!

    Great post Bryan!

    Rich Page

  18. [...] Do you see how Chris picks up the standard of Theodore McManus, Leo Burnett, and Roy Williams?  Although I think it is possible to intelligently and rigorously compare media, I can’t help but agree with Chris’s larger point.  Creating a prejudice in the mind of the customer before they’re hungry is often a more effective strategy than trying to only target hungry customers.*   But it requires a longer time horizon.  So if you are only measuring on the short term, you’ll likely come to the opposite conclusion and then deem your position to be “scientific.”  It’s a perfect example of one of the deadly sins of Web Analytics. [...]

  19. Wow…I don’t even know how to keep up anymore. I currently manage the internet marketing strategy for a client of mine. With all these tools simply for analytics everything is moving so fast, how does anyone keep up? This isn’t even including any tools for AdWords, SEO, Email Marketing, Online Conversion, Ect.

  20. Huge fan of WASP. Thanks for the stat behind #2. It doesn’t surprise me that such as large percentage of sites are not fully utilizing analytics.

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  22. I use Analytics all the time, both for my own sites and for clients, but had not considered the milestone event tracking. Great list!

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  25. google analytics goal tracking is pretty nice! While it’s important to know how many visitors, the end result is how many goals (ie, signups) were accomplished.

  26. Very informative posts, thanks dood

  27. I daily use Analytics, both for my own sites and for clients, but had not considered the milestone event tracking. Great list! Thanks for sharing.

  28. But Web analytics is a good tool to analyze the stats. Your observation is also worth noticing.

  29. Thanks for the post, i am quite new too the game and found all of your comments very interesting and i have taken them on board, mind you it has created more work for me.

  30. why all this analytics i don’t understand

  31. Thank you for your tips. Your information is very useful for me.

  32. I love the analytics. It’s also great when following outsourced traffic. Is the traffic real or automated? You can check it. :)

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  34. Hello there! This is kind of off topic but I need some advice from
    an established blog. Is it difficult to set up your own blog?
    I’m not very techincal but I can figure things out pretty fast. I’m thinking about creating my own but I’m not sure where to begin. Do you have any ideas or suggestions? With thanks

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Bryan Eisenberg, founder of FutureNow, is a professional marketing speaker and the co-author of New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling books Call to Action and Waiting For Your Cat to Bark and Always Be Testing. You can friend him on Facebook or Twitter.

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