Analyze Website Data Like a Boss
The first thing to understand before digging into your website analytics is that data doesn’t equal insights. You can have more data than the all-knowing Google, but without organizing it for your business, it’s not going to tell you anything meaningful. Here are a few tips that will help you be a data whisperer and deliver real business value from website analytics.
Fun Fact: Data whispers are 76 percent more likely to get promotions, bonuses and bar chart adrenaline rushes
Identify OGTs (Objectives, Goals and Targets)
If you analyze data and don’t know your specific business objectives, goals and targets, you’re basically looking for a treasure without a map. To deliver meaningful insights, you need to know how your website contributes to business goals. Don’t get the idea that this is easy (it’s not), but it is essential that you get your stakeholders together to carbon-freeze your website OGTs (like Han Solo in Episode V) before starting any analysis. They will guide you and make your analysis meaningful and relevant.
Business Objectives: The reason your website exists. What are the top three ways the website can add value to your business?
Example: Let’s say you’re an online newspaper. One of your top business objectives is to increase your reader base (like they say in media, mo eyeballs, mo money…but I might be making that up).
Goals: The outcomes you want to get from your website to support your business objectives. What behaviors on your website will help achieve your business objectives?
Example: Following the ‘increase reader base’ objective, the goal would be to increase subscription sign-ups on your website.
Targets: The pre-determined numerical values you set to help determine success or failure (your yardstick). These metrics will often be considered your key performance indicators (KPIs). Targets tell you where to focus your analytical attention. What does success look like?
Example: Your KPI for increasing sign-ups is the number of new subscriptions. Your target might be 5,000 new subscriptions per month.
Tip: You can start setting baseline targets or benchmarks by averaging the month-over-month performance from the last 6-12 months. Once you have enough data to average year-over-year numbers you can start factoring in seasonal trends.
Don’t Drive Blind
Now that you’ve set a strong foundation to guide you in the form of concrete, carbon-frozen OGTs, you might think you’re ready to dip your toe into some analytics data. But before you start chasing that white rabbit through a wonderland of reports and dashboards, I’d recommend you actually visit the website (you’d be surprised how often this step is overlooked). Analyzing website data without looking at the website is like driving while staring at your GPS: theoretically it might work, but it’s not going to be very effective.
Take a few minutes to visit the website you’re analyzing and note key pages, user experiences, the good, the bad and the ugly. Go to product pages, donation pages, checkout pages and other conversion pages. Test the mobile experience, site search, navigation, email sign up, downloads, rating and reviews. What is the path you are leading visitors down? A GPS will tell you where to go, but you have to look at the road first to see obstacles and opportunities.
Ask the Right Questions
All good data analysis begins with asking the right questions. OGTs will help you pinpoint important questions that need answers. Are you hitting your targets and consequently meeting goals and driving business value? Why or why not?
Here are a couple areas that should help spark some useful questions:
“Acquisition” refers to the things you do to attract people to your website. This includes all the campaigns you run through channels like email, Facebook, Twitter, AdWords, AdRoll and virtually anything else you spend time and money on to drive traffic to your site (SEO included).
You want to understand where your company is spending their time and money to acquire traffic and ask yourself what’s working and what’s not. This is usually low-hanging fruit because you can quickly help your company cut ineffective spending, determine which marketing initiatives are driving the highest quality traffic and increase the bottom line. Your “Traffic Sources” report should be the launching point for digging into these initiatives.
Tip: Use URL tracking codes on all of your links in emails, social posts, PPC marketing and other initiatives to drilldown into exactly which pieces of content are driving traffic to your site. Learn More
FOR WEBTRENDS USERS: How do I track campaigns using the campaign ID parameter in Webtrends?
“Bounce rate” refers to the percentage of people (total visitors) that visit a page and leave without browsing any other pages. You want this percentage to be as low as possible (see benchmarks). This may be a no brainer for you, but bounce rates help raise a lot of really good questions you may not have considered. Having a high bounce rate could mean:
- You’ve got broken links on a page
- The content on the page is misleading or irrelevant to your audience
- The layout and/or calls to action on your page need improvement (test them!)
- You’re running poorly targeted ads
- Your user experience isn’t great on mobile devices
Bounce rates are a great way of identifying problems, but they’re also a good way of identifying opportunities. Maybe you have a high bounce rate on a page that gets a lot of traffic. If a page is seeing a lot of traffic, but people aren’t staying, there could be an opportunity to keep all those eyeballs on your site by pointing them to other relevant offers or pages on your site.
Insights Are Buried Deep, Grab a Shovel
Aggregate data sucks, at lease if your goal is to uncover actionable insights. Out-of-the-box dashboards and reports weren’t tailored to your business, so don’t expect to discover anything profound from the same reports a cupcake shop could be using on day one.
Tip: Exclude your company’s own network IPs from your analytics data. You don’t want to skew your data.
Like all treasures, insights aren’t found on the surface, they’re buried deep. Segmentation is your shovel for digging deeper. Segments allow you to hone in on the important groups engaging with you and understand them using reports that are tailored to your business.
For example, your boss wants to know what’s a better use of his or her marketing dollars: PPC Display Banners or Twitter Ads. You pull up the out-the-box traffic source report and it tells you display banners drove 10,000 visitors to your site versus 6,000 from Twitter at about the same cost.
Well there you have it, based on aggregate data you can tell your boss display banners are the winner. But you’re going to grab your shovel and dig deeper to find out how many of those visitors were new visitors.
It still looks like display banners are more effective, but you’re going to keep segmenting based on your OGTs and look at how many of those visitors became new subscribers (now you’re asking the right questions). Your new subscription form is tagged as a conversion event in your analytics reporting based on your business objectives and goals (smart), so you add it to the report.
You can now see that Twitter generated 33 percent more new subscribers (120) than display banners (90). The tables seem to have turned, but it still bugs you that display banners drove significantly more visitors so you take it one step further. You add bounce rate to this report to uncover the quality of these visitors (I’d also add “Cost Per Conversion” for even more clarity).
Boom! Twitter may not be driving as many visitors to your site, but based on what really matters (new subscribers) and how many people actually stuck around to learn more about what you offer (quality visitors), Twitter is the real winner. Now you can feel good about your recommendation and hopefully they’ll start building your statue in the lobby.
You segmented the data, asked the right questions and dug deeper to tailor your reporting for your business. This is a fairly simple example, but hopefully you can start to see the value of segmentation.
Put Care Into What You Share
The last piece of effective analysis is sharing your glorious insights with HiPPOs (highest paid person’s opinion) and decision-makers. As a former analyst developing creative campaigns from data-driven insights, this is near and dear to my heart. You can be the best analyst out there, but if you’re communicating your learnings in a way that bores, overwhelms or makes people think too hard, you’re probably wasting your time. Here are some tips to help:
- Think about who you’re creating reports for: Your CEO and CMO probably don’t care about which search engines visitors are using, so build your presentation for the level of detail your audience cares about.
- Think about what they’ll use the reports for: What decisions will your audience be making based on your report? Give them data that is relevant to those decisions.
- Make your data easy to understand: Don’t overwhelm your audience with tables of data, just give them what they need to understand the insights you’re presenting and highlight what’s most important. Use charts and graphs when possible to visually tell the story.
- Write out your insights: Don’t expect people to look at raw data and see the insights. Write out your insights (yes, with words) and then present the supporting data. Assume you won’t be there to present your leanings, because there is a good chance you won’t be once your reports are distributed.
- Offer solid recommendations: If you want your reports to really impact the business, include clear actions that should be taken. Don’t just point out a high bounce rate on a particular landing page; recommend that the ads driving visitors to the page are updated to better align with the content and offerings on that page.
Alright – that’s it. Go forth and be the #databoss you were meant to be:
If you have more tips and tricks, I’d love to hear them – please comment below.