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Is Web Analytics Easy Or Difficult?
Two rockstars have emerged in the web analytics field to date. We all know who they are: Eric Peterson has demystified analytics for us, while Avinash Kaushik has helped us take it one day, or dare I say, “an hour a day,” at a time. And one of them says web analytics is easy while the other one says web analytics is very hard. So who is right?
Why web analytics is easy
Yes, it’s true. Web analytics is easy, according to Avinash Kaushik. It’s actually incredibly easy. Assuming that the desired outcomes of web analytics are changes that will positively impact your site and your bottom line (what other purpose can you think of?), you’ll find that even complete beginners can drive surprising value.
Web analytics is this easy because your web site has more issues than you’ll see in a month of Dr. Phil episodes. Starting with some of Kaushik’s favorite metrics like bounce rate by landing page, it’s a virtual walk in the park to identify a host of obvious issues with your site, your marketing, your calls to action and more.
Bounce rate / percent of single page view sessions (times where users enter your site and leave almost immediately) is the online version of your significant other saying “hell no” when you walk up with that new striped shirt you thought was so snazzy. Don’t take it personally when people reject your content, especially when you thought it was great. It isn’t. Just get over it and change it for the better. Test it using website optimizer. Your site is there to make you money, not generate pride.
Web analytics is also easy because you can learn as you go. Almost all valuable insights you will come across in your web analytics quest are a result of you saying, “Huh, that’s interesting.” Then you dig a little deeper, find some answers, and come up with a new way of doing things. It’s rare to be unsurprised by your findings when you’re digging through Google Analytics or Omniture SiteCatalyst or any other tool, because what you’re really looking for are things that you don’t expect.
Whether you’re a seasoned veteran or a complete newbie, you’re going to have to dig in and figure out what’s causing that drop in page views per session or conversion rate or video completion rate or whatever else you’re measuring, and it’s almost always going to be a learning experience. The conclusions and efficiencies that come from the seasoned veteran may be superior, but the newbie can definitely hold the fort, much more than we often give them credit for.
Here are some typical problem areas where you can take advantage of “easy” analytics to gain insights and improve your site:
- Landing pages with the highest bounce rates
- Landing pages with the lowest conversion rates
- Referrers with high bounce rates
- Referrers with low conversion rates
- Paid search: keywords with high CTR and low conversion (money fires)
- Natural search: top keywords for major landing pages (are we satisfying those searchers?)
So keep in mind when I say web analytics is easy, my standard is how sophisticated you need to be to drive performance-altering change on your web site. And you don’t need to be that sophisticated to pinpoint a basketful of site issues that need addressing.
But web analytics is hard!
Very hard, according to Eric Peterson. So, web analytics does have a dark side. It can be hard, but also not for the reasons you might expect.
Web analytics is not hard because you need a statistics degree. It’s not hard because you need to make some sort of model that looks like you’re trying to land something on the moon (or blow it up). It’s not hard because you have to be some Excel whiz or know how to run a multivariate test. It’s hard because people believe that analysts are automatically good when they embody these characteristics, which is completely untrue.
The best analysts are good communicators, not NASA engineers. In fact, engineers are usually the most frustrated and unsuccessful analysts out there (in the long run). While they’re trying to explain that the hypotenuse of a thermodynamic econometric assimilator is equal to the perennial habits of in-market visitor segment recency, the clear communicator is explaining that a shift in budget from paid search to an email campaign is expected to generate $2.6 million in incremental revenue. While the NASA analyst is trying to explain this:
… the articulate analyst is in the CFO’s office talking about the tech support and IT prioritizing savings driven by their investment in Tealeaf, in real dollar terms.
This isn’t to say that formulas like this (it looks like Pac Man, math edition) aren’t downright brilliant. They are. They’re just not universally useful in a business environment. They’re very potent research tools that should be used to make complicated data more malleable for the analyst, but they should never see the light of day in the rest of the organization. While the NASA analyst may think this formula will make him look smart and impressive, the executives just see another propellerhead that will waste time with technobabble. No matter how valuable this technobrilliance is, it’s always going to sound like Urkel to the CEO.
Web analytics is very hard, in essence, because we deal with very complex data sets, statistical analysis, trying to tie online and offline data together, seasonality, and more. It takes a very smart person to do this well, without making mistakes. But the most important—and hardest—thing to do is tie it all back to the two very simple metrics that drive all business value: revenue and profitability. This is the language of business, which is different from the language of the analyst. And while the NASA analyst may think these two basic elements of business oversimplified and unsophisticated, the entire history of business demonstrates that these are the only two things that matter.
Something else we can relate to
The same can be said of SEO, for example. Is SEO hard? No, of course not. You can spend an hour on this site and learn enough to make a huge difference. Is SEO easy? No, of course not. Even if you spend 100 hours on this site, you’ll still be making huge mistakes and missing out on nuances that can cost you valuable real estate in the search results. That’s why there are specialists. But don’t let specialists tell you that it’s so hard that you shouldn’t learn the basics and employ simple recommendations that can make a huge difference.
Our industry is rife with smart people who are on border patrol. We tend to get so caught up in how smart and sophisticated our ideas are, we push lay people out and purposefully alienate them with our big words and complicated explanations, telling ourselves that if a CEO doesn’t understand a simple chi-square test, he’s a dumbass. The truth is, we’re the dumbasses when we can’t reduce the outcomes of that test to simple, explainable tactics that will produce either a revenue increase or a cost reduction.
So if you’re the expert, make it simple for people. Make them comfortable. Don’t make it hard. If you’re the beginner, keep it simple, find clear opportunities, ask smart people for advice, and enjoy the ease of web analytics!
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.