Using Data To Plan Your Future, Not Look To The Past

Data is everywhere, we can pull numbers from a wide variety of resources – put them in spreadsheets, compare them to each other, draw conclusions based on data – there are a lot of things we can do with data.

The thing we can do, but not many of us do – is use the data to develop a strategy to move our online marketing forward. We’re all guilty, we sometimes want the numbers to be enough, and sometimes they are.

Reporting numbers and numbly cutting and pasting graphics not only doesn’t move your company forward, it’s driving your marketing team crazy. Everyone up and down the chain is suffering from Data Analysis Paralysis at this point. You all realize that reporting the numbers is really not beneficial, but the permission and encouragement to do something more has to come from the top.

Data is the past, strategy is the future. To be successful, you need to empower your team to marry data with creativity and encourage them to go where nobody on the team has gone before.

Reporting is creating a document that conveys results. Creating a strategy is taking those results, making a plan, carrying out that plan and analyzing the outcome. Analyzing data without creating a plan of action is a waste of time.

Many upper-floor-types require their minions to create these mindless reports that reflect how many visitors and how long did they stay. They want numbers, and dollar signs. If you’re doing this, you’re underutilizing your employees. Challenge them, likely they’re so sick and tired of copying and pasting graphics they’ll leap on the chance to use their brains.

If you don’t have a set of goals or a mission statement for your online marketing department, it’s time to create one. If you have one and it is one sentence that says “make more money” – do it again.

An online marketing strategy is so much more than “did they buy or not” these days. Consider engagement, advocacy, reputation, competitive positioning and branding along with your dollar signs. Set realistic expectations and goals, empower your team to be creative and think outside the box, give them the tools they need to execute, learn and improve.

Setting Goals & Your Online Marketing Mission Statement

The goal of your team really has to be in line with the service or products you offer. Some general ideas for goals could be:

  • Engage with and cultivate more Fans of our Brand
    • Reward Fans that are Brand Advocates
    • Cultivate and encourage reviews from customers. Reviews are gifts, both positive and negative, use them to learn how to serve your clients in an efficient and helpful manner.
    • Create 4 campaign ideas a month
      • Execute 1 new campaign idea a month
      • Learn Every day
      • Increase Revenue by X

Notice I put the revenue goal last? I think if you’re doing the first 3 things at 120%, you’re going to achieve the latter as a result.

Turn Reporting Into Strategy Creation

Look at the current “traffic” report your team is creating. Print it out, and take a yellow highlighter and mark every recommendation for improvement, idea for growth or action item.

Each section or table should be accompanied by at least one idea for advancement. This is where you will see a great team shine. For a marketer, new ideas and the understanding that someone will use and value their ideas is ambrosia.

Many marketing reports include statistics like bounce rate, average time on site and pages per visit. This data is just data by itself, but pair that with suggestions about how to improve and you’re talking strategy.

Here’s an example of how I like to work strategy into simple reporting:

From this custom report, we can see that most visitors who spent 6+ minutes on the website spent the most money. Our average time on site for the entire site is currently 5minutes and 21 seconds. Increasing time on site can lead to an increase in revenues for this client.

Some recommendations for increasing time on site are:

  • Add a video that sells your product, provides testimonials and contains embedded links to products the viewer can click and buy easily. I recommend using to create action items within your videos along with calls to action and branding messages.
  • Create a guide to using your products directly within your website. Many online shoppers hesitate to purchase because they’re worried about recourse should something go wrong. Provide them with a way to find resolution to their broken product or not-so-great service right within your site.
  • Compelling content that is very simple to read will send your visitor further into your site as each of their questions before buying are answered. Consider revising your content structure with a/b testing to improve readability, engagement and decrease exits.

I have seen a ridiculous number of reports come from an agency or marketing department with the graphic above followed by one sentence: “Most visitors who spend 6+ minutes on the website spent the most money.” Ridiculous! 

Instead, challenge the team to help you create a strategy. If you watch 4 different metrics in your current “traffic” report, and each of those metrics produced 2 or 3 action items, your month to month strategy is nearly complete – and you have ideas in the hopper if something doesn’t work out.

Every idea is just that, an idea, until it’s implemented and tried. Not every idea is a home run, but making attempts is better than sitting on the sidelines – looking at numbers and waiting for something to happen.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Analytics | Search & Analytics


About The Author: is the co-founder of Ignitor Digital, along with long-time colleague Mary Bowling. At Ignitor, Carrie tackles tough technical SEO roadblocks many small business owners don't even know they have. Her experience with analytics and troubleshooting helps her get to the root of issues. When not working, Carrie loves to cook for friends and family, hang out with her pretty awesome kids, and read books that have little-to-no educational value! You can also follow Carrie on twitter, @carriehill.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn


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  • Laurel Miltner


    Great article. I agree with you that using data solely for reporting isn’t nearly as powerful as what you can do with the data from a strategic analysis / strategy adjustment point of view. 

    One thing I’d caution readers about, however, is confusing correlation for causation. (Rand Fishkin offers a great comparison to illustrate this point here:

    For example, looking at your scenario above: “From this custom report, we can see that most visitors who spent 6+ minutes on the website spent the most money. Our average time on site for the entire site is currently 5minutes and 21 seconds. Increasing time on site can lead to an increase in revenues for this client.” 

    I’d argue that there is more of a correlation between people spending 6+ minutes on the site and higher purchases, versus a causation. Does spending 6 minutes on the site really get people to buy more, or is it the most interested potential buyers / biggest brand fans that spend more time on the site, and thus purchase more?

    In a case like this, we may also want to look at things like what pages people view that lead them to purchase, what content they may have downloaded, how else they are connected with the brand, etc. to get a better idea of their purchase path. That additional intelligence can be combined with data like time on site to enable a more comprehensive look at the buyer, and thus a more strategic adjustment in future marketing activities / site updates, etc. 

    Again, thanks for bringing this important issue to light. 



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