About 11 years ago (OMG) I had my first experience of Web Analytics. My boss at the time asked me to produce a Weekly report from our log files on what our users where up to. It was a painful process and one which come every Thursday I would begin to dread. I would produce reports and send them out into the company (read ether) and wonder who if, anyone read the reports.
We ran an e-commerce site and things like goals, funnels and metrics were really not quite on the radar yet. I did manage to identify a couple of hacking attempts, and roughly identify the Geo-location of our customer base, and our most popular items. There really was no critical information which added to our companies’ bottom line. I fondly remember my Monday morning report back which could have been a recorded playback of the previous Monday. The coffee was brilliant.
Flash forward to today, as I sit producing my monthly reports for clients, providing them with rich data which is relevant to their online and offline marketing, and their business bottom line. So what’s changed in that time to create this living breathing thing we call analytics and reporting which can literally change the way we do business for the better.
Well most importantly the tools have changed. The primary tool for the analysis and reporting on Clickstream data Google Analytics turned five a couple of weeks back. The purchase of Urchin by Google and the choice to make this tool free was for me one of the defining moments in Analytics, sure there were other tools available, too many to name, and many that have fallen away. Google Analytics though introduced Website Analysis to the masses. Being free, it also enabled a lot of websites to dip their toe in the water and begin gaining an insight into their users.
By today’s standards the measurement metrics and benchmarks by which we measured sites have changed radically, and this is also in no small part pushed by Google and its competitors. Our ability to segment data and drill down into true user trends is giving us a radical insight into the behaviour which affects our business.
Second to this, web analyst’s have changed. We understand the capabilities of the tools more, we are beginning to understand how to bend our websites to supply the data, and most importantly we’re beginning to demand more from our data.
The 90/10 Rule
There’s a 90/10 rule in analytics. It basically suggests that you spend 10% on your analytics software and 90% on your analyst. Yes, I know I just said that Google Analytics is free and you think the jokes on me, but if you really think it’s free then you haven’t installed it properly and you haven’t customised any code to the benefit of your data – so the jokes on you!
Anyway, back to the 90/10 rule. What makes me proud of the 90/10 rule is that the critical change it suggests is that as Website Analysts we’ve earned this 90% by proving that data alone is not enough to answer questions about website behaviour. Regardless of the solution you choose to implement to monitor your website, you still need someone to analyse and understand that data.
As much as Analytics is not something you just put on your site, Analysis and Reporting is not something you simply throw at your webmaster or content editor. It’s a specialised role which requires a wide experience and understanding of all aspects of website creation, digital marketing, and online strategy.
By the way, the 90/10 rule is also the reason I love Google Analytics so much, and why I believe it is perfectly suited for the South African market. In an environment where our budgets are smaller than those of our overseas counterparts, it gives companies the ability to collect data and have it analysed without breaking the bank.
Where Are We Now?
Right now as I sit, with a pretty good view over the analytics market in South Africa, I would say that we’re still relatively far behind. There are a few companies which are actually utilising incredibly advanced reporting and analysis for the benefit of their businesses, but at the same time there are also some large companies which are running embarrassingly small implementations. In fact they’re pretty much checking the “Analytics, Have we got that? Y/N” Y box.
The blame for this though doesn’t really fall solely on their shoulders. It’s really the responsibility of both their website solution provider and the client company to be demanding a better insight into their website and customer behaviour.
There are three obvious reasons why website solution providers don’t push Analytics as much as they should:
1. The Clients don’t demand it
2. The Website provider does not understand it, or have the capacity to analyse the data.
3. The website company actually doesn’t want the client to understand how the website is working. A lot of companies and website solution providers still view websites as an open and shut project, a project with a finite end. So why report on anything about it when the project is finished. In addition why expose yourself to potentially damning data.
The truth is that all of these reasons are part of the old world of website’s, Web 1.0 as it is so charmingly referred to.
A website cannot be looked at like a finite project. Analytics and reporting offers us the opportunity to analyse what may not be working and to fix it.
On deeper levels we can actually extract information which can become critical to the bottom line of the business. For instance wouldn’t you like to know what the most pertinent questions are about your company or product? How about a breakdown of these questions by province with a real time report, that a marketing department can access so that they can ensure that these questions are answered in all marketing collateral.
How about understanding which of your product features clients really want instead of the ones they can only afford to buy, I’ve seen that one answered before with the reward being a reconfigured sales package and a substantial increase in sales. Okay, I’m getting too excited now.
Although, if you think I’m excited, there is very little that compares to the tangible excitement of a business owner who realises for the first time that this data is readily available, and that they are seeing real insights into parts of their business and customer behaviour that they previously did not know existed.
We Have Something for Everyone
Customisable reports in Analytics also offer the opportunity to offer different pieces of segmented data to different levels of the organisation. And this for me is the greatest source of long term Analytics joy.
A good analytics implementation will give you clear insights into the website metrics that affect your business, a great analytics implementation will give every level of your organisation an insight into how their role in the website and related activities affect your business.
A custom report for marketing for instance can deal with the questions users have, what products and content attract them to the website, which pieces of content chase them away, what website content engagements increase their propensity to purchase… the list goes on.
Where Will We Go?
I’m very confident that Analytics and Reporting will continue to grow radically. I’m not going to say that 2011 is the year of analytics, because it doesn’t work like that. The progress companies will make in utilising the services of Analysis and Reporting will be far more subtle, although the improvement to their business will not be as subtle (in a positive way!).
Analysis and Reporting cannot but become more pervasive because of the insight and benefit it provides. It is also never going to become a totally automated process the role of the Analyst will always be critical in this relationship. As good as reporting systems may get they will never really be able to totally investigate, understand and draw conclusions the behaviour of human interaction online. There will always need to be someone with an advanced understanding of how websites, marketing and users all relate to each other and work.
One of the simple and most important things about Analytics and Reporting is that it removes much of the guess work. The kind of guess work you get in Agency and Client Company meetings where everyone has a shot at second guessing the needs of the customer, and the opinion that wins is generally directly related to the rank of the owner of that opinions position in the Organisation. With good Analysis and Reporting you should have a clear view of the customer’s needs and at the end of the day no-one out ranks the customer.