What Do Web Analysts Do All Day Long?

September 7, 2006

I hear this question a lot. What do we web analysts do with our time? To make this tractable, I am going to focus just on web analytics – no split path testing, no data mining, no user testing, no… no.. just what one considers to be “traditional” web analytics. (Maybe an oxymoron?)

I think web analysis has four goals:

1. We use web analytics to troubleshoot the site and the business

Is a conversion rate down significantly, are page views/visitor way off? Is some other performance metric not performing? If so, where is the problem coming from — from a certain section of the site, from a certain product? Is that page or piece of the site broken in some way – code missing, a link not working? If the site is not broken, is the problem coming from traffic sources – an AdWords campaign that is landing in the wrong place, a referrer that no longer refers, an affiliate you forgot to pay and so conveniently forgets to send you traffic? Notice how I went from the most general information, such as conversion rate or page views, down to specific information, such as whether an affiliate is angry at us.

And if nothing is broken — how can we account for the problem? Is the metric down across all sources and all products? Is it down vs. last year (or are we just seeing seasonality?) Is there new competition, or better competition (and with that, I have to leave off, since I promised to limit this to web analytics.)

Don’t be fooled into thinking that there is no ROI here. When you find a problem and fix it quickly, you avoid days worth of opportunity loss — revenue that might have been left on the table or leads that registered with a competitor, were it not for you, the analyst.

2. We use web analytics to figure out how to make the site better.

This one is an all-nighter topic, and it is midnight already. So here are some easy examples. We might compare the conversion funnel from Lead Form 1 and see it converting from the form itself to the Thank You (success) page at 25%, yet the conversion funnel from Lead Form 2 converts at only 12.5% — so what are the differences in design? We might just look at bounce rates (single entry rates) and compare similar pages that bounce at very different rates. We look at our successful keywords in our Finding Methods report to figure out how to optimize our site for those, since those are clearly some of the ways that customers are using to search for our site. We look at conversion rate by source to decide which paid campaigns to pour more money into and which to cut. We segment our customers all the way down until we figure out what the most profitable customer looks like and where she comes from, and then we pour more resources into finding more customers just like her.

This is the area that gets the most attention from top management (unless the site is broken, in which case, they are furious.)

3. We spend time making our web analytics perform better.

Software isn’t perfect, but if we are going to invest in it (and even if it’s free, our time is an investement), then let’s get the most out of it. To use the form example from the point above – if our software supports it, we can track each spot in the form and see where potential leads bail. Better analytics can help us do a better job of spotting online opportunities. We also fix our web analytics when they break — because, why would you invest in a $50K/year package (not to mention the analyst you have to pay), to have broken analytics and learn nothing? Technically, this third goal is just a way to achieve #1 and #2, but we (I?) spend enough time at it that it was hard not to call this one out.

4. We present the information to management in a format that makes them care about the information and take action.

This is perhaps our hardest job. We get down so deep in the data that it is hard to remember the needs of management (or customers.) They have other things to do so if the analysis doesn’t come to them in a meaningful and easy format, they stop caring. I should also point out how important consistency is. Once your CEO or customer understands the metrics, you can improve upon them gradually, but don’t change the format (or heaven forbid, the metrics) arbitrarily.

I will be using some of this at the Summit, so please comment and criticize!