Moving Beyond Hits ‑ Gaining Insights With Google Analytics

November 26, 2012

Gaining Insights With Google Analytics

Homer Simpson SMRT

There are four steps to really taking advantage of your data. Measurement, Reporting, Analysis, and Implementation. It’s too easy to fall into the trap of implementing your data tracking, and then measuring and reporting on that data, but never really analyzing or acting on it. The entire point of your implementation of tracking, and measuring it, should be to use that data to improve your website’s performance.

Move Beyond Hit Counters

Remember hit counters? It’s kind of funny that for awhile that was really the pinnacle of digital measurement. Businesses, even legitimate ones, would have hit counters on their pages, as would anyone who had the ability to actually make a web page in those days. It would increment with every hit, and visibly show that number to the world.

“Oh our page got 2000 hits! let me refresh and see how many we have now. 2001! Woo hoo!”

It was pretty useless from an analysis point of view, but it did lead eventually to a number of different companies, including Urchin, which eventually became Google Analytics, providing much richer data insights.

These days it’s way too easy to fall into the hit counter trap. You set up your Google Analytics tracking code. You look at the numbers and trend lines and see your pageviews (essentially hits) and the number of your visitors are up. Maybe you look at your overall ecommerce numbers: transactions, average value, total revenue. You move on. You’re really not doing much more than vanity number gawking like they did 20 years go on the nascent web. You’re just leaving too much on the table. You’re measuring, and doing some basic reporting, but you’re certainly not analyzing the data, and if you ARE acting and changing things, you’re doing it blind.

Why Do We Fall Into the Hit Counter Trap?

The first instinct when asking “Why do we fall into this trap?” is to say that people are ignorant. They don’t understand the software. They don’t know how to use Google Analytics. They don’t know how to make custom reports. Etc. That’s wrong, of course. Oh, don’t get ME wrong, if you are ignorant of the software you’re going to have a heck of a time getting any insights from the data, but there’s a difference between understanding what an RPM meter is on your car, and driving in the Indy 500.

Everyone falls into the trap, even the most seasoned analysts. Knowledge of the software maybe even gives you MORE vanity metrics to trap you. You watch your Real Time visitors. You create custom reports and dashboards to see specific information easily. But your’e still just measuring and reporting. You’re not analyzing.

So what’s the reason? It’s our nature to just look at the shiny things? We’re lazy? I think the basic reason lies in there somewhere. Being an analyst of your data requires you to switch your brain into a higher gear. You’re not just interested in numbers, you’re interested in what those numbers mean, and what you can do to make them better. You’re looking for insights, not hits. Quit focusing on sheer numbers, and instead look at your goals and how people convert.

Becoming an Analyst

So how can you move beyond being an implementer or a reporter, and start becoming an analyst and actor?

Establish Goals

The first thing to do is to establish your goals. What are your goals for your website? What are your business goals? It can be as simple as ‘have more people sign up on our contact form” or “Sell more widgets to more people more often”. Whatever the PURPOSE of your site is, then that’s what you need to focus on. Far too often people focus on things that really aren’t their goals. if you’re looking to increase your revenue and average value of your transactions, then simply looking at your overall pageviews of your product pages isn’t necessarily something that will indicate that. You might be driving more traffic to your site, but if it’s BAD traffic then simply having that traffic isn’t necessarily something to get jazzed about.

Know What Data Relates To Your Goals

if you want to measure your average value, then get familiar with that metric. If you want to focus on visits with transactions, then get familiar with that metric. Don’t get bogged down implementing event tracking all over your site measuring every little thing. Do you have a variety of PDF downloads of technical manuals for your products? Is one of your site goals to provide good customer service? if not, then looking at the numbers for total downloads of your PDF’s might not be data that is interesting to you as far as increasing the ecommerce on your site.

It’s ok to Collect Data, but don’t do it just for the sake of collecting it.

That doesn’t mean you don’t have to collect that download information. Maybe someone in the customer service department has their own goals, or is just curious about it. But don’t collect data that you don’t care about, and if you collect it, you should probably need to know why you are, and how it relates to your goals.

Are you tracking your embedded YouTube videos? Great? But if you’re just looking at how many people played those videos, and you are an ecommerce site with the goal of increasing revenue, you might be missing the big picture. Don’t just collect how many people played embedded videos on your blog for the sake of having more numbers to flash on your dashboard. Think about what sort of meaning you can get out of it, as it relates to your goals. Track the videos, and then see how your ecommerce numbers are affected. What are the transactions for people who watch videos versus those that don’t? What about average transaction value? What about for different videos, do some videos perform better than others?

Here’s what an Measurer and Reporter says: “we had 10,000 people play our videos.”

Here’s what an Analyst and Actor says: “we had 10,000 people played our videos, and when they did that their average transaction value increased by $10. When we look at the specific videos, the ones with a call to action at the end of the video lead to twice as many transactions as those that didn’t. We recommend adding a call to action at the end of every video from this point forward, and possibly adding a spot for an embedded video on the top 10 landing pages.”

Don’t use Data To Pat Yourself on the Back

You should always be looking forward with your data. Don’t just use the data to say “we did this well!” An analyst should be looking at the historical data to see what worked, and what didn’t work, in order to gain insights as to WHAT worked, and what DIDN’T work, and then make changes for the future to improve them. Maybe if you’re the “suit” who suggested a specific banner advertisement, or a particular model to use in a picture, and you did so based on a gut feeling you’re really interested in whether it worked or didn’t work, because maybe your job depends on it. But that’s just reporting.

The analyst should look at that same data, but not looking at it for a pat on the back, but dispassionately. A good analyst will be looking forward. A good website will always be testing various ways to increase conversions, particularly with A/B tests. Sometimes the new variant simply doesn’t work as well as the old one, sometimes it works better. When it does work better, you shouldn’t be using that data to say you did a good job. you should be looking at that data and asking WHY did that variant do better, or worse, and “what can we try next?”


There are four stages of being an analyst. Measuring (implementing Google Analytics in all the right places), Reporting (displaying the important information as it relates to your goals), Analyzing (looking at that data and discerning things that work, and things that don’t), and Implementing (suggesting courses of action as supported by the data, which can increase goal completion). Don’t get hung up on the Measuring or Reporting. Focus on what your business goals are, and how people complete those goals, and ways you can increase those completions. Don’t just look at hits. Look at how they relate to conversions.