Yes, I understand that this is quite a controversial and rather unexpected choice of topic for a web analytics blog, however, this is a problem I have been encountering from the day I started working in web analytics. Sure, it is the end purpose of web analytics to generate actionable insights, however, how realistic is this? There are in fact quite a few obstacles that can lead to not drive actions from the data gathered. The width of data available leads to extensive time spent on collecting it and then ample time reporting on it. And sometimes, when the valuable data is all there, you still can’t act on it, even worse, big changes do happen but without any analyses beforehand…
Because there is so much data available in a company’s analytics tool, one might be tempted to take a look at all sorts of data. When I say one, I mean a web analyst but when you are part of a larger team, you will find that many people will also want to know things just for the sake of it (sometimes); as opposed to try and answer real business needs. After all, it is only natural that people want to know more about their customers even if the answers you supply won’t give them anything to act on. The issue is these sorts of “distractions“ do take time, a lot of time. Yes, if you start counting the number of times people asked you about a KPI or to carry out an analysis for no real business reasons , then you might end up feeling quite sad. Don’t’ get me wrong, I too actually quite like making all sorts of useful and not so useful discoveries on a site, the only trouble is there are only 24 hours in a day, well 12 hours for the crazy people like me who sleep at night.
Collecting data is an other task that can be very time consuming. Of course, most web analytics tools aim at making this process much more straightforward than it used to be. You will always be able to automate basic reports from your analytics tool (all of them) that will drop yesterday’s sales and visitors into your inbox. However, if you want to dive a little further into the data, chances are you will have to use an excel plug in built into your analytics tool. This is why you have brilliant tools such as Report Builder: http://www.omniture.com/press/754 to help you out. Unfortunately such tools aren’t part of all analytics packages, which increases the time of collecting data by a great deal. So this long process of collecting your web analytics data does not facilitate the process of acting on the data.
The other thing you might find is that some of the changes needed to improve a website performance require structural changes that are too costly and time consuming to implement. Yes, sometimes getting the data and figuring out what would improve engagement or conversions on your site is the easy bit but what needs to be changed requires too much turn around. For example, when crucial information on your website relies on outdated third party data centers that do not send information in real time.
Just when you thought that things couldn’t get any worse: everyday, a whole lot of site changes take place, the only thing is most of these were never driven by data… This is a very common thing – people within a company decide there’s a need for a new site because the current one is outdated and does not look fresh anymore. The problem is making your site look nicer, in most cases, is just not enough and can end up being a waste of time for everyone involved as well as a waste of money. It is not rare that web analysts don’t get asked to carry out a full study of what the real site problems are because there is too much focus on making the site look newer. However, what you can be assured of is that 5 minutes after the new site was launched, tones of people will ask you for RESULTS i.e improved KPIs. And then comes the challenge of reporting on the new site and on the impact that the site redesign has had on your site performance.One of the questions I keep asking myself is why should traffic and/or conversions increase just because your site looks nicer? When I say “nicer”, this of course does not include usability improvements.
So, not wishing to be pessimistic about the ability of web analytics to drive change but these above facts happen constantly in real web analytics life. The question is how can we as web analysts avoid such situations? Well, in my next post which I will publish within the next two weeks I will try to answer this so keep an eye on the blog if you’re interested! But in the meantime, please do comment on this and tell me how you feel about this.