Practice web analytics when KPIs are up to understand why they go down.

Web analysts are a lot more likely to be tasked to perform web analyses when things go wrong than when things go well. If your site starts encountering a drop in sales or a significant rise in bounce rate, web analysts will be “strongly encouraged” to understand what is causing so much turmoil and the fearsome Why straightaway, no pressure here… One of the difficulties in carrying out web analyses in stressful situations is that your rationality level will not be 100%. The question is how do you adopt a rationale way of working in stressful situations?
If you want to be effective at finding out what is wrong with your site, you need to perform web analyses when things are going OK, well and fantastic. Why? Because it is a lot easier to come up with a list of items that you know contribute to your success and check against that list when things are going wrong rather than trying to think about all the things that could be the reasons why you are failing. Don’t get me wrong, the latter approach is very tempting, I know, I’ve done it!
If you have a list of your company’s, your website’s and your traffic’s pillars i.e your vital organs to check through, you will be a lot more likely to work rationally and productively and therefore come up with THE answers as opposed to answers. When things go wrong, your pillars list will actually become a suspects list to go through. That list of pillars will obviously depend on which industry you work in.
However, in my opinion, there are pillars that would be common to any website:
-Understand what your biggest traffic source is when things are going well and build strong relationships with the stakeholders for this traffic source. The reason I say strong relationships is because to me, knowing that this channel is your biggest traffic driver is simply not enough. You need to know not only what the current strategy is for this channel but also what makes it an asset for the business.
– Your biggest source of traffic might not necessarily be your highest converting source, (OK, in most cases it will) so also take a look at this one, get to know it inside out. As an example, you need to know the % of sales this channel represents when things are going well.
-Your conversion funnel, a conversion could by the way be anything from a purchase to an enquiry form submission. See what your continuation rates are between one step and an other throughout your conversion process when things are going well.
-Site Errors: make a note of the % of traffic that site errors represent when things are going well; sites errors might be 404s, timeouts etc…
-Your commercial facts : one of the numbers you might want to make a note of when things are going well is your average revenue per transaction.
-Your products: what is your average selling price for each of the product you sell when things are going right? What is the % of sales that each of the products you sell represents?
As you can see from the above, to come up with your list of pillars, an important part of the investigation work is dedicated to talking. That’s because, in my experience, it is crazy the amount of things that go on on a website and although as the web analyst you know what the numbers look like, you can very easily be among the last people to know about a product launch, a shift in the pricing strategy, etc…unless of course you talk to people and simply ask what is going on. But also, the information you get from people by chatting to them in an informal environment (so not by e-mailing them) can be incredibly juicy.
The pillars list does not end up here. As mentioned in two of my previous articles: Context is everything in web analytics not numbers and Context is still everything in web analytics some of your pillars will be external factors. In some cases, external factors will be more important than your internal ones. Yes, sometimes, all your internal usual suspects will actually be “released”, at least on bail… But it’s not until you turn to the external usual suspects list that things can become less blurry. Below are 3 examples of external factors that might be part of your pillars list:
-The weather: there are industries which are directly affected by national weather; travel is one of them. Repeated bad domestic weather tends to drive holiday sales up.
-Competition: look at your competition when things are going well for you and make a note of your conversion rate then. It may be that you are the only one selling a particular product; when everybody else catches up, look at your conversion rate again…
-Demand: what is at the origin of a strong demand? Well, maybe you have a monopoly on something but it could also simply be that consumers have money to spend. When things are going well, look at the statistics on disposable income, you can start by looking at the Office for National Statistics website.
So to summarize, you need to do web analytics when things are going well, come up with that list of pillars and have metrics against each of your pillars. When things are starting to look a little shaky, look at that list again and check the metrics again, chances are some/most of these would have changed and you can begin to explain what is causing disruptions and why. For example, if you notice that your average revenue per transaction is going down and that disposable income is also going down, then you can start by saying that economic factors are responsible for what is happening and not the number of errors people are getting when they are on your site.
So the idea of this article is to help you get to where you need to start and then to know what to check, that way, you can’t really go wrong.
The other thing that this article hopefully highlighted is that in order to be successful at web analytics, you need to understand that this is a continuous process, not something you only do when things become difficult. Web analytics is a journey, an endless one.
Let me know your thoughts!!!
Thank you for reading.

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2 Responses to Practice web analytics when KPIs are up to understand why they go down.

  1. I have been following your blog for a while and enjoy the insights and learning I get from a Web Analytics perspective. What strikes me and it is refreshing, is how commercial your approach to WA is. Ultimately an analyst’s role is about increasing quality revenue by increasing conversion or page views (depending on your business model). The analysis in itself is not the goal yet I have seen it appear to be the goal all too often. You frequently make the point about internal and external context which for me is key and so often missing from detailed actionable analytics in any business area – be it sales, marketing, HR, finance or anywhere else for that matter.

    This latest post struck a particular cord. Your point is clearly valid and you make the case for producing key insights in the good times as well as the bad really well. It got me thinking that this point can be made wider than simply in the web analytics space.

    How often have you seen a post project review taking place when a project or initiative has not achieved the outcomes that was planned or expected? Everyone likes to get involved and has an opinion when reviewing why an employee has been underperforming. What went wrong? Why? and What can we do differently to hire better next time? etc are all valid questions. BUT, how often t
    do you see a project review when quality time is spent understanding why the project was a success and what contributed to this? If more time was spent in organisations reviewing and measuring what is happening when things are going well then quality insights might be gleaned that ensure there is less fixing (and analysis) to do when things don’t go as as planned. You could say it’s the difference between being proactive and reactive and from where I’m sitting I don’t see many reactive organisations creating much shareholder value these days…

    IMHO of course ;-)


    • Penny says:

      Hi Oliver,
      Many thanks for taking the time to comment, this is what Web Analytics Secrets is all about: a platform built to generate debates around web analytics and any other related topic. I think you are spot on when you say that some of the content written here can be used in other business functions and not just online. On a different note, I know you now specialise in HR and I know staff training and development are (or at least should be) 2 key areas in any company HR strategy. But this is also the case for WA, practitioners need to keep up-to-date with the latest tools but also the new ways of thinking web analytics through. There will be an article about this topic and I will make sure you are the first to know about it!
      Thanks again

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