The more we teach others about how digital marketing works, the more we are reminded that one can’t truly understand how to interpret web analytics if they have a simplistic approach to evaluating results.
What we mean by “simplistic” is this: the tendency to look at a data point, number or result on a particular day and only ask, “Is this result good or bad?”
Site visits. Bounce rates. Pages per visit. Session duration. Keywords. Organic search traffic vs. paid search traffic. There’s just too much web data, too much complexity, to make a value judgment based on one metric at an arbitrary point in time.
Relative Comparisons; Absolute Results
Digital marketing is not about pursuing results that are good, bad, perfect or satisfactory. It’s about continuous, incremental improvements that push you closer to sales and ROI. The days of buying access to prospects are over. You now have to earn their eyeballs. That takes time and effort.
The fruits of your labor won’t be revealed through simple snapshots, but longitudinally through improvement over time. That reality demands a different mindset when it comes to evaluating results.
If you aren’t doing these three things when analyzing your website analytics, whether through Google Analytics or marketing automation technology, you’re at risk of making uninformed decisions based on limited information.
1. Measure trends: Let’s say that July 2014 delivered 24,000 visits to your website. Is that good or bad? Too often, that depends on what your traffic was the previous July, the month before or even what your boss is expecting. Month-to-month and year-over-year analysis allows us to more accurately pinpoint digital improvements and opportunities. Did your site see a similar trend from June 2014 to July 2014 as it did from June 2013 to July 2013? Did the ratio of organic search to paid search change? Did your bounce rate improve?
2. Make connections: It is vital to study the interactions between variables. A particularly useful one: the relationship between web traffic and bounce rate. Gains in traffic won’t matter if visitors depart without exploring your site further (there are some exceptions to this, of course). Does engagement differ between new and returning visitors? Organic visits and paid visits? Has this mix changed over time?
3. Track conversions: This is one of the few absolute measures in digital marketing. Conversions are leads. And, by and large, more conversions improve the odds of success for your sales force and your digital ROI. Take the time to study conversions – how they found you, the call-to-action offering they bit on, the path they took through your site and other useful data points. But don’t just study conversions, actually use this data to optimize your site’s inbound structure in order to convert more visitors to leads.
Resist the urge to describe results using only absolutes like “good,” “bad,” “disappointing” or even “successful.” What you should be striving for in each digital endeavor is continuous, incremental improvement. Even lackluster trends will reveal opportunities for improvement.
Most digital marketing managers or data-savvy types are comfortable with evaluating results longitudinally. Unfortunately, many of them report to supervisors who, quite frankly, don’t know how to set expectations in a digital age. Now, a little sympathy goes a long way because those supervisors, in turn, often answer to bosses who don’t have the temperament to make decisions in the face of ambiguity. Education on digital impact is key here.
In our experience, the difference between the companies that thrive in our digital marketing world and those who stagnate (or worse) is more often a matter of culture rather than level of digital expertise or budget.