Driving analytics with strategic outcomes
Getting going with Google Analytics (GA) is relatively easy and despite its ultra low price tag (it’s free, compliments of Google) it is feature rich and a highly capable tool. Simply setup an account, grab the tracking code and drop it into your site – Job Done? Yes… well sort of! Doing the bare minimum provides a significant amount of information for very little work. There’s that first moment of fascination when you realised you could actually see what keywords people were typing in to Google to arrive at your site? There’s also the frustration of seeing people coming to your site from unexpected places (other countries, or referrals from unknown websites) and not being able to see who they were and what interest they had with your site! Interesting stuff!
Moving beyond the initial fascination with analytics you need to ask yourself where the real value is. Taking the standard reports at face value, you can quickly get an idea of the trends across the site – Are visits up or down? Where’s the most popular content? What keywords are people using to search? While all those metrics are useful, I rarely see them being an effective driver of any really significant change – the kind of metrics that help make the decisions necessary to take your online presence to the next level.
As your online presence becomes more critical to the success of your business, consuming your attention and limited resources, analytics must become something more than just being interesting.
To really get the benefits you need to understand the outcomes you require. You’ve got to have specific outcomes in mind, underpinned by the reason you published the content in the first place. If you are having trouble articulating these outcomes, then that’s perhaps a sign that the site isn’t aligned with a strategic plan.
So what’s an outcome?
Having consulted with a number of organisations developing online strategy, the mistake that seems to consistently get made is that outcomes end up being either inconsequential, or just too broad.
An example of an inconsequential outcome (and the one that seems to crop up the most often) is to simply increase traffic to the site. Increasing (legitimate) traffic is rarely a bad thing but what’s far more important is whether that traffic was converted into any kind of tangible influence on your business. Your outcomes need to reflect what these “tangible influences” actually are.
Outcomes that are too broad often look good on paper. They sound noble, tangible and focussed. We see this, for example when analytics are aligned directly with the financial performance of the company such as X visitors convert to $Y income. Understandably if you are going to invest in running an online strategy there has to be some notion of return on investment. Of course everything you do in a business is to ultimately return revenue, but unless you are running a business were online visitor activity can be equated directly to some kind of revenue generating outcome (e.g. an online store) then these metrics will be unlikely to provide the level of fine grained insight necessary to really understand the nuts and bolts of what is and isn’t working.
What does this mean for most businesses? I would argue that for most businesses not engaged in selling directly online that the purpose of the website is to help deliver more opportunities for new business. If you are running a service based business for example, then it may be that the marketing component of your website is about establishing credibility, demonstrating capability, building connections and relationships. Sales will be finalised offline and typically the website will only be one component of the decision making process that a customer goes through to finally decide to engage your services. If this is the case, then keep your metrics focussed on measuring the success of the site to actually achieve these things.
Starting from a clear understanding of the purpose of the site answer the following questions:
- What types of visitors do you want to attract and why?
- Why would they want to visit? Are they asking for answers to a question, or looking for a solution to a problem?
- What do you realistically want to achieve from the interaction? Don’t make it too broad, but be as specific as possible.
You’ll need a strategy to make these things happen and involves understanding your prospective customer demographic, their online behaviours, opportunities to build connections etc.
Your metrics then need to test the success of the strategy. For example, if your website is about demonstrating capability, your strategy may be focussed on positioning you as an expert in the area of specialisation. You’ll want to create content to specifically achieve this and have tactics to disseminate the information. Your metrics should tell you if this is having an effect – i.e.
- Are more people seeing you as an expert? How would you measure this? Perhaps measuring what visitors do on the site after reading your content is an indicator. Are people sharing, clicking to follow you on Twitter as a result and subscribing to your emails?
- What type of content gives the most success? Do you know which items of content generated the most interest?
The bottom line is that measuring just traffic flow to your site is interesting but unlikely to provide the required levers for change. Aligning your site with outcomes that are too broad may not provide the necessary level of detail on which to base strategically significant decisions.
Decide on the real KPI’s for your website. Put in place techniques and tactics to extract the important metrics that are closely aligned with the KPI’s. Having access to this information quickly and easily will hopefully force you to either harness the opportunities, or change tactics to more effectively utilise your resources.
In the next article, I’ll look a bit closer at Google Analytics and talk about some of the techniques available to help you dig beneath the surface.