It seems like everyone these days is jumping on the analytics bandwagon, from major corporations to professional sports teams to political campaigns. With this increased interest in “data-driven” decision-making comes an increased need for skilled analysts—people who can translate and transform the flood of data into insights, opportunities, and actions.
This is easier said than done. Analytics is a journey that is often rife with obstacles and pitfalls to the untrained participant. Analysts must often battle with entrenched practices and perspectives that are preventing their organization from realizing the full potential of analytics. It can be easy to stray off course if one is not attentive to the dangers and detours lurking around every corner.
Here are 5 tips to keep you on the right track towards building analytics into a valued and integral function within your organization:
1. Mind the (measurement) gap
As a digital analyst, there is no shortage of metrics for you to look at—sessions, pageviews, bounce rate, impressions, CTR, likes, comments, shares… the list goes on. But with most metrics, there is an inherent gap between what you are interested in and what you can actually measure.
Sure, you had 50,000 sessions on your site last month. So what? What did those people actually do? Did they find what they were looking for? What was their experience like?
Your marketing agency may have got you a million impressions with AdWords or DoubleClick. So what? How many of those people were in your target market? How many of them actually looked at your ad? Did they think it was relevant to them?
You may have accumulated a few thousand likes on your Facebook page or followers on Twitter. So what? How likely would those people be to actually buy your product or visit your business?
For every metric and measure you encounter, you should always ask yourself, “So what?” What does this number tell me? Why should I care? And, what am I going to do about it?
If you focus on only your metrics and KPIs, you will spend your time analyzing and optimizing numbers that may not fully represent what you actually care about. It’s important to understand what each metric tells you, but more importantly, understand what each metric doesn’t tell you. With this knowledge, you can seek out additional information and context to help you bridge the gap.
2. Set meaningful targets
Comparing your performance against a target or benchmark can be a useful way to evaluate and quantify success. All too often however, marketers and analysts choose arbitrary targets or benchmarks for comparison.
Would you like a 10% increase in visits over last year? How about a CTR above the “industry average”? Or maybe you want at least 50% of new visitors to be on mobile devices?
Before settling on any target, ask yourself “Why?”—Why is it a relevant standard of comparison? What would achieving (or not achieving) this goal tell you?
This will hopefully lead you to set targets that are meaningful to your campaign and business goals, and are not merely vanity metrics.
3. Focus on the material
Materiality is a concept used in the world of accounting to describe the significance of a given fact or figure. Information is material if its omission or misstatement could influence the decisions of stakeholders. Conversely, insignificant information that has no influence is considered immaterial. This distinction allows accountants and auditors to focus their attention where it will have the greatest impact.
Digital analysts would be wise to apply a similar mindset to the analysis, reporting, and presentation of analytics data. It’s usually unnecessary (and often impossible) to measure and analyze every stream of information generated in your business. However, there will always be certain pieces of information that are more significant than others.
It’s probably not worth highlighting a 1% month-over-month increase in total sessions, but a 20% increase in contact requests is most likely deserving of attention. By focusing on the material results of your analysis, you avoid distracting your audience with insignificant pieces of information.
But remember that in order to decide what’s material, you need to understand your business well enough to know what kinds of information would influence the decisions of your managers, directors, and executives.
4. Allow the data to speak
Have you ever been asked to produce a report for which the conclusion was predetermined?
“Give me a report that shows me I made money last month.” Or, “Show me the increase in engagement from the new website design.”
As an analyst, you should never plot your story (or allow someone else to do so) before actually doing the analysis. Rather than forcing your data into a desired narrative, allow the data to speak for itself.
Otherwise, you may fall victim to confirmation bias—seeking only data that supports your preconceptions and hypotheses. Instead, start your analysis with a question and be open to whatever answers you may discover.
5. Point the way forward
Once you have managed to answer the so what’s about your analysis, the next logical question is “now what?”
If your analysis doesn’t result in any meaningful actions, then what was the point?
This is probably the most difficult, yet most important step in the analytics journey. Once your analysis has identified opportunities to improve and change, you will need to devise a set of actions to take advantage of those opportunities.
Perhaps you will advise your marketing team to narrow the targeting of the next pay-per-click campaign to avoid spending money on off-target customers. Or maybe you will recommend improvements to your site’s mobile experience to cater to a growing number of smartphone and tablet users.
Taking action is the only way to realize the value of analytics. You won’t get there overnight. In fact, it may take months or even years for an organization to reach a point where analytics is informing decisions and actions on a daily basis. But by applying the five tips above, you will be moving in the right direction.
Let us know what you think about these tips and do share your own!