With so much data, it’s so easy to get caught up in all the numbers. Looking at the wrong numbers will result in faulty analysis and recommendations — you may fix things that aren’t broken, or not fix things that are. Or you may think you have the right solution to a problem, but not even be looking in the right place. While it may seem obvious, taking a step back to understand what you want to know first will help you choose the right measurements.
Step 1: State What You Want To Know
The first step is to state what it is you want to know — without using any measurements or metrics at all. For example, if a website has several links to its Careers page on the homepage, ‘We want to know what place on the homepage is sending the most traffic to our Careers page’. This is quite different from ‘We want to know where the most traffic is coming from that enters the site on our Careers page’. One is about the design of the homepage and the marketing there — the other is about external marketing efforts to the Careers page. We’re going to stick with the first for our example…
Step 2: Refine Your Data Needs
Now that we understand what we want to know, we can further refine our data needs to see if we have the right measurement in place. When we look at the homepage, we can see that there are actually 4 places that someone could click through to the Careers page: 1) Menu at the top of the page 2) Linked text in the middle of the page 3) Ad box in the sidebar 4) Menu in the footer of the page. Ok, so now we know there are 4 possible links a visitor could click, so in order to answer our ‘what we want to know’ question, we have to be able to tell the difference between each of these 4 links.
Step 3: Know Your Technologies
Unfortunately, the next step is fairly technical. In order to know if you can distinguish between the 4 links, you need to know 1) how your analytics package collects data and 2) how the links have been coded. In the case of Google Analytics, it treats all data that goes from one page to another as the same, if the links are the same (with a caveat explained in a second). This means that to Google Analytics, it can’t distinguish between the 4 links on the homepage in terms of how much traffic each sent to the Careers page. But there is hope… Google analytics allows you to add tags to links that can help you distinguish where traffic is coming from to the same web page. Which means that if the links were coded with these tags, the data will already be available. And if not, it can be if they are added. Other analytics tools may collect data differently and your content management system (CMS) can also impact how this works.
Step 4: Zero In on the Right Information
So now that we know what we’re trying to measure, what data refinements we need, and how our web technologies work, we can zero in on the right information in our analytics tool. In Google analytics, we’d look for traffic to the Careers page from each of the 4 tags on the homepage to provide information about what place on the homepage is sending the most traffic.
Good Measurement is In the Details
While this may seem complex, the first step — knowing what you want to know — is really vital for communicating your measurement needs to those that may help provide you with the metrics. Without this refinement, you may get back the wrong metrics, or your technologies may not be setup properly to provide them in the first place.