27 Steps to Successful Analytics

Ian Lurie

It’s not that bad, I swear! 27 easy little steps that will take you from the day the boss pokes her head into your office and says “Hey, I think we need analytics” to the night you get Employee of the Year for leading a company-wide turnaround.

  1. Establish from the start that analytics is not a pretty graph. It’s the extraction of useful business intelligence from the data. That takes it from being a toolset to being a business strategy, and makes everyone understand its importance.
  2. Schedule weekly analytics reviews. Put them in your calendar, so you don’t forget or stress about forgetting.
  3. Get commitment from the development team, marketing team and sales team, from the start. Otherwise, you may not be able to get whatever analytics tools you need set up, or you may not be able to get insight from the marketing folks, or the sales team may have you pilloried for messing with their pipeline.
  4. Be thoroughly versed in the analytics tool you select. You must be the expert. You won’t want other folks seeking their own solutions. You (and your team, if you’re really lucky) want to be the acknowledged resource for analytics. This isn’t for job security. It’s to keep the program on-track and under control.
  5. Ask CEO, COO, CFO etc. what they’d like to see in a web site report each month. They may say they don’t care. Press them. If you can’t get directly in touch with them because you are Just a Lowly Peon, go through channels. Design a report that delivers the data they’d like. Make sure your boss has access to that report, too.
  6. Ask the sales manager what he/she would like to see in a report. Create a report for that, too.
  7. Do the same for the head of marketing.
  8. If you’re all of these people, you’re in luck! You’re also in trouble! But that’s a whole other story.
  9. Based on what you’ve learned, select your key metrics. These might be: Sales, leads, pageviews, visitors, downloads or time on site. Key metrics are direct measurements of your site’s performance in the context of the site itself.
  10. Now, select your key performance indicators (KPIs, if you want to geek out). KPIs place the key metrics in the context of the business as a whole. They’re usually stuff like return on investment, hurdle rate, prospects to leads, leads to sales or which shade of purple the CEO turns when they see the numbers.
  11. Set expectations: Tell everyone involved that they will not see useful data for the first 2-4 weeks after you launch the analytics program. It’ll probably be faster, but this gives you time to verify that all is well, data is accurate and that you have a grip on what’s working or not working.
  12. Set expectations, 2: Make sure you know whether your analytics toolset has a processing delay – a lag between when something happens on the site and when it shows up in the reports. Google Analytics, for example, has a 3-10 hour delay. Make sure everyone knows. No one likes surprises.
  13. Launch: The toolset’s live! Woo hoo!
  14. 3 days later, when someone comes asking for data, remind them of #11, and throw something at them. Start with something soft (I have a Dogbert for this very purpose). Work your way up to pointy/sharp/heavy objects as necessary.
  15. Check to ensure every page of your site has the analytics code in place. EpikOne has a most excellent tool for this purpose right here. Yeah, I know, you checked before. But since you checked, Frank in Development had a fight with his best friend and forgot to check your code out of CVS, edited his own code and in a fit of depression overwrote everything you did. Or, Fran in Sales told Frank that Jack said that Robert heard that you said that this OTHER code is MUCH BETTER. Trust me, things happen.
  16. Test your key metrics measurement. Fill out the lead form, or make a purchase, or do whatever else. Make sure that the analytics tracking code’s in place on the ‘thank you’ page. And make sure that the metrics update in the traffic report (accounting for the processing delay, of course).
  17. Automate as much as you can. You do not want to be cutting and pasting numbers every week, trust me. Learn the ins and outs of Excel or whatever spreadsheet you use to create your reports (no matter how great your analytics tool, you will still need to create your own for the top executives). Get to the point where you can import a CSV file from an automatically e-mailed report into a spreadsheet and voila, your report’s all set.
  18. Do your first weekly review. Don’t just send a spreadsheet with numbers (see #1, above). Include your own analysis. Draw a straight line between web metrics and business metrics: “Site sales from organic search were up 10%. Corporate sales were down 5%, though. I did some tracing, and it looks like we’ve got fewer people coming directly to our site (or our stores). That may mean our brand is weakening.” It can be good news, too: “Sales are up 10% on the site! And company-wide sales are up 5%! Yeeesss!”
  19. Suggest at least one experiment/test/change to try. “Given the huge response to the last coupon, I think we should try another.” Or, “No one goes to the ‘About Us’ page. I suggest we move it into the footer and feature a product there instead.” Yes, the design team may hate you, just a little, at first. Same with the development team. You’re making more work for them and they’re already overloaded. But as things work better and better, they’ll come around.
  20. Send the weekly review to your boss. Prepare to answer all sorts of seemingly inane questions like, “Why is ‘fark.net’ driving so much traffic to our site?” They’re not inane questions! Explain, and then bring focus back to your conclusions: “But, as you can see, Fark isn’t really impacting sales either way. So let’s go back to organic search.” See? Even I can be diplomatic…
  21. Do the monthly review. If you can, present it to the Head Honchos. Your presentation should take no more than 10 minutes. Then be ready to answer their questions. If they don’t have any, be afraid.
  22. Emphasize trends. Always. Always. Always.
  23. Remember seasonality. OH MY GOD SALES DROPPED 50% IN APRIL!!!! Really? What happened last year? If April 2009 still outperformed April 2008 by 20%, you’re probably just seeing seasonal patterns. Be sure to point that out or your CEO will turn purple again. It’s not healthy.
  24. Try to divide things up into What Worked and What Didn’t. Don’t just list ’em. Explain your conclusion. Remember, failure is guaranteed. What’s important is that you learn from it.
  25. Document everything. Your boss, the Head Honchos and everyone else should have clear instructions regarding how to read your reports, how to generate them (in case you win the lottery) and how the traffic reporting tool is implemented.
  26. Be sure to do a Stat of the Month: “The stat of the month is Time On Site, which is up 40% because of…”. Sounds dumb, I know. But it really focuses people.
  27. Never stop learning. Analytics providers are always rolling out neat new stuff. So are their fans. Google Analytics alone has dozens of Greasemonkey scripts, etc. that help you do more with the data. Have some fun with it!

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  1. Ian – great points. I find it very hard to convince clients they need to pay more attention to analytics than just page views – which I unsuccessfully try to explain means very little in the grand scheme of things.
    Love the idea of “Stat of the Month”

  2. Ian,
    Regarding numbers 5-7, this assumes that they know WHAT can be reported on (besides the above-mentioned pageviews – At least we’ve moved beyond “hits”). I do feel like I’m guessing when I set up my reports sometimes… “Let’s see, what online marketing activities happened in the past month, and how can I pick a stat that can reflect its success or failure?” I guess that’s a bit like “Stat of the Month.”

  3. Hi Ian,
    There is a smart piece of software that can help you track the results of past campaigns. In Logaholic Webanalytics you have a tool where you can make a note (for instance, when you started advertising on a certain page), and this note will appear when you run your Trend reports. Thus you will see the change in traffic and you will be able to link it to the particular (past) activity in your advertising campaign.

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