I was reviewing some old articles on analytics when I caught last summer’s DM News Report on Analytics (PDF). I was impressed at the amount of information contained about the business case for analytics, all coming from some very intelligent people. The great thing was the consistent thread of thought throughout the entire report: Analytics is growing – and it’s more than web stats – it is marketing intelligence. Unfortunately, the gold mine is sitting untouched, as many businesses are unaware of the untold riches sitting just a few inches away.

However, this grabbed my attention more than anything else in the report:

“Web analytics works best when measurement expectations are clearly defined in advance, not after the fact or on an ad-hoc basis.”
-Eric Peterson

This is not only the essence of analytics, it is the essence of business. Even greater than that, of life. Your life has to have goals, otherwise, what are the expectations that you will measure yourself against? How can you expect a business to succeed when there are no measurements along the way to provide correction and guidance?
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Goal setting and published expectations are natural for those who expect to succeed, and it is not a strange trend that those who practice that also succeed in business. The same is true of websites. They must have a goal, both for the owner and the visitor. Unless that goal is declared, there is no way to determine success or failure.

The only way to sift through the mountains of data, the hundreds of charts and graphs, the pages of “Top 10” lists, is to have a specific set of goals to measure. By measuring against specific goals, the data will suddenly fall away as you remove what is not necessary to the overall goals. Good analytics programs allow you to strip away the stuff you don’t want or need to see. They allow you to focus in on the key indicators that are relevant to your site’s performance.

Bottom Line: If you don’t have clearly defined goals for your online marketing strategy, then no amount of analytics will assist you in making the right decisions.