Hearing the questions from so many that come to my seminars, one would think that analytics was difficult or hard to grasp. Seriously, it has caused great wonder as to why the concept of analytics would prove such a perplexing and daunting task to so many people.
Unlearn Analytics
At the heart of the matter, I believe, is that many people have been incorrectly “trained” based on their thinking and practice of analytics. Those that have been online for many years know that the earliest analytics packages were simply traffic counters, hardly “analytics” as we call them today, but more “stats,” as they became more widely known. The basic stats packages still exist today: FunnelWeb, AWstats , just to name a few.

The History of Bad Stats
Because the early stats program provided just that: statistics. Mainly, the statistics were based on numbers that webmasters needed to estimate bandwidth and hosting requirements. People assumed that the numbers provided in these reports were important. Granted, for many businesses, a goal of increasing visitors was able to be reported, but that’s about as far as one could go. Because of the limited amount of information provided in these reports, marketers simply added them into web reports and they essentially became part of doing business online. It was (and still is) assumed that if these were the numbers provided by the stats, then these must be important and necessary – the measuring stick with which we are provided.

Your Measuring Stick is Wrong
And that is my theory. We were given a measuring stick at the beginning of the internet age, and many people have not yet realized that the measuring stick is wrong. Thus, the words “hits” is so engrained into the vocabulary of many business people, not realizing exactly what hits are, nor how they affect the website, or even much larger, the business.

So, we need to trade in our old measuring stick for a new one. One that is based not on off-the-shelf, one-size-fits-none numbers, but one based on the company’s website marketing goals.

Goals are the starting point for any analytics endeavor. “Analytics works best when measurement expectations are clearly defined in advance,” wrote Eric Peterson in Web Analytics Demystified “not after the fact or on an ad-hoc basis.” Smart words.

Most marketers attempting web analytics are missing this piece of the puzzle. What are the measurement expectations? Does management simply want to know the number of visitors to the website and why that number is lower than the previous month? If so, then I pity your job. Justifying visitor numbers within in a vacuum without any context has nothing to do with improving the company website.

Every analyst needs to demand clear goals in order to create the correct measuring stick. Without these goals, there is no point in tracking anything.

Part 2 – Ambiguity is Opportunity

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