Research on marketing decision makers consistently shows that about 80% of marketing decisions are made on gut feelings or the opinions of the highest ranking people in the conversation. With digital marketing, though, data-driven website decisions are a realistic option, and that’s good news.
Making decisions based on actual data allows you to avoid or at least reduce costly trial and error efforts. You can measure your results more accurately now than you could in the past, and you can use the data you collect to make strategic decisions that help you reach your goals.
Here are some questions you need to ask yourself as you work toward making data-driven website decisions:
Are you collecting data?
Pretend you throw a ball as far as you can in a field, and someone asks you how far you threw it. You can approximate the distance, but if you really want accurate information, you need to bring out the tape measure.
You must have web analytics installed to get accurate information about your website. Automatic website graders can be handy, but they’re just estimating. Any tool that claims to give you traffic data but doesn’t have any software installed at your website is just guessing.
A web analytics tool like Google Analytics actually collects information about your web visitors. It does so using computer code which you or your webmaster installs in your website.(If you have a WordPress website, a plugin can do the job.)
We use Google Analytics for our clients, but there are alternatives. We use Clicky for our lab site, and Parse.ly is another option. Google Analytics has free and paid options. The free option provides very robust data.
Make sure that you measure information from the same analytics program if you use multiple kinds of analytics. Each one works somewhat differently, so you can’t usefully compare data from one program to data from another. Pick one and watch changes over time.
We also use Sprout Social for social media data. Again, there are other options. Try a few and pick your favorite.
You must have data to make data-driven website decisions. Make sure you’re collecting data even if you’re not yet ready to use it. You can’t go back later and collect data from the past.
Are you collecting trustworthy data?
If you don’t collect data, you can’t analyze it and get actionable insights. But once you’ve gathered some information, you must make sure that it’s clean, trustworthy data. You need good information to make good data-driven website decisions.
For example, you should filter out spambots by checking the “Exclude all hits from known bots and spiders” box in your view settings at Google Analytics.
You should also use filters to screen out your internal traffic. If your website is open in your reception area all day or your salespeople open it up frequently for presentations (and both of those things are good), then you want to make sure that you don’t confuse that traffic with consumer web visitors. You also don’t want to count your intranet traffic or people logging in for work purposes together with your regular visitors.
Segmenting in analytics can help with this, but it’s wise to configure your analytics as cleanly as possible in the first place.
Check your analytics to be sure that you’re collecting the data you need for your marketing efforts.
Are you considering physical-world facts?
Sometimes factors that are beyond your control, and that have nothing to do with your website, affect your analytics.
One of our clients saw a drop in traffic last quarter. We’re working with some new strategies now and have seen a 35% increase in traffic over the past couple of weeks.
Do we take this data and break out the champagne?
No, because we know that Christmas and New Year’s Day affect most websites’ traffic. We can’t assume that our strategy is working because the site is getting more visitors now than it did during the holidays. We have to collect enough data to be confident that the holidays aren’t involved.
When you check your data, be sure to consider any seasonal patterns that are common in your industry. Notice one-time spikes connected with world events or with special off-line events in your business. A new baby in the company, with a picture at the company blog? Ignore your Facebook data for a while.
Do you understand your data?
Google Analytics offers easy-to-read basic dashboards and reports that show you whether your traffic is increasing or decreasing. But there’s much more to it than that.
Make sure that someone on your team is fully conversant with the analytics tools you use, or bring someone in (like Haden Interactive) to help you interpret the data.
Custom dashboard and goal configuration can help you identify the most useful reports and keep an eye on the overall performance of your website. Google Analytics offers online training for its tools if you want to improve your analytics skills.
Once you have good data and know how to work with it, you can take business goal questions and find useful answers in your website’s data. Your website goals will align with your business goals, and the information in your web analytics reports will be relevant to those goals. Using this information to plan your strategy is a smart move.