I frequently get asked questions like “Well how many sessions did we have?”, “What is our bounce rate?”, “What is our time on site”, etc. My mother always told me, “There is your side of the story, there is their side of the story and the truth lies somewhere in the middle”, and I always think about that whenever some starts asking me about analytics. The truth is if you are only asking one number it’s story, you are missing the majority of the story. The real truth is if you are asking about the number you are probably asking the wrong question. The numbers are there to answer a bigger question and to help shape a bigger plan. My rule of thumb is you have to talk about at least 3 numbers for any one question to get a more accurate view of the situation.
Let’s look at an example. A marketing manager came to me raving about their website stats. She mentioned that their traffic had increased by over 500%. AWESOME! We started chatting a bit about what they were doing and how they had managed to increase their traffic so quickly and by so much. Turns out the were running a lot of paid ad and display campaigns. I mean A LOT they had focused more than few marketing dollars into advertising to increase their traffic. We chatted a bit more and I started asking about how they were engaging these new visitors. With a little digging I learned, as did she when we logged into Google Analytics, that in addition to the this great jump in traffic, their time on site had dropped to under a minute and their bounce rate was sitting somewhere around 87%. She wasn’t too savvy on the Analytics side of things and really had no idea what questions to ask their agency or to question a growth of 500% in under a month. Luckily, in this case they were under short contract and it was a quick and only slightly painful lesson to learn.
A couple of things remember when evaluating the numbers:
1.) What is the bigger question you are trying to answer? Instead of asking, “What is our bounce rate?”. Ask, “What type of content are our users more interested in engaging in?” The numbers can be extremely useful but only if you use them to answer the right questions and shape your future plans.
2.) If it sounds too good to be true, it is. Almost 90% of the time. There are of course great success stories out there but if you hear a number and think WOW that is just insane. It probably is. Dig deeper and try get a better understanding of your successes and your failures. You know they always say the only failure is not learning from your experiences.
3.) Have a tangible goal in mind with all of your campaigns, with a back-up check in place. Whatever your goal is make sure that you are including a few data points with goals to ensure you are not achieving one goal by sacrificing another important element. To use our example from above, a better and more realistic goal might have been to increase traffic by 50%, while maintaining a bounce rate of under 55% and time of site of more than 2 minutes. That way if any of those numbers start to go way out of your comfort zone, you can make adjustments during your campaign.
Overall, ask more questions. If for no other reason than to drum up other ideas and aspects to consider.
Happy Data Mining!