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The beauty of working in the online world is the plethora of information that is available to you about your visitors. How they arrived at your website, which page they arrived at, how long they spent on your site, did they buy, how much they spent...and the list goes on.
But is anyone checking if the analytics is tracking correctly? If not then it could be that you have been making big decisions based on false information and giving senior management a false view of the world.
For the marketing department, information obtained from web analytics should be used for optimisation of online marketing channels. Key decisions about where to invest your next pound, which channels are your conversion channels, which are your contributors and your initiators etc can all be derived from the information obtained through your web analytics.
However, how do you know your analytics is telling you the truth? If it's 'lying' then you've potentially been making investments based on false information.
Verifying your traffic source data is something which is very easy to do but I would hazard the suggestion that not many businesses out there are actually doing this on both the client and agency sides of the business.
Checking your analytics
From your chosen web analytics software very simply run a report on your marketing channels, referring sites and your landing urls for the last 30 days.
Inspect your landing urls and compare them to what your analytics package is telling you. I suspect that you will see PPC landing URLs in your direct load channel, affiliate urls in your organic search, email landing urls all over the place.
Don't forget you are looking for marketing source URLs in your organic search and direct load channels. This is because the tracking tags that need to be set up are either malformed or completely missing the parameters required to track accurately.
If URLs are malformed then they usually default to either direct load or organic search giving you misleading information.
Differences between analytics packages
Google Analytics is pretty good at tracking your paid and organic search but everything else needs to be defined. Coremetrics and Omniture the other more expensive analytics packages require you to accurately define the channels and add the necessary tags.
You even have preset reports on malformed tracking URLs in some analytics packages to help you and your marketing partners out here. They will tell you when a marketing tag is not set correctly but it won't know which channel it should be attributed to.
The devil is in the detail
Attention to detail is very important. Everything may look ok but you may have used a "?" where you should have used an "&" - this is enough to break the URL and not track correctly - chances are it won't have effected your landing page or visitor experience but when undertaking analysis your reports won't be correct.
Now you understand your tracking has not been giving you accurate information. You need to fix the problems as soon as possible to get an accurate view of what your marketing channels are reallt doing, how your customers are responding to your marketing efforts and the strength of your brand online.
Its worth checking this report once a week to ensure that any new sources of traffic are being accurately tracked. Oh and once you have a clear understanding it maybe worth a slightly awkward meeting with your senior's to give them an overview of how your channels are truly performing.
Rubbish in, rubbish out
Analytics is very much a case of rubbish in rubbish out. Small things like this could be the difference between success and failure especially if your a pure play business. It's unlikely it will ever come out that the failure of a business is down to the analytics tool but it's quite a feasible reason.
If you have dedicated analytics resources then I hope this post has been of no use to you at all - if you do, and it has then your analytics department has some questions to answer.
I hope this has been useful to those of you out there who don't have dedicated analytics resources to help you more accurately track your marketing efforts.