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Web analytics confusion

Web analytics is still a missing art in many businesses, not just retail. Analytics is the last station on the investment train ride and is often compromised to pump more money into direct revenue generating digital marketing like PPC.

But why would any sane person put more money into something they don't fully understand and for which KPIs may not be optimised? It seems a strange decision.

My gut feeling is that there are too few optimisation specialists Client-side who really get web analytics 2.0. Dashboards are created and reports circulated to tick the analysis box yet limited insight is provided.

If conversion for referral traffic has dropped off the cliff, is that good or bad? I don't know. Even your data doesn't know but hidden within are nuggets of insight, you just need the focus and perseverance to find them.

This blog looks at a few examples of how data can be turned into insight to drive commercial decisions.

Conversion is not the be all and end all

Fact: not everyone who visits your site will convert, no matter how amazing the experience and how targeted the user journey. Some people just like to research and browse. So obsessing over conversion metrics as the sole indicator of success is in itself a failure. 

Social Media is a case in point. Most brands' social media traffic adversely affects KPIs like average order value, revenue and conversion. Why? Social media is better associated with building relationships and increasing content engagement, less so with direct selling. Of course the channel can convert, just look at Dell, but the point is I've seen as much as 95% social media referral traffic contribute de nada to the revenue pot if you simply look at direct sales.

What can you do? Well, it's not a great leap of faith to assume that social traffic is more likely to use social bookmarking to share content. This is easily monitored via web analytics tools including Google Analytics. However, what is the impact of that shared content on your website? Well, by embedding a neat bit of js code into the bookmarks you can monitor people who visit your website from the content that others shared. Now create them as a custom segment and you can evaluate the impact on KPIs like time-on-site, bounce rate etc.

If social media visitors are increasing viral effect, you can start to build a contribution model. With the increased insight, do you know perceive a greater value to your social media visitors?

Avinash Kaushik lists a few neat social media reporting tools in his Occam's Razor blog. My favourite is Tynt which measures content after it has left your site.

The value of custom segments and data filters

I've just done a piece of analysis for a retailer, digesting their Google Analytics data to provide insight into the impact of site search. The top level stats (22.7% new visits use site search with a conversion rate three times that of those who don't) don't give me anything juicy to sink my teeth into. I wouldn't pay me simply to say visitors who use site search convert better, old news my friend. 

However, if I start adding filters to show the top 20 products (defined by total revenue for last 12 months) matched against Google SERPs and then run against the live site search, the light flickers. I can see that 17 of the top 20 don't even return search results yet on Google exact matches appear in the first 3 pages. Why? A deep dive reveals the problem: issues with the search algorithm and poor data matching.

Taking the core web analytics data, questioning what it tells us, then filtering data and using complimentary analysis has given me insight to take to my client.

The next step is to add engagement metrics from Google Analytics. By adding % search exits, % search refinements and conversion rate by search term, I now build a picture about the impact of using search refinements driven by the merchandising tool.

Relating this back to revenue and conversion sheds light on the relationship between search refinements and conversion; the correlation proved really high, telling me that here is a big opportunity for testing to drive commercial benefit.

(click image for a larger version)

James Gurd1

Creating a custom segment for visitors using search refinements also enables the ongoing analysis of this feature to understand trends. I can recommend reading this blog on Occam's Razor waxing lyrical about using data to drive actions

In short…

Now i'm not denigrating the importance of conversion optimisation, just saying that web analytics is a much bigger picture. 

The commercial benefits of web analytics are dependent on the quality of planning and level of effort spent asking the right questions and then interpreting data and information. The information above only scratches the surface but hopefully it illustrates the point i wanted to make.

Web analytics gives you the what, voice-of-customer data overlays the why. By blending intelligent data analysis with continuous customer feedback, website owners can piece together an often puzzling yet highly fascinating engagement jigsaw.

So what do you think? Do you get insight from your web analytics or do you struggle to know where to start?

Follow-up reading

There's a nice post by Avinash on heuristic evaluations of website performance in relation to answering the "Why" question.

James Gurd

Published 2 September, 2010 by James Gurd

James Gurd is Owner of Digital Juggler, an ecommerce and digital marketing consultancy, and a contributor to Econsultancy.He can be found on on Twitter,  LinkedIn and Google+.

49 more posts from this author

Comments (7)

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Rob Mclaughlin

Rob Mclaughlin, VP, Digital Analytics at Barclays

Great article James. Thank you for sharing your thought processes and the logic that you went thorugh, especially regarding your on-site search analysis. You are absolutely right that few people understand the role of web analytics, particularly on the client side. Too often it is used as purely an expensive reporting tool for delivering data on past performance, without harnessing it for future optimisation. Keep up the good fight.

over 6 years ago


Mark Bolitho, New Business Director - Ecommerce at more2

Excellent James, great insight into how to help form insights.

I think too many take a high level, aggregated view of the numbers that ultimately tell them nothing of any real use that they can use to improve things.

Nice real-life example there, and it might be useful to stress that all this needs to start with a business question - in this case to understand the impact of site search, leading to a good understanding of what's required to set up a valid experiment.

over 6 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Hi Rob, Mark

Thanks for the comments. Rob you hit the nail on the head re using web analytics tools as expensive reporting tools - and boy is that an expensive report when most of it can be run for free of the server.

Mark - yep it all starts with the commercial side. There needs to be an understanding of what data the business needs to give insight to the commercial teams to make sensible decisions. Once you know what you need, the analytics gurus can mine the data and provide the insight. How many people know how to ask the right questions or even want to? Another question for another day....



over 6 years ago



G'day James, I agree about conversion rate. I've been arguing for some time that it's time we all moved past the conversion rate obsession. It's been useful for the past 10 years to get the debate going, but now it's usefulness as a metric has passed its use by date. Quite simply a site with a 2% conversion rate can be a much better performing site than one with a 20% conversion rate. (And that's very easy to prove.) Value per customer or revenue/profit per customer is a much more tangible and accurate measure. I also agree about there being very few people who get analytics and how it fits into the client/business side of things. It reminds of the early days of the web when the focus was on the technology and not the business. It will change, but it will take time.

over 6 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Hi Mark,

Thanks for dropping by. Conversion rate is useful but as you suggest, it alone doesn't prove that a site is good/bad performing. 

I had this debate with a major multi channel retailer who was unhappy that the site we built for them had a really low conversion rate (less than 1%). However, other measures like engagement and average order value were really high. Some deep diving later and we realised that there was a major cross-channel effect where the web acted as a research tool and drove in-store sales.

Once we'd persuaded the client to view the web as more than a direct sales channel, they started to realise the impact it was having on the business and agreed to expand their KPI set.

For me, every business with a multi-million £ web channel must have an optimisation manager, whether that is in-house or outsourced. Otherwise, you can guarantee they are throwing money away.



over 6 years ago


Mark Bolitho, New Business Director - Ecommerce at more2

Hi James

Just to pick up on that last point: totally agree that an optimisation function should be a de facto option, but it's the calibre and focus of that optimisation manager that's really important.

I speak to hundreds of people that say 'we use GA' but they don't actually manage to turn the data into useful information. You've illustrated how insightful it can be to drill down just that little bit further, but any optimisation manager needs to possess the focus and intelligence to formulate clear goals and implement the methodology.

@Mark: you are right about using CR as the single measure of success, but conversion rate is still massively important. Too many though, take an aggregated view as opposed to segmenting the many different measures - new visitor, repeat visitor, cr by source etc.

It's another handy tool in the toolbox that can, and should be monitored and improved where possible and practicable.

over 6 years ago



I use clicktail, it helps me know what is happening on my site and its heatmaps and videos show me i can increase my conversions

about 6 years ago

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