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The single biggest mistake web analysts make is working without purpose.

Why this sad state? Almost always we dive into the ocean of data first. Sadder still, we don’t ask questions later. We never ask questions. No questions. No tie to what’s important. No impact from the data. Result? Our work lacks purpose. It is that simple.

To counter this, a first step is to go through the process of creating a Digital Marketing and Measurement Model as per the example below to produce a blueprint of why digital exists in a company, and what it is trying to accomplish.

Doing web analytics well is hard work.

If you really want to do the hard work but don’t not have the connection to Superiors, or other teams, and are looking for any way out to identify business purpose category, there are two prerequisites:

  1. You are going to have to throw away the shackles, and think like a business owner. Even if you work in a multi-headed hydra called “global corporation.”
  2. Have the courage to move beyond the office politics/bickering, move from waiting for a savior to tell you what the purpose should be to investing some time in figuring it out yourself.

Here’s six simple questions you can use to take a structured approach that will help you create your own understanding of the purpose of the digital existence.

#1. Why does the site exist?
#2. What parts of the website should you focus on first?
#3. How smart is their digital marketing strategy?
#4. How well are they doing in context of their competition?
#5. What is the fastest possible way I can have a impact on the business?
#6. Any technical notes I can make for the future?

#1. Why does the site exist?

This is the holy grail. But here’s the trick: We are not looking for just the obvious answers. We want to identify as close to 100% of the purpose for which the site exists, how it makes money/gets leads/raises donations (as the case may be).

In the case of Credit Karma the single biggest reason for the site’s existence is right there staring us in the face on the home page: Free Daily Credit Card Monitoring!

And in this case the cool thing is that they give you one score, the TransUnion one, for free. No credit cards required to sign up! My favorite report is the Credit Report Card. Great visualizations and really great data. Sign up today!

The next thing to answer this question is to figure out the Micro Conversions.

To do this, go to the main sections of the website. You’ll look for other calls to action. “Sign up for the mailing list.” “Order our catalog.” “Download the trial version.” Et al.

After 10 minutes of browsing, revealed the following valuable Micro Conversions:

Some are pretty straight-forward. Affiliate links (Take Offer, Compare Rates) that link to other sites from which Credit Karma makes commissions. Advertising on the site is a Micro Conversion (the SavvyMoney ad above with the link Manage Your Debt). The Write A Review call to action (the more reviews there are on credit cards, the more valuable the site is for comparison shoppers the more people will come and do business with them). In the same vein, completed Compare Credit Card offers is an important Micro Conversion (and a sign of deeper engagement with the site). Finally, the links to connection on social platforms are Micro Conversions as well.

Now you have a fantastic understanding of the business objective (make money via credit reporting) and the Goals (a combination of Macro + Micro Conversions).

Bonus: Identifying Macro and Micro Conversions also gives you a list of Ecommerce Tracking to set up on the site, and Goals to set up in the Admin interface. You’ll also note small things like outbound link tracking (using Events) to set up for social actions and ensuring all affiliate links are tagged with our company’s tracking parameters.

#2. What parts of the website should you focus on first?

One of the biggest problems we have with digital analytics is that we have waaaaaay too much data. And because the reports only show the top ten rows, we might not easily be able to see what matters.

Hence it is very important to figure out where to focus your analysis first. One suggestion is to browse around the site and answer this question:

  • What content on the website is directly tied to driving Macro and Micro Conversions?
  • What sections of the website might be most valuable to the visitors?
  • What content areas seem very expensive to create (hence more important to measure if they are adding any value!)?
  • What cross-sells and up-sells do you see being pimped across the site?
  • What does the top nav and left/right nav groupings tell you about priorities?

You can quickly see how those simple questions help you understand what data might be the object of your analytical horsepower.

Another 10 or 15 minutes of exploring Credit Karma site various links and pages yields the answers.

If you are a lay person and not a credit score industry veteran, the most important section would be Resources. The more the website visitors are aware of how important credit scores are, the more likely they are to sign up.

This was a bit hidden but the second most important piece of content would be the Credit Simulator (/preview/simulator). Here you can go play with the simulation and be informed (scared, actually) of the implications of taking credit and become a more qualified lead for Credit Karma.

You can quickly see how you’ve got a short list of things to do in the Content section of Google Analytics. The filters to apply to those reports, to understand which KPIs would be most important as you value this content.

Rather than letting the data take you somewhere randomly, let this approach put you in the drivers seat and then you take data for a ride to a specific destination. That is what being successful is all about.

#3. How smart is your digital marketing strategy?

Here’s a process for reviewing digital marketing.

  • Visit and run a bunch of search queries with the intent of looking for the company’s products and services. Suggest you try at least five or so brand-related queries (“credit karma reviews”), and at least ten to fifteen non-brand/long tail queries (“free credit scores,” “best credit score website,” “credit score reporting scams,” etc.).
  • Make a note of: 1. Organic search rankings (rank, page titles, snippets). 2. Paid search ads (title, creatives, urls shown). 3. Competition (who comes up first consistently, ppc and organic). 4. Search Plus Your World results.
  • For the Credit Karma example, visit sites like Yahoo! News/Finance to see if you get display ads within articles or stories about credit cards, credit scores etc. Do the same with some of the top sites related to the industry (brokerage sites, financially savvy consumer sites, etc). Finally, checkout at least a couple of blogs relevant to the topic.

In doing so, you’re trying to see if you bump into company’s ads (display, text, any other type). It will be a great reflection of how well thought out their acquisition strategy is, or how sub-optimal it is.

  • No business, B2C or B2B or here2there, can exist without a robust YouTube strategy. So off to YouTube to do some relevant searches to see what videos show up.

Do you see any promoted videos in the results (to control the message)? Is there a brand channel by the company (to create a deeper connection with customers)? How lame or awesome are their videos (you want to teach and pimp both at the same time)?

  • Social is all the rage these days and every business of every type should have a social presence that is the epitome of conversational marketing. So visiting their Twitter/Facebook/Google+ pages is critical.

Does the company have a social presence? How many followers/likes do they have in comparison to their competitors? Do they reply to questions, or just shout? Do they pimp offers or try to make people’s lives better? Is there any consistency in their contribution?

One special thing to look for is a +1 button on the website. Search Plus Your World and the social graph has become quite important. People search now, see their friends/social graph liking/endorsing brands and pages. Those often catch the eye of the searcher more easily, sometimes, than paid or organic results.

Additionally the above investigation also gives me a set of insights you can deliver to my CxOs (Chief Experience Officers). Channels where they should exist but don’t. Things they might be doing badly in Social or YouTube or wherever. Missed opportunities in Organic search or SPYW. Things like that. And these recommendations will come from your own digital marketing sophistication (earning respect from Senior Leaders).

Don’t forget mobile. Pull out your Samsung Galaxy Tab and Nexus S to preview the mobile and tablet experience of the company. If it stinks that should tell you a lot. Also run a couple of quick searches on Google to see how the landing pages look on my mobile phone and tablet.

The analysis above, will bring remarkable brilliance when you dive into the data. You’ll take your company from bad to good in terms of acquisition-savvy, or from good to great.

#4. How well are they doing in context of their competition?

It is almost criminal to dive into doing any analysis of a company’s website data without first getting a little bit of context about their competitive performance. Context after all is king .

Here one simple example of how it can be helpful. You log into CoreMetrics and you see a line traffic going up or down. Is that good or bad? You don’t know. No one at the company will talk to you. Why not jump on to a free competitive intelligence tool and figure out the answer for yourself?

I’ll usually start with looking at the company’s data in Google Trends for Websites . And in five seconds I’ll end up with a graph that looks like this:

The above data is from Google Trends and includes both Credit Karma and two relevant competitors, and

While at Google Trends I can also dig into a whole bunch of metrics like Visits, PageViews, Audience segmentation, and so much more.

Time to understand a bit more about the visitors themselves. Google/DoubleClick Display Planner , are perhaps the largest source of demographic and psychographic data out there.

You can also quickly run queries for Credit Karma (and others) and compare and contrast the demographic profiles of people who visit the website. Are our competitors particularly stronger in some Educational categories or Incomes compared to us? What are our areas of strength?

While in Display Planner look at “Sites also visited,” a fantastic way to understand who a site’s real competitors are. What are the clusters of options when people consider a credit report? This is also a great place to get ideas for websites you can show ads on, exchange links, etc.

The last stop is Google Insights for Search , your direct source for all Google organic search data from across the world. Here look at a metric called “share of search.” How often are people looking for the generic query for the industry, for (my company) and for my direct competitors?

Think of it as unaided brand recall …

Just look at that massive spike in queries for Credit Karma at the end of Dec! What the heck happened there? Great question. What where the related keywords people searched for? Check the Google Analytics reports. Was this traffic any good? Check the Google Analytics metrics. Are we going to dominate the world and crush our competitors? Time will tell!

The purpose of competitive intelligence analysis is to understand your place in the world, to highlight from an industry/ecosystem perspective what your strengths and areas of opportunity are, and to collect a list of questions like the ones immediately above for analysis in your web analytics tools.

#5. What is the fastest possible way I can have a impact on the business?

Look for a low hanging fruit to fix/analyze. Something that can be quickly analyzed, find insights for and get fixed to show the value of data.

Here are some examples of things to look for:

  • Any obviously important links that might be broken (404) or misdirected.
  • Horribly constructed landing pages for the top organic/paid keywords.
  • Something absolutely important missing from the site’s information architecture.
  • A missed opportunity for promoting a micro conversion more prominently. (Why is the Credit Score Emulator so hidden, and not on the home page of Credit Karma?)
  • Overpimping of social icons when there has never been a social post (or all posts are sub-optimal).
  • No “related items” after a product is added to cart. (Aw, come on! Has Amazon taught us nothing?)
  • 17 display ads on every single page on the website. (Why, oh why must we inflict torture?)

And other such things. Depending on the website you are analyzing, and your web-savvy/UX expertise, you might find other things. But the criteria to apply is that you are looking for big, obvious broken things that can mostly likely be fixed quickly and for which the impact can be quickly measured.

You are trying to find something with a clear purpose to show the power of actions taken through data.

One of the most beloved low hanging fruit for lead gen/ecommerce websites is to identify and improve the checkout abandonment rate .

That would be measuring the efficiency of this process for Credit Karma:

For a lead gen/ecommerce website there is no faster way to improve the bottom line. The potential customer has already discovered us. They’ve survived our website. They’ve gone from consideration to purchase. Now, all that remains for us to make money is to get them through these three simple pages. Let’s make sure we do that! 100% of the time!

This is directly tied to business purpose. It is absolutely focused on something important (getting the macro conversion). It is small (3 pages), and it is very well defined. And it is easily measureable (hello my dear funnel analysis, I’ve missed you!).

That is how an Analyst achieves glory. Through data. Powered by a clear purpose.

So five simple questions that help you focus on the end-to-end view of the business (Acquisition, Behavior, Outcome) without ever touching the data (except CI) and help you create your own Digital Marketing Measurement Model.

#6. Any technical notes I can make for the future (analytics or coding)?

As you’re clicking around make note of these things:

~ Randomly view source to see if the javascript tag for the web analytics tool is there. You just want to spot check if the tool is there (for GA just do View Page Source and Ctrl F and ga.js).

You can use a web analytics site audit tool for more thorough checking. But don’t do it now. Don’t get sucked into technical implementation hell just yet.

~ Things that might hinder SEO.

For example: Link text – is it descriptive? URL structures – are they clean (as on Credit Karma) or a jumble of technical gibberish? Exit links – are they wrapped in javascript (can’t be read by search bots) or clean? How clean is the link structure? These and other such small things are both a task list and a sign of how savvy the company is when it comes to SEO.

~ click on various external ads (search, display, YouTube), take a quick peek at the URL window to check for campaign tracking parameters. So important to have them.

~ Make note of windows that pop up. If they are links to the company’s blog or their ecommerce/travel reservation/lead gen platform, is it on the same domain or a different domain?

Latter means tracking challenges, technical nightmares.

~ If they have an internal site search engine, and in this day and age it is criminal not to, then I do a quick search and see if my query shows up in the url stem. For example, on this blog it would look like this:

The “s.” It means we can configure it in Analytics in two seconds (no IT begging involved) and start doing amazing internal site search analysis .

If the parameter does not exist… well, then IT begging will be mandatory. 🙂

Remember. You are not a technical implementer or a javascript tagger – two valuable roles. You are an Analyst. Your primary objective should be data analysis and finding insights. So the first five questions and the answers you’ll find are your focus area. The sixth is a gift you can give the javascript tagger/technical implementer in your company.

That’s it. Some thoughts about avoiding the single biggest mistake Digital Analysts/Marketers make: Execute their jobs without a clear business purpose.

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