The Sweet Smell of Coffee

On from Analytics Culture

Recently, I had the opportunity, and the sheer pleasure I must confess, of analyzing data from a few web sites; my clients wanted to have my take on what was going on. Again, I had another opportunity, the one of witnessing the delivery of bad news that is. That is by far a much less pleasant one. In my five years as a web analyst, I have always detested raining on people’s parade. Who wants to be the bearer of bad news, anyway? Not me, but it is a fundamental part of the job.

I have come to elaborate my own little saying: “If one has never truly and rigorously analyzed one’s web data, when one finally does, chances are good that the news is bad”. Well, this is a mouthful, and it will never find its way into the Book of Quotations, but is has proven true. I have butchered numbers, and people’s day, just by filtering out machine activity, something very basic they didn’t know they needed to do. I have had very tough meetings where it was open season on the consultant. But always did I have the high hand, because I wasn’t saying it; the numbers were.

The first encounter with rigorous web analytics can be a tough experience to a web marketer. One that almost always creates a denial reaction at first. “Your application is not good, etc.”; it is what I call the “It’s impossible” syndrome. Of course, you’d better be certain your numbers are solid and accurate; if not, you will discredit web analytics for a long, long time in your organization. So, when confronted to a “It’s impossible”, it’s either an error in the reporting/analysis (which is NOT good), or it’s the reality my friend, and deal with it.

This is a very critical (excuse the emphasis) stage in web analytics: the day you start demonstrating that the important content is not visited, that the expensive campaign produced poor results, that the sophisticated shopping cart bombs. People tend to take that personally. The frequent reaction will be one of animosity; the web analyst does not make many friends that day. It is however a necessary stage; one that gives the opportunity of great learning. Better get rid of something bad now than keep dragging it forever.

It is a sad thing that too often so much negative stuff will pop up in the early stages of analysis. It does not help us spread the web analytics culture. Web analytics becomes suspicious, something dangerous. Who’s fault is it? The marketer’s, who lived in a dream? The analyst’s, who craves credibility?

It is not important. What is important, is to wake up, and start seeing what is really there.

Tags: , analytics+culture

2 responses to “The Sweet Smell of Coffee

  1. Very good point, and even worst when people who should be stakeholders don’t even understand how important web analytics is!

    But imagine, YOU are the expert: you walk in, do the analysis, present the results, and off you go (to hopefully come back shortly after!). But imagine when you are the poor analyst working there (in french, we say “nul n’est prophète en son pays”)… in this case, the risks are high the analyst will either put himself in a confrontation situation or voluntarily make things look nicer than they really are. That’s why it’s important web analysts abide by a code of conduct and set ethical guidelines that are known to all parties and supported by maangement (something the WAA should help define).

    Practitioner & blogger

  2. Hi Stéphane,

    Yes, you are right. I only know a handful of people who are the designated web analyst, and it is not even a full-time position in sevral cases. This means that they too often occupy a weak position in the web site organization (departments that these days can include dozens of people); they definitely need stron management back up if they want to establish credibility.

    The position, the web analyst one that is, is far from beeing common and well defined. Many organizations that spends millions on the web still don’t want to invest in a such full-time resource.

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