Analyze This: 5 Rules For Awesome Impromptu Web Analysis

up closeThe hardest kind of "analysis" to provide is in response to open ended questions. That is why I love asking open ended questions!

They expose a person's critical thinking ability (something I highly recommend you test when you hire web analysts: Interviewing Tip: Stress Test Critical Thinking. Please).

They also help you understand if someone really grasps key concepts.

Recently on behalf of Market Motive, my start up that focuses on online marketing education, I had the opportunity to offer one scholarship for the latest round of Master Certification in Web Analytics.

So at the end of my 10 Fundamental Web Analytics Truths blog post I requested readers who were interested in the scholarship to complete this simple task:

Pick a site you love and tell me three things you would change about it, and why.

Seems straight forward right? It is not!

First I must say that I was overwhelmed by the responses (thanks!) and I was impressed with the time people took to do the analysis. I got wonderfully created pdfs / Word docs and well written emails. I was amazed at the creativity on display (which validated the fact that I have chosen to be in the right industry!).

Based on the responses, some wonderful and some not quite as wonderful (!), in this post I thought I'll share with you some tips should someone (like me!) ask you an open ended question ("what would you and why").

The first part covers 5 rules, sourced mostly from what people did not do. The second part contains 4 things people did that delighted me.

Let's go.

When someone asks you an open ended question, at least connected to web analysis, here's what's important. . .

your opinions

1. Don't offer your opinion, at least not right away.

This is a very very hard temptation to resist. But try.

These were most common fixes people wanted to make on sites they loved:

Remove big header
I don't like the colors.
I would change the entire site design.
Reduce font size / increase font size.
The font type is not great.

I have to tell you that the last thing anyone wants to hear, in this context, is your opinion.

Not your boss. Not your friend. Certainly not the HiPPO (Highest Paid Person's Opinion).

Even if you believe that you are "absolutely right"! [Note: I often think I am "absolutely right". :)]

You and I are poor proxies for the customer. And just because you don't like something… how should I put it so you'll understand…. oh let's try this…. you not liking something is not a statistically significant sample of data!

On a serious note… offering your opinion on something, unsupported by any data except "I think", is probably a really poor way to start a conversation with anyone in the Analytics field.

If you express your opinion then present it in the from of a hypothesis that can be tested. Win-win.

So for example consider saying something like:

"I have viewed the site through Google Browser Size. The huge header on the website is causing the main content to be visible to only 40% of the website visitors. Based on this my hypothesis is that reducing the size of the header will reduce bounce rate and increase click-through rate to key pages/products."

See the difference?

It is ok that you started with a hunch. You went and got some kind of data. Finally you offer a hypothesis that I can test, and you were clever enough to point to two things of value to the business (both of which can be measured!).

Your HiPPO / Boss is much much more likely to listen to you and accept your wisdom.

In the rarest of rare cases if you must express your opinion, present your credentials. Something like:

"I would change the layout of the site and eliminate the images because I am Jakob Nielsen and I know what the heck I am talking about!"

See that would be acceptable. :)

Overall: if you can, try not to offer your opinions (at least not in the opening statement).

alternatives big picture

2. Always offer alternatives / Think things through.

One of the persistent flaws in Web Analysts (and Marketers as well I am afraid) is that far too often we take a siloed view of things. We only see our slice of data. We only see our little world. We only care about what bothers us / what makes us happy.

You should always take a much more expansive view of things and when you make recommendations think of the big picture, think things through.

Here is a good example.

I was astonished at how many Ninja's included this in their fixes: Remove Ads.

Now I love adblock as much as the next guy and wish advertising (especially Display) were more relevant.

But when you as an Analyst recommend removing ads because you find them annoying (and they can be super annoying) you are essentially recommending the removal of a revenue stream.

Ok so if I accept your recommendation of removing ads what do you recommend I do about the revenue stream?

The "remove ads" recommendations did not consider that implication of their recommendation.

Now I don't expect you to be an expert on the intricacies of the business you are analyzing when I give you an assignment to do "impromptu analysis". But I would have loved to know that you thought about the big picture, what you thought about the implications of your recommendations.

You could have said:

"I would remove the ads because they are super annoying. I would recommend replacing them with an investment in targeting email campaigns which I believe will more than make up for the missed revenue.

Or:

"I would remove the ads and instead add a prominent "If you love the content donate money" button on the top navigation. The money we lose in advertising we will more than make up in donations."

Or:

"I would remove the ads. While that will mean we lose revenue in the short term, my hypothesis is that customer satisfaction will improve by 18 points which will lead to increased Visitor Loyalty and is that not what ESPN really wants?"

Give me a clue that you have: 1. Thought through the implications of your recommendations. 2. Have some alternatives handy, no matter how pie in the sky.

Here is another recommendation that is more nuanced, and something I think we as Analysts rarely think through.

The recommendation was that Flickr should allow posting of anonymous comments because it will likely result in more comments being published on pictures which will potentially increase User Engagement.

A very nice suggestion.

But by now it has been well established that anonymous comments very quickly lead to unintended consequences. [New York Times article.] All kinds of people jump in and, quite literally, say all kinds of things.

I would have loved to hear what your suggestion was to deal with this absolutely sure to happen outcome from your recommendation.

Think things through. As an Analyst, as someone who thinks more broadly.

[Note: I am not saying comments are bad. I am not saying all anonymous comments are bad. I am not saying comments should be 100% moderated and neutered before being posted. There is a happy medium and there are many wonderful options to deal with this problem.]

competitive intelligence tools

3. Offer data, even when you don't have access to the site's data.

Alec shared a guidance with me after the contest was announced. He said, and I am paraphrasing, "award the scholarship to the person who says that they can't make any recommendations to fix the site they love because they don't have access to the data".

Really good point.

I had very much kept my question open ended because I really wanted to see if people got creative with how they arrived at the recommendations (beyond the "I think").

I am afraid no one provided data.

On the surface it is understandable. You are doing analysis, impromptu analysis, on a site that you don't own. Of course you don't have access to data to base your opinions on.

Unfortunately that is not quite true.

You ALWAYS have access to data. For ANY website.

If you want to understand the clickstream data for any website you could go to Compete (here's ESPN's data, or this blog's). If you want data for a international site use Google Trends for Websites (here's H M V's data, and here's data for people from Switzerland who read the French newspaper LeMonde).

Sure the data is not 100% accurate, but it is directionally accurate and it will take a few minutes on either Compete or Trends to dig a bit and find something interesting you could base your recommendations on. It should take you a few more minutes to compare data for one site to its direct competitor and identify something even more interesting.

If you want to understand the search engine ecosystem then use Insights for Search. Check out how much delightful data is available to you: Acne vs. Poison. [Look out, poison making a massive come back!!]

Spend time understanding the keyword market and consumer interest for the business you are analyzing. Find strengths and weaknesses. Find opportunities (by geographic region or in the cluster of top related searches or, my fav, fastest rising searches). There are so many sources, so many possibilities (many free!).

If you want to get demographic or psychographic segmentation data use the DoubleClick Ad Planner. In a few minutes you can understand the demographic make up of any site.

Male – female, age, education, household income, audience interest and more. In a few more minutes you can get down identifying the psychographic segments. Affluent 100k+? Brides-to-be? Gossip Gurus? Home Buyers? Moms? Technology Geeks? Who are we talking to? Who do we want to talk to?

And these are just the basics. Check out: The Definitive Guide To (8) Competitive Intelligence Data Sources.

You always have access to data. Regardless of if you own the site or not.

If you are put in a position where you have to offer impromptu analysis please use these (and other) data sources to add the kind of power to your recommendations that can only come from being backed up with data. Some data.

business objectives

4. Always, always, always state what you think the Objectives are.

This is such a common mistake when we present our analysis. We make recommendations without saying what we are actually solving for.

Before you present your recommendations first tell me what you think the website's objectives are. What you think the purpose of the website is. What you think the site is solving for.

Often analysis is not valued very highly not because it is stinky, it is because the producer and the receiver disagree on what the objectives of the site are.

I might think the purpose is: Orders, Leads, Job Applications.

You might think the purpose is: Facebook followers, Brand Perception Lift, Product Reviews.

If you don't tell me what you assumed the objectives were you'll see very quickly why I might think you produced nothing of value.

So make it clear.

I might still think your analysis was poor (or awesome!), but at least I know what you were solving for.

I have context within which I can place your analysis.

You might think that it is obvious what the purpose of GoNomad or NBA.com or SFAF is. But I assure you that it is not obvious. So make it obvious, we'll both come to your analysis / recommendations from the same perspective.

In your daily jobs you should never present your analysis without having shared vision around the objectives. Otherwise the best result is no action will be taken on your recommendations. The worst result is… we'll I don't have to say it do I? :)

[Use this if it helps: Web Analytics Measurement Framework. Though for impromptu analysis you don't have to get that detailed. Just keep the framework at the back of your mind.]

surprising outcomes

5. Focus on the obvious, and the non-obvious.

Even if you spend only 30 mins on doing some analysis try to say something that I won't anticipate by spending 5 mins on the site's home page.

Surprise me [/ your boss / your audience / children / god].

Here is an example.

I can guess the Macro Conversion on site in two seconds. So tell me about the three Micro Conversions that are not obvious but of great value to the site.

Say you looked at Williams-Sonoma. Points for telling me about ecommerce. Bonus points for grasping and telling me how to improve qualified sign-ups for the Williams-Sonoma Catalog (which brings a lot more revenue in the long term than a quickie online order). Or how to improve number of brides creating Wedding Registries (huge money there). Or memberships to the Wine Club. Or Gift Cards (which are essentially customers making interest free loans to Williams-Sonoma!).

Surprise me.

Visit the website of the site's biggest competitor and tell me two things they do well that you think your site should.

Dig out industry standard scores for Customer Satisfaction & Task Completion Rates and use that to tell me areas of opportunities.

Give me three specific ideas for A/B or Multivariate tests and state your hypothesis for what will change.

Present your analysis / recommendations in a different format.

Shock me by including a framework you use for your recommendations (which one person did, it looked like a house! so amazing!).

Postulate a good enough reason to use Social Media (not just because everyone is doing it).

Tell me about how the inevitable demographic shifts in the US population will destroy the current business that this company has.

Surprise me.

If Scott or Brett or Dai or Trevor or someone else can spend a few minutes on the website and come to the exact same conclusions as you then it is unlikely that your analysis will be as impressive as you think it should be.

So… focus on the things that will be obvious to many and then include at least one non-obvious thing that almost no one will focus on because only you, the unique awesome genius person that you are, will see it.

Summary: Don't just offer opinions, think things through, offer data, clarify what you are solving for and finally do at least one thing that falls in the non-obvious category.

all aces 1

Amongst the submissions that was presented there were some common themes in the I was quite delighted by.

Here are a few of them, you should do these too when you do analysis…

1. "Why before the how"

Almost everyone focused on redesigning the home page, with one holy goal in mind: Make the value proposition of the company really clear really fast.

I love that!

One person framed it so well: "Address the why before the how."

Brilliantly put.

Use that mantra every day.

Some things were common in many submissions, and these I really really liked:

2. Obsess about SEO.

Some folks diligently focused on SEO, and I LOVE SEO!

From garbled urls to missing title tags to poorly linked internal pages to missing site maps. I am so happy people found these things (and EVERYONE of you can too with basic knowledge of SEO!).

It is "free" traffic, but more than that it is investing in the long term success. It is pretty attractive to jump to Paid Search recommendations or doing more Email Campaigns. You should do that, but if you come to me with that and not mention SEO you are going to break my heart.

[Even if you are an Analyst I expect you to have the knowledge described here: Official Google Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Starter Guide.]

3. Be different.

I covered this a bit in #5 above. But wanted to share more context with you.

In their analysis some people tried to be different. That is always a good thing.

Instead of sharing a site and three things one person shared three things they would change about the state of Texas!

Made me smile (and I sent him a free copy of Web Analytics 2.0 :)).

On a serious note… you know the obvious things people will say in these situations, and so do the HiPPO's (they have heard it all before). Try to be different (though not Texas different!).

4. Be sweet.

Without exception everyone was very sweet. Most people tried really hard to send me the best submission they could. I got special graphs, images, wonderfully formatted word documents… so much.

It was so nice. I feel profoundly grateful.

Life is short. Be sweet to those around you. They'll reflect it back. One person at a time we can make the world a better and less bitter place.

wrap a bow

Closing Thoughts.

I recognize that you won't do all of the above for an "impromptu analysis", else there would be nothing impromptu about it.

I hope that you'll take the principles outlined in this blog post and make them a part of your DNA. When you are asked to do some quick analysis that you'll activate these principles, even without thinking about them too much.

When I have to analyze a site I quickly make a note of the two or three objectives of the site (and one of those falls in the non-obvious category). I log into Compete and Trends and get some data about clickstream. I see if there are clues in Insights for Search and Ad Planner about the site's business. Then I write down two of three things recommendations / fixes that I can back up with data, or in case of no data formulate and preset a couple hypotheses for testing.

It takes me between 30 mins to an hour. I won't change the website's trajectory in a massive way, but I'll definitely give them some concrete things that will have a short term noticeable positive impact.

And you can too!

Ok now it's your turn.

What is your approach when put on the spot and asked for some analysis of a site you don't own? What are one or two techniques that work for you? Thoughts on the above nine principles?

Please share your critique / approaches / feedback in comments below.

Thank you.

Comments

  1. 1

    Really great post! I think any good analyst should write the 5 tip titles and put these on their cubicle wall as a reminder.

    I personally quite like 1st one which I think is most common pitfall. No matter how much we know about Internet, online behavior or marketing, we are NOT our customers. We don't see our websites same way they do. It is a very tricky exercise.

    A while ago, measurements of a specific important page showed that it was apparently missing its main purpose. First reaction of business was to question data quality and accuracy. After all, the page was so simple and purpose was so obvious, how could it fail? The other alternative was the most users were plain stupid :-)

    Doing a usability labs shed some lights on it. and suddenly it became obvious as real "customers" explained what they expected, what they thought and why they failed doing what we hoped they would do.

    People had to revise THEIR OPINIONS based on facts and figures…

    We are human and it is very difficult to put gut-feelings and personal opinions aside. But as true analysts, it is our role to do this, get few steps back from context and "forget" all we know about websites, user behavior and all.

    Thanks again for sharing your experience & expertise.

    Michael

  2. 2
    Carlos says:

    I wish I would've read this post before I sent in my ideas :)

    My big fault is that I feel like I need to respond right away—like speed is worth extra points or something, which I know it's not. When I take the time to think it through and let me "draft" sit for a while, my thoughts typically get sharper.

    My favorite things you said were to be different and to be sweet. Those two things combined are incredibly powerful. Too many people try to focus on being "right" instead of being different, and the lack of creativity is kind of sad.

  3. 3
    Ryan Beale says:

    Another excellent article, Avinash! To your #1 point, I'll quote W. Edwards Deming, “In God we trust; all others must bring data.” :)

    @RBeale

  4. 4
    Shilo Jones says:

    I am glad that you shared some insights from the contest. It's a timely post too because everyone on our team is responsible for some aspect of our Web site and interaction with our customers, none of whom, have the analyst title and these tips are just as useful for all of us when discussing and debating which projects to work on and why.

    Great list.

    BTW: Ryan, I love the reference to Deming and hope that others take the time to read and apply his work. I find it still very useful and relevant today. I was floored at how little I knew for how long I've been in business and I am excited to try and bring his theory of profound knowledge to my work and the people I work with.

  5. 5
    Jason says:

    Brilliant post, my friend. I had to learn many of these lessons the hard way; trial by fire.

    Early on, I can't tell you how many of my results were rejected because I interjected my opinion too early on. The data and the presentation were solid, yet I turned off my audience by giving them my opinion up front.

    I learned to hold off, no matter how hard it was. You have to remember, our job is a lot more than just digging up the numbers. If we fail to present our story in a compelling manner, then we have failed.

  6. 6
    Dr. Pete says:

    Love the comment on opinions. This is one of the toughest battles we fight in doing user testing, especially communicating test results to clients. It doesn't matter if someone sees your site and says "I hate that color" (if 100 people say it, it may matter, but that's a different story). What matters is when someone really thinks out loud – they notice something missing, hit a cognitive roadblock, or take a path that you'd never expect (but that, on reflection, you realize many others would take).

    I'll take 1 good observation over 1,000 opinions any day.

  7. 7

    Great post with a lot of valuable guidance to analysts. The key to getting actions out of our analysis is the presentation. We do need to tailor our presentation of analysis based on the audience. When presenting to executive audiece, I often start with a summary slide. Most of the slides with details may actually belong in appendix. Additionally, I share the presentation deck ahead of the time for them to have a chance to review. If the recommendations are drastic, I would even try to get prewiring done through individual meetings with key decision makers. This works well in most cases and we can walk away with action items at the end of the presentation.

    Please keep posting. This is a great blog.

  8. 8

    Finding the non-obvious is always a nice challenge to beat and also is in part fun to see.
    Mantain focus on business objectives is also of great help to speak the same languaje of the decision makers. It's nice when they get surprised by any insight obtained by analysis and not by only feeling :)
    Thanks for sharing this thoughts.

  9. 9
    John Stansbury says:

    Avinash,

    YAGAP (Yet Another Great Avinash Post). It's the underlying scientific method weaving through the maxims that make them so effective and ring so true.

    Being a great web analyst is not knowing exactly what needs to change on a site, it's knowing how to test, poke, and prod to find out what the customers want. It's dangerously easy to Best Practice yourself into a dead-end.

    The customers are already voting with their interest and dollars, learn how to listen.

    Cheers,
    j

  10. 10

    Love this post Avinash!

    Point 1 – This is a pet-peeve of mine. "I don't like the top navigation", "I think the colors on the site are all wrong". You can't possibly expect to be taken seriously if you don't provide data to back up your assertions.

    Point 2 – Love this point. Think through the consequences of your recommendations. What other potential impact might they have beyond your siloed view of conversions.

    Point 3 – I have been carrying the data-driven flag at my organization for a little while now and I truly believe it is the ONLY way to present recommendations with credibility, and get the attention of HiPPOs.

    Point 4 – Providing context around your recommendations provides clarity to your audience. How you present is almost as important as what you present.

    Point 5 – Absolutely love your idea of providing at least one "non-obvious" recommendation and you get points for not using the term "out of the box" :) This one I'll definitely fold into my current approach.

    Great reference to SEO considerations. When I work on recommendations I always draw on my SEO experience and I find it's a great jumping-off point for web analytics recommendations.

    Thanks for another great post Avinash!

    Let's all try to be a little sweeter today :)

    I've been carrying the "data-driven" flag for a little while now and trying to persuade all of my colleagues to do the same.

    I went through a similar exercise as this when our agency was pitching to a prospect and I was asked to "take a look at the prospect's website and tell me where the opportunities exist for optimization".

    Here are some of the steps and tools I used in my analysis:

    The tools I used were Google Insights for Search, Google Trends for Websites, R

  11. 11

    Thanks Avinash for excellent post!!

    For somebody like me who is just diving into the world of web analytics and insights, yours is a great blog to start. I have been searching some good free visualization tools. Can you suggest some good ones?

    Thanks,
    VJ

  12. 12
    Ben Myers says:

    I think the answer to how to improve a website always starts with asking the right questions. Those questions should always revolve around:

    1) What is the goal of the site?
    2) What are the goals of the person responsible for the site?

    After establishing finding these two answers, you'll not only understand the website better, but also why your recommendations are or are not implemented.

    Also: Always base recommendations on data. Otherwise, your opinions are no better than the average commenter.

  13. 13
    Kevin says:

    On point one, I actually started out a conversation asking them to repeat out loud (rather incredulously, I might add) how much they paid for a website.

    Needless to say, i was "offering an opinion" without technically saying it.

    And, also needless to say, I didn't get that work.

    I think we all need to put the "analysis" back in web analytics from time to time. We need to remember that their are ugly sights that convert well, and then there are flawlessly designed sites that can't sell anything to anyone.

    In your scholarship contest (which I'm ashamed to say I didn't enter) it certainly would have been wise to look at Compete and Google Trends data.

    The next question becomes: "What's your conversion rate for key goals?", which I know your respondents weren't able to ask.

    But if we know an e-commerce site generally converts at 2 to 3%, the Compete data can tell us baseline for number of orders per month, and I suspect that if you look at where their Free Shipping break is, you'll get an idea on average order size :)

    So, I guess that's how I would have approached your contest, and I think your observations about how we should act as analysts is pretty much dead on. There will be an occasional client that wants to check ego at the door, but that's hard to do, no matter how much you want your business to improve.

  14. 14

    It's good to hear that you got a lot of responses to your competition. I hope the person who was offered the scholarship finds the stuff that they learn really useful and one day tries to become the new Avinash :)

    To avoid option 1, someone relatively famous (was it you Avinash?) suggested that you should show the site to your mother and then a couple of other people to get some opinions. We did something similar in our organisation, which was to get everyone to go out and find two friends who may or may not have used the site and then interview them (we provided the questions) so that we could find out how they'd like to use the site. Every person then had to feed back. The results were good for two reasons – firstly it meant that everyone got that other opinion of being an end user. Secondly we got loads of 'free' research out of it.

    Thanks again for sharing your insights.

    Alec

    PS I'm slightly worried my name is forever going to be associated with Acne and Poison now :)

  15. 15
    Sri PV says:

    Recently we had our website analyzed by a professional analysis guru, he did a tremendous job. But if I recollect it now probably didn't understand, what our website stands for or what were trying to solve.

    Three things which worked for me so Far :

    E commerce Site:
    - If you go to the product page and like how is priced or looks and decided to order it. So you click on the order button, The order page should have more relevant products on it to increase your sales value

    - The customer should at all times able to figure out where exactly he is on the order process. For instance he added everything to the shopping cart and the credit card details. But typed in a wrong zipcode, most of the customers will just click on the arrow to avoid the whole process. If your developers Java Script is not the greatest it gives a blank page and cannot go back error. The customer gets frustrated calls the company wasting your time and his.

    I would quickly look at the companies logo and how it would matching the industry competition, the tag line how it would make a difference to the customer.

    Avinash thanks for an amazing post, I had to pitch-in a client last week for Quote. He was so sure that his site is doing great with design, only thing he would need is little optimization and more search volume. As you said Avinash unless we give him numbers of what he's missing he would not agree to hire you.

    If you were me and the site design is almost 20 years old with duplicate content no content at all, what would you do ?

  16. 16
    Nelson Yuen says:

    A great post for fledgling/aspiring analysts like myself. I find translating and communicating actionable insights more difficult that actually identifying the problems and insights inside the data sets.

  17. 17

    LOL, all of us who submitted an entry to the Market Motive contest have been publicly chastised by the master himself!! Seriously, none of us included data? Ouch!

    Let's all take the lesson in stride and be better for it :-)

  18. 18
    dhiraj says:

    A real eye opening article. Thanks for explaining this topic in such a nice way.

  19. 19
    Santosh Sonawale says:

    You did it again Avinash…. A very pensively written & well explained post.

    Its very easy to understand data but difficult to explain the things in Web Analytics & I am sure this post will help the professionals like me a to overcome this issue.

    After reading your each post I always feels like I have just dived in deep Web Analytics Ocean & have become more knowledgeable & confident about Analytics. Make us dive deeper & deeper.

    Thank you…. :)

  20. 20
    Josh Braaten says:

    Another great post, as always, Avinash. I'm kicking myself that I didn't get a chance to submit an entry. If you ever wanted to just GIVE away some Market Motive scholarships, I'd be thrilled to accept :)

    In those rare cases where one cannot hold in their opinion, there's only one Jakob Nielsen and only one Avinash Kaushik, so the particular technique of sharing credentials may not be as effective for the rest of us.

    I find that using OTHER folks' credentials works just as well. For example, I've used Dr. Pete's (who I see commented above – Hi Pete!) Usability Checklist on several occasions to leverage his credentials and knowledge for issues I come up against. Same with blog posts I find here. Even if you're not an expert, it doesn't prevent you from researching and sharing the findings of "real live" experts.

    Best regards, as always!

  21. 21
    Mitch says:

    This was nice and thorough and refreshing. You told people exactly how they should help instead of criticizing based on personal choice; not a lot of people who know how to do things like that. I hope some folks learn from these examples.

    And I hope I end up getting one of those 4 aces hands at the casino Saturday night as well. lol

  22. 22
    Joe Teixeira says:

    Usually I'm doing impromptu analysis because I have a call with a new client or a client that I haven't spoken to yet. So what I try to incorporate is the human element – get to know the person. I try to imagine what it would be like if I were them (where they live, what their tasks are, what POS laptop they must use, what HiPPO(s) they answer to, etc…) and it just seems that everything else starts falling into place after that.

    It's almost a customer service thing. In fact it is a customer service thing. That's one thing that I see missing a lot now a days – there are web analytics gurus by the pound and anyone can look at a site for 5 minutes and pick out what they don't like and hate and what should be instantly removed. But you have to theoretically walk a mile in a site owner's shoes or your client first. There's probably a reason that 40% of their homepage is a giant AdSense ad and that you have to enter in your promo code twice during the ecommerce system.

    Get to know the person(s) involved first before spewing out opinions, is what I like to say and do. Then throw in everything you covered Avinash and what the other commenters have talked about too.

    P.S. When I went to Google Insights for Search and I compared "acne" and "poison" without applying any of the filters on the right-hand side, I saw some pretty steady pulses for both terms (acne consistently gets search on while poison dips late in the year but always comes back strong after that). After applying the filters (Web Search, United States, last 90 days, All Categories), poison has a huge increase on April 24th which helped push the search term poison over the edge against acne. But it's not poison as in poison ivy, it's poison as in Bret Michaels who went in to the ICU that day. Every rose has it's thron and every segment has it's nugget of info :)

  23. 23
    Adine says:

    I always learn from your posts and appreciate your openness. I love that you included "be sweet." It's not often that people think that way or stop to remind others when they have their attention. As valuable as all of the information in the post is, I found the most value and joy in #4. Thanks Avinash!

  24. 24

    Jason: One of the hardest lessons I had to learn in my journey was to "de-personalize" the analysis. If there is an ounce of me in it then I know that I'll lose (especially with HiPPO's). Hence my love for customer and competitor data. Let me use that to add two voices even the biggest HiPPO can't argue with!

    Shilo: You are absolutely right about how web data consumption is getting democratized (or as some would say: fragmented). In your company if you have made progress towards getting a wider range of people involved in using data then you truly deserve our admiration. Way to go!

    John: Love the acronym! :)

    My new mantra (per your comment): Analysts: Test. Poke. Prod. Discover!!

    Vijay: There are some visualizations connected to vendors, for example I love these two created by Juice Analytics which work with Google Analytics:

    Referrer Flow, Keyword Trees

    I absolutely adore Wordle to look at data for keywords and campaigns, there no better way look at the long tail of your data:

    Wordle

    Finally Stephane Hamel had a really nice post recently where he shared a nice dashboard he has created, with nice visualizations. The lovely thing is that Stephane's dashboard has been "turbocharged" by Tatvic using their Google Analytics Excel Plugin. So now you can take a nice dashboard, pre-created, and simply apply it to your web analytics data automatically!

    Excel dashboard with data visualizations

    Hope this helps.

    Andrew: Thanks for the detailed feedback and your tips as well! [In case you are reading this... part of your comment was chopped off, if you want to email me the rest of your comment I'll be happy to add it. Thanks.]

    Sri: To your question… if the site is really old then one way to start to rethink it might be to collect user feedback using a free survey like 4Q or other alternatives so that customers can help you reinvent the site.

    With regards to duplicate content I would seek to educate them using the SEO guide book (linked to in the post) about the best guidance from search engines and emphasize how much harm can come from not treating that right.

    Joe: Absolutely awesome advice to walk in the shoes of the customer to truly look at things with very fresh eyes. If you are a consultant then it also helps to walk in the shoes of the site owner (the client), because it helps one see a bigger picture and get the context they need.

    Sweet analysis of the Acne – Poison story! :)

    -Avinash.

  25. 25

    I like #4
    Always, always, always state what you think the Objectives are.
    Not only it happens to quickly that contributors to a website loose the focus on the objectives, also the HIPPO's tempt to fall into this trap.

    Therefore I'd like to emphasize on:

    1. What you think the purpose of the website is. 2. What you think the site is solving for.

    Thanks for the useful post!

    Claude

  26. 26
    Brian Chiou says:

    Great post and the contest fits my image of what you teach, even though I'm smacking myself for having missed the opportunity to have my "analytic" work read over by you.

    The image of this contest really fit the one point you've taught your readers. That is to simply start so that you can fail faster. Even though the contestants did not have swathes of data to access (which is arguable, Google Trends – Compete.com – Quantcast – etc.), you have forced them to use their creativity to start the process of helping these businesses improve their website.

    To answer the questions you have asked.

    My first approach when asked to analyze a site is to think about what type of website it is. Is it a lead conversion site? Retail / E-commerce ? etc. While sussing out that information, I'll mock up 2-3 fake personas with names and a fake user experience. From there, I dive into creating micro/macro goals for the website.

    The two techniques I've used that work for me is stated above :

    1. Decide what type of website it is.
    2. Wear different hats of what you think their website audience is.

    If either one or both of the above are incorrect when reviewing this with a HiPPo, it'll get them thinking and hopefully guide you in the correct direction. From there, we're able to confirm which micro/macro goals we've created are indeed correct goals.

    Not sure if you'd recommend doing this. But, I always think it's important within a consulting role to not be afraid to ask a question you think your client would know better than you.

    When improving a website, knowing the business is extremely important and in most cases the point of contact who works with you on the website knows some key information to make your life as an analyst MUCH nicer.

  27. 27
    Rituraj says:

    Dear Avinash Kaushik,

    All given points are wonderful. Personal hypothesis with out causes or reasons can backfire you badly.

    I usually make reports for my clients about digital marketing ROI. I love to work with Data.

    One important thing I wish to share with you. When you analyse about Ad on website, Its good to use spy fu. This exposes all ad and income of a website. Even a worth or change in worth in website can be seen in this.

    Once again Thanks for sharing treasure of knowledge.

  28. 28

    The idea of open-ended questions is a particularly important one and probably can't be stressed enough.

    In the law, those are really the only ones you're allowed to ask if you're directly examining a witness (usually this is your own witness or at least one that you want supporting you). Answers are suggested (Isn't it true, that on the night of the 15th ….?) to the other side's witnesses, but not to yours.

    You want your guy to talk, to open up comfortably and let it all hang out (usually). Particularly if you're representing a plaintiff in a tort case. You want things to kind of sneak in (And then my back started hurting me …. and then I was unable to lift a laundry basket …..).

    This is also a good tactic for any type of requirements gathering, or really any other situation (such as this one) where you want an open and (relatively) unvarnished opinion.

    You want them to talk.
    It's not about you, it's about them.
    Listen.
    Listen.
    Listen.

  29. 29
    Tommy says:

    Hi i have an question, i like to read your blog mate, but can you help? i need to write an conclusion about an Google Analytics Traffic -> New Visits vs Returning ;/ i struggling with that. can you help ?

  30. 30

    Thanks Avinash, another brilliant and helpful post.

  31. 31
    Ryan says:

    Insightful post, thank you.

    Only comment I have playing devils advocate for the submissions is that there was a one page limit (which makes sense for time reasons!).

    Certainly doesn't exclude the ability to create responses with the data as you suggested but then again, maybe there wasn't enough room and given the nature of your status and this blog perhaps it was an assumed constraint.

  32. 32

    Ryan: Devil's advocacy is always welcome on my blog!

    You are right that you can't do everything I said and perhaps still fit it on a page.

    The restriction was on presentation of the analysis, not the data you would collect. So it would be quite possible to just pick three or four things from the recommendation and then present your insights in one page. I am sure they would have fit.

    But overall the submissions were good. I could see that most people put their heart into it, applied good thought. My hope in the post was to just share some tips to help them kick it up a notch.

    Thanks for adding your feedback!

    Avinash.

  33. 33
    Vishal says:

    I have a job interview tomorrow. I have 3 years of experience in seo and bit of a/b and multi variate testing. Needed something really quick and basic to evaluate a companies website and give some recommendations. Your post really came in handy..I THINK IT WAS JUST WRITTEN FOR ME.
    God bless.

  34. 34
    Ashesh Bharadwaj says:

    Avinash,

    I regularly read your posts. Some I understand fully some I do not (Due to lack of my current knowledge, I will keep coming back to read them again and again).

    What I love about your posts is the energy shot they put in my brain. Right from the beginning till the end of your post, it is a roller-coaster ride for my brain.

    This particular post compelled me to write a comment (I am sorry for being lazy) out of the gratitude.

    You teach us such valuable lesson, which are mostly applicale to any walk of life. As a matter of fact this post could have been aobut how to give an advice to a person on an issue rather website and most of the things said above would hold true.

  35. 35
    Abby says:

    Great article!

    I am a fairly new follower of yours! But love all your posts so far! Very informative but written in an easy to understand style.

    Not only do you provide great insight for day to day job you are also greatly helping with revision for forthcoming IDM Digital marketing exams!!

  36. 36
    Jennifer Merritt says:

    Fantastic for both website analysis and composition. Building a website with this analysis in mind makes a better built site.

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