The Biggest Mistake Web Analysts Make… And How To Avoid It!

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

We work very hard. We torture SiteCatalyst. We send out a lot of data. Then we resend it again and again. And yet our work results in very little impact on the business in terms of action taken by company leaders.

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.

My normal recommendation to address this supremely corrosive issue is to encourage each company to go through the process of creating a Digital Marketing and Measurement Model . It is a fantastic five step process that forces the engagement of key stake holders to produce a blueprint of why digital exists in a company, and what it is trying to accomplish.

digital marketing measurement model roles

No touching Google Analytics. No going to web analytics conferences. No tweeting for help.

Just doing the four things, in five steps above, will deliver what we lack… purpose.

1. Why should you come to work?
2. What should the focus of your work be?
3. What level of performance indicates success or failure?
4. What dimensions, if analyzed, will deliver juicy business insights?

Unfortunately a very tiny fraction of companies, or Analysts, want to put in this lifesaving effort up front.

If you fall in the "Analyst unwilling to do the hard work" category, I'm afraid I can't help you.

If you fall into the "Analyst really wanting to do the hard work but does not have the connection to Superiors, or other teams, and looking for any way out to identify business purpose" category. I have a very very simple approach for you to follow. You are going to love it.

But 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.

If you meet the prerequisites, and have a pinch of business savvy, we are together going to change the world!

My recommendation calls for you to take a structured approach and answer five questions. The insightful answers will help you create your own understanding of the purpose of the digital existence. You'll end up creating something very close to the DMMM above.

The result will be an astonishingly high level of focus for your digital analytics work (even on day one) and hyper-relevant insights to the business. That, in turn will simply blow people's mind (relevant insights always do), creating love for you. And love like that is hard to come by. (Conveniently that type of love also translates into a sweet raise. :)

Perhaps I've over-promised. But I'm just so excited about this process and its power to make our professional lives better.

Ready?

In my experience the best teaching happens with real world examples, rather than spouting theory. Hence, I'm going to use Credit Karma as an example to illustrate the process. I don't know anyone at Credit Karma. I'm not an expert in the credit score reporting business. So I'll be just as blind as you might be walking into any business and going through this exercise.

Here are the five questions (plus one special bonus in the end) I/you have to answer to get a very good sense of the business to bring astonishing relevancy to our data analysis:

#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 my first job is to identify what the Macro Conversion is. The single biggest reason for the site's existence.

Luckily except in the case of the most incompetent websites, this is easy to find. In our case it is right there staring us in the face on the home page: Free Daily Credit Card Monitoring!

macro conversion

Just to be sure, since I don't know them at all, I might poke around a few pages to make sure. But usually it is pretty clear.

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! [Disclosure: I'm not affiliated with nor do I know anyone at Credit Karma.]

OK, back to being the business owner.

The next thing to answer this question, and ensure that I'm not a newbie Analyst who will only focus on 2% of the business success, I have to figure out the Micro Conversions.

To do this you'll 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, I found all these valuable Micro Conversions:

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).

And, I can't stress this enough, you are not just looking at 2% of business success, you are looking at 100%.

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.

Don't open Google Analytics or Yahoo Web Analytics yet! We have more work to do…

#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. My method for doing that 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 various links and pages yields the answers I'm looking for.

content areas

For me, as a lay person and not a credit score industry veteran, the most important section would be /learning. 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). I 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.

The other sections I found valuable, using the framework outlined in the questions above, were: /help/howitworks (no one would sign up without looking at this page, we have to A/B and MVT test this to the max), /tools (this creates a great affinity for the brand, even if people don't sign up) and of course /creditcards (if they don't sign up, let's at least get an affiliate click :).

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.

Awesome, right?

#3. How smart is their digital marketing strategy?

If you are a regular reader of this blog you know how deeply fond I am of the Acquisition, Behavior, Outcomes framework. We covered Outcomes with the first question and behavior with the second. Now it's time for acquisition.

What I try to probe, without talking to anyone at the company, is how savvy the company is in digital marketing. I'm also trying to figure out all the places they might be doing advertising. I want to know if they have even a simplistic understanding of how to rock social media.

traffic sources overview google analytics

Here's my process for doing that…

~ Visit www.google.com (or Baidu in China, Yandex in Russia etc). Run a bunch of search queries with the intent of looking for the company's products and services. I'll do 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.).

I 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.

~ Visit sites like (in this specific case) Yahoo! News/Finance to see if I get display ads when I read articles or stories about credit cards, credit scores etc. Do the same with some of the top sites I can think of related to the industry (brokerage sites, financially savvy consumer sites, etc). Finally, checkout at least a couple of blogs relevant to the topic.

I'm trying to see if I bump into my 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 I see any promoted videos in the results (to control the message)? Do I discover 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 I do believe that 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.

Do they 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 I'm also checking is if they have the +1 button on their 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.

All this goes into creating starting points for what I'll do when I get into the web analytics tool. Will I analyze Search first or Campaigns? Will I focus more on referring sources or social traffic first? Will I measure the value of YouTube first or Display ads?

Additionally the above investigation also gives me a set of insights I can deliver to my CxOs. 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 my own digital marketing sophistication (earning respect from my Senior Leaders).

Bonus: In the digital marketing savvy section I've also started to pull out my Samsung Galaxy Tab and Nexus S to preview the mobile and tablet experience of the company. If it stinks that tells me a lot (remember the year of mobile was 2010!). I'll also run a couple of quick searches on Google or Yandex or Baidu to see how the landing pages look on my mobile phone and tablet.

Super Bonus: Only for the most passionate amongst you… run a quick query in the iTunes App Store and the Android Market to see if the business exists there in the form of an application. If yes, download it. Play with it. Download some competitor offerings.

Most companies that are on the bleeding edge of digital marketing savvy are leveraging Google, Yahoo!, Email Marketing, Blog ads, Social channels AND mobile experiences AND mobile applications. 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 www.compete.com (if they are US-based with primarily US-based traffic) or Google Trends for Websites . And in five seconds I'll end up with a graph that looks like this:

credit karma competitive analysis

The above data is from Compete. I've included not just the data for Credit Karma, but also for two relevant competitors, freescore.com and myfico.com.

Initially I was wow-ed by the spike in the blue line (Credit Karma), that is quite spectacular. But then I see that it might be an industry thing, as the competitor spiked as well. Good context.

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

Now, I better understand visitor acquisition.

Time to understand a bit more about the visitors themselves. My BFF? Google/DoubleClick AdPlanner , perhaps the largest source of demographic and psychographic data out there.

freescore.com demographic data

The above data is for freescore.com. I 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 AdPlanner I also highly recommend looking 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 of my journey is Google Insights for Search , your direct source for all Google organic search data from across the world. Here I particularly like to look at a metric I call "share of search." How often are people looking for the generic query for the industry, for me (/my company) and for my direct competitors?

Think of it as unaided brand recall

credit karma keyword share of search analysis 1

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.

Is that not simply orgasmic?

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

One final thing.

I look for a low hanging fruit to fix/analyze. Something I can quickly analyze, find insights for and get fixed to show the value of data (and my employment at the company).

Here are some examples of things I consciously 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 my 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:

funnel analysis

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! (I love being aggressive in this case.)

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.

What I love more than anything else is that it forces you to become the Marketer for the couple hours you'll spend on it. It forces you to think like a business owner for that time. It forces you to pull out any UI/UX chops you have.

It is rare that Analysts get to flex those muscles. It is important, though because I don't know of a single Digital Analyst who has become great without flexing those muscles.

And now, my dear, you are ready to log into your web analytics tool!

But before you do that, I have one last parting gift for you…

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

As I'm clicking around I also like to 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).

I do not encourage you to do to this until much, much later, but 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 (as on www.aeropostale.com )? 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.

~ When I click on various external ads (search, display, YouTube), I also 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: http://www.kaushik.net/avinash/?s=segmentation

This would be awesome. 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. My humble attempt at sharing with you everything I know about avoiding the single biggest mistake Digital Analysts/Marketers make: Execute their jobs without a clear business purpose.

If any of the above makes you feel that I hold data secondary and understanding what data is in service of first then I've succeed in my mission with this post.

As always, it's your turn now.

What are the approaches you use to identify business purpose? Do you dive into the data first, and still find insights without doing the above mentioned five investigations? Is there a strategy outlined above that you feel works better than others? What are your favorite low hanging fruits to fix for a digital business?

Please share your recommendations, war stories from the front lines, and feedback via comments.

Thank you.

Comments

  1. 1
    Benoit Arson says:

    Hello Avinash,

    You're right to reaffirm the importance of this process.

    For the first step, I ask a particular question which is very useful to uncover the real purpose of a website.

    What would you not be able to do if your site didn't exist?

    This question forces people to think about what their website allows them to do.

    Benoit
    AT Insight

  2. 2
    Justin says:

    Great post on beginning with the end in mind… and figuring out what the "end" actually is.

    About #3 ("How Smart Is Their Digital Marketing Strategy") do you use online tools like OpenSiteExplorer.com compare their backlinking to the competition, and MixRank.com or WhatRunsWhere.com (no free version :P) to analyze their advertising efforts? Seem like those tools could come in useful for that step.

    A thought: The system you laid out here could be a great one to use for digital analysts looking for work… just do this analysis on a company you want to work with and write up a free report for them – what do you think?

    • 3

      Justin: On your first point, I think I was trying not to get too deep in the first rev. The SEO items I'd highlighted are all very easy to find (and still have a big impact). If it turns out that their performance in step 3 is horrible then I might consider using the wonderful tools you've mention. I just would not go there at the start – just to keep things simple.

      To your second point, it is fantastic idea. I do that before I walk into a company (to give a talk or do consulting etc.). Doing so in a interview type situation would have a huge impact on the company's impression of the candidate!

      Avinash.

    • 5
      Katie Saxon says:

      Just chiming in to agree with Avinash on the job question. When I interviewed for my first job in a shop at 16 I was deliberately left to wonder the shop alone for 10 mins before it started. In the interview I was asked if I'd noticed anything I'd change in the shop display – and they were impressed by the details I pointed out. And that was just for a shop job!

      If you actually want work as an analyst making the effort to do that not only shows drive and commitment but demonstrates clearly that you can do the job. As I guess this means you're job hunting – good luck with it!

  3. 6
    Brad Fry says:

    It's amazing the look you get when you ask people what they want their website to achieve.

    Such a simple question often results in such a blank expression.

  4. 8

    Great stuff, always great stuff. Thanks again. As I've said before, when I grow up I want to be just like you Avinash :)

    I'd like to add that I think it would be interesting to rework these recommendations from the biz analysis, IA, UX, design and development perspective(s). That is, what should be considered upstream as it is going to be gathered and interpreted downstream. How is a website going to become data and then from that pool information that can be used to drive intelligent business decisions? Isn't our purpose ultimately driven by a higher purpose?

    Yes, I understand your primary focus is on Analytics Analysts and not being "a technical implementer or a javascript tagger". However, as they say, "Sh*t flows down stream." There's only so much the guy/gal (i.e., Analyst) at the end of the stream can do to (pardon the pun) cut though the crap. If context is king then should the higher purpose be clearly defined too?

    For example, the answer we assume from Exercise #1 could be off-target. That is, what a site appears to be/do might not be what it is intended to do. Or even worse, what Guests (aka visitors) expect it to do. Does this not continue to still happen all too frequently in 2012? How many pretty but dysfunctional websites are we going to be forced to analyze?

    So while I appreciate the encouragement to be a self-starter, without understanding and participation by those upstream, we can be easily tricked into following false gods, or worse, our purpose becomes more akin to sewage treatment plant.

    Always a pleasure. I hope this comment wasn't too off topic.

  5. 9
    Marat Gaziev says:

    Avinash, thank you for this! I can't stress enough how important the process which you outlined is.

    Just the other day, management outlined that ranking #1 on Google and Bing is a Goal for a website we are about to launch…. I made a point to gather everyone around a printout of your matrix and apply it to our own website. It worked like a charm, we managed to manage expectations, educate the "HIPPOS" ))) as to the priorities and how they relate to our Goals, Objectives, and KPI's.

    So once again thank you for fighting the good fight!!

  6. 10
    Gretchen says:

    I totally agree with Mark – if your implementation is crap, then there's only so much insight you can get out of it.

    My company is finally getting around to fixing its analytics implementation, but in the meantime there's not much you can do when you know that half your pages aren't tagged, cross-domain tracking is not working meaning that all your conversions are coming from "referral = your site," etc. Garbage in, garbage out.

    That being said, parts #1, 2, 4, and 5 of this article can be done without even opening the tool!

    • 11

      Thanks Gretchen.

      And let's not overlook sites that are just crap on the outside too. "My site isn't converting…" Well, duh!?!? We can't put a paper bag over its head, nor can we serve a 12 pack (or beer) to everyone who comes to visit it. :)

      I digress.

  7. 12
    Andy says:

    We work very hard. We torture SiteCatalyst. We send out a lot of data. Then we resend it again and again. And yet our work results in very little impact on the business in terms of action taken by company leaders.

    Totally agree, we are throwing rocks into the brick wall! CEO won’t listen; they only are looking for sales numbers. Treating marketing department guys as the totally waste of money, but this is analytics where they pointing where to go for sales people to have belter sales numbers, etc.

    We constantly have to research and check the analytics numbers this is our job, right? Than us bringing this excellent assets to the company is where most of the people won’t listen and analytics data end up on desk or on the drive. This is where most companies fail to not follow the analytics, trends, or proper marketing.

  8. 13
    Josh Braaten says:

    Call me old-fashioned, but I think Trinity still makes a lot of sense to get at the purpose of a site. Using clickstream data for the what and how much along with some qualitative task completion/satisfaction data on the why is such a strong starting point for any website.

    That's not the extent to which I dig, but I find that either the big issues or the most interesting questions present themselves by starting with the basics.

  9. 14
    Joshua Kotowski says:

    Good post Aninash.

    My brief response overall in regards to some comments and your post is that the purpose of looking at things this way is to make sure there are no issues…in the long run of course. If a site appears to be one thing but is doing another, it's our jobs as analysts is to sit some folks down and say "look here…your site is a bit jacked and not what you want it to be, we need to fix this because if we do you could get $X amount of more revenue for $X amount of less spend on media/marketing once it's fixed, if not you will continue to lose $$$ monthly" and so on an so forth (General I know).

    As far as I am concerned implementation issues are almost always a hurdle, but properly putting things into perspective… with the right people/in the right way… those hurdles are overcome and sometimes quite quickly.

    All these steps can help us eventually get to that type of deep and proper analysis with a site. I know there are a lot of reasons why implementation isn't easily and quickly overcome, but never have I ran into an issue that 'can't' be overcome, re-worked, or adjusted to fit given analysis. The steps in the post make perfect sense.

    Overall like always, love the post and love the comments. I always take away knowledge from both.

    Thanks all!

  10. 15
    Nelson Yuen says:

    #3. How smart is their digital marketing strategy?

    If your company doesn't know 1 & 2 then it probably isn't very smart

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

    A lot of people get winded down by Nielsen, Compete, and other "enterprise" paid tools. I've commented on this blog before about my slight distaste for Compete, but rather than focus the inaccuracies and limitations of paneled data, I encourage everyone to break down your competitive research into definitive outcomes. (Thanks AK.) Don't rely on any ONE tool to guess what your competitor is doing "better" than you. Instead, hone in on the things they actually ARE doing better than you, and scale from there. Try a PPC strat tool to not only identify what kws you should bid on, but also what key words are working for your competitor that you may not have explored. When using a free tool like Alexa or Compete, pair it with Quora to see if their traffic spikes are the result of Social signals. (What good is knowing your competition is getting more visitors if you don't know why?)

    Summary, don't rely on tools to just tell you HOW much better your competition is doing. Use the tools to identify WHAT they are doing that you aren't, and WHY they are doing it.

    • 16

      Nelson: I wish it were true that companies not doing 1& 2 were not very smart. Most companies are very smart, and people in those companies are smart. Sadly due to a lack of structure and a rigorous process the results are less than smart.

      Thanks for adding the tips on other tools. There are certainly many out there. If you get more than 100k visits a month many tools become viable, like Compete, Insights for Search, Trends for Websites etc. Below that number things get a bit dicy – simply not enough signal in all the noise.

      But with competitive intelligence tools it is important to know that you are be comparing rotten apples to rotten apples. Good for trends, but stay away from specifics. :)

      Avinash.

      • 17
        Nelson Yuen says:

        "Most companies are very smart, and people in those companies are smart. Sadly due to a lack of structure and a rigorous process the results are less than smart."

        This is so true… how right you are Avinash.

  11. 18
    Nelson Yuen says:

    Check out this link – SEOMoz lined up some competitive research tools side by side

    seomoz.org/blog/testing-accuracy-visitor-data-alexa-compete-google-trends-quantcast

  12. 19

    Thanks for another great article, Avinash. Do you still like complete.com and if so do you find the commercial account is worthwhile?

    When you wrote your competitive benchmarking article in 2010 the free version of complete.com allowed multiple site traffic comparisons like the one in your article, but today they no longer do so. You can compare sites, but only by downloaded the traffic data manually for each site. The complete.com GUI is much nicer than the other data sources, but I'm thinking if I invest in a tool it should probably be due to quality of data, not how pretty the graphs are.

    Do you have any thoughts?

    Thanks,

    Jason "Retailgeek" Goldberg

    • 20

      Jason: I do find the Compete commercial account to be helpful because I tend to look at large to extra large sized websites. The single is pretty good in those cases, amidst all the noise. The acquisition reports (especially traffic sources treemap report), search drill downs and "next visited" reports are pretty wonderful.

      The limitation of Compete is that it is just US data. With every CI tool it is important to know that 1. It won't "work" if you want to know something about a small site (say less than 100k visits a month) and 2. You should always get the free trial first so that you can separate the wheat from the chaff.

      My other fav alternative to Compete is HitWise which also has a massive sample size and interesting reports. It tends to be expensive, but if you can afford it that might be a choice. Beyond those two things get a bit fiuzzier in terms of quality (for clickstream analysis).

      -Avinash.

  13. 21

    From personal experience in my professional endeavors Avinash has been building on and trying to pound this great processor since at least April of 2010 http://www.kaushik.net/avinash/web-analytics-101-definitions-goals-metrics-kpis-dimensions-targets/#WAMF
    This article looks like the Grandfather of your digital Marketing Measuring tool is not Avinash?
    I may be favoring this a little too much put I can say from experience as a self employed SEO and Analytic professional the creation of the Digital Marketing Measuring tool for each client has aided me in not only to secure clients but to maintain them. I am a true believer in this for all my clients no matter how big or small and believe me Avinash is right that even the big ones continue to miss understand or over look the real purpose of their site first and foremost.

  14. 22

    Fantastic article for those that are starting to learn web analytics…, like myself! ;-)

  15. 23
    peter says:

    Avinash –

    Killer post, if I could only bring you to some of my client meetings as a "hired gun" I would be able to win or push thought many more projects.

    So many smaller businesses avoid taking a hard look at their analytics, and creating a good digital and marketing strategy. Yup, some of it is lack of manpower, although lots of it has to do with allowing for change. Owners are often use to making all of their business decisions and sometimes not good at taking advice outside of their specialized areas, even if it comes FREE.

    Keep up the good work!

    Peter

  16. 24
    Andy says:

    Small business owners are sitting in their comfort zone, and sometimes they are simply overwhelmed with analytics numbers. Slow process in implementation will success, and has to be low budget to start, otherwise they are not interested.

    Another aspect is they not ready for the big changes, more clients, and different strategy so there needs to be many steps climbed before they will follow our advice. Science 2005 we help with SEO for one of the mortgage company, the owner takes advice from analytics and carefully does his promotion campaign, getting leads from internet his broker shop is still in the business.

  17. 25
    Claudia Rodriguez says:

    Thanks Avinash especially this week your post seems to have been written directly to our online marketing team.

    This could not have come at a better time!

  18. 26
    Vijay says:

    Thanks Avinash, you're bang on right that first thing to be made clear is the purpose of the website. These tips are very helpful.

  19. 27

    Loved it. I think I've got to reread your book.

  20. 28
    R says:

    This is the first time I have come across your blog, having recently just paddled in the pool of web analytics I was worried I was going to a) drown in the overwhelming amount of data b) lost where to begin c) how do I begin to understand the data.

    You are a god-send, and the way you articulate your thoughts makes me want to learn analytics and learn it well!

    Thank You Sir o(^_^)o

  21. 29
    Nathan King says:

    When researching where a potential client or competitor has placed online ads, I often check out moat.com.

    Do a search for a few well known brands, such as Citi, and you can see a wealth of information. Common ad sizes might point out which sizes are working best for them.

    You can also see placements, which give you even more data to explore.

  22. 30
    R says:

    Confused Avinash! Where does one start there is so much information on this blog! I need help and fast. Damsel in distress :o But seriously, i'm in a fortunate position where my company has hired a consultant, however my manager is not happy with the level of analysis being conducted as every month all we get presented with is mirror of the numbers presented on analytics! Thus I want to impress my manager and do some awesome analysis which will also reflect my promising future! (I wish to progress and excel in my understanding of analytics). This is a great opportunity, although the pay is not great the experience is on offer. Sometimes I think about leaving but I want to leave by making a difference.

    Should I get your books? They look awfully interesting to. I've had a look at the unmissiable articles but there is a lot there (not that I am complaining!)

    R

    • 31

      R: I'm not quite sure what you are asking for, but let me try to answer…

      If you wanted tips on how to do better analysis this article helps clarify that:

      ~ The Difference Between Web Reporting And Web Analysis

      I would hypothesize that your boss is not looking for reporting, she/he is looking for analysis. Above post tells you how.

      With regards to if you should buy my book Web Analytics 2.0, here's a post that outline what's contained in the book:

      ~ Web Analytics 2.0 Book

      I hope that helps with your decision.

      All the best!

      Avinash.

      • 32
        R says:

        Hello again,

        Thank you for replying! I don't want your head to grow big (but I don't think you are that kind of person) I love your work. So much so I bought both of your books, I was concerned I would be missing out on some awesomeness (watched kung fu panda hence the terms) . And they both arrived today! Thank you Amazon. But after doing some additional reading I discovered you donate your money to charity and a worth cause is the Smile Train. I saw a child in Cairo last couple of years with the cleft problem and it made me so sad. May you be blessed for encouraging this giving.

        One question. There is obviously a lot of ground to cover, with things changing so rapidly on the online frontier it is overwhelming before you even begin. How can you manage this and get so good in the process so that you cannot be ignored?

        What daily rituals/habits do you have to keep you ahead of the game and simply be able to be your best? I look forward to reading about the habits that define Avinash and made him the man he is today!

        P.s. Love the flicker pics, I want to send a picture into!

  23. 33
    Andy says:

    Web Analytics 2.0 Book – Avinash if you paint this book will become an art, but this is the art so I hung on my wall! Great book!

  24. 34
    Ned Kumar says:

    Avinash,

    Another excellent post. While the title might make it sound like this is for practicing web analysts, I have used your advice for folks just getting started in this field as a guide to following the right path to success & fame.

    Also love your response "Most companies are very smart, and people in those companies are smart. Sadly due to a lack of structure and a rigorous process the results are less than smart.". Very true, and part of the structure & process is also a dedicated commitment to support those doing web analytics, and related stuff.

    Also, while your post is written for a web analyst I think some of these fundamental concepts applies to Management as well. Management should ensure that the biz objectives are clear and consistent rather than shifting and/or fleeting priorities that does not help rigorous analysis.

    Thanks again for a truly great read.

    Regards,
    Ned

  25. 35

    Great insight for directing businesses and many other SEO service provider like us. This article help us to more wiser and be better.

    I have also learnt that this could help us and our clients do the right thing to avoid digital mistakes that's happening in the online industry.

  26. 36
    Eric says:

    Believe it or not, the Facebook fan page is becoming an important tool for the web analyst. Whether it is used for tracking Q2 codes or attracting new "likes" it is in ever increasing demand by business owners of all sizes – small to enterprise level.

  27. 37
    Komposit says:

    Thank you for another really great post Avinash.

    I'm really thankful that you share your great insights.

  28. 38
    Sinisa says:

    Thank you for another really great post Avinash.

    Keep up the good work!

  29. 39
    Dmitry says:

    A very in-depth post, thanks!

  30. 40

    This article is a classic/must-read for web analysts.

    I can´t help to read it again from time to time.

    Thank you!

  31. 41

    As always Awesome post Avinash.

    Every post I read on this blog, makes me thirsty for a few more!

  32. 42
    Yaroslav Troshchey says:

    What I really love about this post is the level of detail that you go in to.

    I am guilty for making a few of these mistakes in my day to day job as an internet marketer.

    It really does not help especially when I make such mistakes on a clients account.

    I have always looked for ways to avoid them and its quite interesting to get another perspective on the matter.

    Really, really enjoyed reading this post.

    Definitely earned a regular reader from me :)

  33. 44

    Something as simple as focussing on your purpose…Very easy and effective implementation in analytics and any type of reporting, but it is easily the first thing we miss. Understanding purpose should be the basis of it all! Thanks for the reminder.

Trackbacks

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    He opens his post with this simple idea, “The single biggest mistake web analystys make is working without purpose.”
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