You need to strike the balance between driving blind and missing the forest for the trees.
When it comes to being analytics-minded, our customers over the years have run the gamut from being hyper-focused on the day-to-day data and being totally oblivious to it. As results-oriented designers, developers, and marketers, we recognize the value of data. We want our designs to appeal to audiences and guide them toward certain behaviors. We want our tools to be intuitive and user-friendly. And we want our marketing to yield the kind of dividends that will justify its existence.
However, being truly results-oriented means striking a balance between watching the data and doing the work that will move the needle. The more time you spend observing the less time you spend doing, but if you only do and never look around you, you may not get to where you wanted to go.
We’ve come up with various tools and methods over the years to help guide our marketing strategy, from our monthly reports to our annual CLAs. But one thing we haven’t addressed head-on is how frequently these analytics should be checked. The answer will vary based on the customer, but here are a few factors we keep in mind when we check in on analytics for our clients.
1. How big is your organization?
Generally speaking, large organizations will generate more traffic than small ones, but this isn’t a direct comparison. A large B2C business will have more traffic than a large B2B business, but a large B2B business may have less traffic than a medium-sized B2C business. In general, B2C sites get more activity than B2B, as do non-profits.
That said, more traffic on your site doesn’t necessarily mean you have to watch it more. The danger of being too glued to the numbers is that there’s a lot of noise that can skew your impression of what’s going on with your site. The more traffic you have, the more you should keep an eye on it just in case something unusual happens. But there are more important factors than mere size or traffic volume.
2. How well do you understand the norm?
Speaking of noise, do you even know what normal user behavior looks like on your site? How about site traffic? Have you taken the time to set a baseline against which you can measure your marketing efforts, or are you just reacting to new information without understanding the context?
There’s a reason we compare date in our monthly marketing reports against the same data set from the previous year. Those year-over numbers will filter out seasonal fluctuation and give us a better sense of how things have shifted. Even then, we sometimes have to filter out random traffic spikes, which happen periodically. Again, you have to be able to recognize what is noise in the system so you don’t build an entire strategy on inaccurate information. However, you also need to understand the baseline so you can measure how much it changes when you start taking action.
3. Are you running a major promotion?
Here’s some examples of what “taking action” looks like: You’re in the middle of a major sale. You’re about to send out a major press release. You’re getting ready to announce a new product through your marketing newsletter. These are all cases where your actions are about to have a direct affect on the traffic to your site. When these events are taking place, then it makes more sense to watch your numbers.
Keep in mind, though, what you’re mostly looking for is a sign that something has gone wrong—your site crashing or a link not working, for instance. These are intervention points where you can step in and right the ship before too much damage is done.
This is not the time to start trying to roll out a sudden redesign of your home page. Instead, remember that you are in data gathering mode, and that data will gather itself without you watching it. You want to collect a report and then learn what you can for the outcomes so that you can adjust before next time.
4. How much content are you generating?
Are you the New York Times? Then you’re probably glued to every post and ever update, trying to find what’s resonating with audiences so that you can build off that interest with more content.
Are you… I dunno… Microsoft?
I’m not even sure Microsoft runs a blog, or how frequently they make press releases. They certainly don’t pop up in my news feed as much as many of the other tech giants, so I’m going to assume they aren’t out there, drumming up PR every day. On a smaller scale, many of the businesses we work with aren’t either. They’re publishing a monthly content piece—some more, some less—and splitting the rest of their time on other marketing deliverables.
The point is, while content is important to grow your organic traffic, most content takes a while to rank. Unless you have an audience camped on your blog, breath bated for every update, then you probably don’t need to be glued to the screen, monitoring each update.
5. How quickly can you respond to data insights?
Finally, it does no good to obsess over data if you aren’t in a position to act on it. In fact, you’ll probably just drive yourself crazy over all the things you could be doing, if only you were able.
Because of this here is the balance I would recommend:
- First, determine how much data you need to filter out the noise so that you don’t trick yourself into responding to false signals.
- Then, look at your analytics as regularly a you are able to respond to the insights you learn.
- If you are missing opportunities because you’re not responsive enough, put more resources toward responding to those opportunities.
- If you’re not seeing the traction you want on your site, put more resources into generating the traction that will grow your opportunities.
Time spent tracking your analytics is time not spent accomplishing other, more productive tasks.
For all our clients, it’s important to remember that time is limited. We’re all stuck in a zero-sum game where time spent doing one thing means time not spent doing another. You want to watch your numbers enough to be sure you’re on the right track, and to respond to opportunities as they present themselves.
But ultimately, to see those numbers move in the direction you want, you need to devote more of your resources toward action items and deliverables. A watched pot never boils, and your traffic volume won’t rise just because you’re staring at it. Instead, let it simmer while you get to work producing content. You’ll have a stew going before you know it.