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Analyzing Analytics

I started working with website analytics back in 2004. At the time our company’s online efforts were very rudimentary. Basically they consisted of a simple website, dabbling in pay-per-click advertising, and that was about it. We also had a very small team in Marketing. There was really only me, my boss, and one other person working in a different location. As a result, all the web stuff basically fell on to me, as far as content creation and maintenance, but I had very little influence in the visual aspect or strategic objectives of the site. Those factors were, of course, determined by the ‘higher-ups’ at the time.

We’d also had a change in the company name in the previous 12 months, so naturally there were some drastic changes in the online presence of the company. All the search engine rankings we had built up under the old company name basically disappeared when we went to the new domain name and site. Incoming leads through the website fell off significantly. It was almost as if the whole thing was starting from scratch. Sure, we had the benefit of the old domains referring traffic, but it just wasn’t performing the way people had become accustomed to.

The problem was that there was no data to compare against. No historical performance on any web metrics, not even basic traffic counts. Nobody knew where the problem was, or what to do about it. Then, during one particularly beneficial web browsing session, I stumbled upon the WebCEO site. I was immediately intrigued, although naturally a bit skeptical. Since they had a free trial there was no reason NOT to try it, so we fired it up and checked out what it could do.

The results were dramatic. Using the SEO section of the program, we were able to get our rankings on all the most important keywords to hit top-5, and many other secondary terms had us consistently on the first page of all the search engines. The traffic also shot up within the first 6 months. Within a year, we’d easily doubled the monthly traffic compared to what we were getting that first month, and it continued to grow.

For a long time, that was it. WebCEO served us well in those first few years, but eventually things started to plateau. The company had changed, too. I was now the Marketing Manager, with my own staff and a new set of objectives for the future, many of them web-related and focusing on what could be done to grow our web presence. Now, the economy going in to the toilet didn’t help anybody, but we suspected that there might be other factors at work that were limiting the growth we were so used to.

First thing we realized was that it was time for a complete overhaul. Not simply a facelift or a fresh coat of paint, but a total rebuild. So we did. Brand new site, much more elegant navigation and significantly improved layout. In addition, we started to look again at what we were doing with our analytics. More specifically, what we weren’t doing. We had the numbers, but had no context to put them in to. Our site had Xnumber of hits? Well, that’s great, but what does that mean? Are we overachieving or underachieving?

The Canadian Marketing Association Conference 2010 provided an answer, but would it be THE answer? Not sure, but Google Analytics appeared very enticing given our situation. A new way to look at the numbers? That sounded pretty good, and Avinash Kaushik‘s presentation at that conference just helped to convince us that there was a lot more we could be mining from that data.

So, a couple of months later and we’re swimming in a sea of new numbers. The question now: Can we provide the kind of information that our business can use to make some positive changes? Finding the metrics to determine if you’ve designed a good site is relatively easy. But finding metrics that the accounting team can use, or the production team can use, or the engineering team can use, or the customer service team can use? Therein lies the rub.

Website analytics has moved far beyond ‘improving the website’ and is now becoming a key factor in ‘improving the business’. My new objective: Prove that to the rest of the company.