Back to School With Analytics

It’s back-to-school season all across the country, which got me thinking about just how important education is to analytics success. Because Web analytics is a fast-moving subject that evolves constantly, analytics practitioners must do a little homework to keep up with industry standards, best practices and technology advancements.But analytics leaders must also serve as teachers, educating a range of internal stakeholders and external partners, on the value of analytics, why it’s important and how it can help achieve unique business goals.

No matter where your organization is on the analytics maturity spectrum, there is always room to learn more or try a few new techniques. If your analytics practice is relatively new, then you’ll want to start with the fundamentals. If your organization has been at it a while, you’ll want to keep steadily progressing toward advanced, “grad school” levels, like applying predictive analytics and regularly conducting multivariate testing programs.

Let’s look at few curriculum options for analytics education:

Educate Business Owners: The first lesson is to educate business unit and product managers about the information that is being shared with them, and train them how to use various analytics tools. Huge, textbook-sized reports full of traffic data and user behavior that are presented with no context will not help business executives make better decisions. In fact, they may simply cause confusion and frustration. For instance, traffic data should always be compared to last year’s, last quarter’s or last month’s, or to competitors’ sites. Spikes or dips should be explained in terms of the effects of seasonal buying cycles or campaigns. Dumping raw data on a few people’s desks is not effective analytics. Instead, reports to executives should always provide insights and recommendations on what, if any, action should be taken to improve current performance.

Depending on the organization, it may be necessary to have a full “vocabulary” lesson, with terms like page views, unique visitors and session length carefully defined. Further, executives should be taught how these various metrics relate to each other and align to core business goals.

Executive teams that don’t fully understand the metrics or how analytics works may rush into counterproductive actions. The executive team at one large media company hit a level of frustration that you never want to see when they were constantly being provided reports from two supposedly reliable sources covering ostensibly the same information. The company’s page views and unique visitors weren’t even close to matching. Which set of numbers was correct? Did someone make an error pulling the data? Or is the tracking system broken? Who else reviews these numbers? Those were just of few of the questions the executives asked. And only one had an easy answer: “No sir, the tracking system is not broken.”

The reality was that the two sources were each valid in its own way – how’s that for an ugly answer to an executive team? – because they used two very different methods for tracking what were essentially the same metrics. Their numbers were never going to match. One set of data was produced from the site analytics tool and the other was from a third party using a panel measurement methodology. (This is a longstanding challenge in analytics, and one which even industry standards won’t likely solve anytime soon, as we discuss here.) Needless to say, the analytics team had to spend some time educating the executives on the differences between the two sources, how to use and interpret the results, and when to communicate using one source over another.

Educate Internal & External Partners: Beyond the business managers who consume analytics data, other internal stakeholders may need some education. Risk management and chief security officers will want to know that analytics data is protected and that software tools are clean and safe. The legal department will have input on the privacy policy and all information conveyed to users. All of these folks will benefit from understanding that it’s possible to build strong, targeted visitor experiences without sacrificing privacy or data security.

With external partners – like ad agencies, graphic design teams and technology vendors – you’ll need to cover core strategies of the business and specific objectives of online properties or campaigns. Highly sensitive brands may want to conduct formal onboarding for all their vendors, covering core values and all contractual requirements.

Analytics companies may need to facilitate sessions between software companies and the internal IT department. With more robust analytics software on the market today, there are ample opportunities to integrate with core systems and share data. The goal is to give everyone the information they need for smooth, low-risk deployment.

Educate Yourself: Analytics leaders must educate themselves if they hope to be credible educators for these other stakeholders. So what should you study?

Think about analytics like one big current events course. You simply have to keep up. Last quarter’s leading-edge practices become this quarter’s industry standards become next quarter’s outmoded ways of working. The rapid advances in technology also require extra homework for companies that want to get the full value from their investments.

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