Digital Marketing
Apr. 28, 2014

The Case Against Analytics

You’re on Michigan Avenue during rush hour on a weekday.

You are standing in the middle of hoards of people that walk the same path ten times a week, to and from work. They go to their jobs at Tribune Tower, the Wrigley Building, and scurry off to the skyscrapers overlooking the Chicago River. One morning, you start handing out $10 bills with a card that contains a pithy explanation of your company.

You start a conversation, introduce yourself, and ask them how their day is going. You engage them and ask them to give you a call if they find themselves in need of your product in the future. What do you think the odds are that they would remember you when it’s time to make a purchase?

Stay with me for a second.

Google Analytics Live DisplayThis is a screen shot of a live Google Analytics feed. Most of you have seen this page (or a page like this) before. The numbers represent how many people are hitting your site as a specific time, what pages they are visiting, and how long they are staying there, among other interactions.

Now imagine each of these people hitting your website are the same people walking up to you on Michigan Avenue and taking the $10 bill from your hand.

Which method is most effective?

Let’s say you invested $120,000 into your new website. The average lifespan of a website is about 36 months, but for purposes of this explanation let’s say we’re looking at a year’s worth of data. During your website’s first year you average 1,000 site visitors a month. Each of these site visitors can be assigned a dollar amount - $10 to be exact. When you look at it this way, it’s clear to see that your site visitors are expenses.

So what are you doing to engage these website visitors to convert them into qualified opportunities and customers?

Are you doing anything more than handing them a $10 bill and sending them on their way?

Last week we hosted our April @DUO event, Clicks, Conversions, and the Numbers Your Website Craves. I teamed up with Mark Royko, Drupal Architect and statistics skeptic, to share our insights on how big data is impacting web development and inbound marketing alike. 

The Case Against AnalyticsWe put up this slide and there was an audible gasp. I could read the confusion on attendee’s faces. Wait, I came here to learn more about analytics. What do you mean the case against analytics?

Of course this isn’t what we really mean. This statement is hyperbolic. Analytics are a crucial part of your website but they are only as valuable as the context in which they are interpreted. And we see the misinterpretation or misuse of analytics scenario all the time.

What are we doing wrong?

Instead of focusing on meaningful metrics (more on this to come) we’re focused on SEO, ornamentation posing as design, and the bells and whistles of digital marketing, like A/B Testing. Let me be clear, none of these things are bad and in the right context they can do wondrous things for your website. But this isn’t where we should begin our venture into building an effective website.

So, what should we be focusing on?

Building websites that convert. Take a step back. A big, long step. Ask yourself this very simple question: Why am I building a website? If you can’t easily come up with an answer, you have a bit of a problem. If you can’t define why you are building it in the first place, how can you expect your site visitors to know what to do when they get there?

How do I start?

When it comes to “doing analytics”, the functionalities of these different technologies are almost limitless. Want to know how many people visited your site? How long they were there? Where did they enter and where did they go next? Where they live? Whose couch they were sitting on when they searched you?

I’m getting carried away but it’s the truth! We have the ability to track people in downright creepy ways. I have the ability to watch you navigate each page of my site. But don’t get fixated on all of these numbers (site visitors/time on page/pages per visit). Sometimes, focusing in on granular pieces of information can be just as inconclusive as looking at nothing at all.

Instead start focusing on your conversion rates.

Incorporating conversion goals into a website from the beginning helps you:

  • Define a content strategy
  • Dictate the look and feel of your site
  • Define meaningful metrics

There are five types of conversion-driven websites and every single website should fall into one of these categories. They might be hybrids of 2 or 3 types but you need to be able to focus on the primary function of your site and what you want it to accomplish before you build it.

  • eCommerce – Sales
  • Lead Generation – collect user info
  • Content publishing – increase ad revenue
  • Support site – help people find information
  • Branding – build product awareness

Each page, panel, and section of your site should meet one of these goals listed above.

I’d like to amend our case against analytics and rephrase it as the case for the proper use of analytics. When you look at these numbers in the right context, you can justify the scope of your website and ensure that your website is built for success.  


I work for the Federal Highway Administration and our website promotes the use of innovations to reduce the time it takes to delivery highway projects. Since we promote a variety of innovations our website falls mostly in the category of "support site". We help people find new solutions to deliverying transportation projects largely through sharing case studies and success stories. Can you elaborate on what you would consider "proper analytics/conversion goals for this type of website and give examples of meaningful metrics? We already track site visitors/time on page/pages per visit.

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