Data are useless

…without analysis

That might seem a little bit dramatic, but its true.  In the truest sense, data are the basic raw numbers that underlie things.  Without context, they are worthless.  Here are some data:

19, 15, 34, 13, 17, 25, 22

That’s not going to be very helpful to anyone.  Sure you can do things with it, but unless you know what the context of the data is, any transformations you make won’t have any more value than the initial list of numbers.  Once you have some context for the data, it becomes somewhat more valuable.  It becomes information.  Let’s say that the list of numbers above are the number of visitors to a website a seven days.

With some context to the data, we can start to do something with it:

We know that the average number of visits per day is 20.7, and that there was a big spike on Wednesday:

That to be honest, is just about all you can do with this limited dataset.  It triggers some questions:

  • What happened on Wednesday to cause the increase?
  • Is this week typical?
  • Where did the visitors come from?
  • What did they look at on the website?
  • How long did they stay for?

I remember seeing Google Analytics for the first time about 5 years ago.  At the time, services like AWStat and Hitcounter were about the best you could hope for – some people still rely on a hit counter – and the limit of analysis that you could perform on a very limited data set was crippling to any kind of campaign optimisation.

Of course, you could always trawl through the log files for hours, but this really wouldn’t tell you anything other than the fact that you really needed to get out more.

Marketers, should always want to know more about their customers in order to ensure that they can improve products and targeting, and analytics helps to do this.  We can find trends, uncover keywords that trigger conversions, and follow the path through a website that offers least resistance.

Connecting Online with In Real Life

However, no matter how effective your online analytics are, the biggest challenge is to tie in this information to the real world.  Analytics still lacks context, still lacks any anchor to what customer motivation really is.

There  has long been a trend in online marketing to follow the rabbit hole of analytics through to its conclusion, but the fact is, that unless there is a way of tying this data into actual customers, you will always be looking for more context, and no matter how comprehensive the data your cookie captures as the visitor makes their way through the site, you cannot see what the difference between the 5% of customers who reached the website using “keyword 1” and bought something, and the 95% who didn’t.

The benefit of social media integration into the DNA of any online marketing activity is that it allows you to know more about your prospects before they arrive at the website, and prequalify them.    Rather than looking at conversion as the final point in the user graph, you need to look deeper into your data to find out who converted, and then look back at why they converted.

A lot of businesses have analytics that stops at the point of sale and doesn’t track through to the customer information within their database, however if you can bridge this gap and correlate the exact user and their exact purchases with the keyword that they entered the website for, you can then find out more about them online.  By looking at Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, phone books and so on you can find out a lot about people – how old they are, what their other interests are, where they work, what they do.

When you find common factors in your customers, you can then go back and look for more of the same, tailoring the message that they see in the search results, or through advertising to their demographic using Facebook – essentially chasing them as hard as possible.