How to cut through the noise to get useful data

There’s an old adage in digital: you can’t manage what you don’t measure. Having built multiple digital businesses over the years, I know this has only become more true with every passing year. Analytics platforms provide almost microscopic insight into every aspect of your business, website or app, and savvy CEOs know how to leverage this new wealth of data into smart decisions.

But while digital analytics can show you exactly what your website or app users are doing, it doesn’t always tell you why they’re doing something. Data, while powerful, only provides us with half the story.

If you want to ensure you learn the right lessons for your digital data, it’s vital to see the full picture. It starts with understanding which numbers you need to know, and which you can leave to your marketing team.

Cutting through the noise

You could easily spend a few hours a day pouring over incredibly useful data points like bounce rate on important pages or tracking your social media referrals by channel, but that can easily distract you from numbers that actually impact the bottom line.

While CEOs and business owners don’t need to be neck-deep in analytics on a daily basis, they do need to be aware of the story their data is telling. There are a few vital metrics that every leader should keep in mind:

  • Conversion Rate (goals per unique sessions) — The number of people who bought an item, downloaded an important whitepaper or sent a contact form per total user sessions.
  • Goal Value — The value to your company of all those people converting on your website or app.
  • Average Order Value — The average dollar-amount spent per purchase, particularly important for ecommerce platforms.
  • Cost Per Acquisition — The cost of an individual conversion spread across your total marketing spend to track the performance and cost of each acquisition channel.
  • Abandonment — Track where potential customers fall out of your sales funnel and how many are lost at each step.

There’s plenty of noise in big data, so it’s vital to focus on what matters. These numbers make it easy to realize where digital experiences can be improved, but numbers alone don’t tell you how improvements can be made. You need to focus on how numbers impact your customers.

Numbers aren’t people

When you’re heads down in Analytics, it’s easy to lose sight that those Visitors, Pageviews and Unique Sessions aren’t just pieces of data. They’re actual people, customers. They’re visiting your website to solve a problem, and you may or may not be helping them with that. Quantitative data like analytics show you where people enter your site, how they progress through content and if they ultimately convert.

To make true sense of that data, you need to know far more about your customers: their buying cycles, their lifestyles and behaviors.

When you’re building a media plan, writing content or optimizing your website, you can’t build a solution for 50,000 monthly visitors. You need to build a solution that targets specific user types at specific levels of your sales funnel.

Website analytics only show the past

While data can help you identify trends and shape predictive models, it ultimately provides a snapshot of historical data. And as any business owner knows, past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Gathering real-time user feedback and talking with actual customers is the only way to give context to your analytics data. This qualitative data helps truly understand data trends to help you respond before the data even reveals there is a problem.

Geoff Wilson is the president and founder of 352 Inc. and an evangelist for his Barely Manage to Lead philosophy, using agile teams to drive iterative growth. 352 is a digital product development agency specializing in product strategy, user experience design, custom web development and digital marketing.