FEATURE: Stop the “Caveman” Web Analytics and Do This

by Jessica Lee, August 24, 2012

Audience: Web marketers

Estimated reading time:  5 minutes


  • Data is just data without context, which turns it into info you can use.
  • Using “out-of-the-box” metrics in analytics tools can lead to tracking and reporting the wrong things.
  • You can completely transform your analytics when you change your approach to them.

At the SES conference last week, we saw emerging themes in Web marketing, many of which centered on turning analytics data into information a business can use. As many of the speakers pointed out, data is just data if you don’t know what to do with it and how to make it work for your campaigns.

The vibe at SES demonstrated the need for more sophisticated tracking and usage of data in everyday marketing. And yes, this applies to both companies big and small, and to every channel you’re actively marketing within.

So, how do you turn regular old data into compelling stories about your online users, their needs and goals?

Context. And asking the right questions.

To further illustrate:

Context: Reports don’t have any meaning without context. If you understand where you’ve been, where you are now and where you’re going, the meaning behind the data emerges.

Questions: Approach your analytics by asking high-level questions about your users. Then, use the data in your reports to help your business answer those questions.

Matt Bailey, author of “Internet Marketing: An Hour a Day” and founder of SiteLogic Marketing presented the “Introduction to Analytics” session at SES conference last week. In his talk, he said you can completely transform your approach to analytics by asking these three questions:

  1. Where did visitors come from?
  2. What did they see?
  3. How did they react?

In this article, we’ll hear more from Matt on those questions and dive a little deeper into the concepts he presented at SES. In the following Q&A, we explore:

  • How businesses should approach analytics.
  • How not to get caught up in the wrong reports.
  • Why the best analysts don’t have a background in the analytics or math.
  • Analytics software Matt can’t live without.

Q&A with “Web Persuasionist” Matt Bailey

On “Caveman” Analytics

Excerpt from Bruce Clay, Inc. coverage of Matt’s SES Presentation:

“Caveman” analytics generates reports like time on site, pageviews, etc. This leads to “Hamster Wheel” analytics — same numbers every month from one report to the next. When people have questions, we don’t have answers.

This is only reporting performance, not if you are meeting business goals. No context means it’s just data. Drop the stuff that takes your time and doesn’t improve your business. Don’t measure time on site if it doesn’t bring you money.

Jessica Lee (SEO Newsletter): So Matt, let’s talk a little more about the symptoms of “Cave Man” analytics, and how a business can shift their misguided, tactical approach to data.
Caveman Analytics
Matt Bailey: That’s exactly the point: too many businesses see a tactical problem — the analytics software — when it’s really a business problem: the strategy. There is an unreasonable expectation that the website will get better, but no one is measuring the things that contribute to success

In fact, that’s the first question you want to ask: What is success for the website?

I’m always surprised by the amount of businesses that have an idea of success, but no idea how to measure it. If there is no answer to what creates success, then there is no measurement – thus “caveman/hamster/copy-paste” analytics thrives.

On Analytics Tools

Excerpt from Bruce Clay, Inc. coverage of Matt’s SES Presentation:

People assume the information they see when they log into analytics is the most important data. It’s not. It’s generic and meant to work for every business. You must make the software work for your business.

Jessica: As you pointed out, part of the problem is how people set up their software, like Google Analytics, to customize it to their business. Most people new to analytics likely have no idea software is an “out of the box” solution. What’s the best way for them to approach deciding which metrics to track?

Matt: That all comes down to goals, and it’s simple:

  • What makes you money? Track it.
  • What leads to you making money? Track it.
  • What things may not make you money immediately, but lead to an action that leads to money? Track it.

Jessica: So, do you recommend using more than one type of analytics software to get what you need, and do you have any favorite tools?

Matt: I recommend using what works best for your business. No analytics software is right for everybody.

When you have your goals defined, along with all of the visitor actions that you need to track, then you set out to find analytics that will enable what you want to accomplish.

I don’t recommend using more than one analytics software. You need to find the one that works best for your business and measures what you need.

There are other analytics products on the market that are simply dynamic compared to the well-known names. For example, there is an analytics product out of France called AT Internet.

I love it so much that we became the first U.S.-based reseller. I can’t imagine doing ecommerce without this analytics product.

On Asking the Right Questions

Excerpt from Bruce Clay, Inc. coverage of Matt’s SES Presentation:

You can transform your analytics strategy by asking:

  1. Where did visitors come from?
  2. What did they see?
  3. How did they react?

Jessica: Can you expand on what this concept would look like in action, Matt?

Matt: Sure. This is a method to help you look at the differences in your visitor behavior (and acquisition strategy) by channel.

  1. Search: Look at things like what term they used, what landing page they saw and was it the most relevant? What did they do? Did they do something different based on another landing page? How did this compare to other words, groups of words and similar words.
  2. Link referral: Which site was the link on and how was the link presented? What page did they see first and was it the most relevant? What was the outcome and how does that compare to visitors from other similar link sources?
  3. Direct traffic: A great way to separate your direct traffic is by where they went. Then attempt to derive an objective to that group of visitors.

You can also use this strategy backwards. Start at the conversion point and then ask: Where did they come from prior to the conversion? What content did they see on the way? Then find common factors.
Matt Bailey.

On the Psychology Behind the Data

“Analytics is about psychology, not math. We observe behavior.”

Jessica: That quote during your presentation resonated with me. Do you think professionals need to have additional skills or traits to be really good at analytics?

Matt: Absolutely. And the more business experience the better. It’s getting harder to be a great analyst, as it’s more than numbers. It’s all about the what, why and how.

What happened? Why? And how do we make more money? You can’t answer that without some level of dealing with people and bringing different viewpoints.

My best analysts have no background in analytics or math. The best thing an analyst can bring is a wide variation of life experiences that enable them to view things differently.

On Getting an Education in Analytics

Jessica: One of the questions from the audience after your presentation was, “Where can beginners go to get an education in analytics?” In your opinion, is it really just a matter of going in and getting your hands dirty, so to speak?

Matt: Nothing replaces the experience you get from doing things wrong. Making mistakes is the best teacher. So get over the fear of breaking things and get to work.

You can learn more about Matt’s company by visiting the SiteLogic website. Connect with Matt on Twitter @MattBaileySays.

Other Resources for Analytics

If you’re just starting out with analytics, there are resources you can draw upon to get up to speed.

Look into:

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