6 Ways Marketers Misunderstand Analytics & Reporting

Tim Holdsworth
Posted by Tim Holdsworth on November 11, 2014

The underlying strength of digital marketing tactics is their measurability. While older marketing approaches—display advertising, broadcast messaging, etc.—relied exclusively on reaching a large exposure audience hoping that a sliver would pay attention, almost every digital tactic can be precisely measured with digital feedback. Take email for example. Unlike direct mail, the technology that enables mass sending also tells you who opens the email, if they take a look at your message, and when they do so. This means there is a rich source of information available that can be used to analyze the performance of your email campaign or any other digital marketing actions you deploy.

The problem is, the more data marketers tend to get, the less they know how to analyze accurately. Misconceptions grow, and soon, you have odd (and largely unuseful) categories like "impressions" appearing in reports meant to show the real sales value of what marketing is doing. If you’re not careful, bad analytics misconceptions can negatively affect how your marketing efforts are perceived and/or lessen their value to your company. Let’s take a look at 6 of the most common problems in this area:

1. Analytics is Just Counting Numbers

Yes, numbers are involved in analytics and counting them up is a step in the process. However, just having a list of the total number of visitors for the past quarter or knowing Facebook is generating 400 visits to your site each month doesn’t do you much good. According to the great definition on Wikipedia, web analytics is the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of web data for purposes of understanding and optimizing web usage. Having numbers compiled is nice, but you have to use them and understand what they’re saying to improve your online marketing initiatives.

2. Analytics is an Automated Process

"Yep, just set up your Google Analytics account — or one with another analytics provider — and you’re all set! The system is now generating analytics for you, so you can just check this item off your to-do list and move on to all those other pesky marketing tasks." 

Um, no.

Sure, you’re now getting data. You also have to do something with that data. Start by documenting the information you feel is really important for you to analyze for your marketing efforts. For example, what web pages are performing well, where are conversions happening, where are conversions not happening, do visitors from social media spend more time on my promoted landing page than visitors from my promotional email or paid ads? Having the key items you want to measure documented will show you adjustments you may need to make to your efforts. You can then measure those adjustments and repeat the cycle.

3. Improving Site Traffic is What Analytics is About

There is a kernel of truth to this misconception: you need the analytics to know if you have traffic to your landing pages or blog content. You want to know how many eyes are seeing your marketing, but using analytics just to improve traffic for traffic’s sake — because larger numbers are impressive — doesn’t make sense for the vast majority of businesses. What’s more important is getting the right people to see your pages and then getting them to take the action(s) you want them to do (i.e., convert). Consequently, you need to use your analytics to help you improve conversions and move those prospects further down the marketing funnel — otherwise you’re wasting your time. After all, it’s the people who convert into customers who will help you pay the bills, not the people who just drop in for a short visit.

4. Analytics Is Hard to Learn / Requires a Specialist

As marketing has shifted away from traditional activities to ones that are digitally focused, analytics is becoming a core skill for most marketers. And given that most B2B companies are tightly staffed, bringing on an analytics specialist probably isn’t a reality. Instead, YOU probably are the specialist — even if you haven’t been told yet (think “other duties as assigned”). Yes, if you’re just getting started with analytics tools and terminology it will probably feel difficult at first, as anything worth doing is. As you gain experience, however, it will become easier and you’ll be an expert in no time.

5. Analytics Tell Why Users Do Things

If it could only be that easy... Analytics will help you understand what people are doing with your online marketing and how they are getting to/working through your site. However, the analytics can’t answer why they are interacting with your content or why they didn’t convert on a particular page. To know these things, you’d have to invest in some serious qualitative research. So, unless you have some serious budget, you can only make assumptions about the ‘why.’ For example, the landing page for your latest eBook offer has 1,000 views, but a 0.2% submission rate. You can’t interview all those page viewers to find out why they did or didn’t take the action you desired. So you have to infer that the submission form asks too many questions or the content just doesn’t resonate with your target audience. You’ll then have to use some educated assumptions for changes and test some variations to see what changes positively impact the numbers.

6. Analytics Will Provide That Magical, Single Performance Number

We all like simplicity, so the idea that analytics can produce a single number that will help drive the success of our marketing is quite a nice notion. Unfortunately, it can’t happen. You can get averages for a number of different metrics (e.g., average time on site), but that average number won’t tell you a whole lot on its own. It has to be put into context and accompanied by other 'average’ numbers for different visitor groups. For example, an average time on site number on its own doesn’t tell you much until you compare the average time on site for organic visitors versus visitors from social media versus visitors from PPC ads. You can then see what the difference may be and then do some additional analysis to determine why.

So, what are you looking for when monitoring marketing analytics? A magical one-unit data point? A end-all be-all path to powerful marketing? That's simply not what analytics is about.

However, if you want to understand your efforts in terms of nuanced, incremental growth, then there's no better way to spend your time than in-depth analytics reporting. Learn more about making your web content more analytically sound by clicking below.


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