Web Analytics. Who Cares?

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I sort of take pride in the fact that I never spend more than $1,000 on a car. As a result I drive a real beater. Currently (these cars usually last about a year or two tops) the car I drive is a 1990 Volvo wagon. It’s blue, except for the rear door, which is red.

I’m the last owner a car is ever going to have. After me it goes one of three places: American Diabetes Association, Goodnews Garage or Rathe’s Salvage.

I drive junkers and I have been doing so for years. And there are a few things you learn to do if you drive junkers: keep the oil changed and make sure the things you touch work and make sure all the things in the dashboard work. Even the clock (the Volvo’s clock has hands–remember those?).

Sometimes when I ask people how much money they want to spend on a website they come up with a number that is little bit short of what I paid for my Volvo. Most of the time these people want their websites, like my Volvo, to continue functioning for them for years to come.

If you want to make your website work for years to come, you need to know how to work your website and how your website works. The only way to really know how your website is working is to care about the same stuff I care about in order to keep the Volvo running.

Caring about the parts of your website that you touch
Test out everything that is supposed actually work on your website. If you want your website to deliver fresh leads to your website, go to the pages where people are supposed to fill out the forms and test them out.

I was recently asked to look over a real estate agent’s blog and tell her what I thought. She said she wanted to “generate leads.” There was no contact form on her website. There was no phone number on her website. There were a ton of great restaurant reviews, though.

One of the big reasons that websites don’t make good use of web analytics is because their website is broken to begin with. You don’t need web analytics to tell you your website is broken. You can figure that out yourself by giving it an honest test-drive.

Make sure all the things in the dashboard work
You can probably drive a car without the speedometer; just go the same speed as everyone else. You can probably drive your car without a temperature gauge. Just always be using your ears and nose to make sure nothing is burning up.

But driving around without a functional dashboard is harder. It’s slower. It’s riskier. And sooner or later your car is going to stop working because you didn’t know something was wrong.

Web analytics are like that. They let you know if your website is working or if it’s broken. Just like my Volvo, sometimes your website is working and then other times it isn’t working and it isn’t completely obvious why. Web analytics, like the dashboard of my car, let you know that something isn’t working right.

The tricky part is that learning to read your web analytics is maybe a little bit trickier than learning to read the dashboard of your car. Sort of like learning to use the tachometer on a car that’s fancier than my Volvo (which is an automatic — I usually avoid automatics but I took a chance on this one). Once you learn to use a tachometer you can accelerate faster, burn less fuel and generally be in more control of where your car is going.

Guess what happens when you learn to read understand web analytics? You learn how to accelerate the things you want to happen on your website, for less time and money, and you’re generally in better control of online efforts and outcomes.

Changing the oil
If you were to do as I do and buy a car for less than $1,000 and then drive it without making any changes to it ever, your engine would burn up in about five months or less. It would burn up because a car in that price range leaks or burns oil.

Eventually, you’ll be running the engine and there will be nothing to keep all that metal from rubbing together and fusing together into one very giant paperweight that Rathe’s Salvage will gladly collect from you.

Your website’s the same way. You’re going to need to make changes to it over time to keep it operating the way you want. You’re going to need to make changes because people’s needs change. What they were looking for last year might not be what they’re looking for this year. Where they were looking might be changing. All kinds of things change.

You can use your web analytics to help see these changes coming. You learn to watch trends of what they’re looking for when they arrive on your site. You learn to watch trends on how they respond to the messages you’re serving up on the site.

Hopefully, when you notice it isn’t working anymore, you change the oil. You change something on the site to make things better. Your web analytics tells you when to do that and also tells you whether your new thing works.

Fancy cars don’t have it any better
So those are three areas that are important when it comes to making your website work for you. Three areas that are totally enhanced by using web analytics. I’ve been using my janky old Volvo as an example.

You might be driving something far nicer than my Volvo and think that this article doesn’t apply to you. Sorry to say, but it’s even worse for nicer cars. As the complexity of your website or car increases, the finicky monitoring stuff only gets more detailed. You start needing more specialized mechanics and so on.

So start easy, learn some of the basics and use some of the simple tools first. When you first started driving you probably didn’t begin with the tachometer. You probably didn’t even begin with the speedometer. First you had to master the part that told you whether you were in drive, park or reverse.

Do the same with web analytics. Start simple. In my future writings for InmanNext I’m going to go over basic tools and techniques to get you there.