Analytics: Check, Crosscheck and Check Again

It is a great peculiarity that after more than twenty years of existence there is still so much we don’t know about how the web really works and what really goes on. A lot of the developments have been surprising. Even the people who were actually creating the original social media networks had very little clue as to the significance their work would have. For the most part they thought they were doing something cool even if neither did they nor anyone else really understood what they were doing.

The ad hoc informality and general mashableness is one of the the Web’s greatest charms and is of course without doubt allows for all kinds of permutations and possibilities that permit the cross-fertilization of ideas which is the essence of creativity.

All well and good, new ideas lead to creations and not only will there be new ideas born into the Web the Web itself as an environment will have to adapt and change to cater for the changes being wrought within.

With all these new developments and the rapid rate of change one can understand why it is so difficult to actually track data on the Web. None of the services, Google Analytics included, can offer anything like a comprehensive accounting of what happens to data on the Web. Data is only doing things. It is either moving from place to place or it’s not moving. If it is not moving then there we should be able to assume that we have a way of knowing where it is whether it is buried in a database, in an excel spreadsheet or hanging dreamily in the Cloud. If it is moving then we can at least know where it left from and where it arrived and perhaps register a few stops on the way.

Although all data packets are created equal some are more equal than others. One data packet may contain information more significant to a given user than another. For many web users significant information of knowing what is happening on their website in terms of visitors and viewers.

Without doubt the single most powerful tool out there for measuring the performance of one’s website is Google Analytics. It truly is a treasure chest but in a vitally it does not tell you everything you need to know. At Technology Voice it is easy to understand that we would take a very keen interest in how our site is performing and in the quality of the metrics that we use to measure how various articles and blogs are performing.

But quite frankly after three months of detailed examination of various statistics derived from various sources that the whole process of identifying what works and what doesn’t appears to be really nothing more than a black art.

We have learned to divine meaning by comparing aspects of Google Analytics’ comprehensive metrics with data provided more narrowly by bitly, tweetmeme, backtype and so on. Rarely do they tally. But they are inconsistent in a somewhat regular way and after a while it becomes quite easy to determine anomalies and account for them.

During our period of investigation we found that many, many people swear by Google Analytics and use it as their prime data informational tool when making decisions about how to improve their content and their site. That so many people are moving forward on using the same envelope of data may explain why so many sites are so samey and so very dull.

By only looking at one set of parameters instead of the whole picture we have a distorted view. Taking action on this distorted view leads to activities not entirely relevant to what the decision making parties intended, And with everyone using the same set of limited parameters websites across the net become distorted in the same way. Just a few minutes surfing will show the truth of this.

There is also other issues with gathering data without the use of proper checks and balances and the conflicts of interest that may arise for the user. Jenni Cullen from Statcounter says “We also find that our members like to have an independent verification of the stats on their site – many don’t consider it the best idea to rely on an advertiser they spend money with to tell them whether their advertising dollars are well spent or not.”

Our experience has been to double check everything. As great as Google Analytics and as tiresome it is to take the trouble it is extremely advisable to find the analytic apps that are more focused on the area you are looking at and compare results.

We would love to have on analytics tool that would do absolutely everything but given that all software is written by humans and all humans have biases then we probably have no choice but to constantly compare and contrast data and information.

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3 thoughts on “Analytics: Check, Crosscheck and Check Again

  1. “That so many people are moving forward on using the same envelope of data may explain why so many sites are so samey and so very dull…. And with everyone using the same set of limited parameters websites across the net become distorted in the same way. Just a few minutes surfing will show the truth of this.”Can you give a few examples Tom? Are you referring to ‘sameyness’ of content, design, or other?

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  2. And that may be the wonder of the web, it keeps evolving and it can probably mean that we’ll have in the future an analytic that will provide us all essential information we need in checking our websites’ status.

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  3. Great! Just when I thought I saw light at the end of the marketing cost-benefit tunnel, it turns out to be a guy working for the railroad, carrying a candle, giving me the same directions he gave to everyone else!

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