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5 First Steps to Effective Analytics

“Where do we start?”

That’s by far the most common question people ask when they first consider Web analytics. The obvious right answer is “That depends on what you’re trying to do, where you are today, your industry, competitive positioning, etc., etc.” But since that’s not the most actionable answer in the world, here are five relatively easy, non-intimidating ways to start harnessing the power of Web Analytics.

1. Synchronize strategy and operations.

Amazingly, many companies never take the time to complete this fundamental task. Knowing your high-level strategy and specific objectives for each of your online properties will ensure you capture the right data and analyze it in the most fruitful way.

For instance, ad campaigns for customer acquisition will be measured differently than those focused on Web site registration. Similarly, if the main goal of your site is to process basic customer service tasks, you can use analytics to ensure the user experience is optimally user-friendly. A site that is meant to serve the brand will look and feel different and be measured differently, too.

It’s worth capturing the link between strategy and operations in a formalized master plan or matrix, which is shared with all stakeholders and used to guide decision making.

2.  Solve a mystery.

Let’s say you have a lot of raw user and traffic data you’re your sites and campaigns, spend more time crunching the numbers and running it through various analytics scenarios.

For instance, do you know where your traffic is coming from, by segment? And which traffic sources are the most valuable?

You can run similarly detailed analyses of creative executions and placements to determine which are the most effective relative bigger-picture goals around user engagement or click-through rates and sales.

3. Find something to test.

Similar to #2, a “test and learn” approach is a real hallmark of effective Web analytics. The good news is, testing and learning are relatively easy and cost-effective, and you can do it almost anywhere – with existing sites and popular search engines, Facebook, Twitter, iPhone apps.

What should you test? A basic A/B comparison of different home page treatments can give quantifiable evidence over which is more effective in terms of “stickiness” or driving desirable behaviors. You could test a small community outreach campaign on social media sites or a few different keywords.

The results will give you some basic insight into the impact of different variables, but may also uncover hidden and valuable opportunities.

4. Experiment with tools and technology.

There are many wonderful tools and applications for analytics on the market today, and it’s impossible to say which is the best for you.

It’s realistic to expect that you’ll use a combination of tools. So, what better way to get started than to experiment to learn about the unique capabilities of each?

You may start with “freeware” tools from Google, or work with “beta” applications from other providers. You might see how effectively they link with your current systems, your hosting platforms, preferred ad networks and the like.

We firmly believe analytics is not mainly about the technology, though of course it’s an important ingredient. But applying “test and learn” thinking to some low-cost tools may allow your organization to see a few important Analytics principles in action.

5. Get off the sidelines.

When it comes to successful analytics programs, the most important thing is to just do something. What you do is almost less important (though 1-4 above would be our recommendations).

For some organizations, there is still plenty to do in developing basic strategies or optimizing current properties. Other companies may want to start by forming leadership and stakeholder team or engaging agencies and consultants.

By “just doing it,” companies can build momentum. Plus, analytics will be with us for a very long time to come, and so the sooner your company starts tto address it, the sooner you’ll develop true expertise in it.

The issue of where to start with analytics reminds us of the early days of the Web, when businesses were asking, “What do we do with the Internet?” Some moved faster than others of course. There are many potential right answers of course, but the big idea is that firms should start moving with purpose to find them.