How would you explain web analytics?

By Jason Burby | February 13, 2007

On the Web Analytics Yahoo Group, an interesting topic came up recently: “How would you explain what is Web analytics to your 6 year old nephew?”

After thinking about it and reviewing a few responses, it got me thinking. First of all, why does a six year old care?

I called my five-year-old son (five and a half, if you ask him) into my office and gave it a try. Though I couldn’t get him to put down his Disney “Cars” toy he was playing with, I did get a few moments of his time. I pulled up a Web site dedicated to the “Cars” movie and took a stab at explaining it. I asked him if he thought it would be cool to know where all the kids clicked on the Web site, where they went, and what they looked at. And then based on what most people liked, we could make it easier for him (the potential customer) to find what he wanted. He said, “Yeah, I like the games that are on there.” Knowing that Disney wants kids to play the games, get excided about the “Cars” brand, and buy more DVDs, I tried to explain what Disney wants him to do. My little test was somewhat successful.

What I found was that five and six years olds don’t care at all. But marketers who often have about as much experience with Web analytics as a five year old do care. This is in no way an insult to marketing people; they typically know a ton about marketing, but analytics is something new. And they’re often very interested in how it can help their businesses. But too often, Web analytics is intimidating to a new person — understanding common definitions, the tool lingo, and so on. Web analytics really isn’t that hard to understand, we just make it that way. By “we,” I mean the entire Web analytics industry — including all the tool providers.

We make Web analytics far too complicated and tech-y. When talking with people in your organization, really simplify it. Highlight the most important thing: the value, what you can do with the insight to change your business.

The Web Analytics Association defines Web analytics as “the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of Internet data for the purposes of understanding and optimizing Web usage.”

Here are two posts I like from the discussion:

* Jim Sterne wrote, “Web analytics is one of the ways you measure how well your website is working. Like the speedometer on your car. That usually works on my wife’s friends, just before their eyes glaze over.”

* Lars Johansson added, “Here you go: ‘I’m the 007 of cyberspace. I’m on a mission to make life easier for the good guys (called converters) and turn the bad guys (called non-converters or abandoners) into good guys (converters).’ Now your nephew will think you’re really cool.”

Obviously, there’s no right or wrong answer on this one. It all depends on your message’s audience (just like your Web site). But to get people to understand it and get excited about it, you want to focus on:

* Make explanations simple.

* Tie the description to how it can help them be more successful with their jobs.

* Share examples of how it can be used.

* Avoid Web analytics terminology and the details.

* Focus on the action that can be taken from the data, not the data itself.

I ended up losing my laptop for a few hours once my oldest son found the games on the “Cars” Web site. I didn’t get him all that excited about Web analytics, but it reminded me of the importance of staying away from the industry techno-babble that all too often is shared and once again focusing on how the data and insight can be used to improve the overall business.

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Jason Burby is the director of Web analytics for ZAAZ, a Web business consultancy implementing data-driven business initiatives for long-term clients across the U.S. Using performance scorecards, A/B testing, tool reconfiguration and other techniques, Jason helps companies better use Web analytics datato improve site business results.

He’s worked with Washington Mutual, Wachovia, T-Mobile, Converse, Alaska Airlines, Microsoft, Sprint, Levi Strauss, Qwest and A&E Television Networks. Jason speaks frequently at conferences and seminars helping spread the word on the effective use of Web analytics. In addition he is the co-chair of the Metrics/KPI committee of the Web Analytics Association.