Revolt Of The Report Monkeys

Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted.

                - Albert Einstein


You've worked hard to let people in your organization know that there is this great tool called Web analytics that can give them great intelligence about the workings of the Web site, great leaps forward in optimizing campaign ROI and great insight into the hearts and minds of the marketplace. They appear interested, but only a handful reach out to ask for data. And what do they want? Hits reports. You become the person that cranks out reports instead of the person who provides valuable insights.

 Adam Hodge, responsible for National Marketing and Communications at the Australian Red Cross Blood Service, lays it on the line: "We currently provide a myriad of Web effectiveness reports to our board, and I am sure that 90% of them are not really that valuable. However, knowing which 10% to keep and what to discard is the hurdle I face. We have engaged several different external consultants to assist in this task -- and each and every one has a different (and seemingly logical) take on the issue. This has resulted in what I consider to be management over-reporting."

The less we know, the more time we spend interpreting what meager details we can extract from the systems we run. We started out with precious little log file data about what the Web server was doing and hoped that more data would be more revealing. But now, Web analytics tools crank out more reports than can be imagined.

There is a wonderful story in a book called "Keeping Score: Using the Right Metrics to Drive World-Class Performance" by Mark Graham Brown about the new head of an overburdened financial reporting department who stopped the delivery of all reports for a week. This resulted in a very few phone calls from a small number of managers asking for a modest handful of reports.

In my role as a Web metrics consultant, I spend a great deal of time explaining what *can* be measured, so that the advertising and marketing department, the customer service managers, and yes, even the board can decide what *should* be measured. It all boils down to what they consider "success."

If you're running an ecommerce site, the goal is sales. Everything that contributes to more and better transactions should be measured. If you own an advertising-supported content site, the goal is more pages viewed by more of the sort of people your advertisers want to reach.

The Red Cross site may have many goals:

            Increase brand image

            Provide emergency information

            Recruit employees

            Solicit donations of time, talent and legal tender


The fundamental metrics that help in all of the above are the ones you already know and love:

            Number of Visits

            Duration of Visit

            Depth of Visit



            Application Interaction

            Ease of Navigation


These are the kind of reports that end up in multi-colored charts and graphs stuck to cubicle walls and summarily ignored. Management over-reporting is a very common ailment.

So it's time to look ask how the advertising and marketing department, the customer service managers, and yes, even the board determine whether they are successful? Start with a specific goal, any goal, and work backward.

The manager responsible for monetary donations will set an average monthly contribution amount as the baseline. She will alter her direct mail, print and broadcast campaigns and look for an increase in the number of site visits. She will change the landing pages on the site to see if she can positively impact the number of people who click through to the donations page. She will alter the copy on the donations page to see if she can increase the number and size of gifts.

The board is only interested in the number of visitors to your site if it results in _______. You'll have to ask them to fill in the blank. Without specific goals, those innumerable reports are only interesting if they include anomalies and exception alerts.

If asked for a hits report, wear your curiosity hat and ask why they want to know. How will these numbers help them do their job? What business problem are they trying to solve? How can you help them achieve their goals? Suddenly, you are a strategic business consultant and no longer a report monkey.
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