Because of the commerce side of things, the web has given us the most measurable form of communication ever. Print, television, the telephone, all pale in comparison. Because we can sell things online, really smart people have come up with ways to track everything that happens on the internet. Everything.
It started with tangible, black and white metrics- how many people visit your website, where they came from, what words they used to find you, how long they stayed. Hard facts. You can measure everything about the way people use your website. You can track the path of a visitor’s cursor to measure how their attention flows through your content. You can track where they click and if they follow the path you want them to take through your site (track them through your funnel).
Because of the shift to a more social web, the shift in online measurement has moved to more abstract metrics like reach, influence and sentiment. Really smart people have built tools that have started to be able to measure these things with increasing accuracy.
So if you can measure all of these things, mostly for free, why aren’t more companies doing it?
The answer, I suspect, is because it’s hard. It’s hard the way math is hard. Actually, it’s hard because math is hard. It’s also not an exact science. Things that should add up to equal each other, often don’t. The inexactness (word?) throws people off. Business owners are used to math like financial accounting. For every credit there is a debit, and if they don’t add up, the numbers are wrong. Someone screwed up.
Analytics is not like accounting. Web analytics are more like statistics. The actual numbers are not as important as the story they tell. Are the numbers going up or down? Are these shifts gradual or sharp? Like statistics, they can also be skewed to tell a story the storyteller wants you to hear.
I feel bad for a lot businesses out there. They know that the old ways of marketing are dying, and they have a general understanding that the internet provides an opportunity to connect with current and potential customers like never before. They know that they are falling behind, but even hiring an “expert” is not easy. Just ask J.C. Penny or Overstock.com.
So what’s a business to do? Homework. There is no way around this one. You go into this blind, you get what you deserve. Like EVERYTHING, you have to have at least a general understanding to make good choices. And if it seems to good to be true, it is. Talk to a consultant that guarantees a top spot, page 1 google rank? Quickly show them the door.
Want to learn more about analytics or SEO?
My favorite blog for learning about web analytics and measuring online activity is Occam’s Razor by Avinash Kaushik.
My favorite resource for keeping up with best practices for search engine optimization is SEOmoz. Need a place to start? Read their Beginner’s Guide To SEO. You can read it online, or they will trade you a PDF for your email address. It’s a good trade.
In carpentry, they say measure twice, cut once. On the internet, if you measure once, you’ll never want to stop.
photo credit: aussiegall