Whiteboard Wisdom: The Burden of Data

If you’re an in-house marketer, or a business-owner trying to get real insights out of Google Analytics by yourself, it can be a little overwhelming. Sure, right when you open it up there’s a helpful dashboard of recent traffic sessions, duration, bounce rate, etc.. Those are general reports that are important to everyone who has a website. But when you start clicking under the “reports” section, you can see there are about 100 or so options for types of data to view. Click the “secondary dimension” button under the ubiquitous line chart, and you’ve got about 150 more ways to focus the data. And if that wasn’t enough, click on the “advanced” link next to the search box, and you can start filtering by options specific to the report you are viewing.

This creates a tremendous volume of potential reports. Exponential in fact. Let me do the math for you:

Many * A Lot * Even More = MuchTons

Let’s skip over a deeper explanation of that complex ciphering and talk more about “The Burden of Data,” and how you can make it more manageable.

What’s Important To You

That intro dashboard we already talked about is part of “what’s important to everyone.” But “what’s important to you” is a little different for every site owner. For instance, if you are actually selling products from your site, sales is the critical metric. However, if you are a service-oriented company. then contact form submissions may be the most important thing. What if you are a highly specialized consultant who receives most of your first-contacts from phone calls or emails? Views of your case studies may be the most important thing to you. What if you have a product that you only sell on a third-party site? You care about making sure people are well-informed about your offerings, but in the end you are going to direct them somewhere else. Session duration numbers indicate consumers’ time with your brand. (You would also want to track exits. Maybe we’ll talk about tracking exits some other time.)

These are just a few examples. Your situation may be different still. So think about what you need to know to make decisions about your site. Ask your employees and colleagues what information they would like to know if they could. Select the data that’s important to you. Then, create the custom reports of just that data.

The Next Level

The next level happens when you discover those nuggets that you had no idea were even a thing. But the only way to do that is start digging. You need to go through it all — at least one time. Look around and see what catches your eye. I can’t list out every thing to look at — there’s too much. What I want to impart is how critical thinking comes into play here. Always ask “why?”

A few quick examples:

What is your #1 exit page? Is it also the #1 landing page? Is it a form thank you page? Those answers would be typical. But is it a page you can’t explain? Maybe you should pull it up and take a closer look at it. Are there clear opportunities for users to keep clicking? A clear CTA to fill out that form or buy a product?

What is your users’ platform breakdown? What’s the mobile-tablet-desktop split? What does that divide tell you about your users? Do you have a notable percentage of tablet users? Do a drill-down and see what content tablet users are viewing. Is it different than the other segments? If it’s different content, do you you think the medium is influencing them? How about mobile? Rinse and repeat.

What browsers are your visitors using? A lot of assumptions are made here that visitors are the perfect slice of the entire Internet and that Internet Explorer is dead. That’s rarely true. And Internet Explorer is still going strong in corporate environments, government agencies, and with a generally older demographic. So be sure to keep an eye on this.

The Problem of Persistence

One of the most important aspects of web traffic analysis are trends. Data over time is how you know you are doing the right things in your strategy. However, for as good as Google Analytics is at displaying reports of your data, it doesn’t apply itself well to useful historical views. Yes, you can make custom reports so that you don’t have to keep going in and setting up the views you want. But if you were a Google Analytics expert you probably stopped reading this back at my mathematics.

GA does have many export options. But getting monthly data to export in a format for ongoing review can be challenging. An effective, if not disappointingly manual, way to track your trends is a simple spreadsheet. Determine all the important numbers (for everyone and for you) and then every month go and add the monthly numbers in. Go back as far as you have data for. Trust me. It’s worth it.

A critical aspect of keeping historical views of your data is mapping potential external forces. I was once working for a client and we were seeing good monthly gains. Then, a month yielded very small gains. We were following our plan, and we weren’t sure if it was time to rethink the strategy. However, a look at the previous three years’ spreadsheet revealed that the month in question always had a downtick. So our small growth was actually a tremendous gain in the face of historical dropoffs. Had we not been able to demonstrate that, we may have shifted from a successful plan prematurely. Saved by a simple spreadsheet.


Google Analytics captures enormous amounts of data about the usage of your web properties. Those data can be presented in highly customizable reports and dashboards to make it easier to visualize the numbers. But there is no substitute for external knowledge and thoughtful interpretation of the facts. Choose what’s important to you. Make it usable for you to determine past patterns and current trends. Glean insights. Make decisions based on what you learn.

Don’t be weighed down by the burden of data.

If you feel like you are, reach out us and we can help.