What without why is less than half the picture

According to a recent blog post on econsultancy, more than half of businesses (56%) rely exclusively on Google Analytics to measure performance of their website (data taken from a survey of almost 900 digital marketing professionals between April and May 2013).

This brought to mind a post on our blog from nearly four years ago (www.nomensa.com/blog/2009/web-analytics-tell-me-why/). In that article, we put forward the argument that web analytics alone do not give you the full picture of what is happening to visitors to your website. Web analytics show you what users are doing, but not why they are doing it.

Phantom Issues

The 2009 article provides some great illustrations of how analytics alone can produce phantom issues. For example, time spent on the website is a commonly used metric, with people often concluding that the longer the time spent on the website the better. However, it could be that people are spending a long time because they are confused or cannot find what they want. Conversely, it could be the case that people are able to achieve what they want very quickly and hence spend only a short time on the site.

Either way, in this instance a metric showing visitors spending a short time on the website could falsely be seen as an issue.

Complementing Analytics with UX

Analytics does provide a great way to monitor your site on a daily basis and we certainly use it to provide powerful insight in many of our projects. However, analytics alone, whether simple metrics such as time spent on the website or more complex measures, cannot tell you whether your users are having a satisfying experience on your website. To understand why as well as what your visitors are doing, analytics must be complemented by other research techniques.

Web analytics can be used to identify potential problem areas on your website. For example, you changed a form in the checkout process and now your conversion rate has gone down. Or some of your product pages have a much higher bounce rate than others. Or visitors are not clicking on key content on your home page. We often use analytics in just this way – to identify possible problem areas.

Having identified a potential problem using the analytic data, we then use a range of UX techniques to understand whether it is a real problem and, if so, how to fix it. In many cases, usability testing or an expert review helps us to understand exactly why users are leaving a page or dropping out of a journey.

  • If conversion rates have dropped, usability testing can help uncover exactly why users are struggling;
  • If some pages have a higher bounce rate than others, an expert review can help reveal the reasons why;
  • If users are ignoring your homepage content, a survey can help understand what they really want to achieve on your website.

In Summary

The argument that we put forward almost four years ago is more valid than ever – web analytics alone is not enough. The fact that a large number of companies are relying solely on Google Analytics shows that, potentially, there are many digital marketing professionals out there who may well be making poorly informed decisions.

Web analytics is a great tool, but do ensure that you complement it with other techniques to ensure you have the full picture.

Read the full article “Web analytics tell me why“.

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About the Author

Juliet is a Principal UX Consultant at Nomensa, where she is responsible for implementing user experience strategy and services with a focus on the not-for-profit sector. When she's not considering the many facets of user research, Juliet can often be found explaining why cheese doesn't talk, and other life mysteries, to her small daughter.

2 comments

  1. Charles Burrows says:

    Hello Juliet,

    I’m interested which tools you think are most valuable for finding out “why” on the website. For instance, we use iPerceptions (4Q survey) to complement web analytics data. Do you have any favourite tools you use to find out the “why”?

  2. Nomensa says:

    Hi Charles

    Thanks for your question.

    We use a range of methods depending on the problem/s we are trying to understand. We find that working with people either one-to-one or in small groups provides the valuable insights we need to understand their motivations and perceptions.

    Whilst a survey can be a great tool for collecting a lot of data, it often lacks the precision required to understand what is meaningful to an individual and therefore answer the ‘why’. However, we do use surveys and questionnaires where necessary

    So, in short we tend to use good old fashioned observation, listening and mental gymnastics to work out the why.

    HTH

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