Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Importance of the Unimportance of Analytics

It is incredibly easy to be sucked into data and analytics. It is fascinating how much information exists, and how readily you can get your hands on it. Whether you have Google Analytics on your blog or you are using Twitter or Facebook analytics as well, information about the performance of your website and your readers is constantly being collected and stored for you to continually pore over, wondering why that last post didn't just take off like the H1N1 virus. My recommendation on that front? Stop. Stop looking and obsessing over the data. Instead, develop a methodology for utilizing the data that keeps you from obsessing over every lost Twitter follower.

Set a Schedule

Do not check your Feedburner stats or Google Analytics every day. In fact, I would say check the statistics maybe once a month. Minute fluctuations in data are going to happen daily, and worrying about each individual post or follower or subscriber or whatever will drive you completely bonkers. It is important to check the data for the next couple of reasons, but start with the idea that you will not let yourself get sucked into checking it every single day, or worse, refreshing every hour or more to just "see if things got better" because it just doesn't self-correct that fast.

Understand Your Baseline

Do not obsess over everyone that unfriends you on Facebook or stops subscribing to your blog via RSS. Don't try to hunt down every Twitter follower who dropped you off her feed. That is not your goal with analytics and data. What you really want to do is understand what is happening from a trending perspective, and that means understanding your baseline. What's a baseline? That's your "normal" performance. Perhaps your blog normally pulls about 30 views a day on a first post. That's a good baseline. Your efforts should then focus on how to increase that, not on a daily basis, but overall. That way you can stay focused on broader activities like creating better content or finding a way to get posts in front of more followers.

Limit Variables

If you are trying to grow rapidly, this can be hard, as there is a tendency to throw everything including the kitchen sink and the pans soaking in it at the internet and try to see what sticks. Unless you have a very very sophisticated click campaign tracking system, this method can cause you some headaches. What if you all of a sudden quadrupled your daily hits? Was it the Facebook ads? The headline changes? The heavy Twitter push? The content itself? Luck? It can be difficult to determine the cause of a particular result if there are several changes being made that all effect the process. When you limit your variables to one or two, you may end up with a slightly better product.

Observe Trends, Not Spikes

It is easy to see that the one post you had on creating maple bacon pickle popsicles in your freezer had a giant spike in traffic, but have you seen it consistently? The spikes or crashes may give you a good sense of which posts have some interesting hook to them. What they don't do is show you the trending over time that can help you understand the directional view of the data as opposed to the individual data points. Go into any analytics with a question of, "What can I learn about my entire base of readers/followers/friends/etc.?" Your objective is stealth recon on your tribe, not cyberstalking individuals who may have joined and left. 

This is all harder to do than it seems. Data is sexy and alluring and offers promise of telling you everything you need to know to garner one billion followers and half the Internet swearing fealty to you. Ignore that promise. Instead, look at data as a means to an ends. A way to show changes over time. A macro-skill rather than a micro-skill. ANd avoid getting sucked in. You can slowly death spiral into obsession playing this game.

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