A Google Guru's Tips for Web Analytics
Search Engine Strategies '10: Avinash Kaushik's four tips for making your metrics matter.
Posted Mar 30, 2010
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NEW YORK — Avinash Kaushik is skilled at using data to make his case.

There was the time, for example, when the Google analytics evangelist and cofounder of Market Motive had to build a compelling case to convince his boss — ahem, wife — of the importance of his late-night blogging jags. Applying a hypothetical value to each of his blog's 36,000 subscribers, he quantified the potential monthly revenue of his efforts: $26,210. However theoretical the sum, it nevertheless painted a picture the boss could visualize.

No surprise, then, that when Kaushik took the stage at the recent Search Engine Strategies event here, he immediately began to preach about the wonders behind numbers and how to get data and analytics to truly mean something.

Common sense, Kaushik told the audience, is critical within the often-frustrating and complicated world of Web analytics and search engine optimization. "Search requires us to rethink our beliefs in marketing and influencing and showing up at the point of relevance," he said, before sharing with the crowd the following four "tricks of the trade" for making analytics actionable.

1. Visualize and interpret.
Pointing to a complex Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, Kaushik noted that when most of us think about Web analytics we think of rows upon rows of data. Once you begin trying to consume hundred of rows of data, he said, you're likely ingesting quality information from just the top 10 rows. The reality, Kaushik stressed, is that people come to Web sites in a multitude of ways, via hundreds — even thousands — of different keyword combinations.

Visitors to Kaushik's own blog, for instance, arrive via 20,000 different keyword searches -- too many, he told the crowd, to enable him to glean any insight. "Most [optimization] strategies are so horrible because they are so obsessed with 10 rows of data," Kaushik said. The trick is turning a massive amount of data into something manageable. What matters most isn't the particular tool you use for Web analytics, but your segmentation and focus.

Rather than forcing your brain to do more work than it's capable of, Kaushik recommended the following methods, enabling you to "look at tons of data…all in one screen": 

  • Hypothesis testing: Drilling down allows you to create, say, a filter showing keywords that generate a conversion rate of 25 percent of higher. When filtering the 20,000 keywords that bring people to his own blog, for instance, Kaushik found that only 340 keywords met that criterion. "These are the keywords I want to make love to," he joked. "I should build a shrine around them." 

  • Tag clouds: Another great way to visualize data, tag clouds let you easily reaffirm that your search-engine optimization strategy is working. Equally important, Kaushik added, is the ability of a tag cloud to tell you if you're missing your end goal.
  • Keyword trees: This third visualization mechanism can communicate keyword trends and reveal what keywords your customers aren't searching. "The trees help you visualize data and find trends and patterns by showing you — by size — how many people come through the keywords," Kaushik explained.

2. Focus on outcomes.

Kaushik said that when he visits various companies -- both big and small -- the common complaint is, "I don't have the resources I need." Often there's not enough money available for a "real" Web analyst or fancy software. "But most of the time they're focusing on…useless things that aren't that important," Kaushik said — page views, for example, or visit time, just to name a pair. "If you want to change the way people around you think about the Web," he said, "[outcomes] are what you need to focus on." Look beyond the basics — the conversion rates, the transactions, the average order value — and make sure your boss is getting the metrics that matter most to her.

Kaushik, for example, successfully communicated his blogging goals to his wife with a single metric: To achieve long-term relationships with his readers, he told her, he needed to motivate them to sign up for the blog's RSS feed. "You want to talk to people in language and numbers that actually mean something to them," Kaushik said. "It's important to have goals — whether they're around macro- or microconversions." Ultimately, he reminded the crowd, you should be asking, "What's my Web site for?"

3. Think "long tail."

"You need to think about search strategy a lot more expansively," Kaushik insisted. "People who come on the long tail use more key phrases — and these are also connected to your category, not your brand." In other words, pay attention to keyword strings.

Searchers who aren't after a specific brand are what Kaushik called "impression virgins." They don't know what they want — you have to guide them and then be relevant when it counts.

4. Make "intelligent" attributions.

It's easy to identify a marketing campaign that's successful overall, but when customers arrive through multiple channels, divining the ideal path to purchase becomes unclear. Amid all the talk of mixed-media approaches to marketing, Kaushik warned, you still have to get the basics right.

There's a notion, Kaushik added, that site designers can find a pattern in past clicks and create a model to replicate that pattern. "That is fatally flawed," he said. There are too many holes in the process and in the applied rules to completely and accurately identify the "right" set of clicks and keywords. In the end, he said, the question you want to answer is, "In this model, what mix will produce the best return on investment?"

As in any successful relationship -- including those with bosses and spouses -- the solution requires practice and patience.

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