Feeling Like a Report Monkey? How to Educate Your Clients into Savvy Data Consumers

If you're reading this article (which you are), you might fit this profile:

  • You have a razor-sharp analytical mind (and are probably good-looking)
  • You work in web analytics because you believe in the power of web analysis to meaningfully contribute to your organization
  • You would love to provide your clients/bosses with insightful web analytics reports that are used to make important decisions


Your bosses keep asking for vanity metrics – metrics like pageviews and visits (and “hits”!) that look impressive but are meaningless.

Why Vanity Metrics Must Die

Vanity metrics are not only meaningless - because they don’t directly impact business objectives - they’re dangerous, because they can be easily manipulated. (Want to skyrocket “hits” to your website? Just add a few images to every web page!)

But here’s the thing…

You can’t just command your bosses and clients to become more savvy consumers of web analysis…

You have to both educate and persuade them.

In this article I cover a bunch of ways you can do just that.

So if you want to peel off your outer report monkey and expose your inner analysis ninja, keep reading! (And sorry for the gross visual...)

The Difference Between Being a Report Monkey and an Analysis Ninja

If you’re like most web analysts, you’d agree that web analytics is waaaayyy under-utilized in the public sector…

But are you guilty of passively “taking orders” for analytics reports from your clients? Or are you actively trying to bring clients over to “the bright side”?

Let’s take a quick look at what separates Report Monkeys from Analysis Ninjas, before covering some sage and saucy tips for HOW you can get your clients to be savvy data consumers...

Report Monkeys...

  1. 1
    Spend 75% or more of their time creating web analytics reports
  2. 2
    Generate data puke (another gross visual!). This means you: 
  • Produce “high-level” numbers in your reports
  • Get the question “What does this mean?” a lot
  • Create reports that don’t pass the “So what?” test
  • Create reports that don’t mention objectives, goals, or targets
  • Create reports with no context

Analysis Ninjas...

  1. 1
    Spend 75% or more of their time in analysis that delivers actionable insights
  2. 2
    Generate web analysis. This means you:
  • Link data with organizational objectives, goals, and targets
  • Explain (using words!) the business implications of data
  • Identify the best KPIs for client’s goals (not “best practice” KPIs)
  • Complement web analytics data with qualitative data
  • Use savvy visualization to make data engaging
  • Segment!
Avinash Kaushik - Google’s Analytics - Mauricemuise

Avinash Kaushik

Google's Analytics Evangelist 

If you see a data puke then you know you are looking at the result of web reporting, even if it is called a dashboard.

If you see words in English outlining actions that need to be taken, and below the fold you see relevant supporting data, then you are looking at the result of web data analysis.

Avinash gives these two examples of web reporting:

google analytics


bad analytics


And this example of web analysis:

car abandonment analytics


Take a close look at those images. Do you see the difference?

The first image is of a data-dump report, and the second image is of a data-dump dashboard.

The common element? They’re both data dumps! In both cases there is:

  • No interpretation of the data;
  • No explanation of the context; and
  • No identification of actions to be taken

But look at the third image. In that dashboard there is:

  • A summary of the key trends and insights
  • A description of the impact of those trends on the organization
  • Suggested actions/next steps to be taken

The job of web analysis mandates a good understanding of the business priorities, creation of the right custom reports, application of hyper-relevant advanced segments to that data and, finally and most importantly, presentation of your insights and recommended action using the locally spoken language.

Bottom line: apply the “So what?” test.

If any part of your work as an analyst is susceptible to the question “So what?”, then it’s a data dump - web reporting, not web analysis.

4 Tips to Educate Your Clients & Bosses

teacher voice

So you know what good web analysis is. How do you get your clients and bosses to ask for that web analysis, instead of constantly asking for pageviews and “hits”?

Through a combination of education and persuasion.

In this section I cover a few quick tips for educating/nudging your clients toward becoming savvy data consumers. In the next section I cover six proven principles of persuasion that will make your in-house advocacy even more powerful.

  1. 1
    When clients ask for vanity metrics, guide them to their business objectives.

Instead of telling your clients they should be asking for web analytics data that are tied to outcomes, ask them questions that encourage them to think about their organization’s objectives (and how web analytics data can report on progress toward those objectives).

As Avinash Kaushik puts it: “Before you provide the data, ask the requestor what is the business question they are trying to answer. Then fulfill that need.”

Or, put another way: “What problem are you are trying to solve?”

  1. 2
    Proactively show your clients data that is tied to actionable metrics.

(A quick definition of actionable metrics: “…a number that indicates an improvement…and the improvement is directly connected to your organizational online business goal(s).”)

 Once you know the business goals/objectives of an organization (whether that’s a directorate, branch, or other level of your government department), don’t just wait for your clients to ask for web analytics data related to those objectives – give it to them proactively (along with the data they’re asking for, of course).

This tactic is kind of like sneaking vegetables into your kids’ meals (“Hey, while you’re eating that spaghetti, you might as well have some veggies!”)

It also answers a great question that a former boss of mine asked:

“How do you show that web data can answer business questions – or uncover business opportunities?”

You do that by proactively generating the data that is linked to an organization’s target outcomes – then showing it to clients.

  1. 3
    Group metrics into categories.

When you ask clients what they want to measure, sometimes they “don’t know what they don’t know”, so they say “I want to measure everything!”

You can avoid this by, first (as covered in #1), asking clients about their business objectives, then, second, grouping metrics into categories to start the discussion. Grouping metrics into categories will encourage your clients to think above the level of vanity metrics like pageviews.

How you group metrics can flow from the priorities of your organization, or you can use the framework I’ve developed for measuring the performance of your web presence (i.e. group your metrics into these categories: Needs, Awareness, Access, Knowledge, Efficiency, Effectiveness, Economy, and Satisfaction).

  1. 4
    Provide example reports to verify requirements.

Once you’ve nailed down some metrics for your clients, run the reports for those metrics and present them to clients, to confirm that this is what they need.

When you present initial metrics to clients, it’s a great moment to have a discussion about tying metrics to outcomes, and nudge them closer to a performance measurement mindset.

6 Principles to Persuade Your Clients & Bosses

How to Influence Clients

Don’t do this when trying to persuade your boss. Source

Now, maybe you don’t need to educate your clients and bosses as much as you need to persuade them to use web analytics better. Well, it just so happens there’s a framework for that!

The framework I’m talking about is psychologist Robert Cialdini’s six principles of persuasion (which were introduced in Cialdini’s classic book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion)

The six principles are below. In the sections that follow I provide suggestions for how to use them to get your clients and bosses onside:

  1. 1
    Social proof
  2. 2
  3. 3
    Commitment and consistency
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6

Principal of Persuasion #1: Social Proof

Principal of Persuasion #1: Social Proof

(Note: Cialdini now calls this principle “Consensus”, but I think the original name - “social proof” – is still more fitting.)

This principle relies on the power of popularity to motivate behavior.

Simply put, the Social Proof principle means “rather than relying on our own ability to persuade others, we can point to what many others are already doing, especially many similar others.  

How to Use the Social Proof Principle:

  • Point to other groups that are doing good web analysis (not web reporting).

Can you show your clients and bosses other public sector groups that are using web analysis to achieve their organization’s goals? If you can show that other people are doing it, you have a much more persuasive argument.

Here are some groups that are working on digital service delivery:

  • Have in-house conferences. 

Are there groups within your organization that are using web analysis to achieve their objectives (or even in the process of setting up a good web analysis process)? If so, showcase their work in a half-day in-house conference.

Principal of Persuasion #2: Authority

hello i am boss

This principle means that people follow the lead of others who they perceive as powerful or in positions of authority.

Sometimes this human instinct can result in frightening outcomes.

Ever hear of the Milgram obedience study? In that classic study, psychologist Stanley Milgram tested how far people would go in following the instructions of an authority figure. Participants were divided into "teachers" and "learners", with the teachers instructed to administer an increasingly severe electric shock every time the learner answered a question incorrectly.

The main finding from the study: that only a small minority of people will challenge authority, even when people are told to do something that couple potentially kill others.

How to Use the Authority Principle:

  • Point to respected groups that are doing web analysis. You get a two-for-one when you do this, because it takes advantages of the principles of authority and social proof.
  • Use “voice-of-customer” data to give your clients/bosses insight “straight from the horse’s mouth”. If your boss won’t listen to you (perish the thought), they should pay attention to data that comes straight from your users.

Here are some great methods for collecting voice-of-customer data:

  • check
    Feedback forms
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    On-site searches (i.e. analyze visitor searches done in your site’s search box)
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    Social media listening
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    Google Alerts (set up alerts for your site/brand name or program name)
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    Emails to your contact centre (analyze emails related to your content)
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    Contact centre transcripts (analyze transcripts of calls related to your content)
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    Forum search engines (read forum discussions using a tool like BoardReader.com)
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    On-site surveys
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    User and/or usability testing
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    Consumer surveys (e.g. Google Consumer Surveys)

(Note: I took some of these tips from an outstanding guide on the best tactics and tools to learn why visitors are abandoning your website: Tools for UX and CRO: The Ultimate Guide for 2017.)

Principal of Persuasion #3: Commitment & Consistency

persuasion principle

It’s a natural human tendency to want to behave (and to be seen by others as behaving) in a consistent manner.

You’ve probably seen public figures (like politicians) referred to as “flip-flopping” on issues. Is that ever seen as a positive thing? No. Flip-flopping is always a negative, which supports the idea that we – as human beings – value consistency.

So once a person has committed to something (a behaviour, a cause, a belief, etc.) they want to maintain that commitment consistently.  

How to Use the Commitment & Consistency Principle:

  • Shame your bossesIf your organization has committed to using web analytics software, hook into the “commitment” principle by suggesting to your bosses that they now have an obligation to use it effectively.
  • Benchmark your data. Want to get someone’s attention? Compare them to someone else. (“Hey François, have you been working out lately? You’re looking like Channing Tatum!”)

This applies to digital performance - can you compare the performance of your organization’s web presence (website, social media accounts, etc.) with that of another organization, or the industry/government sector as a whole?

The beauty of this one is it uses two persuasion principles: commitment and embarrassment (or pride).

Okay, that second one isn’t officially one of Cialdini’s principles, but you can see how it works: when you explicitly compare the performance of your digital presence with that of others, your digital presence will either be better or worse than whatever you’re comparing to.

Are you better than your competitor? Get ready for your boss to trumpet that finding around the office! Worse than your competitor? Your boss won’t be breaking out the trumpet, but now you have their attention.

Principal of Persuasion #4: Liking

Simply put, people are more easily persuaded by people they like.

How to Use the Liking Principle:

  • Recruit a likable ally – and make them an evangelist. Do your clients like you? If yes, give yourself a pat on the back 😉 If not (or you’re not sure), is there someone in your organization who is well-liked that you can recruit to be on your side?

For a double-whammy, help those well-liked people to find actionable insight in their own data. Then – before and after they’ve used that actionable data to improve outcomes – ask them to be your “evangelist” around the office. Also, recruit them to come with you to meetings, co-present your presentations, etc.

  • Have contests. Just like offices have “hackathons” to get programmers motivated, try out “web analytics contests”. (This won’t necessarily get people to like you more, but it might get them to like web analytics more.)

Here’s a contest to try: get participants to hypothesize all of the changes that might improve the conversion rate of your site’s most important action – whether that action is a form download, online registration, etc. Then test those changes and see which change improves the conversion rate the most. Whoever proposed that change gets a prize.

  • Have “office hours”. Remember your undergrad days, when professors had office hours when you could drop by and ask them dumb questions? Do the same thing in your office – have a set day each week when people can come to your desk and ask you questions (just don’t call their questions dumb).
  • Use humor in your presentations. Is there any way you can make your presentations funnier? Making people laugh goes a long way to getting them on your side.
  • Tell stories with your data. This is another tactic that won’t get your clients or bosses to like you, but it will certainly get them to like your presentations more. One extremely effective way to tell stories is to visualize your data.

Principal of Persuasion #5: Reciprocity

This principle relies on the indebtedness that people feel when someone has done something for them.

Apparently this is hard-wired in human beings, and some academics attribute the survival of the human species to it.

How to Use the Reciprocity Principle:

Give before expecting to receive.

A key aspect of reciprocity is the first-mover advantage – in other words, if you do something for someone first, then the indebtedness is on their side (not yours). Can you do something for your clients (above and beyond what they expect) to help them out?

Here are some ideas for things you can give clients (and bosses):

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    Slides for their presentations. If you hear they’re giving a presentation related to their content, offer to provide a slide or two related to their metrics.
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    Actionable metrics. This ties in with tip #2 above for educating your clients: even if they ask for vanity metrics, proactively give them actionable metrics that show an improvement in an important area of their work and are associated with their goals.
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    Office hours”. As mentioned in the “Liking” section above, hold office hours where people can ask you whatever they want about web analysis. 

The bottom line with this principle is a question: what can you do to make people’s lives easier? Offer help to them first, and they’ll be much more receptive to any requests you make of them later.

Principal of Persuasion #6: Scarcity

Principal of Persuasion Scarcity

When something is scarce, we perceive it to be more valuable.

Can you use scarcity to motivate your clients and bosses to adopt sophisticated web analysis?

How to Use the Scarcity Principle:

Position web analysis as “exclusive”.

If you don’t think pointing to the work of others will persuade your bosses (i.e. using the “social proof” principle), would your boss be motivated if you said “We’ll be the first/best/top group in our field if we implement sophisticated web analysis”?

This one might be a tougher sell, depending on your boss’s motivations. (But then again, repeatedly saying “We’re #1!” has worked for Dubai.)

Wrapping Up

Your mission (should you choose to accept it) is to evolve from a Report Monkey to an Analysis Ninja.

How do you know when you’ve become an Analysis Ninja? When you’re spending at least 75% of your time doing analysis that delivers actionable insights (not spending 75% of your time “puking data”, i.e. churning out web analytics reports).

There are LOTS of things you can do to get your clients and bosses onside with your mission:

Educate your clients and bosses:

  • check
    When clients ask for vanity metrics, guide them to their business objectives
  • check
    Proactively show your clients data that is tied to actionable metrics
  • check
    Group metrics into categories
  • check
    Provide example reports to verify requirements

Persuade your clients and bosses by using the “6 principles of persuasion”:

  1. 1
    “Social proof” uses the power of popularity to persuade
  2. 2
    “Authority” uses the power of people perceived to be in authority
  3. 3
    “Commitment & consistency” uses the power of people’s natural tendency to want to behave (and to be seen by others as behaving) in a consistent manner
  4. 4
    “Liking” uses the power of likability to persuade
  5. 5
    “Reciprocity” uses the power of the indebtedness that people feel when someone has done something for them
  6. 6
    “Scarcity” relies on the idea that when something is scarce, people perceive it as more valuable

Do you have any tips to add? 

Please share them in the Comments below!

About the Author Maurice

I've been working in digital marketing for 15 years, with a specialty in web analytics and everything performance measurement. I'm a researcher by avocation and love building frameworks (how nerdy is that!)