If you're reading this article (which you are), you might fit this profile:
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...)
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...
Avinash Kaushik makes an excellent distinction between web reporting (aka data puking) and web analysis:
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:
And this example of web analysis:
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:
But look at the third image. In that dashboard there is:
So to summarize what web analysis is supposed to do:
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.
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.
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?”
(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.
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).
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.
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 six principles are below. In the sections that follow I provide suggestions for how to use them to get your clients and bosses onside:
(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:
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
Simply put, people are more easily persuaded by people they like.
How to Use the Liking Principle:
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.
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.
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):
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.
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.)
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:
Persuade your clients and bosses by using the “6 principles of persuasion”:
Do you have any tips to add?
Please share them in the Comments below!
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!)
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Web Analytics for the Public Sector: The Definitive Guide (2019 Edition)
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