How reliable are web analytics?

Often, marketers justify intrusive or annoying marketing tactics because they claim they improve conversion rates. Is that really true?


Andy Beaumont, technical director at @albionlondon has done a lot of observations of ordinary people using the Web. When they come to a website requesting that they register in some way before they can get to the link they clicked on, most get annoyed (not surprisingly).


Also, a “significant portion of them believe that they must do what the box is begging them for in order to close the overlay,” he states. “These people (remember, they’re people, not “conversions”), are signing up to a newsletter they don’t want. They’re then going to be irritated by it for several months until they work out how to unsubscribe from it. The analytics guru you brought in is walking away with a chunk of your money, in exchange for having pissed off a whole bunch of existing and potential customers.”


I’ve been examining web analytics since the 1990s and I’ve seen lots and lots of awful decisions made with them. There is a Cult of Volume that seems to permeate much of the discipline.


Humans become numbers and once that happens there’s no room for empathy. Things are done because they ‘convert’ or create volume. Whether that conversion was annoying is hardly ever asked.


“The Internet has lately upped its count of roadblocks and dead ends: obligatory e-mail subscription forms, Facebook page "like" prompts, and pages that masquerade as informational only to be a page full of ads,” Casey Johnston writes for Ars Technica.


Let’s say you’re a single man in a bar and you see a beautiful woman. You walk up to her, smile, she smiles back. You say a few words and then offer to buy her a drink. She says okay, then you pause and inform her that before you will buy her a drink she has to give you her phone number. How successful do you think you’re going to be?


On the Web, a surprising number of organizations have forgotten a golden rule: You have to give if you want to get. A few years ago I interviewed Mac McIntosh, an expert in business-to-business lead generation. Mac had been publishing a number of white papers on his website with the goal of getting his own leads.


Initially, when someone clicked on the link for a particular white paper, they were shown a form that they had to fill out first. “I found that only 9% of prospects filled out the form,” Mac explained. “So I instead let them download without filling out a form, simply opening a new window for the download, then changing the background window to thank them for downloading and asking them to tell us more about their needs. That resulted in a 45% form completion rate, vs. the 9%. Perhaps this is because I gave them something valuable first, then asked for more information.”


Mac had asked for the exact same information from people. He just asked for it after he had given them what the link had promised it would give. As a result, his number of leads increased by a factor of 5.


On the Web when dealing with empowered, confident customers you must give first in order to get.

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