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Transforming data into information: 4 important steps

Data is meaningless. Bunches of numbers and ratios mean nothing without a context. Data on its own can’t help us do anything better. Information however, is beautiful. Information can make us laugh or cry. Information is data set on fire, data with a purpose.

Take Depressed Data, follow these four easy steps and voila: Inspirational Information!

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1. Know your business goals

An often neglected first step you have got to be very aware of, and intimate with. If your website makes a large proportion of its revenue from Pay Per Impression ads, then  the number of visitors and page views will be important to you. If you run an eCommerce site however, it is pointless being pleased about having three million visitors last month if not one of them purchased anything.

Define your business goals clearly and explicitly, for example:

  1. To sell as many products to as many visitors as possible.
  2. To generate maximum revenue from pay per impression (CPM) advertising.
  3. To get as many visitors as possible to sign up on my lead generation form on my content rich site.

2. Choose the right metrics

Now that you know what your business goals are you can choose which metrics to measure more effectively. There is an immense amount of data available in the popular web analytics packages, but most of it is probably fairly useless to you on a day-to-day basis. Think carefully about your business goals, and decide which metrics give you the best insight about how well you are achieving them.

Following on from the previous examples, these would be good metrics to choose:

  1. Conversion rate, in order to measure how many of your visitors are making purchases. Number of orders per converted visitor, which lets you see how many items the buyers are buying, and Average Order Size in order to keep track of how much revenue an average order is bringing in.
  2. Average page views (per visitor)
  3. While conversion rate is important here, the example included a ‘content rich site’ to introduce another helpful metric: The average number of clicks it takes for a visitor to reach a specific page on your website.

3. Set targets

Is 50,000 unique visitors good? Is a conversion rate of 1.65% going to make you bankrupt? Is 3.2 average page views per visitor generating enough revenue from CPM advertising? Data only makes sense with context. A big part of context is the target you set for your data. This makes sense because a good target is based on an understanding of the capabilities and current status of your site and traffic, and is also achievable. Context is the magic dust that transforms your data into information.

In the interests of brevity I will focus just on example two from the previous two steps:

  • You get 20,000 hits per month, and need 60,000 page views to generate enough revenue from pay per impression advertising to break even. This looks like a target of three page views per visitor would be sensible, and achieving 3.2 therefore looks like an entry into the world of profitability.

20,000 hits per month means nothing. 3.2 page views per visitor means even less. But having a definable business goal of increasing CPM advertising revenue which requires a target of three page views per visitor to break even, just transformed those meaningless blobs of data into powerful, useable information.

4. Reflect and Refine

The basic, often quoted stalwarts of web analytics metrics are just the beginning. Click-through rates, number of unique visitors, page views – these are starting points from which to refine and reflect.

How about segmenting your traffic by researching how many page views visitors from Google search are racking up, compared to visitors from your Twitter stream? By reflecting on why there is a difference you are starting to  refine your site based on this powerful information.

Another example is to segment your visitors into those who entered your content rich site straight into a particular article or post and those who entered from your home page. Is there a difference between these segments in terms of page views or time on site? If so, reflect and then refine.

Turn your data into information and your information into power.

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