Analyze This

July 26, 2016   /   by  Diane Callihan

Are You Being Ruled or Fooled by Analytics?

I recently got a Fitbit. I like to walk and figured it would be fun to track how far I went, how many steps I took, how awesome I was, etc.

For the most part, I like it. Except, a couple times I’ve been out on a long walk and the battery has died. And then I am furious.


Never mind that I used to walk just for the fun of it. Just for a little fresh air. Now, if I don’t keep track of it – if I don’t hit my numbers – it seems utterly worthless.

I feel like this is what analytics has done for marketing. It was supposed to be a helpful tool to let us get a sense of what was working and what wasn’t, but instead it has become our master. We care about the numbers more than anything. If horrible click-bait headlines get awesome metrics, we’ll use horrible click-bait headlines.

We do what the analytics tell us. Someone discovered that emails got better open rates on Tuesdays, and suddenly everyone sends their emails on Tuesdays. Someone said headlines with a number in them are opened more, so now everything starts with “The Top 7 Ways You Can ________.” Sick of checklists? Too damn bad.

If my Fitbit is broken, I might as well just skip my walk. Because what is the point of doing something good without numbers to back it up? What is the point of good marketing if my click-thru rate isn’t off the charts?

Here’s the thing about analytics and stats. They are much more subjective than people would like them to be. I remember taking a stats class in college where they showed the statistical correlation between ice cream consumption and violent crime. It is accurate to say that they both increase at the same time (during summer) which could lead a person to falsely infer cause and effect. Eat more ice cream = commit more violent crime. (Relax, everyone – this is not true!)

Likewise, you could see that your website traffic dropped significantly in the month of June. This could mean that your new marketing manager isn’t working out, or that your latest email promotion was off-base, or it could mean that your target market is on vacation and drinking margaritas and not thinking about your business at all. Or it could be a combination of all or none of these.

You could also discover that hundreds of people have filled out the form on your landing page, only to discover that most of them have email addresses like [email protected] (Apologies if anyone actually owns this address.) Statistically speaking, your campaign was a big success, but in reality, your leads are crap.

Statistics are subject to interpretation. And you could be interpreting them wrong.

Remember when websites had hit counters? Hit counters were like a freaking odometer on a company’s home page showing you just how popular that site was by counting hits (a meaningless stat we don’t even use anymore). Then some unscrupulous websites would use “mousetraps”, when if you clicked on one thing, it would open an endless stream of pop-up windows, and you’d have to click on all of them to close them (more hits!). Eventually you’d just scream and shut your computer down and go have ice cream and commit violent crimes.

Even today people do things to “enhance” their stats. Some companies actually pay for social media followers to make them look more popular than they are. Some companies have been accused of paying for positive product or service reviews. As long as there are stats, there will be a way to cheat them.

I’m not saying analytics, tracking and monitoring aren’t important. It’s one of the things that makes digital marketing so powerful, and there really is a ton of information you can get now to help you make smarter marketing decisions.

Still, if analytics gave us all the answers, we’d have a formula now for making content go viral. Why does one cute baby video get 10 million views and another gets zilch? How come one blog post you did on a certain topic was wildly popular, but the next one flopped? Who knows? We’re marketing to humans, and they can be an unpredictable bunch.

Use analytics as the tool it was meant to be, but don’t let it rule your business or outweigh the importance of quality, honesty or creativity.

Oh hey, sorry, my Fitbit just alerted me that I need 118 more steps to reach my goal. Gotta roll!

If you’re looking for digital marketing that gets real results, no matter how you analyze it, we can help. Let’s talk.

Diane Callihan

Diane Callihan

With more than 20 years of experience writing for some of the country’s top brands, Diane helped to shape Roger West’s content strategy, lead generation, and PR efforts as Director of Marketing. She currently serves as President of Callihan Content Creation.