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Blind Faith In Your Stats

August 03, 2015

I don’t think it is any secret that I rather enjoy analytics. At Elementive, we tend to live in a numbers-driven marketing world. Unfortunately, though, some people do tend to take numbers rather far and end up having blind faith in their stats.

I was reminded of this reading Andy Beaumont’s article the Value of Content. In it, he discusses the problem with relying too heavily on numbers and how that has led people to employ tactics like annoying pop-up overlays. It is quite a good read, but there was one passage though that really stood out to me:

This kind of belief in numbers is exactly what got us into this mess. Analytics only tell you part of the story—if that’s all you bother to find out, and you have absolute faith in those numbers, then you’re going to end up putting a modal overlay on your site. Analytics will tell you that you got more “conversions”. Analytics will show you rising graphs and bigger numbers. You will show these to your boss or your client. They will falsely conclude that people love these modal overlays. But they don’t. Nobody likes them.

In part, I agree with this sentiment. Blind faith in numbers can lead to actions that don’t actually serve your business or your customers-to-be terribly well. Clearly people who rely heavily on numbers and decide in favor of something their users actually don’t like is a sign that something has gone wrong. The people looking at those numbers have swung too far to the pro-numbers extreme.

Now, I’m not going to discuss pop-ups and overlays. Truth be told, I’ve seen them work and I’ve seen them fail. In some contexts, I’d actually argue in favor of that tactic especially for short term focuses. But, that isn’t what this blog post is about…

Instead, what I want to focus on is the use and value of numbers. Because, I feel like there are two rather big points to keep in mind when looking at your website’s analytics. These points will help you avoid having blind faith in numbers that steers you toward actions that don’t make sense for your business:

  1. You absolutely have to pick the right numbers to look at. Note as well, I said “numbers” plural. If all you are looking at is “conversions”, then you will choose the wrong course of action nearly every time. If, instead, you look at numbers across the full spectrum of your marketing and sales then you will generally find you are making better decisions because you put the numbers in context. For help figuring out what numbers, check out our free resource guide of the different analytics tools available and the different kinds of numbers you should be paying attention to.
  2. Beaumont’s article on the Value of Content talks about the value of testing out your design and content with real users. I couldn’t agree more. In fact, that is what we spend a lot of our time doing at Elementive. Numbers give you a quantitative look at the problem and you need that quantitative view (of all the right numbers). But user testing, perception testing, surveying, and other similar user experience measurement techniques give you the qualitative information you need to help you understand the quantitative information.

We need to use numbers to help make decisions. Blind faith in numbers, and especially blind faith in a single number, is very dangerous and can quickly de-rail your business (like employing pop up overlays that your audience doesn’t want to see). To be successful in growing and promoting our companies, we need to keep in mind the proper place of numbers and we need to balance those numbers out with feedback from our customers and potential customers. Instead of relying blindly on numbers, keeping the right perspective on numbers will help you find the right tactics that will work for your business.

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