Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
July 3, 2010 2:10 PM

Knowing When To Kill Your Web Analytics

There's no denying it, running any sort of Digital Marketing initiative without some component of a web analytics tool is akin to driving with your eyes closed. That being said, we're starting to see more and more instances when killing your web analytics may be the smartest thing you can do.

Julien Smith (co-author with Chris Brogan of the best-selling business book, Trust Agents, Blogger at In Over Your Head and co-host of the Media Hacks podcast) had a very stirring Blog post this week titled, You Need Tension (if you have not read, please do so). "When you get rich and famous, you go on defense and, next thing you know, you've lost your way," Smith notes in the Blog post. "You don't produce relevant work any more because your purpose is to defend what you've built and avoid to mistakes. Those that are able to keep tension in their lives despite their success are those that will endure and have a chance to become great. Those that coast on their success will not."

Analytics can be compared to success, and it could very well remove the tension too.

Deborah Hinton and I were discussing this over breakfast the other day, and she went on to say that this could well be why some Blogs are going to fade off and/or become boring in the near-to-long term. Blogs (along with other Social Media channels and platforms) started off with very real people sharing content in a very real way and attempting to connect it to other real people. Over the course of the past few years - and as these platforms develop and homogenize (for more on this, please read: The Good Old Days) - Bloggers (along with people using Facebook and Twitter) have started using many different types of web analytics tools to figure out who is following along, who is sharing, and how well these pieces of content are being amplified throughout the network. Those who have turned this into a quasi-science are the ones who know what is "just content" and what is priceless linkbait. The problem (challenge, opportunity, etc...) is that if your content starts to change and adapt to cater to the analytics, it could well-be to the detriment of the real reason you started publishing in the first place: to create and push the tension that Julien Blogged about.

Tension is your creativity. You need tension.

From musicians and artists to scientists and businesspeople, tension is core to success (and it doesn't last forever and it has its own life-force). The truly great publishers of content are those that pay little heed to the analytics. The truly great publishers of content are those that nurture and peck away at the tension. There's no chance we would have the music of Bob Dylan, the comedy of Richard Pryor and Howard Stern or thinkers like Chris Brogan, Seth Godin, Cory Doctorow and Lawrence Lessig if they had been paying too much attention to the analytics.

You have to know when to kill (ignore or put aside) your web analytics and when to just let the tension be.

(now I just have to hope that friends like Avinash Kaushik and Bryan Eisenberg realize I don't mean to kill ALL web analytics ;)

By Mitch Joel


Comments Comments Feed
  • Posted by Michael Hyatt
    Mitch Joel

    Great post. I wrote on a similar topic earlier this week: Forget Your Blog Stats and Just Write! I found myself paying too much attention to my analytics and my writing suffered for it.

    Reply
  • Posted by Dan Brian
    Mitch Joel

    Off topic comment but kudos on the across the sound podcast this week. The most sophisticated marketing discussion out there and I love listening to jaffe rant for 5mins thru his rose colored glasses and then cop the Joel 30 sec smack down with the facts. Outmatched everytime jaffe but always interesting to hear a bleeding edge nutcase point of view. Those not subscribed yet DO yourself a favour.

    Reply
    • Can't agree with you here, Dan. Joe is a super-smart guy and is/was way ahead of the curve. Go back and read Life After The 30-Second Spot. Joe was Blogging, Podcasting and calling for all of us to review how we think about Marketing and Media long before it was cool. He adds multiple dimensions to the conversation, and this Blog/Podcast wouldn't even be here were it not for how he thinks and leads.

      Reply
  • Posted by Jackie Cameron
    Mitch Joel

    Wow this is so timely. I have just relaunched my website which has grown from the blog I started almost 4 years ago. It prompted me to go back and read some of the early stuff. I always intended to write as I speak...so that when I meet clients who find out about me through the blog they are not surprised ( or disappointed!) But I have been getting comments about changing what I do to appeal to the analytics... and I have been stalling because a) I am not clear what I would do if I did change and b) I don't want to!
    Thank you for this - now I am happy to live with the consequences of keeping on doing what I am doing :-)

    Reply
  • Posted by Dan
    Dan

    Not taking away from his innovative thought leadership. i love to hate his ideas because i both agree with few to many and flip funnel but disagree with his assumption social will displace traditional media mix campaigns that still deliver day in and day out eg tvc's, radio, dm, etc. Your point on Tvcs for movies, cpg's, brand awareness etc was salient because u know your avg CMO gets it and may cop a complimentary social campaign component but try get them to commit a similar budget to social or online alone and you see the need for more sober strategies for marketing
    innovation than Joe sometimes advocates. Having said that I hope I'm wrong and someone soon delivers a consumer centric/social campaign that vindicates Joe's concepts big time - I think it will be a succession of Obama and Dove and the like over the next few years that refine the metrics and tip the zeitgeist - mean time it's a great debate journey.

    Reply
  • Posted by Ben Allen
    Mitch Joel

    Interesting post Mitch. I agree with the principle of tension. One of the things that I find refreshing about your podcast is that you always seem to be challenging yourself and your ideas. Your best conversations, IMHO, seem to be those with equal parts paranoia and thought leadership. Tension/paranoia is a redeeming feature to me as I feel it shows that your not satisfied with resting on your laurels. You want to think differently, you want your ideas to be challenged because you know the best ideas will stand up to this kind of discussion.

    Killing analytics though... not sure I agree there. I agree "paralyse by analysis" is bad, very bad BUT to ignore analytics altogether would be kind of nuts. To take the example of Brogan and Smith. I just got finished with Trust Agents and the book has frequent references to analytics - the actionable type, which Avinash talks about :) These guys clearly care about the numbers to some degree. Even Seth Godin will be looking at some number somewhere - revenue & cost maybe, AdWeek ranking, RSS subscribers?

    To put it another way - tension is important but how do you know your tension is relevant without some form of analysis?

    Going back to the positive - power to the paranoid! Set work-based-phasers to disrupt and create great ideas!

    Reply
    • Knowing how you're doing should not be the same as basing what you're doing on how you're doing when it comes to a Blog ;)

      Does that make more or less sense? ;)

      Reply
      • Posted by Ben Allen
        Mitch Joel

        I agree and it makes sense.

        I see measures of success as touching more than just the content that you're creating.

        "Measuring/analysis" might point you to more than just "your content is good or bad" it might help you identify and connect with your audience (think competitive research, traffic source analysis). It might help you work out if your audience can access the content in the first place (think SEO analysis, usability studies). It might tell you if your marketing sucks.

        The analyse of the content itself is a subset of a much broader field and I agree that tailoring the content itself can be bad karma depending on how you measure success i.e. mashable does loads of analysis on their content because they need to drive eyeballs to ads. Is tailoring that content bad?

        Reply
  • Posted by Stephane Hamel
    Mitch Joel

    The problem isn't analytics, the problem is bad management - or managing toward the wrong goals. I agree becoming obsessed with analytics will often make less experienced people blindly aim for SEO, increasing Feedburner subscribers, Facebook friends or Twitter followers and forget about the primary goal of their blog: talk to people and engage with them.

    This is akin to a retailer wanting a bigger store without looking at the bottom line sales... The problem isn't analytics...

    Managing solely by intuition is bad, managing solely by analytics is as well.

    "Tension is your creativity. You need tension." - absolutely agreed! :)

    Stéphane

    Reply
  • Posted by BlackBeak
    Mitch Joel

    Hi Mitch,

    I hear what you're saying but I think it's about having too much data.

    I used to work for a consultancy that essentially used my talents to find insights from data for their clients. I regularly used to find holes in their sales funnels, opportunities to reduce marketing spend, improve lead generation, drive more traffic yada yada yada.

    What tended to happen is that I'd show these findings, most of them monetized, all of them saying what needed to be done next and what we'd then find is that in many cases nothing happened. Because the client literally couldn't act on the data, or if they could they had huge problems getting the things we suggested done in a timely manner.

    Analysis paralysis as Ben said can be one reason (too many choices leading to nothing being done) but the main reason I find is a lack of structure and process to follow up on what you find. That's what my latest challenges are all about.

    Too much data in the case of a blog is exactly what you're talking about.

    Link "a" drove 300,000 visits, I should really try to optimize for link "a" is wrong if the traffic arriving is completely irrelevant (irrelevance should be pre-determined).

    I once wrote an article titled "How doing the splits can improve your conversion rate" and got a shed load of traffic from Google about 'doing the splits'. It seems the athletic version of "doing the splits" is a far more popular and searched out pastime than A/B or Multivariate split testing for some reason :).

    The point here is that I could've followed that theory and added additional popular terms to my headlines and titles to reach more people. What I did was refine the headline to attract less people to my site but improve the relevance to those people that did find my pages.

    It's about prioritizing what's important and what's not and acting on what's important.

    For the record, the only thing I look for on my blog statistics is which subjects drove the most interest in terms of interaction (re-posts, comments, RTs etc). That gives me an idea about what the market isn't interested in from my ramblings so I can avoid them in the future.

    Best,
    Steve

    Reply
    • Thanks Steve, while I agree that this is all sound and rational advice, the point of the Blog post was not about analytics, insights and actually getting the work done, it was more focused towards writing (or Blogging) from your heart and your personal interest versus what the data says is popular. Regardless, everything you've added (along with the comments from others) also drives the point home even further.

      Reply
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