Web Analytics Report Surfing and how to avoid it

I introduced a term called “Report Surfing” a while back – to explain an unfortunate behaviour in the usage of Web Analytics tools and one of the greatest sins one as a Web Analytics practitioner can do!

Reporting Surfing explained as in; one logging in to your e.g. IndexTools or Omniture account and browse the canned reports (such as #visit, most popular pages, top 10 referrers, perhaps even a scenario) from top to bottom. With no real agenda other than looking at the reports.

I inexhaustible preach methods on how to avoid this, in particular because clients utilizing a web analytics tool in that manor will get little to no return on their investment. So…

How to avoid Web Analytics Reporting Surfing:
Ask yourself three business related questions that you would like answered — BEFORE — you open up your web analytics tool. Then try to answer those three questions through your tool using anything from standard reports, customs reports, filters, segments and other tool functionality.

Example – Business related question: “Are my recent SEO initiatives paying off?
This is a fair question from a marketing manager who just hired Rand Fishkin :-) or any other SEO authority to optimize their organic efforts. But it also comes clear – that even before opening up the web analytics tool one would have to debate / think about HOW to answer this.

- What is the period in question?
- What is the baseline index?
- How do we define “paying off”?
- How do we measure success (traffic, ranking, conversions or)?
- What are the success and failure thresholds (targets)?
- If any specific search phrases stand out, should they get reported on?
- What was the cost of the initiative and where is this data coming from?
- Did the initiative end or are we reporting on the progress?
- What do the manager expect, a simple YES/NO or a detailed report for him to conclude on?
- Should you provide suggestions for actions on how to improve or not?
- Etc..

Keep adding to the list. NOW! we are analysts and not just report surfers! Doing this exercise (asking a business related question beforehand), you avoid the trap of surfing useless reports for an hour every second day!

.. and NOW – off to bed to listen to one off my Bill Hicks shows.

On the same subject: Web Reporting vs. Web Analysis

  • Jens

    this is a great post.. thanx for that one! As i am still “new” to web analytics, i sometimes find myself jsut surfing presaet reports without having an idea of what i am actually doing. I think everyvody knows what i am talking about.

    So actually i try to give my customers every day a new idea of what to measure and how to look at the captured data, like creating new a new funnel or trying to measure the deep performance of their SEM campaigns.

    And: with every challenge i gove myself, i learn much more than 100 hours of report surfing could ever teach me.

    So, thanks again for this article, it kinda perfectly describes my shameful vice.

    Greets, Jens

  • Dennis R. Mortensen

    Hi Jens.

    Thank you for the honest reply. And I must admit in the same sentence that I have done and still find myself doing it from time to time. :-)

    … hey. I look at my blog #visit/day 3 times a week. Haha.


  • Anil Umachigi

    Hey Dennis!

    how have you been ? amazing post as usual! and that’s so true “report surfing” (and i love this term :)) is so common! and probably every analyst goes thru that.

    And thanks for the steps to avoid that! certainly helpful


  • Dennis R. Mortensen

    Hi Anil,

    >>how have you been ?
    AS ALWAYS.. fantastic. :-) was on tour last week; Budapest, Stockholm, Budapest, Brussels and Back to Budapest.

    >>amazing post as usual!

    Thanks a lot Anil. And I absolutely agree that this is something we all goes through (and probably still do from time to time)


  • René

    Hi Dennis,

    Regarding you latest comment: I’m guilty ;-) I admit that from time to time I surf around with no particular purpose. Should we consult a doctor in this case?

    Cheers from Brussels and thanks again for coming at our Web Analytics Day,


  • Dennis R. Mortensen

    Hi Rene,

    He he… no need for a doctor just yet. I think we are all guilty now and then. Who do not just love their FeedBurner single metric subscriber stat? :-)
    .. and no worries. Web Analytics day was a great event. Just annoying that I had to rush in and rush out… could have used a bit of time to sit down and get some of that famous chocolate. I am still working ONE PIECE / week from my last box.

    Cheers and see you in Washington.


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