This and other quasi-philosophical, zen-like questions came up at the recent X Change conference in "Huddles" dealing with both reporting and KPI’s. Luckily, the huddle facilitators kept us from diving too deep down these rabbit holes. But, it raises a real issue about web analytics reporting industry-wide, and that’s the uncomfortable fact that many reports on website activity are ignored, sitting forever in the temporary email folder caches of their intended recipients. The sender often doesn’t care, since the deliverable has been met, and the receivers often make no more than a mental note that the report exists, somewhere.
How do you force executives to take reports seriously? The standard answer is: accountability. The flashiest report will be ignored if nobody is responsible for any of those numbers, while the ugliest reports (and I’ve seen some pretty ugly ones) can nonetheless lead to very effective marketing or site optimization if someone is accountable for specific KPI’s.
So far, nothing new. Web analysts know that a list of KPI’s and their associated reports should have the names of their “owners” attached to them. Executives know that someone should be responsible for any reports that are disseminated within an organization. But accountability is not enough. Here’s the issue: the hierarchy or organization of a company might not mirror the natural, strategic structure of reports or KPI’s that are developed with the business goals of a website in mind. And the opposite is also true: KPI’s or reports that are developed for specific persons or teams within an organization might not address the most important business goals of the website.
Let me take an example. Suppose there’s a financial institution website with online account management, online account opens, and online products (such as insurance or CD’s). A Paid Search campaign drives traffic to the site. A web analytics consultant would say that there are three business goals of the website, and would develop reports on call-center avoidance, eCommerce, and customer acquisition. There would also be a marketing report directed at the Paid Search campaign. Perfectly good reports and KPI’s. But then, when he or she tries to find recipients for these reports, it turns out that there’s no one team that can act on them. The organization might be structured by asset-management volume (high-asset or low-asset investor services teams), or by region (domestic/foreign/Canada management teams), or by asset type (Mutual Fund, Equities, Retirement services teams). The Paid Search campaign might be run by a third-party agency. Perfectly good reports would have no single owner with any interest or motivation for acting on them. No optimization happens.
Another example: an insurance company has a website where visitors can get quotes and apply for policies. The company is structured by region and insurance type, so that there are separate teams for areas such as Domestic Life, Domestic Casualty, Domestic Health, etc. Each group requested specific KPI’s from the web measurement team – visits to respective site sections, time on site section, product views. The measurement team duly delivers these reports each month, which are well-received. However, no one team in the organization is interested in questions such as traffic sourcing, cross-sell, and, especially, conversion funnel analysis. Thus, while specific KPI’s were associated with specific owners, no optimization happens.
Reporting and KPI’s cannot exist in a vacuum – it’s not enough to target reports at specific teams, even if those teams are accountable. Web analysts need to also insure that those teams can act on those reports in a meaningful way (given the organization’s structure), and that the chosen KPI’s are actually actionable, relevant, and driven by the business goals of the website. If either piece is missing, the report is either useless, or it will be ignored. The sound of one hand clapping, anyone?