When you look at an eroded beach, what does the legacy of the sand tell you? It tells you about how water and wind have shaped the beach. You can see where waves have crashed on the shore. You can see where runoff has eaten away at dunes. You can see where reed grasses have maintained their tenuous grasp on the land against wind and surf. You can see seasons and years written on the beach… but no handful of sand alone will tell you that story.

New England Warrior Camp 2010

If you go tracking an animal in the forest, what does the forest tell you? One or two footprints can’t tell much of a story, but a trail certainly can. The spacing between the tracks can indicate speed. The depth of one foot over another can indicate injury. The changes in distances show whether the animal was increasing or decreasing speed. The pauses and double-backs show when the animal detected a possible threat. These are the stories that the trail as a whole tells you.

Like the beach and the forest, what is powerful about reading your marketing analytics isn’t any one data point or even a couple of them. It’s the big picture, the trends, the series as they flow together and interact that tells the story about your marketing efforts. To be sure, there are times when it’s necessary to inspect at the tiniest levels how one particular mechanism is working. On the whole, however, your marketing will benefit more from you looking at it holistically. Did organic search traffic increase when your paid ad budget increased? Did your email list boost your social marketing? Only by examining your marketing analytics with an eye for the ecosystem as a whole can you truly capture the impact of everything you’re doing.

Here’s a simple exercise you can try. In your web analytics, identify the four major classes of traffic – direct, referral, search, campaign – and zoom out to see the year to date.

Audience Overview - Google Analytics

What patterns do you see? Do you see rhythms as a B2B or B2C website does? Do you see cyclical trends? Do you see countercyclical trends and non-intuitive trends? Do you see anomalies and outliers that need greater scrutiny? What does looking at the big picture tell you?

Treat your marketing analytics as the trails in the forest or patterns in the sand that they are. Look for the patterns and the stories that they tell; only then will you be able to make strategic, big picture decisions about what is or is not working.


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