Practical Analytics

Often when reading blogs and articles on web analytics there is lots of use of the term “Actionable”.  Well I’d like to talk about something else.  Something that should please the developers in IT that support your site and just maybe help to improve what can sometimes be a  tenuous relationship between IT and Marketing.  Practical Analytics.

What does Practical Analytics mean?  Here is my spin on it:

Practical Analytics is the process of using web analytic data to help guide infrastructure,  features, and  support of a web site or web based application.

Really it comes down to makes changes on your site that make it easier to manage and maintain, not necessarily changes that make it a better experience for the end user of the site itself.  The data used to make these changes is not hard to get to, nor does it require any deep analysis.  Most of the time it is data contained in the most basic, canned reports available in almost every tool.

So what?  Well as a career developer, I can not tell you the number of times I would have killed to have had the type of usage data I have now to not only help guide change, but to be able to use this data to help convince the HiPPOs out there that these changes needed to be made.

This is extremely important to me right now, as I am knee deep in a major redesign effort.   As part of the planning process for the redesign there have been countless decisions made based on analytic data we had, and over the next few blog posts I will be highlighting some of my favorites.

Practical Analytics: Use Case #1 – Kill the old, tired, busted, outdated pages.

I am sure this is hardly news to anyone, but as a company constantly adds content to their site to keep it fresh and current, there is often a multitude of old outdated pages that never quite seem to get deleted.  Perhaps the thought is that they need to be kept for SEO, or someone may have a bookmark to the page, or more than likely a new page version with a new name was published and the old file was never deleted.

So use your web analytics tool of choice and pull a list all the web pages with any traffic at all for the last six months.   The most basic of reports.  Then get a list of all the files currently on your server.  Apply a little excel magic and you will get a list of pages on your site with zero traffic in the last six months.  These are the first ones to go, no one will miss them at all.

The next step would be to look at the ones that are really lagging far behind.  This will take a bit more time to go through that list and see if these pages need to go, or need to be improved.  Either way, you have made the maintenance of your web site a bit easier by removing the pages with little or no traffic.

If you are truly concerned about users that might have a bookmark to one of those old pages, then you could easily modify your 404 process to send users to a search results page or some other custom 404 solution.

This is simply one of many practical applications of analytics data that will not only help you clear out old content, but should make the overall task of site maintenance easier.   This should please even the most obstinate of curmudgeon developers out there!

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