few manyCommon complaint: "Sure I have web analytics data, I have no idea what to do! I swear I have really tried hard and looked at all possible reports. I can't find anything interesting".

Does this sound like something you would say?

Know what the single most important missing ingredient?


Often numbers don't "speak" to you, or as loudly as they can about what you should do, because you are missing the context you can place around those numbers. Something that makes you want to take a pause and say: "ahhhh I get it now" or "ahhh that's interesting. . . I wonder if. . . ".

So what is this mysterious magic potion?

Its quite simple really, in its simplest form it is surrounding your Metrics, Key Performance Indicators, Reports, Dashboards etc with other information (quantitative, qualitative, tribal knowledge) that adds a pinch of color. Context.

Here's an example. . . . .

Undoubtedly you sent your Manager / Director / VP / Mom this month's "performance" / site statistics for this month. Perhaps it looked this this:

visitors and average time on site clicktracks

What can you infer from this? Almost nothing. Even less than nothing if you are a step removed from the daily existence of your site (or even months existence).

Now let's do what ClickTracks does best, add a touch of context. All I am going to do is add a couple of segments that might help add a color to the above web metrics.

Here it is:

segmented visitors and average time on site clicktracks

Now answer the same question again: Can you infer anything from this?

A lot I am sure.your site.

For your 116,503 Visitors you know some interesting things: Approximately half came from search engines, only a tiny fraction, 5,288, did what you wanted them to, look at product pages, and, perhaps more humblingly, a tiny tiny fraction converted.

From the second set of data for Average Time On Site you get a sense for the varied distributions in time each segment spends on your site. 64 seconds might have felt like a hurtfully low number for your beautiful engaging site. Now you know that atleast some people spend more time on the site (those that make it to product pages). You also know how long it takes for someone to convert, 239 seconds.

Now I'll admit the above picture might not quite be God's gift to you, but it raises the right questions that need being asked.

It will also help focus the initial analysis effort that you'll undertake. You'll ask why 51,398 Visitors to your site spent 43 seconds on average on your site. Where do they enter, what keywords, ppc or organic? What can we fix? is 239 seconds the right amount of time to conversion?

Well worth the nine seconds I spent on it right?

Simple context makes data a lot more interesting, helps you focus and find some actionable insights. Reporting rule #0 in my book: Never report data in aggregate, or by itself. Always always always test to see if you are including context!


Here are other techniques that you can apply in your quest for insights when you look at your own web analytics tool. . . .

# 1: Compare trends over different time periods.

Cheapest trick in the book. Honestly.

The question we are trying to answer is: "does this dashboard communicate anything of value?"

web analytics dashboard no context google analytics

Its cute, I'll grant you that. But really when push comes to shove it is not saying a lot. Especially to people who might not be immersed in your data (except for you of course!).

Now try this: choose a comparable time period, the last month or same month last year or whatever makes sense in your case.


web analytics dashboard with context google analytics

Ok so maybe I am getting excited about this. But look carefully insights, ideas, questions, are staring at you.

First you have had a awesome last 30 days (make sure your boss knows, she needs to look like a hero!).

Additionally for some the other metrics are coughing up insights. It is normally astounding that your traffic went up 45% and the bounce rate only went up by 3% – it is extremely rate to get that new traffic that is that qualified (quick find out what the Marketers did!).

Page views held steady as well, as did time on site, all good signs. And what's up with those three spikes, so unrelated to other time periods that match so closely? Dig please.

Quiz for you: What does that % of New Visits number (and delta over last month) indicate? I found it to be very surprising. Add your answer to the comments.

# 2: Compare key metrics and segments against site average.

Yes, yes, yes, averages can sometimes lie. Ok ok ok many times. :)

But they can also be your friend, especially when to comes to helping you get the initial set of context that you so sorely need to make your mass of web analytics clickstream data actionable.

You are really curious about your Direct traffic (also called, default, unknown source, bookmarks etc etc). In a couple of clicks this is what you are looking at:

direct traffic with no context google analytics


Nice? Things are going well? Maybe? "Avinash is wrong, web analytics is hard!" Ok ok, try this… two mouse clicks in Google Analytics … choose compare to site average for this stream of traffic. . . .


direct traffic comparison to site average google analytics

Sweet! See meaningful data, closer to you than you had imagined.

For "Direct" traffic now you have a at a glance knowledge of the vital stats. Smaller % of the traffic, but astoundingly valuable, by most measures you see above (time, bounce, pages etc).

See that is totally missing from the original picture. That second picture you can send to anyone in your company, or outside, and they won't ask you what the definition of Bounce Rate is or how Time on Site is computed. They'll understand performance. Because you gave them context.

This is how you get beyond the bickering about definitions are numbers, you get to have a discussion about what actions to take. Priceless.

# 3: Couples Rock!! :)

You need someone. I need someone. Everyone needs someone. Why not our metrics?

A very common mistake in reporting is to simply report on the important metric you care about by itself. I call these important but lonely metrics. I feel sad for them.

Why not pair your important metric with its husband / wife / "special friend" / partner / mistress? You'll understand performance of one and get actionable context from the other.

Its like sometimes you meet a person, and you are not sure what to make of them. Then you meet their significant other and you say "ahhhh everything makes sense now!" (Am I being a big mean here? :)

Let me explain, look at this common report, its important, I am sure you are sending it out to everyone:

search engine visits google analytics

Ok so that's nice. What do I do? Buy more Google? Dump MSN?

What you see above is just data, nothing useful.

Try this simple thing, find it a friend. . .

search engine visits and bounce rate google analytics

Oh la, la, now you are cooking!

The spouse metric (Bounce Rate) gives context to your core KPI (Visits) and suddenly this metric is a lot more useful. Any lay person, or a Analyst, can see instantly that some sources are good and others maybe not so much. Interesting actions can be taken about budget spend or why is something better than other things etc.

Of course you can do this with anything you want. Keywords, pages, referrers, campaigns, whatever is important to you, and whatever tool you are using, here I am using IndexTools and its custom report feature. . . .

visits and time on site indextools


One quick tip: As much as possible try to pick the spouse / mistress / friend metric to be a Outcome metric – something that helps measure success of you site.

Try it, you'll see what I mean, insights will practically scream out at you!

# 4: Industry Benchmarks.

These are astonishingly good at helping you get context to your performance.

Your conversion rate is 2% or your time onsite is 42 minutes or your share of search is 7% for a search engine (or a keyword) or . . . . How do you know if that is great, and you should rest, or really terrible and you need a Marshall Plan to fix things?

Use external context.

We have talked about the value of using the FireClick Index so many times in the past . . . .

fireclick index 1

Put your metrics against these, or others on that site, and see get delightful amounts of context.

Now Google Analytics also has a feature where you can also get benchmarking data, and in this case quite deep into your very own industry segment so you can see increased relevance of these benchmarks. . . .

industry benchmarking google analytics

Sweet ain't it? This site above had much higher traffic than other Apparel sites, much much higher, but they also have a much higher bounce rate and much lower time on site. Without the context of the benchmarks they could be celebrating, with the benchmarks they can start to make intelligent decisions.

[To learn more about GA benchmarking and the new data sharing settings policy please see this blog post by Brett Crosby:

# 5: Tap into the tribal knowledge.

If there is a "killer app" for getting context to your web analytics data it is tribal knowledge. Information about initiatives, marketing programs, website updates, changes, management re-org's :), server outages, ppc, direct marketing and on and on and on: Things that have a impact on your website.

Web Analytics, and in turn Analysts, sit in a silo. This means that very often they have no idea about all the things that people are doing the site or to their acquisition strategies. So they look at all these numbers and metrics and trends and then like Tarot Card readers guess what the numbers mean!! A futile exercise.

There are lots of moving parts to a website and a lot of people involved in the holy exercise of creating something of value for your customers. It is a complex dance with many moving parts. . . .

tribal knowledge

The best way to get context is to seek out all the players and / or staying plugged into the various different processes to tease out vital context for your numbers.

"Ahhhh so you send out a big email blast five days ago!"

"You were running a multivariate test? Why did you not tell me in advance?"

"The shopping cart was down for nine hours! That explains so much, thank you. Kiss"

"We've adopted a new media mix model?"

"None of our last 6,000 campaigns were tagged! Pulling hair out!!!"

So on and so forth.

Step outside your cubicle, office, talk to people, take marketers out for dinner (if you do more than dinner please first refer to your company's HR policy!), create information loops that are closed (and include you!), etc etc.

Often all it takes to put a trend in context is to know everything different parts of your company are doing. Go get plugged in!

That's it, five simple easy to action recommendation.

Actually I have more that I could write about but I have six speeches in five days in NYC this week so I can't do as much justice to this post as I would like to. But one last quick tip, another great way to get context is to understand Primary Purpose, it is absolutely awesome. As to how to get Primary Purpose: Use the 4Q survey.

Thanks, hope this was just as much fun for you as it was for me. Please share your own ideas of how to get context, what works for you and what does not, please share your own battle scars using the form below.

Good luck!

Couple other related posts you might find interesting:

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