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The answer is… 42

The key to getting the most from your analytics is not the data, it’s the questions that you ask.

“It was a long time before anyone spoke.

Out of the corner of his eye Phouchg could see the sea of tense expectant faces down in the square outside.

“We’re going to get lynched aren’t we?” he whispered.

“It was a tough assignment,” said Deep Thought mildly.

“Forty-two!” yelled Loonquawl. “Is that all you’ve got to show for seven and a half million years’ work?” “I checked it very thoroughly,” said the computer, “and that quite definitely is the answer. I think the problem, to be quite honest with you, is that you’ve never actually known what the question is.””

Douglas Adams chose the number forty -two because it was “a completely ordinary number, a number not just divisible by two but also six and seven. In fact it’s the sort of number that you could without any fear introduce to your parents”.  For all the theories and myths that have developed around this infamous number, it was just a simple, friendly number.

The comfort of a number

We work with a wide range of businesses and in our time, we’ve had lots of conversations about what a site or apps analytics are telling us about performance.  So often, the people asking the question are interested in the number.  That headline figure; the star or sinner that they see at the heart of their report.  They will proudly boast about the 100,000 sessions that their website received, or the moment their app passed the 1,000,000 download mark.  That number is their answer.

But,  I think the problem, to be quite honest with you, is that they’ve never actually known what the question is.

Context is King

Let me start by accepting that there is a reality that underpins that attitude to a number – it’s environmental.  A Marketing Manager or Director who has invested time, effort, energy and budget in a new site, an app or a campaign needs something to report to their colleagues and bosses.  Often the people who they report to care little about anything other than a number – whether that is revenue, sessions or application downloads.  Managing up often means giving the information that you need to, to show that an investment was worthwhile.

But a number taken from analytics does not and cannot exist in isolation.  It cannot stand alone.  When a pause is taken for thought, the question arises “Well, that’s all well and good, but is 100,000 any good”?

We’re lucky. In the main, our clients either understand, or have grown to understand that there is more to a number than the number itself.  They expect us to challenge them and their data and are happy to ask us increasingly difficult questions about the data we supply.

It comes back to goals

The Olympic 100m finals would be strange events if the athletes didn’t understand how the winner would be determined.  The same applies to performance reporting. You have to understand and define success before you start to measure.  The breadth of margins determine how precise that measurement needs to be.  Great reporting always stems from a question… “What is the point of this?”  Knowing why you are doing something means that you can understand the impact that your project is having.

Knowing what questions to ask

If you want to get better information from your digital performance data, you need to know what questions to ask.  You need to frame questions properly, define the point of your project and report on that.  Don’t just throw around numbers for the sake of it.

Here, we are experts at framing reporting questions and collecting the right data. And we know about presenting that information back in a way that is meaningful, relevant, digestible and actionable.

If you are stuck with your data and think that you can do better than 42, we’re here to help.  Give us a call, drop us an email and we’ll help you understand what the question was in the first place.

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