Statistical snobbery

After several weeks of wrangling with two different sets of site stats that tell me two entirely different things I can confirm that I’m pretty pissed off with the whole issue and I’m someone who considers themselves a bit of a stats geek who loves time in front of an over complicated spreadsheet (=SUM(stats+ bullshit = False).

Now most people who have websites will have some interest in their site stats, they can tell you useful things like what search strings people used to find your site, what are the most popular pages and the holy freaking grail the number of visitors. I currently use two methods to measure visits to my site one provided by website host and Google analytics. So with a definite number of people visiting a site and a definite amount of people searching for your site using certain words (apparently for this one it’s ‘boobs’) the numbers should be exactly the same. WRONG!

So when I see people talking about their site stats I tend to take it with a pinch of salt. I mean when someone says ‘advertise on my site I have x-many thousands of visitors’ I have to think so bloody what? Is that a day, a week, a month, a year? FFS people if your going to talk about stats at least have the balls to quantify them. I also want to know what they are using to count their stats, are they cross-referencing them with a number of sources? Are they checking the validity of the searches used for their sites? Yes you may have tonnes of visits but if they are there by mistake and not actually looking for something legitimately on your site can pretty much discount all those people. Are the people visiting your site actually potential customers? How can you boast about visits if you don’t know how many of them are on your site with the intention to buy something. For me I obsess over visitor flow and I want to see how people progress through the site and get to those valuable pages which maxmise the potential for economic exchange. This is what matters , numbers are pretty sodding meaningless unless you can back them up with facts.

Having said all this I, unlike many others, have no problem with people discussing stats in public but my plea is that if people do it they at least have the decency to caveat what they are saying with the limitations of the data available to them. It’s no more annoying than when people talk about Facebook like or numbers of Twitter followers but just a hell of a lot more difficult to quantify. If people dicussing it makes it a more open and transparent process that’s fine by me but at the moment it like comparing apples and elephants.

Lots of people will tell you Google analytics is the only way to go but I have recently discovered it’s drawbacks especially if you have a site that isn’t structured in a traditional way and has had previous incarnations that are still used by visitors. I have found huge swathes of missing data with Google analytics and it’s nothing at all to do with the service provided by Google (bless them) but to do with my site and how it works (I just had to have something different didn’t I). So I have to use two different services and look for the similarities between them and create my own analysis (oh my beautiful spreadsheets how I love thee). Anyone who has experience in research would know that the more sources you have available the better as by delving through enough data you are gonna find some kernel of truth.

So my geeky performance analyst by day and blogger/hen party organiser by night advice is – numbers don’t mean jack unless you actually do some work interpreting what they mean. If you go shouting about your visitors to get sponsorship and you haven’t done this you are just going to end up with lots of pissed of people who have given you money for little or no leads. You have been warned.

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