Often times it is difficult to decipher what a client really wants. They'll tell you what they think they want (e.g. zig-a-zig ah), but what they mean is something completely different (e.g. a comprehensive platform that wows their current user-base, excites outside audiences, and drives revenue to the site and their sponsors).
Take, for instance, site anlaytics. When working with most analytics systems, the administrator will have access to various charts, graphs and statistics including number of sessions, page-views, pages per session, session duration, etc. (Almost) without fail, a client will say that they want the following:
- Increase the number of sessions
- Increase the pages viewed per session
- Increase the average duration per session
- Decrease the bounce rate
These all sound like good things. Unfortunately, base analytics are, generally, not what the client wants... it's simply an easily accessible method to measure results. Like all statistics, data such as this may be entirely misleading.
Simply increasing the number of sessions does not mean that the visitors are interested in the content within the site. A high number of sessions obtained by pulling in the wrong audience may simply increase your bounce rate and cause frustration to a large number of visitors.
Increasing the pages per session combined with a longer session duration sounds fantastic. This could very well mean that visitors are exploring the site and taking the time to read each article (great). Unfortunately, a visitor who loves the site and reads every line on every page appears almost identical to a visitor that simply cannot find what they are looking for and are stumbling through the site on a futile quest (not so great). The same measurement may have drastically different causes. One man's awe inspiring site is another man's poor navigation structure, irrelevant internal search results, and misleading article titles - and both look the same from the analytics perspective.
A good strategist/consultant will not only hear what a client says, but will listen to what they mean. This is what separates someone who works for a client and someone who works with a client. The above requests from the client might be translated to the following goals:
- Increase the ability for the correct audience to find the site
- Create interesting content that entices site visitors to explore and remain on the site
By achieving the above, the number of sessions may actually decrease as the site becomes focused on reaching the target audience. This is a good thing and helps build a smaller, but stronger, community. As a site becomes easier to navigate, the number of pages viewed per session may also decrease as visitors are able to easily find the information they require.
So how do you know when you have achieved your goal if the analytics are not reliable? It's simple... you talk to your visitors. You take the time to discover what does and what does not work within the site and then you work to correct the issues. This is not something that occurs once. This needs to be a process ingrained within the site maintenance cycle. The results may be difficult to discern in early phases, but as the cycle continues the process will become easier as issues become smaller. The results will be seen as your community fills with happy members and you will be content knowing that you are now listening to, rather than simply hearing, your audience.