Drowned in data

I like numbers. They always used to make sense, like some kind of Kantian category that was just needed filling with the outside world. Basically, I was a maths nerd.

I was, note the past tense, a maths nerd. Liberal arts education has made my matrix knowledge a thing of the past. I am confident, with the usual optimism of people who believe that past events can help predict future events. If I was smart then, I surely will be smart now. Surely. Of course. I am.

And it’s not like I am wrong about it. I am just a bit rusty and now the numbers aren’t just numbers but relate to real (digital) life activities. A measurement of performance is relative to past performance, objectives, strategy. It’s not just positive or negative. It depends. Grey area.

This I can live with, a bit of uncertainty to keep it interesting. Excitement to find out what works where, what indicators you should look at for different goals, are insights confirming what you thought it might work (social and digital display mostly). It’s fascinating and it is practical, it’s something that you must learn by doing. It’s ever changing; what works today might not work tomorrow. Technology is ever evolving, it’s very exciting!

You know what it is also? Very confusing at first. And time consuming, but let’s leave that for now because most tasks are time consuming (duh) and I am actually not bothered by it unless I’m in a rush. But the confusing part is annoying, because there is so much data that looking at the right performance indicators and making sense of what the numbers are telling you isn’t as easy as it would seem. Yes, we are in the era of Big Data. But, how to turn that into useful insights? There lays the struggle.

There are plenty of articles out there about what to look at, and I have honestly just started to look in detail at Google Analytics so I am not going to try to look to like a smart-ass and give you a ‘top 5 rates to keep an eye on for your online business’. I am going to give you a sincere chronicle of how confusing I first found it and my learning process.

It all makes sense when you are being explained it: lower your CPC, increase your CTR, worry about your bounce rate, keep an eye on CPL and CPA and conversion rates. Check your audience, who is seeing your ads vs who should be seeing your ads. But then you go in and you try it yourself, and I guarantee that you are going to forget something. That’s learning for you.

When setting your campaign the most important thing is to understand your audience. Where they are , what attracts them, what the benefit your can easily provide is. You can select to a high level degree of precision what audience you want to target with AdWords, Facebook Ads, GDN. Then think of the copy. You should never underestimate what good copy can do for you. You read things because of how well they are written and how clear they are. Copy goes a long way. Graphics – aligned with your brand. Finally the B word. Budget. Google gives you estimates of how much to bet for words and you can play afterwards with the ad settings and add more spend if needed. Worry but not too much.

So you have finished setting up your campaign – don’t worry there is always help online if you are stuck- and now you are keeping an eye to it. And it all went well! Or didn’t so much, but that is the best learning experience anyway. Now you have your results and THIS IS THE IMPORTANT PART. You need to make sense of them. What use are all those rates and all those numbers if you don’t learn from them?

So it’s important to take a step back and to look at the numbers with a critical eye. Maybe even bring in another set of critical eyes. try to understand why you got the results, what factors were involved and what performance indicators are important for you. A useful way of learning what works is A/B testing. You create two versions of the same ad (different text, graphics) and expose it under the same conditions to the same audience. Run both simultaneously and see which one performs the better against your KPIs. I find that this gives CONTEXT to your data. You see what works better and your base it on actual performance, it gives you a benchmark against which you can measure other projects, it creates expectations that can be met and passed.

Step back and think. Try to be objective about your baby online project and don’t lie to yourself. You learn more from an accepted mistake than anything else (pain aversion, what makes us suffer stays more vividly in our memory as a survival mechanism so we don’t repeat it and feel the pain again). See what worked and try to replicate that on your next campaign. See what didn’t and try to avoid that. Have clear objectives that help you make sense of all the data your are being fed. Relax. Breathe. Take action.





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