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Get past metrics and visualize stories in Google Analytics

by on April 12, 2016
Last updated on

We begin as data scientists and numbers guys, but we become more valuable when we can use Google Analytics to tell good stories.

When you open up your Google Analytics dashboards, you immediately begin to define your performance by metrics, gathered in aggregate, about the pages in your site and how they performed recently. Common practice has us then digging through those piles of facts and figures to find and isolate areas of relative success and failure, searching for nuggets of insight that we can then take back and perhaps use to influence strategy and performance.

It is this thinking that gets us into questions such as:
  • What keywords can I use to get more traffic to my page(s)?
  • What traffic sources should I do more promotion on?
  • How is my bounce rate doing?

None of these questions put us into the mindset of the person, the actual person, that your business is trying to reach, assist, engage with and convert.

We need to stop thinking as data scientists, and instead start thinking like storytellers.

To think as storytellers is to get to the root of what Analytics is meant to help us accomplish: to quantify how successful we are at reaching our target audiences, helping our target audiences, and accomplishing the tasks we've set for them. But while the metrics give us numeric representations of those successes, they don't help us to understand the people. For that, we need to create stories.

For that we need to focus on the story, comprised of five parts: the characters, the setting, the plot, the conflict, and the resolution. This might seem familiar as it's the same process we use to create Buyer Personas.

Creating a Story

The Characters

Forget demographics and the demographic reporting in Analytics; start creating Characters (also known as Buyer Personas). Visualize your audiences and begin by creating characters that represent the different people that are your likely audiences. Take it a step further and give that person a name; if you can relate that persona to an actual person that you know, even better.

Being able to create defined characters, characters that you can picture in your mind, will enable you to formulate a more convincing story and write content as if you know them and are speaking directly to them.

The Setting

What's the situation that the character finds themselves in? How can we set the stage for the conflict that we know is going to happen, the one in which your audience reaches out and you provide the solution?

Are they late to work, running out the door to jump in their car and hurry in rush hour traffic to their office? Are they at home, doing research on their tablet in the living room? Are they going somewhere late at night in a rain storm? Where are they and what is the situation?

Understanding the setting can help you formulate your content to be in the most accessible structure for the character in the setting they find themselves in.

The Plot

The plot is not about your company making the sale, but is instead about the character that we've described in the setting successfully overcoming the conflict and reaching the resolution.

It's not about you, it's about them. The plot is their plot, not your plot.

The plot is the story about the person overcoming a dead car battery and getting to work on time. A parent working with their son or daughter, teaching them how to fly fish or throw a baseball. A high school student researching what to do about college applications.

Defining plots for your characters can help you create situational content that speaks more specifically, rather than broad spectrum responses.

The Conflict

How will the person overcome their dead car battery? The conflict is the part of the story where you can interject yourself, where you need to find your way of becoming relevant and accessible to the character.

As we discussed in our micro-moments post, we know that people pick up their mobile phone to do quick research or find possible solutions. Will they try to debug the issue themselves? - provide videos or graphical flow charts to find the cause. Will they try to fix the issue themselves? - provide instructions or helpful video. Will they need to call for help? - provide a phone number or online customer service.

Help them overcome their conflict, and make sure they're able to overcome it before anything else.

The Resolution

Your role in the story is to first and foremost bring your characters to their successful resolution; once that happens you can promote your own resolution (if the two are separate). Rather than just looking at your own goal conversion rate, instead look at the rate of user success: are they accomplishing their goals?

What is your user satisfaction rate?

How to apply these stories in Google Analytics

Analytics is just another way of looking at the stories of your users as they pass through your website, the moment that your website intersected with their needs and intent. And while you're looking at those stories, you're able to gather further details about their story, and if possible, you can re-enact their story providing you with actionable intelligence.

One piece of content

We can begin our story by isolating a piece of content, one that we created based on our identified Buyer Personas and content strategy. Isolating that one piece of content within Analytics, we can quickly see some interesting information... for example, we might have a long blog post with an embedded YouTube video. It's traffic might look like:
  • We might find that a significant percentage are first time visitors
  • They learned and clicked on the link from a social media channel (Facebook or Twitter),or perhaps from a Google search
  • At the time they were using a mobile device
  • It has a high bounce rate and a low conversion rate
  • We know the search queries they're using to arrive at the page
The high bounce rate and low conversion rate might lead us to investigate this page, to figure out ways that we can improve it, or ways that we can use additional Analytics tools to get a clearer picture of behaviors.

Evaluating a funnel

We're all aware of funnels (Behavior Flow) in our website, a path that users take that leads them somewhere in their discovery. See grouped paths, even isolate one path and see drop-offs and deviations by percentages, but what does this tell us if we're not overlaying a story?

The story is what brings context to this muddled picture, the idea being that we know why they came, were able to tease out different reasons for why they came, and aided them in navigating deeper into their exploration and resolution.

Discovery sources

Where did their story intersect with your website? And where are the most successful intersections coming from?

What's interesting about considering it this way is that it removes the success-fullness of your marketing efforts from the equation, which are often geared towards traffic generation and acquisition, and instead reframes it in a neutral. Our email marketing might be the most effective means of generating revenues, but that means that at some point in the story they had to register to be on our email list. When did that happen? Where did that happen from? What content inspired the registration, but also what landing page (and landing page query) initiated that storyline?

If we get too caught up looking at the resolutions, ignoring the story and plot that comes before it, we'll miss so much of the intelligence that can be gained.

Next steps

Next time you open your Google Analytics reports, don't just look at the quick data. Pick a landing page into your site, perhaps a popular blog post, and ask the 6 questions: who, what, when, where, why, and how.

Turn your analytics into a story, the story of your visitors, their quests, and how your website fit into that story. Work to find meaning and understanding within the data instead of simply using it as a series of numerical benchmarks.

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