Gavin Hirst - Wednesday 10th April 2013

Data and the importance of context

I read a really interesting article recently which looked at the importance of providing context with data in which the author, Bruce Ernst, highlighted the recent issues Google have had around the release of some data relating to the number of Americans who potentially had the flu.

Basically, to summarise Bruce’s post, Google created an algorithm based on the number of people searching for information about flu and created something called Google Flu Trends – this compiled a number of good indicators to estimate flu activity. The magazine Nature took exception to this, highlighting that only about half the number of people identified by Google’s Flu Trends actually had the flu. What Nature did was assume that because Google had released this data, they were saying ‘this is the number of people who have flu’ whereas what they were actually saying was ‘this is the number of people who think they may have flu’, or even just the number of people that were interested in it as they or friends may feel they have symptoms of the flu.

What basically happened was Nature magazine made some assumptions based on the data provided because there was no context supplied with the data. So, where am I going with all this and what does it mean for you and your digital activity.


Analytics and data

Well, the point I am trying to make is that as organisations that operate on the web, we need to understand the data we are given access to and give it context. At Digital Hothouse, we specialise in not only the advanced implementation of Google Analytics in order to get you the information you need, but also the interpretation of that data. We can provide your business with countless reports that will tell you how well your site is performing, which areas are underachieving and where you could improve. However, without context, Google Analytics becomes rather redundant and all you end up with is a folder in your ‘inbox’ entitled ‘Google Analytics reports’ which you never actually do anything with other than file away.


Providing context

Digital Hothouse is here to help you get the most out of your website. We can certainly make suggestions and recommendations about the type of things you should be reporting on through Google Analytics, but at the end of the day, it is best if that information is generated by you the client. After all you are the ones that know your company inside out! You are the ones working with the products or services you sell day in day out. And you are the ones who can provide context to the reports that we can generate for you.


How do you provide context?

To quote from Bruce’s article, “Begin with the end in mind before you jump into your data. Start with a premise or hypothesis. Ask yourself: Should we care about the answer to this question? If we get this answer, can we do something with it? Should we do something with it?” You need to decide exactly what it is you want to achieve. Once you know what it is you want to achieve, you then need to decide what you will do with the information we can give you. Once you know all that, we can work with you to get you that information and get your website working for you.


How can we help you?

So, context is key to understanding any data you are provided, as seen with the Google Flu Trends situation. Decide what it is you want to find out, give it context and we will do the rest for you. We will work with you at every step of the way to make sure that you are getting the information that is most relevant to your company. We can set up reports that will give you an insight into where your customers are coming into your site, how they behave when they get there and then working with you, set up some funnels and goals that will help drive traffic to the pages you most want your customers to end up.

Analytics are there to help you get the most from your website and ensure people are visiting those key pages you have identified. By giving context to the data, we will help you to deliver results whether you are an e-commerce site, whether you need to raise brand awareness or a whole host of other reasons for hosting your website.

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