Data Mines - The Where & What
At the start of a project, an organization's team typically wants to start with discussions around their data resources. Usually, I redirect them to their content as their first step, but often these steps happen in stride and in tandem. Data can be very useful in analyzing the content you have, but often there are steps that must be taken to organize and codify the data for us to derive any value and provide an analysis. Content is the starting point for the client when it comes to a technology project, because without knowing or understanding their content strategy, we cannot really decide on the direction for design and development; the data we are looking at is essentially meaningless without knowing what content we want to drive it. From here, a team can mix their content strategy with their data to develop what the web product actually needs - a systematic approach and methodology for design and development.
Data is often concerned with one specific source when building out a web product - Google Analytics. Where a company’s data is from, is usually focused on this single resource, but there are more options, some of which are free, that can help provide an assessment of site performance and what users might be seeing from a variety of devices and browsers. There are other listening tools available for actually tracking user interaction and engagement. We’ll review some options and give a brief explanation on their importance and how they can be utilized in assessing an organization's online performance.
For the where of the things - I tend to start with and review the basics. Google’s Search Console, as a platform linked with Google Analytics that provides a different variable of insight for data, is a great resource when it comes to assessing site performance, indexation, and other organic development means. This tool allows you to inspect how Google is viewing your site and create methods for reporting on site performance. When marketers and technologists talk about SEO - this tool becomes the first option in beginning an assessment for SEO. Interestingly, it is completely free but often the most overlooked when it comes to what organizations have done with their online presence, which is a shame given the insight it provides.
Some of the other free options that can provide important site assessments come from Google as well. PageSpeed Insights is something developers can use to assess site performance for mobile and desktop device. Providing valuable information on load times and items that can be optimized to improve site performance for users. This can impact your ability to convert users, as well as your performance for SEO. web.dev is another impactful tool for measuring site capability. It is similar in many ways to PageSpeed Insights, but provides information in a different manner. There is also further information to consumer from the site in relation to testing and reviewing site capability, as well knowledge from Google made available to developers for the purpose of improving site performance. A lot of these free tools are self serving for Google, of course, however they do serve users in turn. They provide a great deal of upfront data to analyze before diving into the deeper platforms available and their information deserves anywhere between five to twenty hours worth of investigation whether you are improving your site or starting a new project.
From here, we move into the more advanced platforms. There are other site investigation tools that can coincide with your research, but they typically cost money and likely won’t provide a great deal more insight at this point. The mother of all data tools is definitely Google Analytics - which its parent product is really Google Marketing Platform. The new platform was introduced earlier this year and promises to give advertisers, marketers, and developers alike more tools and resources to help build better digital products. Again, this is all self serving, the end user profile is defined by organizations, like Google and Facebook, but it in turn will help you better your products and services in the digital realm.
Google Analytics (GA) is the current king of data platforms when it comes to online assessment. There are many reasons for this, but the most inherent is it is free to use and offers incredible levels of insight for organizations. You could easily write a series on Google Analytics and the power of the tools it offers, which we’ll do at some point, but for our purposes, we’ll touch on it as a key instrument for your data needs.
Diving into the world of paid analytics platforms is much like discussing GA, there are many options with many features, all of which could require their own comprehensive write up. Rather than spend an inordinate amount of time listing of resources, I’ll give a shout out to a few platforms and systems, as well as a few complimentary products that make your research path and data more useful.
Customer Relationship Management (CRMs) platforms are as extensive and far reaching as any. Many have heard of Salesforce and Hubspot, but few recognize the powerful data they can provide about the types of users and information on those users that is held within. CRMs are often time intensive to manage, as they require a good deal of updating and structural build-out to provide useful data. Regardless, I recommend them for all businesses, big and small. As time and resources become constrained, having a management platform for customers can become a great asset when assessing business performance. They often contain the most pertinent data about the type of users that utilize your digital resources.
Other organizations utilize a variety of tools for collecting data. I love the site heatmap tools offered through Crazy Egg. Not only do they record user engagement and movement across the page, as well as across navigational elements, but they offer some A/B testing options that can give you impactful adjustments in the immediate, which can be useful during a post-launch testing phase, or a research and planning phase. Tools like this are great for Digital Marketers, Designers and Developers who are looking to learn about their sites immediate performance and what types of adjustments need to be made. However, if you are an executive and are looking for comprehensive data analytics you might consider some Business Intelligence (BI) Tool, like Domo. Sisense and Tableau are a few others that have some creative editing and database integration capabilities, but overall, the goal is the same: integrate my organizational data and help me assess performance. These are executive data resources that can come in handy when business leaders want to understand performance at a variety of levels, but aren’t able, or do not have the bandwidth for, digging deeper into the minutiae.
These are examples of the “where” of things. Where you get your data is indeed, deeply important. And for various businesses there are additional platforms to consider, especially social media platforms. However, those needs and platforms are specific to different business, and many may not need, or may not gather much useful data from those platforms. These listed here are somewhat universal and offer resources that are ubiquitous between organizations and help assess performance in more general ways for digital properties. Understandably, there are E-Commerce companies that will need to understand data from an online sales standpoint, organizations that thrive on engagement to drive their business, and advertising platforms that can provide deeper levels of insight for those that choose to utilize those tools. But none of those things are required, so I’m not giving an emphatic recommendation on those as a data resources. We’ll dive into those elements in later work.