You Need More Than Analytics Data to Grow Your Business – You Need Systems

I have realized something after working with countless companies and helping them set up their analytics tools.

They all want the hottest tool.

They all want as much data as they can possibly gather.

However, these companies don’t actually care about the data. This might sound crazy, but hear me out. They want the data, but not because of what you might think.

They want access to data so they can improve something that matters to their business (e.g. conversion rates, user retention, revenue, etc.). They think that having data will make this easier (like their tools will magically make this happen), but they don’t understand that having data is just one part of the solution.

The second part is running experiments and being able to track the results from these experiments across your important metrics. In other words, taking action with your data.

In this article, I want to help you set up a simple system that lets you track these experiments and finally get you closer to what you want: better conversion rates, better user retention and more revenue.

Let’s start by setting up this system using a format that might surprise you.

Creating a Simple System for Tracking Tactics & Improvements

The best solutions are easy to implement and even easier to maintain. In this case, we can start by using Excel or Google Sheets (my preference) to track our progress on several key metrics.

retention metrics spread sheet

The structure of this spreadsheet should be simple and easy to manage.

We also want to use the concept of “cohorts” to group users/visitors so that we can compare how each group performs across our key metrics.

You can then run experiments that only affect a specific cohort (e.g. an A/B test only during the month of July). This is an easy way to see the impact of your changes.

Once you get this setup, we will then be able to look at how visitors from July did against visitors from August in metric A, metric B, and metric C, and know exactly why these numbers went up or down.

Why Not Just Use Your Analytics Dashboard?

You can also use your existing analytics tool (Google Analytics, Mixpanel, etc.), just make sure you can see all of your important metrics at a glance and can compare your current numbers against previous weeks or months. However, there are a few good reasons to implement a sharable spreadsheet:

  1. Not everyone has access to your company analytics. Having important metrics accessible to your team is crucial to keeping everyone aligned. As a matter of fact, it’s been shown to be imperative to hitting big company goals.
  2. Sometimes you don’t want every person logging into the company analytics. Whether it’s to keep sensitive data secure or preventing someone from tinkering with crucial settings or reports – anyone that has had to manage an analytics account knows too many cooks in the kitchen can really mess things up.
  3. The habit of gathering data. This sounds redundant, the act of actually pulling data and putting it into a spreadsheet forces you to internalize these metrics regularly. This is when valuable insights appear.

Collecting the Data You Need from Google Analytics & Other Tools

The data that you need will depend on what metrics are important to your business. For example, let’s look at a content marketing strategy, which means we can get the majority of the data that we need from Google Analytics. Your data might come from Mixpanel, Stripe (payment processing), etc.

google analytics

Google Analytics Dashboards can show you all of your metrics in one single page.

Once you know where you will get the data, figure out a way to simplify this data collection. In the world of Google Analytics, this means creating dashboards or custom reports that only show you the numbers that you care about.

ecommerce traffic report

You can also consider creating a custom report that expands on dashboards.

One final note on Google Analytics; if you’re not sure what metrics or dimensions you need, you can check out the Metrics & Dimension Explorer, which has a reference to all the metrics found inside Google Analytics.

You will then take this data and add it to your spreadsheet. Ideally, you’ll be able to update your spreadsheet in a few minutes every week or month. Keep it simple and focus on getting just the data that you need.

Experimenting Your Way to Success

Now that we have a system and we know where to get our data, we can start running experiments to improve our metrics.

We know that we are using “cohorts” which could be weekly or monthly groups of users. You could even do daily groups if you wanted to!

You can then start to figure out what experiments you will run for each cohort. Focus on 1-2 experiments that will improve your most important metrics (the one with the biggest potential for improvement). Remember to run these experiments with scientific rigor, and if you’re running an A/B test, be sure that you have enough traffic and are calculating your statistical significance.

cohort sign ups

You can track the details of your experiment in the “Notes” section of your spreadsheet.

Over time, you will start to notice patterns in what impacts your metrics. These patterns will come from a continuous effort at improving a limited amount of metrics.

The Magic is in the Habit

Having an easy to manage spreadsheet is the first step to improving your metrics. A Google Doc spreadsheet provides easy access for everyone in your organization and it’s a great solution for providing insights on what to improve.

It’s not enough just to have data. You need to take some kind of action with your data and be able to measure the impact of your actions. This is where systems come in.

Put someone in charge of gathering these metrics on a regular basis. It’s a good idea to review these metrics during meetings and stand-ups so discussions can occur on what experiments to try and how to improve.

Focus on tracking a small number of metrics through a simple system that helps you make improvements on these numbers. Keep it simple since you can always improve it later. I cannot stress this enough. Just having fancy tools will not help you grow. You need to break down your analysis and action process (keyword here is action) so that your team can actually get on the track to some growth momentum. Just staring at analytics dashboards will lead to the worst possible thing: analysis paralysis.

About The Author:

Ruben Ugarte is the founder of Practico Analytics where he helps startups use analytics to improve what matters to them: user retention and engagement. If you liked this post, you will like his blog posts on analytics principles and how to use data to make better decisions. You can say hi @ugarteruben.

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