I am not a maths nerd. Never have been. Words have always been more appealing to me. They can inspire, terrify and antagonise in ways that numbers never can, at least for me. With this in mind I’ve been thinking about how important it is to tell a story when dealing with web analytics. The ‘meaning’ is in the story not the number. This is particularly so when you are trying to explain something to executives. A change in a KPI may be significant or alarming but a problem cannot be identified without a story. And without a story a solution or a new test cannot be found. And this has really has nothing to do with numbers. It’s all fiction baby.
This has never been clearer to me than recently when trying to explain an adverse shift in numbers. It occured to me that as I, in my small way, construct stories about behaviour on websites, there are a whole bunch of finance analysts in grey pin stripped suits and finance journos in cheaper grey pin stripped suits telling stories about the economy.
They have been doing it for years, just making stuff up.
In the world of web analytics the final arbiter of success or failure is the profit and loss statement. Page impressions, visitor fallout, bounce, conversion, visitors and many others are just the parts which contribute to the whole. If you read the numbers incorrectly and tell the wrong story someone will soon tap you on the shoulder when they see the P and L.
But what happened on Wall Street? Who was reading the numbers and telling the wrong story? Even Alan Greenspan recently admitted his theories about deregulation were wrong. He was shocked to discover that when left to its own devices the market will descend into an abyss of lies, deceits and falsehoods.
The financial crisis is a good reminder to challenge your own assumptions, talk to you customers, read the numbers in a different way and see it anything rings true. Take nothing for granted.