Why Web Stats Are Still Worth Your Time
Whether your business website utilizes Google Analytics, Clicky, Omniture, or one of a score of other web metrics programs, you need some sort of stats system to be able to better understand your customers' needs. If we were to reference our ongoing indie band analogy, it would be like a band paying attention to stats from Pandora and Spotify (or radio, if you're old-school) to see which songs are getting the most plays. This way, when the band hit the road, they could know the right set-list to play for their fans.
I write about web stats quite often, so you won't be surprised to see that I argue for their value if you're a regular reader.
The Disadvantage of Web Stats
Still, there are weaknesses to leaning on stats too much.
Leo Babauta, a blogger / writer that I highly respect, had the following to say about the way he conducts his business:
Forget about stats, focus on helping. In the early days, I was obsessed about site statistics. I would check my stats counter several times a day, look at where all the traffic was coming from, try to get my numbers up. Here’s the thing: you can’t do anything with those stats.
To place the quote in further context, Babauta argues for a simple, productive life. Obsessing over stats can lead to a greater anxiety and can leave people feeling confused as to which actions to take next. "How do I get more Facebook visitors? More Twitter visitors? etc., etc."
And I see his point.
Babauta argues that if you're helping people, then you'll hear back from them. You'll know because enough people will be talking about it or following up with you that you'll have another type of evidence that you're on the right path. In a topic like finding a simpler way of living, I believe that he's right. Even without stats, a writer would likely be able to hear back on a highly sociable, highly conversation-able kind of topic.
But not every profession or type of help generates a lot of buzz. Simply keying in on people's responses (through social media or conversation or whatever metric you're using) precludes the readers who come to your website and pick up a key piece of information they needed to help them with their business or with getting through their day. Not every reader is going to rush over to Twitter after reading a useful article, but that reader will start paying more attention after finding the same site in search results several times over.
Using Stats to Keep Up with Your Readers' Tech Choices
One of the most important reasons I use stats as much as I do is that readers are using more devices to consume information. Hopping in to Google Analytics lets me see how many visitors are on tablets and mobile phones to view small business websites and to make recommendations accordingly. People pretty well get the idea that they should have some sort of mobile phone version of their websites, but we're still not really considering how different a tablet interface is from a desktop. Showing how many users are struggling with a site's interface (and therefore bouncing at a much higher rate) gives businesses a better show at moving a visitor to a customer.
Local businesses also have a host of advantages in being able to examine how customers in their target market are behaving.
The Right Tool for the Job
Please don't obsess over your websites. Do focus on helping people like Babauta recommended. Let's make the world a better place with that very desire.
And, when appropriate, use your stats to make your reach all the more effective.