Google Analytics is by far one of the most valuable and under-utilized tools in a Web marketer's arsenal. Many marketers don't seem to have much interest in digging deep into the various Google Analytics reports to find useful information, as opposed to only looking at the interesting information.
The Difference between Interesting and Useful
Being interesting is helpful at parties, in movies and while out on a first date. Unfortunately it's not much help in the marketing world, although you wouldn't know it if you spent much time in corporate America where Web Analytics data is more often used for corporate back-patting and than it is for driving marketing tactics. Interesting information tells your company's decision makers how many visitors they had last month. Interesting information is telling them how long the average user spends on your website and how many pages they visit. Interesting information tells decision makers which countries most visitors come from and which time of day the website is busiest. However, alone on their own, not one of these metrics means a thing or is in any way useful. Just because something is interesting, doesn't mean it's useful.
Useful information, on the other hand, provides direction for action. Useful information does not have to be interesting, it only has to be actionable in that the information is applied to a future marketing campaign or business action. For the most part, interesting information only acts as noise which gets in the way of marketers who are trying to be useful. It's the useful information out there that should drive decisions, tactics and ultimately, strategy.
Knowing from which country your website visitors most-often come from is not useful, unless you intend on doing something about it. For example, an all-English language website who discovers that 30% of their traffic already comes from France may find it interesting. That information only becomes useful when it can be acted on (by offering French language content as well). Likewise, a small business owner who can see that 30% of her traffic comes from a mobile device may find it interesting, but it only becomes useful until they decide to offer mobile-optimized content to better support those visitors.
To be useful as a marketer, it's important to be able to determine what types of information are critical to making decisions and improvements. Getting stuck in the cloud of interesting data can make it impossible to make that data useful. Next time you create a marketing report or look at campaign results, ask yourself which data snippets are useful and which can be eliminated because they will not make it any easier to make decisions or improve.
Marketing today is not what it was 10 years ago. Having technical understanding and analytical skills is critical for success, although more important is understanding what information is useful, and weeding out the noise of data that is interesting. The next time you review marketing campaign results, consider what information will help you improve and look forward, as opposed to what information is merely a reflection of what has happened.