You always hear good web analysts stressing that you can't stop your journey of finding insights for business improvement at the "what."  For example, a "what" would be "conversion rate fell by 20% last quarter compared to last year." If you stop there and bask in the doom and're doomed (and maybe gloomed, but I don't know what that means). That fall might actually be a good thing. What?!? That's right. The answer to the question "why" will tell you if that's true or not.  Without that, you're taking stabs in the dark.

Finding out why can be easier...

Recently, I talked about many of the available options you can use to listen to your site's customers and help identify the "why's." But, there's one very simple yet under-utilized action you can take that helps tremendously in your search for answers from your data. It's a little feature in your analytics tool called "annotations." What are they? They're basically notes of your business and site activity on your timeline of data.  Here's where they are in Google Analytics...




You see that red arrow?  That's showing you the drop down box under the timeline that contains all the annotations entered for your chosen time period.

You won't remember everything...

Why are they so important? Because six months from now, you're likely not going to remember that your developers made some changes to your site or even what changes they were. Or how about when you're making year-over-year comparisons and you want to know why sales were down by 10% this year. It will be mighty hard to pinpoint exactly what happened last year, won't it? What dates exactly were you were out of stock on your products? When did you increase your PPC budget to draw more visitors? When did we hire that "discount" pay-for-performance SEO company that took us for a wild ride? When did our developer make those site changes that screwed up the analytics tracking code, and we didn't notice for three weeks? When did Walmart start selling our product? See what I mean?

Start with the most likely answers first...

If you see a shift in a metric's trend this time next year (as compared to this year), having notes on your timeline of all the key changes that may have contributed to the shift just may save you a bunch of time, money and energy trying to figure it out. Why? When you investigate a problem, you always start with the most likely answers first, right? Chances are, the problem lies with what is most likely to have caused the problem. Yes, I just said that. And it's because everyone has had these "duh" moments when, for example, they're checking on why their toaster isn't working only to find out an hour later that it's unplugged.

Wouldn't it be nice to know you changed the written content and images for a product page on specific dates and have that directly aligned with your data for that page? Now, in 12 months, if your page metrics change for the worse, you might be able to trace it back to the source. Heck, let's reverse it. Or, if you made changes to the page and the metrics didn't change, that's an issue too.

Overall, this is a seemingly small and insignificant activity that you don't hear much about. But, the next time you want the answer to a why question, you might wish that you had kept specific records of your activities. This one activity of recording your actions in your data timeline will likely save you much more time and energy than it takes to record them.

May 31, 2012

Mike Fleming specializes in Analytics and Paid Search for Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. You can follow Mike on Twitter at @SEMFlem. Mike enjoys playing, writing and recording music along with playing basketball to get his workout in. He resides in Canton, Ohio with a girl who threw a snowball at him one day…then married him.

Mike and the team at Pole Position are available to help clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Contact them via their site or by phone at 866-685-3374.


I had a client once that accidentally removed Google Analytics from their site, so we lost about a week's worth of data. Every time we talked over the next few months they would want me to figure out why they had lost so much traffic in that week and I had to keep reminding them that they had removed Google Analytics. They didn't lose traffic, we just lost the data. A year from now I'm sure they'll still be panicking.

Nice post, i usually take some time out of my work schedule after every 2-3 months and look after the required frontend changes and stuff to make sure that i'm getting most out of my website visitors.

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Search Engine Guide > Mike Fleming > Save Time Figuring Out Site Performance Changes: Take Notes