What is data science and why does it matter?

By Al  |  31 March 2016

Data science is a fancy schmancy term for grabbing stats and data and reviewing it all to gain insights or knowledge.

It's more than just checking out the Google Analytics on your site once in a while; it's about looking at the data from multiple sources - your website, email management system, CRM, POS, and more. It's about really getting into the data, understanding what your KPIs are and tracking them, and fine tuning and tweaking to review the result of your outcomes.

Why you should care about data science

Embrace the digital world, it's where we live now. All of us, whether we like it or not, are being tracked and marketed to directly in so many ways. Have you ever searched for some airfares to New Zealand and then suddenly found  that every site you go to is showing you New Zealand holiday ads?

Data helps us understand more about our customers and potential customers so we can customise our marketing to them. Here are a few great reasons why you should care about it:

  1. Optimisation
    By reviewing your data regularly you can optimise your offering to ensure your customers and potential customers are getting what they're looking for. It can mean the difference between a sale or no sale, depending on what it is you are offering.
  2. Create efficiencies with content creation
    Data science lets you see the content that is not working, so you can stop creating content that doesn't connect. It can also show you where your content is lacking.
  3. Competitor comparison
    Compare your stats against others to understand how your site and host are performing in terms of page load times.
  4. Advertising refinement
    Know whether your advertising is working, and gain insights into where it is going right and wrong. Then optimise the advertising to perform better.
  5. Testing your advertising
    Run multiple advertising products (for example, banner ads) with different CTAs and landing pages to work out which perform well. It's important to be agile when it comes to digital campaigns by tracking and then pivoting the messaging and your target market.
  6. Database segmentation
    Segmenting your database allows you to understand how different groups of people within your email list are responding. Your analytics will show you what is reaching each segment, what they're opening and reading, what they're clicking on and, best of all, what is providing best return on investment.
  7. Confirm hunches
    By all means, follow your gut and make educated guesses about what you think your audience will love. You know them better than anyone. But then check your analytics to see if you were right and adjust accordingly. 
  8. Narrow a target market
    Narrowing your audience means you can specifically target certain people with your messages. This avoids going the traditional scattergun approach we've been used to in mainstream media. Now, we can narrow our focus to reach further and return more results.

Don't be overwhelmed by your analytics

My advice is to set up custom dashboards and goals. But before you do that, you really need to get to the crux of what it is that will make a difference to your business. A key performance indicator (KPI) is a measurable value that a business can set to see how effectively they are achieving their objectives.

KPIs must be quantifiable, something that is trackable and reportable and useful to your business. Let's not forget how everyone loves a good pie chart! Your KPIs should be able to be presented as charts.

Analytics are important to set up from the beginning so your site has clear KPIs. Monitoring and evaluating your site's KPIs gives you benchmarks to work from, and is as important as your marketing budget and reading your financials. Even though we all hate reading financials, we do it because they provide insights into business performance. A site with KPIs has clear targets - and if they're not met then it's time to review, alter, tweak. If they are met you get to celebrate and work out how you can best capitalise on that success.

Here's an example of some simple KPIs:

  • Building an email list by x amount in y timeframe
  • Our service offering will be viewed by x people in y weeks
  • We will sell x units in y weeks
  • X people will click on the contact us button in y weeks

After you've set up your KPIs, you can then go in and set up a custom dashboard within your analytics to report directly on them. We suggest being ruthless with what you report on in your custom dashboard. Here are a few options:

  1. Goals
    A goal is having a customer follow a path through the website; for example, land on your homepage, click 'join now' button, or complete form.
  2. Bounce rates
    You need to get an insight into why people are leaving the site rather than interacting. If the bounce rate is high on your site, it's obviously an indicator something is wrong, most likely with your off-site advertising. Monitoring the bounce rate and seeing these fluctuations can help you nip problems in the bud and stop spending on a useless piece of advertising. If the referrals are organic, you need to do something to entertain/encourage those visitors to turn them into customers. There is no use spending money on getting clicks through from an advertisement if you can't convert them on your site.
  3. Uniques v returns
    This will indicate how many new people you are reaching versus return visitors. An important caveat to this is that unique isn't 100% accurate because the same customer can visit on various devices. Returns are important though because they've come back to find out more and are further along the purchase path, therefore they are potentially more valuable. You can take action with those returns with software to detect them and change content on the site to add value and encourage interaction.
  4. Compare
    Make sure you're improving on the last reporting period and continually working towards your goals, but keep in mind seasonal fluctuations as they relate to your business. Capitalise on these by making adjustments to your site during this time, or even increasing ad spend in the slower months.
  5. Exit pages
    People have to exit the site at some point. What you want to ensure is that they are exiting after they have done what you want them to do. If they are exiting on a page you thought would engage them to act, you need to revise your page.

For more, see our post on getting the most out of your website statistics.

Written by Al  |  31 March 2016

Al is our technical director, and one of the best problem solvers in the industry.