It is hard to value a picture of your family on vacation, of your friends at a party, or of your website 3 weeks ago. As touching as the first two options are, this post will focus on the last of the three: a picture of your website.
Now for many people, this is not a big deal. If you are running a blog or some other site that has a primary focus of serving content your website may not change much in appearance over the course of a few weeks. But for the people that work with sites that have a focus of selling things with crisp pictures and captivating copy, things are changing all the time – and analysts may or may not know about it.
As a beginner in web analytics, and in fact to marketing in general, it has become clear very early on that knowing why trends are changing in your data is nearly as important as the data itself. What people want from an analyst is not “what is changing” but rather “why is that changing”. Answering the first part will get their attention but very few people are content knowing that traffic is up 15% without knowing why.
Keeping a log of changes either manually or by writing a simple script – currently beyond my abilities, but a co-worker of mine whipped something up – is of great value. Now we have a copy of what pages looked like on any day we want. If the creative changes or a sub-zone on a division tab moves we have that change recorded. With copies saved off, you are the owner. Better yet, when someone asks for some analysis on your site’s homepage or division page you can not only show them the data and a cool graph, but an image of a pre-change and post-change look at the site.
It would be great if these things just happened or if the web analysts always knew what changes were happening when, but the reality is that that is not always the case. If you manage the copies saved off you can always be sure you will capture the change, no matter if you are informed about it ahead of time or not. If there is a question about content change, you can now look for yourself and deliver your analysis in a more timely and – more importantly – a more informed manner.
I’m not sure what a picture is worth, but a picture can turn data into information and information is priceless.
UPDATE: Just found a great example of this in an article written by Bryan Eisenberg. You can find it here. It deals with how people interact with Google search and how it has changed overtime. Short, simple analysis but cool.