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What your analytics won't tell you.

Watching customers not analytics image

“Statistics are like a bikini. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital.” – Aaron Levenstein

Have you ever spent any time watching customers use your website? I don’t mean your wife or your friend or your nephew who’s built a few websites. I mean actual, honest-to-blog customers.

You see, the thing about your web analytics is they don’t always give you the full picture. And remember, I’m a HUGE fan of analytics.

For instance, a few years back, I was involved in the redesign of a major e-commerce site. And we gathered a group of customers together to watch them interact with the site. (You can do something similar inexpensively using a site like UserTesting.com. Steve Krug’s book Rocket Surgery Made Easy [my review here] has other great tips). And my team and I sat in frustration and horror as we watched the customers lean forward, one after another, to squint at our product photos and click on them. This didn’t happen once. This happened with every, single customer.

Why didn’t we know this?

Why? Because our web analytics didn’t tell us customers couldn’t see the photos. And it didn’t tell us customers were clicking.

Why not?

Well, the former is obvious (we didn’t have heat mapping at the time), but the second is the interesting one. Our analytics didn’t tell us what the customer was doing because the photos weren’t clickable. Analytics are designed to tell you how people interact with the parts of your site they can interact with. If you don’t let ’em interact, there’s nothing for the analytics program to tell you.

And, yes, tools like heat mapping can help you identify where people are putting their focus. But there’s still nothing like sitting and watching a customer struggle through your site to really understand what they’re going through.

So, grab some real-life, flesh-and-blood customers, try UserTesting.com or sites like Verify and see what your customers have to deal with.

After all, as a great American once said, “You can observe a lot just by watching.”

Got a user testing horror story? Learn something your analytics didn’t tell you? I’d love to hear about it. Leave a comment below.


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Tim Peter is the founder and president of Tim Peter & Associates. You can learn more about our company's strategy and digital marketing consulting services here or about Tim here.

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