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Garbage In, Garbage Out: Why Investing in Analytics is the Best Decision Your Company Can Make


It’s hard to believe how different everything seems compared to the beginning of 2020. The rules of engagement have changed dramatically, and businesses have been forced to adapt. To weather the storm the pandemic brought about, many companies have found themselves in a sink-or-swim position that pushed them to expand their online presence; to open new digital doors to customers who may not be allowed, or even feel it’s safe enough to leave the comfort of their own homes. They needed to lean in on the website.

How can you manage the customer experience effectively, though, when you can’t look your customers in the eye? Can’t ask for their feedback? Can’t talk to them about options? Let’s be real – you know the answer already: collect data about user traffic, analyze it, and make decisions to move forward. Google Analytics is a free tool that many companies use for this exact purpose, and with this free platform, they can freely free free information for free, f’real. Did I mention it was free? Well, it’s free, so why don’t you use it too? Chances are, you do.

But…this article isn’t entitled “Why Using a Free Analytics Tool is Awesome.” It’s about why you should invest because the title could actually have been “Why Using a Free Analytics Tool is Secretly Ruining Your Business.” Now don’t get me wrong, we LIVE AND BREATHE Google Analytics, and we recommend it to ALL of our clients – just not without some tender love and care. Why? Because Google knows a lot (too much, some may say) and (as strange as it sounds) not nearly enough.

Understand the Limitations of Free Data Capture

Let’s start with a little example: you’ve most likely used Google Maps before. It’s crazy when you think about it; Google has pretty much mapped the whole wide world, offering street views of countless roads and all of the homes and businesses on them. You can see what the faces of those buildings look like without needing to be there physically. What’s even cooler is that you can virtually walk through any of those front doors, look to your left and see the color of the carpet, look right and see the attractive marketing banner, take 3 steps forward and examine the pleasing arrangement of the inventory on the shelf, take a – wait…you can’t do that? Silly me.

For as powerful as Google Maps is, it doesn’t do it all. The same is true for maps in the whole wide world with the Google platform as it is the data in the world wide web: Google Analytics can see plenty of high-level stuff, but many of the details are consigned to oblivion. Google (as of yet) doesn’t know how to quantify or organize those details since every “building,” or in the case of Google Analytics, every website has different rules governing its use. That includes yours.

Google “understands” some things about your website, such as sitemap, drop off, and engagement, but to what extent? In most cases, it’s that “something basic occurred.” Someone accessed this page, or someone left on that one, and sure, there’s the reported demographic data that comes with it like age, location, gender, (and more) of the group of users that did it. There is far more that it doesn’t “understand” though – some fairly important – like “this person bought something,” “that person scheduled a demo,” or “this sale came from someone responding to a Google search ad.” Those might be good to know!

Without dedicating the energy to ensure your Google Analytics setup mirrors the specific needs of your business, (you know, those things you are basing all of your decisions off of to move your business forward,) how can you be sure your choices are correct, or even impacting anything at all? Simply put, your analytics system must directly track those important details you need, or else it’s borderline useless, and a free, out-of-the-box tool cannot do that. But wait…there’s more. A whole lot more.

Get Ready for Information Overload

Let’s suppose for a minute that you’re ok with not capturing the specifics of the data. It’s still reasonable to approach analysis from a higher level, after all, focusing on broader metrics like traffic, new-versus-existing customers, or time-on-page. You can still measure engagement with that, right? Well, if you enjoy living in blissful ignorance, I strongly recommend you close your eyes, put on some headphones, and go to your happy place; otherwise, I’m about to red-pill you real bad.

Google is truly fantastic at capturing data. Truly! So amazing at it that they’ll get you data you never knew you needed…and also data you know you’ll never need, or worse, actively don’t want. They’ll take it all, throw it in a blender until it’s indivisible, and spit it back out at you with a pretty little bow, showing you just how all those “users” interacted with your site. I’m sure you didn’t miss those quotes – note that I wrote “users” and not “potential customers.” “Users.” What does that even mean?

You’re a user. Same with Bob from accounting, your dev, and your marketing teams…but are they customers? What about all of the web-crawling bots out there? Everyone and everything that accesses your site (no matter how they do it) will fall into this category, whether or not they could actually become a customer. Knowing that, does that change how you view your traffic patterns? It seems like it could be skewed a little bit, no? Data inflation…is real. And it’s widespread. And it isn’t very good. Fortunately, it’s also fully avoidable, just (say it with me) not out-of-the-box. So what does it all actually mean?

Take a Step Back: What Are You Actually Looking At?

With Google Analytics implemented on your site, what does it actually mean for you if you haven’t taken the steps to customize it? What are you really looking at?

Generic data from non-representative sources.

If you’re using that to dictate your company-wide strategy, there’s something else I would call it: garbage. There’s a famous saying when it comes to that: “Garbage in, garbage out,” which is a fun way of saying “you can’t make good assessments if you’ve got bad data.” That’s the real reason behind why I mentioned free analytics tools secretly ruin your business: too many people rely on this misleading data, believing it to be trustworthy.

So is Google Analytics worth it at all if the data that comes out-of-the-box isn’t all that helpful? Absolutely! It’s one of the most powerful data capture platforms out there, it just needs a bit of customization. The good news is that there are experts out there who can help! Now, after that incredibly long-winded setup, here’s why investing in a fully customized analytics setup is the best decision your company can make.

To Be Useful, Data Needs a Practical Purpose

Even though the infinite volume of data points can cloud results, with proper implementation, you have an infinite possibility to capture useful data points. Not only that but to isolate them and remove the noise. So the question is: what do you actually care about? Increasing business, sure, but if your question with an out-of-the-box system is “am I increasing business,” try as you may, you won’t find the answer. Now imagine you actually had that ability – think of all you could do. What might that look like? What does “increasing business” truly entail in a technical sense?

A bit of translation is required, but you need to understand how your business needs align with your website’s capabilities. What does a person physically need to do to meet that need? Is it a button click? A download? Phone call? So long as there is an action associated with it, it’s more than likely you can track it. What about leading to that point? Does it matter to you what the user experience is? Is there anything of value there to track? Even if you can’t think of it off the top of your head, I’ll tell you this much: yes. The answer is yes. We’ll dive into Conversion Rate Optimization some other time, but the TLDR version goes something like this:

You can improve your conversion rate using analytics.

While there are literally infinite items to track, it all starts in understanding what is happening (specifically, those elements you care most about), which requires data rooted in reality. Only after you know how things are truly functioning can you enact change and measure improvement. If you’re using Google Analytics, you likely are already doing it, so why not equip yourself with better information to make it more impactful?

Streamline and Cut Unnecessary Expenses

It doesn’t stop with making more revenues, though. My man Ben Franklin once said, “A penny saved is a penny earned,” and wow, do you have a lot of pennies that would fit the bill! We’re not talking about banking them – just not spending them, or otherwise not wasting them. While this won’t necessarily apply to everyone, many businesses spend a lot on marketing, website lead gen tools, and more to generate revenue. The question a custom analytics tool will help answer is quite simple:

“Is it worth it, or should I cut or reallocate my spending?”

Imagine two marketing campaigns running simultaneously and consider this famous quote from marketing pioneer John Wanamaker: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” If all you can see is the end result and the impact on overall leads/sales, you may find yourself in the same exact boat, uncertain of which half is working and what you’re wasting. If you had the ability to measure the individual impact, you’d be better prepared to do a cost-benefit analysis. If only Mr. Wanamaker had Google to help! Alas, he was a century too early.

Just as we could utilize Google Analytics to track certain information on the site, you can also set it up to show how that activity ties to the reason they made it to your site in the first place. That’s called source tracking, and it includes marketing efforts. To continue in the example, if Marketing Source A accounts for 10% of the marketing sales but 50% of the expense, you’re more likely to shift more of your budget into Source B because the related ROI is that much better with its 90%-of-sales track record. Seems helpful, doesn’t it? That’s just one example, and odds are, if you’re spending money on anything, there’s a way to see if it’s worth it. Cut costs, optimize results, increase profits.

How Much You Should Invest in Custom Analytics

And now, the million dollar question: “What’s it gonna cost me?” The truth is, this article doesn’t have that answer, but you do. We’ve discussed the two sides of it:

  1. Increasing revenues by raising the effectiveness of your website and related decision-making capability
  2. Decreasing expenses by eliminating wasteful spending

I would argue that it isn’t about the cost outlay, but about the returned value, mainly because analytics isn’t a “do something, and something will happen” investment. You can make of it what you will, and are in full control of what it can yield. It’s more about “do nothing, and nothing will happen.” This means that it’s about the opportunity cost of maintaining the status quo: “what can I miss out on if I don’t take this action, and what is THAT worth to me?” No matter the price tag, you and you alone can assess what that would mean to you. What price tag would make it unreasonable? If you can spend less than that, I’d argue that it’s worth investing in.

If you’re not confident in projecting out changes in revenue from improved information and decision-making capability, start by using your imagination. What if you could increase the conversion rate by 0.1% – what would that translate to? What about 1%? 10%? None of these numbers are unreasonable, but they do need to be examined through your individual lens to see what’s possible for your business. This analysis can give a ballpark figure to set expectations but recognize that the limits are boundless with unlimited upside potential.

What about the expenses? Those should be a little more straightforward: what are you spending now, what are the returns you’re seeing, and is everything operating at 100% efficiency, or is there room for improvement? What could improvement look like, and how could you reduce your costs by enacting change? If you optimized expenses rather than cut them, what ROI metrics would be impacted, and by how much, particularly if you used the data from the related activity to also increase revenue?

What’s the potential you’re sitting on? How much do you have waiting to be unleashed, if only you had the ability to do so? What are the benchmarks your data and marketing teams could clear when armed with certainty and objective truth? That’s what it’s worth to you. That’s what a fully customized analytics tool is capable of providing you, and that’s what you should consider when it comes to making this investment, which I will argue until the end of time: it is the best decision a company can make.

Ready to Invest in Your Analytics Now?

At Great Big Digital Agency, we specialize in custom analytics setups, ensuring your website provides the best data possible so you can thrive and maximize your return. Our hands-on approach revolves around the details of your industry and of your company, in particular, shining a light on all of the components needed to best set you up for success.
Our analytics implementation packages start in the 4-digit range, but we usually start with a free, no-obligation video audit for a high-level overview – contact us today if you would be comfortable spending $0 to set your company up for success.


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