Be careful with that data

Earlier this year, a client set up his Google Analytics so that it recorded which visitors filled in his website’s enquiry forms, and he could investigate these in more detail. That, of course, is a must for any business website owner, but you do need to be careful with the data.

Once you can look at just the visitors who actually made an enquiry, you can analyse the heck out of them. Are they visiting at certain times of the day, or on certain days? Are you getting enquiries from mobile devices? But the question which everyone wants answering (and quite rightly) is “where did they come from?”

Here’s where we need to be careful. A typical result might be something like this:
Enquiry Sources
Google: 11
Google AdWords: 5
(direct): 3
Everything else: 0

That seems interesting enough, and is a massive step forward from having no data on enquiry sources at all, which has been the case for most companies since the demise of magazine bingo cards. However, let’s think about some possible scenarios. Here’s just a random set of enquirers who wouldn’t get recorded under the right category above:

1. Somebody who found the company through Google AdWords but then telephoned you.
2. Somebody who saw you mentioned in some PR, so typed your name into Google to reach your website.
3. Somebody who’d talked to you at an exhibition, and later copied out your website address from a brochure to get some more technical background.

I could go on. All of those enquirers would either not appear in your “sources” list, or would be in the “wrong” category. As regards the people who telephone you, and aren’t recorded, I think it’s fair to assume that these could just be proportional to the number of people who use your enquiry form, so let’s not worry about that when comparing the relative effectiveness of traffic sources. However, I think the one area where you need to be really careful is that “Google” heading at the top of the list. A significant number of people who come in via the search engine and make an enquiry will not have “found out about you on Google”. Whatever caused them to want to get in touch with you, what they did next was simply to type your name into Google as the easiest way to reach your website.

Having data such as this is fantastic. But always be careful in interpreting it. What that table above might really be hiding is this:
Enquiry Sources
Found you on Google AdWords: 5
Found you on a Google search: 4
Typed your name into Google to get back to your website after initially finding you another way: 3
Saw a print advert and typed your name into Google: 2
Typed your name into Google after reading a brochure: 1
Typed your name into Google after reading a magazine article: 1
Copied out your URL from a business card: 1
Copied out your URL from a brochure: 1
Clicked on an untagged link in an email from you: 1

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