The Watched Pot Never Boils

Stop looking at reports! Someone had to say it. Call it tough love, call it radical, but in the Internet Marketing world, “real time reports” are a useful feature—being abused. Please stop clicking refresh, stop adjusting segments, leave your analyst, intern, engineer and vendor alone and start doing some real work.

Don’t take this out of context, Internet Marketing is based and rooted in numbers and data, it is an absolute necessity to operate any business. However, observe what is being done with your time when you ask, “Why is revenue down today?”, “Hmm, leads are low today?” or “Why is this recipe winning today, it wasn’t yesterday?!”. You’ve just embarked on a journey to seek these answers. If the premise of your question seems reasonable – it’s not. Observe what happens when you begin on your journey to answer this question. Its a journey and just like any other journey, you bring along friends. You decide to bring along anyone who is involved with driving traffic to the site; Susan from paid search, Jim who is in charge of SEO, Bill from Engineering, Ted the intern, and let’s not forget about scheduling a call with a few vendors- “these reports can’t be right.” It takes Susan and her team a few hours to confirm Marin and Google are reporting as expected, Jim hasn’t made any HTML changes, Engineering has combed Google Analytics/Site Catalyst implementation for about as long as he had time for it, Ted didn’t find anything out-of-the-ordinary in the piles of excel files you sent him, and as for the vendors, they didn’t get back to you until the next day.

Which brings us to the point: Half your day, including those of the friends you brought on your journey, was wasted looking for an answer to an irrational idea about trends in your business. Let me explain. Internet Marketing is a pretty cool thing. We get instant data and are able to tie in the clicks, leads and purchases to some human behavior. Add all of this up and you start to match numbers to revenue and you discover trends as the days, weeks, and months progress. These trends then provide actionable data– actionable data that came from a trend. Remember, the trend comes first, a trend which does not present itself within a 24 hour period.

Don’t get me wrong, of course there are situations where low reports are a real-life indication of issues with performance: over-written tracking URLs, landing pages hanging from a 3rd party code, performance issues from spikes in traffic, and the list goes on. There needs to be a distinction between the 2 different scenarios. A distinction that can be made by recognizing when these reports, seemingly different and out of the realm of possibility, require such attention.

So when you ask, “Why are leads/revenue down today” or “Why is this recipe winning today” start considering instead, what plan of action you are working on this week—this month, to increase revenue. Are you working on this today, or asking the wrong questions and wasting everyone’s time? I hope it’s the former.

– Brion Hickey


2 thoughts on “The Watched Pot Never Boils

  1. sarah says:

    I love this one, because every day I walk into my office seeing people looking at the same reports they looked at yesterday, wishing they would do some real work

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