I ran cross country in high school. Rick Beattie  – who doubled as my coach and European History teacher – used to tell us “The clock doesn’t lie.” If I performed poorly at a meet, I could say that my shoelaces were too tight, the rain slowed me down, or my mind was wandering. But the fact of the matter was this: I had a number waiting for me at the finish line, and that number didn’t lie.

Fast forward (gulp) 20 years. Cut to a Union Street Media Internet marketing meeting. We’re gathered around a conference table looking at a spreadsheet of numbers. I think of Coach Beattie and say, “The data doesn’t lie.”

This is a universal truth. Before the Mad Men-esque advertising brainstorm meetings you envision, before graphic designers turn winning ideas into marketing reality, before a catchy slogan ever hits the printed page, there’s a common foundation: data.

Data is what provides direction and measures the success of creative marketing. It is the backbone of all successful marketing campaigns. Researchers spend months (sometimes years) collecting, analyzing, and interpreting data that will launch web innovation. They crunch numbers, set demographics, and hand over findings to the creatives. The creative team then packages all of that data into useful and digestible marketing material. Famous Old Spice commercials, Nike’s classic “Just Do It” tagline, the notorious Geico cavemen – they were all born from this data-driven process. Here at Union Street Media, we use the same process. We believe in data.

When it comes to website aesthetics, I have found two schools: those who follow data-driven feedback and those who listen to anecdotal feedback.

With Data-Driven Feedback, we base our decisions on the numbers. Union Street Media believes in data-driven feedback, and that belief has made our team ultimately successful. All of our sites are set up with Google Analytics (“GA”), an ongoing data collection service that generates detailed statistics about your website. Using GA, we gather near endless insights about how users interact with your site. GA tracks everything from how many users are on your site per day to how they got there and what they’re doing on each page they visit. All of this data serves one purpose: to help us take action and improve.

Here’s what the process looks like:

  • We watch how visitors interact on specific areas of your site.

  • We watch how visitors interact on the same areas for all of our sites.

  • Using this individual and global site data, we gauge what is working for visitors and what is not.

  • We make changes.

  • We see positive results.

  • We thank the data.

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This is a picture of site traffic on a webpage that went through a redesign in mid-April. We noticed that the original site was seeing a lot of visitors with a lot of engagement. In order to increase engagement we made the site more visually appealing and highlighted some of the more popularly used features and pages on the site. The results are quantified in the chart below.

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This data shows the increased site engagement after a full site redesign.

In the words of our friend and internet marketing guru Gahlord Dewald, “Only check your Google Analytics as often as you’re willing to do something about it.”  Every time we sign into GA, we find something we can improve upon.

Is the bounce rate on one of your pages climbing? We’ll search the data for that page, examine its content, layout, and functionality, and we’ll find opportunities for improvement. We make changes, monitor the data, and adapt accordingly. Sure, it may take a few rounds of changes to get it right, but we get it right. Because one thing remains constant: the data doesn’t lie.

Conversely, Anecdotal Feedback is a reaction based on personal opinion. Always unique, sometimes puzzling, this feedback is not without its merit. In fact, sometimes it’s spot on. But, unlike data, the one sure thing about anecdotal feedback is that it’s never a sure thing. Gut feelings and passing judgments are nearly impossible to track. What may be perfect in the eyes of one user is unsightly to another, making it difficult to gauge the better choice for your site. When it comes to anecdotal feedback, the HiPPO (“highest paid person’s opinion”) is often the anecdotal feedback that wins. Every time I hear the story of anecdotal feedback being chosen over data, I think of this cartoon:

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Here at Union Street Media, data informs our decisions. We do not thank the stream of inevitable anecdotal feedback from friends, family, co-workers, and end-users. We thank the data.

Want to take your website marketing to the next level? Let’s have a conversation that starts with the data. We know your marketing manager/client/friend/former second-grade teacher is really convincing with their enthusiastic suggestions for your website based solely on their gut feelings. The Internet Marketers here at Union Street Media have friends like that, too, but they kindly ignore this type of anecdotal feedback. And it’s not because your friend is definitely wrong, it’s because our data is definitely right. And we can prove it.