Swimming in a sea of numbers

I love going through our web analytics tool, WebTrends. The sheer volume of information collected is staggering and you can weave your way through revenue numbers, visits, page views and other useless bits of data for hours at a time. What I find really fascinating is the changes that occur over time.

My first pass at looking at browser stats several years ago was typical for the time. Firefox 2 and IE7 were just released and Safari was not ideal even for Mac users. The breakdown back then was IE 88%, Firefox 7.5% and Safari 2.75%. Today the breakdown nearly three years later the numbers look a little different with IE 74%, Firefox 15% and Safari 8%. What I like about these stats is the ability to see the change over time and speculation.

You might be saying, “So what?” This one piece of information alone isn’t the only thing to take into account as there are other pieces of data that need to be considered in this context to formulate any sort of hypothesis. Based only on this stat you could argue that Mac users are an increasingly important user base. Afterall three years ago at most about 10% could be Mac users. More recently you could argue the max number of users could be 23%.

The danger is that change like the example above can lead to misinterpretation and overreaction. Sure there may in fact be more Mac users than before, but the hard part is figuring out if it really makes a difference. How will the information be used to better the customer experience?  So often we grab a snapshot of where we are today, last week or this month. While long term trends are not the most important variable, I think there is great value in seeing how customer trends appear over a much longer period of time. In this case further research might yield some additional considerations to providing a better customer experience.