Critical Context in Analytic Data: Captain Kirk, Mortality Rates & Red Shirts

RedshirtMatt Bailey, in his lively Search Engine Strategies presentation, “Analytics: Data Into Action,” explained the importance of context in analytic data using the analogy of calculating the mortality rate of the “red-shirts” on Star Trek. This session was moderated by Kevin Ryan, Vice President, Global Content Director, Search Engine Strategies and Search Engine Watch.

Analytics data on its own does nothing
Analytic data on its own doesn’t tell a story. Data plus information (context) equals knowledge.

Analytics fits into the larger picture of your website process

  1. SEO: if they can’t find you, you’re not there.
  2. Usability: If they can’t find it, it’s not there.
  3. Analytics: what the *&^ just happened?Analytics data on its own means nothing.

Hire someone to analyze your data
Many people have it backwards: they spend money on tools and not on people. To get the best investment, spend 10% on the tool and 90% on the person.

Analyze your key performance indicators by segments
When you analyze your KPIs (time on site, pages viewed, conversions, etc) by segment (did visitors come from blogs? websites? social news, search?) you will get the true picture of your visitor’s experience. Visitor behavior will differ depending on how they got to your site. For example, link followers are more invested than those who landed on your site from a search dump.

You’ll know you’re done when you can tell a story
If you just have data, you can only speak in numbers. When you have context, you can tell a story. Where did your visitor come from? What were they looking for? What did they find? What did they do? My visitor came to my site from an affiliate link, but when they got there, the product had been replaced by a new model and they left immediately.

Once you do an analysis, do something with the results! Those who did so saw improvement of return on investment between 900 – 1200%

When you explain the results, lose the geek speak!
If you try to tell your story using the analytics words, CEOs will either freak out at the pure stats, or their eyes will glaze over. Don’t be afraid to change the labels to make things sexier and easier to understand. This is how “undecided site visitors #312-400” can become “flirters.”

The more you optimize your site, the less people will enter at your homepage
Bryan’s edict to designers: “No one wants to see your flash! Except on Coke sites.”


Ok, let’s put the whole thing together in a Star Trek analogy…

Start with a question: Why are we spending so much on redshirts?
Statistics tell us that the Star Trek Enterprise over her mission years had a crew of 430, with 59 crewmembers killed during the mission, which comes out to 13.7% of the crew. So, that will be our overall conversion rate, 13.7%.

Segment By Verticals and Acquisition Method
We need to know how many dead crew members were red-shirts (segmentation):

  • 43 of 59 crew members killed were red-shirts, confirming that red-shirted crew members died more than any other crew members.

Measure Each Segment/Compare and Contrast the Results
There were many variables in circumstances of red-shirt deaths:

  • whether they died from being on board the ship
  • whether they died alone or in groups
  • whether Captain Kirk’s getting busy with female aliens affected a red-shirt’s mortality (it did, they died less often when Kirk got some and avoided getting into fights)

Put Results in Context/Focus on Business Value

The bigwigs at StarFleet want to know why they’re spending so much money on Ensign (red-shirt) new hires. Now we’ve got a story we can tell Starfleet, and we can make recommendations for change:

  • keep red-shirts aboard the ship (red-shirts die more often on the planet)
  • keep red-shirts from fighting
  • make sure the landing party only goes to peaceful planets with female aliens
  • set up romantic candle-light dinners and Barry White music for Kirk and the ladies

More Data For the Extremely Trekkie: If you would like to see all the red-shirt mortality statistics and analysis, Matt has lovingly spelled them out here, along with some Starfleet PowerPoint slides (presumably made for Kirk to explain to the federation why he needed such a large Ensign new-hire budget).

and now…a musical interlude….
“It’s Not Easy Being Red,” by some dude on YouTube.[kml_flashembed movie="" width="297" height="245" wmode="transparent" /]

Matt Bailey speaks internationally on the topic of website marketing. He is a speaker and trainer for the Direct Marketing Association, the American Advertising Federation, and the Search Engine Strategies Conferences. SiteLogic was founded by Matt as a website marketing and training company, developing custom in-house training seminars for agencies and businesses. 

Expendable T-shirt is available here courtesy of ThinkGeek.

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