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Apply your skeptical editing skills to digital analytics

In a series of earlier blogs, I encouraged editors to be strategic about social media.

What does success look like? What is your goal? What's your return on investment? How are you going to measure results? If you can't answer these questions, then you may be wasting your time.

More isn't always better. Sometimes more is just more work.

We're all too busy to spend all day ping-ponging from Facebook to Twitter to Pinterest to Instagram to Google+ to LinkedIn to Vine to Whatever Is Hot Tomorrow unless we know what the pay off is.

I stumbled across a presentation today by Rand Fishkin, founder of Moz, today that hits the nail on the head.

The presentation is titled Why Great Marketers Must Be Great Skeptics, but the message applies to all of us.

Don't take data on blind faith. Don't reinvent your digital world based upon a single analytic. Don't read one blog (even this one) and believe it's the holy grail of all.

You're not always measuring what you think you're measuring. Page views in Omniture are not the same as screen views in Google analytics. A significant bump in Facebook traffic may not be coming from your own posts. A shift in PC to mobile traffic may be tied to spring break. A jump in search engine results could be swayed at Google+ posts v. SEO-rich headlines.

Be smart with your testing. Make sure you control for as many independent variables as possible.

The first lesson I learned in statistics was the correlation v. causation lesson involving ice cream sales and murder rates. One tends to increase along with the other, but ice cream doesn't cause murder, or vice versa. A third factor is in play: High temperatures.

The same is true with analytics.

To often, we look for an easy solution in a complicated world where audience behavior and content collide. There are countless variables all mashed in there.

If you can't control for them, at least be aware of what they are and how they might be influencing your results.

I've often said that you need a PhD in analytics to be able to sift through all the little pieces whirring in the background in order to unearth the root cause of traffic. In reality, you just need a healthy dose of skepticism and patience.

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