Embarrassing Insights Revealed by Web Data

Be Careful: This Machine Has No Brain. Use Your Own.

You do your best to look good, to be professional, and to get the job done right.  But sometimes you just mess up.  It’s human.  And sometimes, it’s a little (or a lot) embarrassing.

Luckily, a regular review of your website data can help catch some of those mistakes before too many people notice.  Here, for your viewing pleasure, are a few of the errors I’ve caught while swimming in the data stream.  The identities of those at fault, and the businesses they worked for, have been anonymized to protect their dignity.  Because really, wouldn’t we all like to be seen as a little better than “merely human”?

I’ll refer to all of the websites as “mysite.com” and whoever is in charge at the company as “Mr. Owner”.

Web Data Revealed These Goofs

  • I’m Sending Away Visitors I Already Have…to Myself!  Looking at the data from this site, I noticed a strange pattern.  Lots of visitors were leaving mysite.com—abandoning it to go instead to mysite.com. Also, the #1 source of incoming traffic to mysite.com was the site mysite.com.  Luckily for Mr. Owner, I knew immediately what was the problem at set out to fix it.  These so-called “self referrals” are usually due to incorrectly installed tracking code.  Sure enough, after a little exploration, I found some pages that didn’t have the code on it, so if a visitor went to that page, it was like they vanished (at least from the point of view of the tracking software).  And then they came back to a page with the code on it, the tracking program thought, “Hmmm.  Where’d this new visitor come from?  Looks like it was mysite.com!”  Oops.
  • It’s a Miracle!  I’m Making Sales Without Even Having A Store!  In this case, Mr. Owner had more than one site.  One had an e-commerce site as well as some other sections.  Another website was only a blog.  But the person who had installed the tracking codes had gotten things mixed up and installed the blog-only account number on the blog…but also in the store section of the other website.  From the dashboard, then, it looked like his store was making no sales (despite the fact that he was getting orders), but someone people were buying things directly from his blog.  Crazy!  I made sure all the pages on both sites had the right account number, and now everything looks like it should.
  • You Know What’s Better Than What’s In Your Cart?  Knockoff Drugs From Overseas Somewhere!  Mr. Owner was hacked!  But it was a secret hack.  All that happened was that every once in a while (not every time, mind you), a person might randomly be sent to a drug-peddling site overseas when they clicked the “checkout” button in the store.  The issue was revealed, in part, because it looked like a strangely high number of people were supposedly clicking a link that we couldn’t find on the site, and leaving for a sketchy-looking website.  We had the site’s web host do a security check and that discovered the rest.
  • Button? What Button? Oh, You Didn’t Want To Sign Up, Did You?   Yeah, speaking of clicking on a button, if you have a page that says “Just fill in this brief form and click ‘Sign Up’!” you should probably have a button that says ‘Sign Up”… or a button.  Mr. Owner felt very embarrassed about this one.  But he put it in the middle of this list in the hopes that readers don’t notice (but if you tried to sign up for the Ardea Coaching mailing list in the last week or so, there’s a button now).  The data that revealed this problem?  I’d set up an alert to specifically track button clicks as a goal conversion and I was alerted that there had been no conversions in over a week.  So hurray it wasn’t longer than that!
  • We’ll Provide Your Professional Services!  And a Russian Mail Order Bride, Too.  The last site I’ll talk about had indicators similar to the knockoff drugs issue.  There were an odd number of exits following a link.  And that link happened to go to a site that… well, it was one that would not be good for your boss to see you looking at in the office.   But in this case, the site hadn’t been hacked.  What had happened was that the person who had designed the website originally had included a link back to their site.  Over time, they must have let the domain name expire (or sold it).  Whatever happened, the domain changed hands from a website template designer to a mail order bride site.  Every page on this professional services website had a link on it to a somewhat naughty website.  That wasn’t the kind of “professional services” they were selling, either.  I quickly removed that link from the footer so nobody would question the integrity of the site owner.

What Do You Do?

While ‘saving clients from embarrassment’ isn’t what I usually say when someone asks what I do, that’s sometimes a side effect.  And a reason you should always review the data you’ve got coming in from your site because you never know what surprises you might find on your own site.

Image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/hslphotosync/5939459500/ (no modifications except resizing)

Posted by Michael J. Coffey  |  0 Comment  |  in Analysis & Testing

About Michael J. Coffey

Michael started learning about online marketing as the web store manager for a scrappy little game retailer during the "dot com bubble" of the 1990s. Since then he's helped fitness companies, tea wholesalers and retailers, lawyers, clothing designers, restaurateurs, and entrepreneurs in many other fields. In his spare time he drinks very high quality tea, writes letters with a fountain pen, and reads literature.

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