Context is key: part 2 – measure what you value, don’t just value what you can measure

Author: Ash Mann

In my last post I talked a bit about the rising sea of data that we’re trying (and mostly failing) to harness and comprehend in a meaningful and actionable way.

In this post I am going to talk a little bit about some of the things we can do to try and make more of the tools we’re all already using and how you can begin building a better understanding of the wider context your users and digital platforms exist within.

Measure what you value. Don’t just value what you can measure

Whilst there are a growing selection of powerful and free (or cheap) analytics, data-gathering and data-visualisation tools and platforms, such as Google Analytics, Hotjar, Crazyegg, Google Data Studio, Survey Monkey, and many many others the time and ability required to be able to configure these tools in a way that is enabling useful insights is often lacking.

For example, the Google’s Analytics suite is a fantastic set of free tools, but unless it’s calibrated properly you are simply collecting buckets and buckets of data that means nothing to you and won’t help you or anyone you work with perform smarter or better.

If you are not measuring success in a way that is meaningful to your organisation then the data you are collecting is useless and trying to make sense of it is a waste of your time.

Google doesn’t understand the ins and outs of your specific website. GA is set up in a way that means the data is telling you something. But unless you have customised your GA setup so that is measuring each part of the site against specific measures of success (I, for example, imagine that the purpose of your education or fundraising content is different to your show-related content) then that something isn’t necessarily going to be very useful for you.

This will involve a mix of some or all of the following: setting up custom dimensions and segments (so that you can isolate and analyse the behaviour of particular user types, or behaviour patterns), setting goals and funnels (so you can understand whether each part of the site is doing the things you want it to do), tweaking your Google Tag Manager setup to track specific interactions (again so you can measure specific user behaviour) and so on.

This can be said of almost all the tools we regularly see people utilising, simply deploying some heat-mapping on your site isn’t an especially good use of your time unless you have some idea what you might be looking to find out.

There are lots and lots of free (and paid) resources out there that will help you make more of your use of these types of tools and there are an increasing number of talented freelancers and agencies who can help you too.

Understand your users

In addition to revising your use of free tools like GA there is a huge value in gathering qualitative data too.

Whether this is through traditional surveys, through feedback tools like those available in Hotjar, or simply just by talking to your users, gathering this sort of feedback will add an important level of detail and nuance to your understanding of your users.

Listening to how people are talking about you on social media, being aware of the sort of questions people are asking when speaking to front of house staff, knowing the type of searches they are making to get to your site, and even the sort of searches they’re making when on your site will all add up to giving you a much richer and more useful understanding of your users and how they perceive interacting with you.

Your users are not just your users and you need to have a deep and meaningful understanding of their needs, motivations, frustrations and expectations.

This in turn will allow you to have a much clearer understanding of how to engage with them and the type of experience you need to deliver for them.

We have seen numerous examples of where this type of feedback and insight has proven far more effective at generating and contextualising conversations around user needs, priorities and where to invest than raw numbers alone.

There’s nothing more powerful than being able to point directly at actual examples of specific user experiences that support the case you are trying to make.

We’ve written previously about the various approaches you could take to unlocking these type of insights here.

Share your insights

Once you have started building a better, more useful understanding of your users and how they’re engaging with you, how are you sharing that in your organisation?

Just because only the marketing/digital/whatever department regularly logs into whichever tools you’re using shouldn’t mean that any insights never travel beyond that team.

A customer’s experience with you will span many, many different departments so it makes sense that any insights you have generated about how you could improve that experience, or awareness about a particular frustration, should be shared as widely as possible.

There are many ways to do this, and it needs to be done in a way that is actually meaningful for the people you work with. That might be a dashboard, it might be a short written report, or it might be a quick, regular briefing. Whatever works for your organisation, the people you work with, and the information you are trying to share. There won’t be a one-size-fits-all solution.


We offer training and consultancy ourselves in this area (most recently I’ve run full and half day sessions with the teams at Hepworth Wakefield, Opera North and The Lowry), and we’ve worked with One Further on a number of projects (our work with English National Opera and The Bridge were particular highlights) and would always recommend Chris and Tess, they’re super smart people.

In terms of Google’s analytic tools which are, in my experience, the things that almost everyone uses in some capacity the following blogs and courses come highly recommended:

Does mean that you’re going to have to invest time or money in this area? Yes, but with an increasing amount of activity being delivered online I’d argue you can’t afford not to.

You need to understand what’s happening if you’re going to be able to respond to the things that aren’t working and do more of what is.


So rather than rushing out to implement a bunch of exciting new tools and then not having the time to be able to use them properly I would argue that we instead all need to be making much more of the tools we all already have access to.

We should also be making more of the many ways that users are already telling us what they like, don’t like, or can’t find (Google would call these ‘intent signals‘).

And once we begin forming a more meaningful, useful picture of our users and how we are (or aren’t) meeting their needs, we should be sharing those insights with as many of our colleagues as possible so we can all work to improve the experience our customers are having with us.

In the next, and final, post I will share some examples of where an improved understanding of users and users needs can result in specific changes (and improvements) to the user experience.

Photo by Fleur Treurniet on Unsplash