Admit it, no matter how smart you are, analytic software for your website can be overwhelming.

Whether you’re using Google Analytics, Adobe SiteCatalyst, Yahoo Web Analytics, or something else, understanding what all those numbers represent is only half of the battle of making sense of your digital investment.

The other, way more important, half is understanding what those numbers mean to you and your site. So, stop trying to measure and report all of it.

Really. Stop it. Go back and figure out what you’re actually trying to accomplish with your site, and analyze that.

Seems counterintuitive, right? We’re trained to report everything honestly. So picking and choosing may even seem a little sneaky-sneaky.

But let’s take a step back and clear up a couple things.

  1. Just because you’re not reporting on everything doesn’t mean you get to pick and change and manipulate what you do report on from month to month.
  2. Report on what matters most. Identify the site’s top key performance indicators (KPIs) and make those metrics the driving focus of your analysis for every report. Want more visitors? What kind of visitors? From where? Want more engagement? What kind of engagement?

So, it’s not about being sneaky. It’s about measuring what you need to know and what you have the capacity to respond to. I’ll repeat that part: if you know there’s no way you’ll have the time or resources to manage a piece of data, then don’t measure it. Just manage what you care about enough to change.

No matter what analytic software you’re using to measure site performance, you’re going to have access to thousands and thousands and thousands of pieces of data. And depending on the purpose of your site, certain pieces are going to inherently be more or less valuable than others.

Example: You run an independent, local coffee shop in Nebraska. You have a site so that people can locate your address, hours of operation, and an events schedule. You never fulfill orders online.

When you look at your site analytics, it’s reasonably safe to say that you’re not going to be especially interested in low-levels of overseas visitors. You will, however, be interested in knowing how visitors interact with your events schedule. What kind of event receives the most attention? Which events are attracting new visitors? Because, you know, those events are attracting new people to your business.

In this example, we’re able to identify that not all location information is applicable. And we can assume that including on all that information would only clutter the report with irrelevant information. But by filtering that location data and focusing on visitors who are within driving distance of the coffee shop, we’re able to measure and manage the site based on what our real customers and potential customers are looking for. Huzzah!

We’re also able to identify one of the site’s KPIs, the events schedule. We know that paying close attention to what happens on this page makes a difference to the site’s overall performance. Not only can we adapt the page from a usability perspective, we can also use visitor behavior to help decide which events generate the most interest and bring in the highest volume of new potential customers.

See that? We’re using information gathered online to actually drive what’s happening offline. No sneakiness, just good, resourceful business.

It would be bad business would be spending two hundred hours trying to make sense of everything that happened on your site last week. Because when, really, are you going to act on all that information? And you know you paid for it. Even if you’re using free analytic software, it takes time to look at and interpret all those numbers; and, my friend, not only does that time cost you, it would’ve been better spent elsewhere. And let’s face it, there’s always the temptation to ignore the data entirely — that’s really bad business.

It’s important keep a pulse on your site. Know the basic traffic numbers, top pages, top sources, and so forth. But manage your time and your resources wisely. Only dig down on what really matters and what you actually plan on reacting to. Because unless you’re going to do something about the numbers, that report’s a waste of paper.