Data Habits helps nonprofits and sustainable businesses make decisions about their online work based on data, not guesswork.
Why I started Data Habits
I started Data Habits to make sure that everyone involved in decision making about online work has the insights they need to make better decisions. While the tools and techniques to improve online decisions are relatively straightforward today, that wasn’t always the case.
Back in the early 2000s I was running the online department of Greenpeace Canada, and we were all excited about using ‘new media’ to change the world. With new technologies and techniques coming out every day (even after the dotcom crash) there was a lot of enthusiasm and high expectations about how online work would help us win campaigns to make the world a better place.
But while expectations were high, resources were pretty limited. We couldn’t simply adopt each new technology that came along. We needed to understand what was working with our online work, what needed to be improved and a way to evaluate the amazing new opportunities that cropped up every day. Part of my job was to measure and evaluate our effectiveness so we could make better decisions about how to manage our digital work.
Back then, digital analytics tools – even the ones that cost thousands of dollars a month – were pretty rudimentary. Our suite of tools consisted mainly of ‘server logs’: a firehose of raw, unfiltered data on every visitor that came to our website.
My challenge was to make sense of all this visitor data, and persuade senior decision makers to spend scarce resources on exploring promising technology. I needed to get everyone who had a say in our website to understand what was working, what wasn’t, what constituted an opportunity and what was proving to be a waste of time and money.
I focused on basic metrics that people could understand: number of visits to the site, our most popular content, search terms that people used on our website. It was difficult to get any insights out of this raw data, and even harder to get decision makers to understand the few insights I did manage to gain.
One example is the adoption of email marketing. Believe it or not, at this time it was a relatively new technique to ask for visitors’ email addresses and send updates in the form of email newsletters. (Did I mention this was the early 2000s?)
I had a pilot project with modest resources sending out a monthly update to a few thousand supporters who had subscribed to our email list. It was tough to get my coworkers to believe that this was a worthwhile initiative, given all the other opportunities for online work. The tipping point came when research in the Greenpeace world showed that subscribers to our various email newsletters donated more over time than donors who didn’t get our updates. There was enough data to show that, all things being equal, donors who received a monthly email were more likely to remain donors than those who heard from us less often. A serious email marketing program was born.
The only problem was, this data hadn’t come from me. It had been a time consuming data-crunching exercise done by some fundraisers in another country. They had spent months crunching numbers, and many more months compiling the results. I had no way to demonstrate the value of our email marketing program quickly and easily.
It also seemed that every week another amazing opportunity to do new work online would present itself, and enthusiasm would run high to adopt it right away. I love the pace of innovation online, and I wanted to make sure that we were taking advantage of powerful new technologies to change the world. But we couldn’t adopt them all, and so we had to focus on those that worked for us. Problem was, there was no quick way to give people the insights they needed to make better decisions about what was working and what wasn’t with our online work.
This was frustrating, and I started to look into ways to get people who didn’t work with online outreach every day to understand how to evaluate opportunities and projects.
A huge leap forward came in 2005, when Google released Google Analytics – a free tool to show people, in a very accessible way, the performance of their website. I dove into the tool and started to use it to understand what was working and what wasn’t with our website, email and social media.
I left Greenpeace to work with the Make Poverty History campaign in late 2007, just as social media was becoming a mainstream phenomenon. I also started to do consulting work and workshops with different nonprofits.
As I began working with more clients, I noticed that organizations familiar with the basics of web analytics made decisions about their online work in an entirely different way. Honestly, I think they were better decisions, based on data and results, not guesswork and blindly chasing the latest online development.
In early 2011 I started offering workshops and coaching in Google Analytics. Over time I began to see the common challenges and pitfalls organizations face when using Google Analytics, and developed some shortcuts to using the tool effectively. Those learnings are summarized in ‘Making Sense of Google Analytics’ – a free set of lessons on how to simplify and supercharge your use of this powerful tool.
I started Data Habits because we all aspire to be more strategic and data-driven in our online work. We can’t afford to waste time and money on projects that don’t work. The tool of web analytics is a cornerstone of online effectiveness. But web analytics are so complex that it’s hard to know where to begin. Data Habits is here to help.
Data Habit’s Purpose
is to ensure that organizations and individuals doing important work achieve the best online results possible.
is to empower everyone making decisions about online work with the knowledge they need to improve their results.
is to explain the daunting field of digital analytics and give our clients the understanding and insights they need to make better decisions about how to rock it online.
Data Habits Customers
are organizations and individuals making a positive contribution, either through sustainable businesses or campaigns that aim to bring about social change.