In basic terms, most web analysis systems are based on quantitative data. This quantitative data contributes to general knowledge about the usage of a given website. Everything can then be broken down into numbers and graphs to be interpreted by the person responsible for the optimization of the website.
Since the person who interprets the data often has a thorough knowledge of their website, the result will most likely be marked by this. This is natural enough and in most cases it also makes the person interpret the data better. However, in-depth knowledge of the website can also be a hindrance and make you blind to general poor functionality that harms the user experience.
Let the users put it into words
One of the obvious possibilities to get around this interpretation problem is to collect qualitative user data where the user has the opportunity to comment on how they see the user experience. There are many obvious methods in which you can give users this option. It can be anything from user interviews and sample groups to best user feedback. These methods give the user the ability to verbalize their experience, which can help contribute to an interpretation closer to reality.
When developing new websites, it is a perfectly natural thing to ask users to be involved in user tests or similar. Since you haven't got the quantitative data yet; this is only available from users when your website goes live.
It might be a good idea to pursue the philosophy that lies behind user testing during the design phase. Just because a website "goes live" doesn't mean that it's fully developed. Developing a website is an ongoing process where you constantly have to keep up with how people use it. This knowledge should then be used to constantly strive to improve the user experience. This exercise is to improve the user experience on your website, and the data you can get, quantitative or qualitative is ultimately beneficial.
Use data for what it is good for
It's important remembering to use the data collected for what it is good for. The quantitative data contributes with large amounts of general knowledge that show a bigger picture of how mass users use your website. However, the qualitative data, that comes directly formulated from the users themselves, contributes with very specific knowledge about specific areas, and information you may never have even thought of.
Each type of data has its own strengths and weaknesses, but the combination of both provides the analysis tool with an extra dimension that can make the interpretation of your data even sharper, and even closer to reality.
The approach to web analytics should be to learn to know your users better, and get as close to reality as possible. In this way you can get in the best position to optimize your website so as thereby to improve the experience users get when they visit. Therefore, it is also important to hear what users have to say in words, and not least allow them to share their experience in an easily accessible manner.
To get started with web analytics, download the e-book “Web Analytics: Where to Begin”.