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Why Running is Like a Website

You might be thinking I've gone over the deep end. Running is like a website?? It sure is...when you are an analyst by nature.

I've recently taken up running as a hobby, and became kind of serious about it 4 months ago. I'm still a newbie, but I did just complete my first half-marathon - that's 13.1 miles! It has occurred to me that improving my running very much parallels improving a website.

In the beginning, I just ran. Since I am an analyst in every aspect of life, I knew I'd want to see how fast and how far I was going. So I used a stopwatch and then tracked my mileage using a social endurance sport site, DailyMile.com. This is the most basic information you can gain about your run. It's like the early days of web analytics. We used log analyzers where we could see how many times a site was visited, what pages were viewed, referring domains, and some other basic information.

What did this do for us? Well, it gave us a baseline - something we could trend over time. Am I going faster or slower, longer or shorter distances than I did a week ago? Did the traffic on my site increase or decrease from last month?

As I got more serious about running and signed up for this half-marathon, having barely even run 5 miles at the time, I knew I needed some help to reach my goal of 13.1 miles. I bought a super-duper watch that is GPS enabled, along with a heart rate monitor. It was not cheap, but it gave me a tool that would help me understand my running. Enter Omniture SiteCatalyst (or any other advanced analytics tool). The advanced analytics tools available are not inexpensive (Google Analytics is free, but the labor needed to run it, and analyze the data certainly is not), but these tools are the only way you can see what's happening on your website and how improvements can be made.

OK, now we all have our tools. What are we looking at? My super-duper watch comes with that software that can show me how fast I went for a given run, but I can break that down by mile, and correlate it to my heart rate, calories burned and elevation.  In web analytics tools, we take our traffic and break it down by referring domain, campaign, and keyword and correlate it to conversions.


Here's where websites have an advantage over running. Using tools like Test & Target and Google Website Optimizer, you can A/B or multivariate test a website. I can't A/B test a run.

You can test multiple versions of your shopping cart at the same time, by randomly splitting the traffic that sees each version. All versions are running simultaneously and you can then see which version performed the best. I'd love to try different hydration methods while I'm running, but I can never get a true comparison because the conditions of my run today are going to be different than tomorrow's - more humidity, warmer weather, different breakfast, different route. So, until I can clone myself and have two versions of me running at the same time, I can't say for certain that drink x performed better than drink y.

Neither runners nor business owners can succeed in improving just by using these tools. GPS watches and web analytics tools collect data - that is all they are designed to do. A human being needs to analyze that data, and someone needs to take action from that analysis in order for it to be effective.  If I see that I'm burning out at the end of a long run, I need to figure out why - did I start out too fast, not drink enough water, or did it get really hot? I need to look at the data available, test some theories, then I need to change my actions to get me to the end of that long run.

If you see people abandoning your checkout process on step 3, you need to figure out why. Is the form too long, is it a certain field on the form that visitors don't want to complete, are there other distracting elements on the page prompting visitors to leave that step? Test these possibilities, and then take action on the results.

See? I didn't go over the deep end. Now, if you really are up for a challenge, the Fuel Interactive team is running a 5K before the Myrtle Beach Marathon. Come join us!

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