This is a transcript for episode 89 of the Let’s Get Data-Driven podcast.

I’m Lanie Lamarre and I may be the most efficient packer you know. I hate checking luggage because I hate waiting on that dang carousel – I have places to go, right?! – and as such, I pack my trusted red carry-on with the thoughtful precision of an architect. It’s a pain to be so flipping conscientious sometimes but it always feels worth it once I’m in motion out in the world.

The same sort of thing applies to using the best data sources available: while it would be more convenient for #allthethings to be reported with your website analytics, this simply isn’t the best game plan when your website isn’t the end-all and be-all of your business. After all, you have an email list and sales revenue to account for and those are pretty important, right?

That’s why today, we’re talking about data sources and the bosses who love them.

“Which data source can I rely on?” It is never worded in this way but I get a lot of questions in the Membership To Get Data-Driven where a member asks one thing, but really, “how do I know which data source to use” is what they really mean.

For instance, when someone is asking about why their Facebook analytics report different conversions and visitors than your website analytics do – how do you know which platform is telling the truth?

When someone sees that their sales don’t add up to their “thank you for purchase” page visitors and they want to know how to fix this.

When someone sets up a goal to report on their email list sign-ups but those results don’t add up to their new subcribers acquired over the same time period, and they want to bring more accuracy to their reporting.

It’s rarely enough to just look at the numbers; you need to consider where those numbers are coming from to assess what your best data source is for those numbers.

In early February, I collaborated with Dolly Delong on the Systems and Workflow Magic Bundle. She had asked all the collaborators how many subscribers they had on their email list in order to set some forecasts and projections. I had to point out to her that while the idea behind doing that is a good one, the actual math behind this approach is flawed.

Dolly was taking our email list numbers without accounting the actual contacts within those email lists, and as such, she wasn’t in a position to accurately assess our reach since she was missing key factors such as duplicated contacts or level of engagement.

If you’re just looking at numbers, you’re missing out on their real value, which is the story they allow you to tell.

This is why I remind you to be wary of other people’s conversion rates. When someone brags about how they had a 20% conversion rate during their launch, that’s just a number with a huge chunk of story missing. The question I’d have for that person is you converted WHAT to 20% of WHAT.

Conversion rates have a beginning point and an end point, and unless someone is clarifying these beginning and end points, then “20%” has no value. After all, there’s a huge difference between converting 20% of your overall email list to click-through to your sales page versus 20% of your warmed up wait list of eager buyers who bought your offer. You can use data to tell any story you’re trying to tell – even, or maybe especially, stories that aren’t entirely accurate but do a good job of snapping your suspenders for you.

But let’s pretend we’re children’s programming today and choose a word of the day because today, we’re focused on “accurate”. When it comes to storytelling and forecasting and predicting and knowing your numbers, the most accurate source of data should be your priority.

Sounds simple enough, right? In theory, it is simple and logical; in practice, it may feel like a pain in the peach because the most convenient source of data probably isn’t your most accurate source, and you’ll often have to cherry-pick your sources to get a full, complete and accurate picture of what’s going on.

It’s like how when there’s a trial or even a lover’s quarrel, and you only listen to one side of the story; by doing this, you’ll end up with a one-sided view of what’s going on and you’ll miss out on some key information that would otherwise provide you with a more complete and accurate picture.

Relying on one single source of data for information like your website analytics to tell the whole story may be convenient but it’s not going to be entirely accurate.

Each data source tells its own version of the truth – not because they’re lying – but because they see things through their limited lens. Some platforms simply don’t have access to all the information at hand because they see things in different ways.

For instance, your website can clock the visitors to your “thank you for subscribing” page and you can create a goal within your website analytics. This is a great way of looking at your lead-generating trends and to clock in the customer journey that is growing your email list. While the numbers may not be exact, the story we’re trying to tell here is which pieces of content and which free offers are your audience most interested in, and how are they finding that content so you can see where the best returns are for your list-building efforts. Anyone who has opted out of having their online activities tracked or are using VPNs or any other number of reasons some subscribers may not be accounted for won’t be an issue here because the story you’re trying to tell here is about the relationship between your content and your list-building trends.

However, if you wanted to analyze your actual email list growth, you’d want to skip the website analytics and go straight to the horse’s mouth by looking at your email marketing analytics because that’s your most accurate source of information when you’re telling that story. Even if your website analytics were able to report your email list sign-ups with 100% accuracy – which it never could, by the way, even before all these tracking changes and privacy regulations were enforced – clocking your email list growth requires more information than your website analytics can report on such as your unsubscribers, and your email list analytics therefore is your most accurate data source when reporting on email list growth.

I know it’s trendy right now to whine about how marketers can’t track the way they used to and it’s ruining everything and how hard it is for online business to track their campaigns now… but let me point out something that should have been obvious to all of us long ago and we’re only realizing now: tracking your campaigns requires intentional action.

We’ve grown lazy because platforms encouraged us to let them do all the tracking for us and in exchange, we agreed to be their data brokers and collect a ton of information for them to become mega-profitable from. Cool beans! But now the laws and limitations have us looking at ways we can continue accessing this type of information ourselves, without relying to the Googles and Facebooks of the world to do it for us.

But it’s work. It’s additional work, and if you’ve started using UTM parameters in the links you’re sharing to intentionally track your own data, you know it’s additional work for YOU to do.

At the same time, though, this work you’re doing means YOU have more control and ownership over your own data; not Google, not Facebook, but YOU own the data when you compile your information in an intentional, meaningful and responsible way.

The reason it feels like it’s more work or it’s a pain in the peach is because someone else has been doing this work for you; now that we’re all realizing the extent to which these companies are capitalizing on our information and the information we’re collecting for them, we’re starting to see that, “hey! there’s a lot going on here.”

And there IS a lot going on here because let’s think for a moment about how ads worked and were tracked in the good old days of television. You didn’t get a ton of personal information related to what dinner your viewers are eating and what they’re wearing and what their ages are and where they came from before they saw your ad and what their hopes and dreams are, and their religion, sexual orientation, health status, political affiliation, relationship status, relationship happiness, income bracket, dress size, hair type, ovulation cycle… does this all seem like a little much for the Kool-Aid Man to know about you, just so you can watch TV?

Consider that perhaps the same applies to online business. Perhaps we don’t need to know #allthethings and maybe we can just take only what we need and to do so by meeting people where they are instead of trying to make them where and what we want them to be,

Next week, we’re going to talk a little more about this by talking about how to meet the people who are on social media and seeing how we can use some of that information to show up better on those platforms.

Talk soon, baiiiieee!