Moneyball and Web Analytics

“I’ve seen movies about programmers and mathematicians, but I’ve never seen a movie about a data analyst before,” a business partner observed today as we were talking about the movie Moneyball. Brad Pitt plays the GM of the Oakland A’s, but our real hero is played by Jonah Hill, the rotund chap with glasses. Yes, folks, that’s our data analyst – but what a pivotal role he plays.

Based on a book by Michael Lewis, this true story is often recalled by popular analytics speakers such as Thomas Davenport, a speaker at the eMetrics conference in New York. Tom is the author of Competing on Analytics, a book I often share with my colleagues and clients – along with Moneyball of course.

But what’s the connection? Simply put, applying measurement. Committing to the concept that nothing is unmeasurable (and that intangibles don’t exist) – then using those measurements to move the needle for your goals. The goals have to be defined as well, otherwise we have no context for our measurements. Make sure that you use all resources you can lay your hands on. This is the same idea with analytics, and web analytics specifically. It can be tricky to get meaningful information out of your digital properties, but with cunning and commitment, it is amazing what you can achieve. But prepare yourself – you need to be ready to stand up to the old-guard of “we’ve always done it this way” and gut-checks.

Understand and define your goals – Consider that in some cases you will want to reduce the number of visitors, reduce the time spend on your site, reduce the number of products sold or even fire some of your customers if this moves you towards your long-term goals. The goal of baseball is to get runs, not “good” players. Understand your ultimate goals and link them to the metrics you measure through your digital properties.

Commit to measurement – Conceptualize how to measure high-level metrics such as loyalty, lifetime value and fanaticism with the little hints you have, by measuring everything and creating opportunities to reduce uncertainty, such as A|B testing. If you realize that measurement is simply reducing uncertainty in a quantifiable way, and it is not required to remove uncertainty from measurement altogether, you’re unshackled from the requirement to have measurement units (as was drummed into me in high-school physics.) Committing to measurement also means fostering best practices and breaking down the silos of “information is power” to get the best measurements requires that the information flow freely.

Use all the resources available – Web analytics is not just about web logs and click streams, just as having a successful baseball team is not just about players that look good on the diamond and confident in the locker room. The scouts were on the right track when they judged a player’s confidence by how good-looking their girlfriend was, but made an incorrect assumption that there was a correlation with good team performance. For web analytics we need to bring in all the information we can gather on the customer – not just their behavior on the website, but their experience and interaction with the brand across all channels; not just what we observe about them, but the direct feedback (solicited or not) that they provide us with; not just what we see ourselves, but what other parties see in our customers. A good analytics approach will look at non-digital information, direct and indirect feedback, owned and shared media, and internal and external data sources.

Stay with it – There will always be nay-sayers, but doing analytics properly takes the guts to want to do it right and not take short-cuts. Understand and define your goals, even if they have never been written down by the leadership in your company. Fight for making fact-based decisions backed up by stone cold data. Be objective and not subjective. Stand by the clear conclusions, even though they might not be popular. And always drive for efficiency; this, after all, is what you’re in it for.

The ultimate measurement of success is outperforming your competitors, and having an analytics edge can provide that. Bring your best game to your web analytics and you might just hit it out of the park.

MONEYBALL: What are you really worth? gets “two pencils up” from this reviewer.

About daragh@ag

Practice Lead / Director of Digital Analytics, Performance Management, Business Intelligence & Data Warehousing.


  1. Hello Daragh — Great post!

    I’m in agreement with each of your points (define, commit to measurement, use all resources available, & stay with it)

    Analysts have been encouraging enterprises to adopt a similar “Moneyball” perspective, and take a new look at the measures they use to improve the business. To gain a competitive advantage, they need to learn to make changes to their business processes and look at quantitative and qualitative measures.

    I’m also a fan of “Competing on Analytics” & “Analytics at Work” – along with Moneyball of course.

    HP Product Manager – HP Executive Scorecard

  2. Jeff Werness

    Fascinating. I was at a Chicago Ideas Week event and one speaker was from a sports data company. The analytics they performed on all kinds of sports was pretty astonishing. They used it to improve players’ performance, visualize the game with augmented reality, and improve the fan experience by adding a dimension not available through any other means.

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