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3 Reasons To Investigate Correlations Prior To Taking Action


At first glance, cause and effect appear separate and easily identifiable. If you get hit in the head with a baseball and a bruise appears in the same spot the next day, it’s obvious your bruise was caused by the baseball. That’s a logical approach, but not the whole picture.

Baseballs aren’t the only objects that cause bruises, and if you were struck in the same place by three different objects, it might be impossible to tell which one caused the bruise. You might assume the bruise was caused by the baseball because it hurt the most, but bruises don’t always follow pain.

Data is data; we interpret correlation and assume causation. Nothing highlights this more than an article from the LA Times that blows the lid off of spurious correlations, including one that claims unemployment benefits cause unemployment.

It may sound silly to question the source of symptoms when the source seems obvious, but it’s absolutely necessary if your goal is to eliminate the problem at the root. When running a business, it’s imperative to solve all problems at the root because your finances and reputation are at stake.

Here are 3 reasons to thoroughly investigate all problems prior to taking action to remedy them:

1. You might be acting on unconscious conjecture.

What you see when you first look at a situation has the potential to be based on conjecture, even if you’re not aware of it. Take, for example, the famous playwright William Shakespeare. He’s often credited with the legacy of inventing 1,700 words used in the English language.

Despite the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) supporting this claim, their supporting evidence is conjecture. According to LitCharts.com, the OED credits Shakespeare for 1,700 words simply because the words appeared first in his literary works.

Lit Charts offers an alternative possibility. That “many of these words were probably part of everyday discourse in Elizabethan England. So it’s highly likely that Shakespeare didn’t invent all of these words; he just produced the first preserved record of some of them.”

There is evidence that Shakespeare invented 422 words, which is still worthy of applause. However, this is a good example of how not even a recognized authority on the English language (the OED) is exempt from conjecture and there is more than what appears on the surface.

2. There are always multiple contributing factors.

Identifying a single, isolated cause for anything in this world is nearly impossible, especially in business. Take the quest to uncover the cause for a low conversion rate on your website. This is a multi-faceted problem. The general consensus is that a low conversion rate is caused by the wrong color “buy” buttons and having your signup form in the wrong corner.

That general consensus is what marketers use to sell you their “secret overnight systems.” In truth, it’s possible that your color choices are diverting conversions but if you’re outright failing, your colors aren’t the cause.

You might be targeting the wrong market or people who don’t make household purchases. Maybe your marketing message isn’t reaching people. All of these factors should be addressed at the same time.

3. Split test results don’t give you the whole picture.

Your website visitors consist of two factions. People who are ready to buy, and people who are still doing research. People who are ready to buy know they want your product, you just have to convince them to buy it from you. People who are still researching the product aren’t ready to buy from anyone.

If you’ve been split testing different button colors, and you’re getting 40% more conversions with blue buttons, that doesn’t mean you’ve solved your conversion problem. That 40% increase is likely from the faction of visitors who already know they want your product. Your split test results only show you how to tip people who were already looking over the ledge.

People who are ready to buy are often dissuaded at the last minute by an ugly website, a difficult checkout process, or something that looks off. Changing the colors and placement of your buttons and forms can rope in this faction. It won’t, however, touch the faction of your market who haven’t identified a need for your product.

Go where few business owners want to go.

To get the whole picture, this article from Forbes.com suggests having conversion rate discussions because they’re actually brand perception discussions.

The article suggests, “Spend time figuring out why the people who are coming to your site aren’t seeing value in what you’re offering. Why do they not feel part of your brand? Did you bring the wrong people there or is the site confusing?”

Your products and services might be wonderful, but if your visitors aren’t seeing the value in what you’re offering, you’ve got to investigate. A great product doesn’t sell itself. However, a great business owner will investigate deeply enough to find out why, and work out a solution.

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