In a hurry? Skip straight to the troubleshooting tips below. And remember: it’s all gonna be ok.

Something’s happened. You’re not sure what exactly, but you do know that metric is way too low to be normal. So how do you figure out what’s wrong? Is there even something wrong, or is it just a blip, seasonal slowdown, or something else entirely?

If the mere act of imagining this scenario gave you an uncomfortable knot in your stomach, welcome to the world of Product Management Triage. This is when all your high-falutin’ strategy and touchy-feely customer development interviews come to a screeching halt, because Something. Is. Wrong.

Now, don’t get your hopes up too high; I don’t have all the answers – but most of the time, the blame can be pinned on a small number of usual suspects that are fairly easily identified and addressed. My hope is that referring to this troubleshooting guide at the first sign of trouble will help you quickly eliminate the most common problems that can suddenly crop up with a web product or business, and arm you with the right questions to ask of the right people in order to get to a resolution as efficiently as possible.

Before we begin – be prepared

If you’re going to lead your team out of the darkness, you need a few things in your toolkit – and if you don’t have them, you cannot effectively diagnose the problem, so you should always start here:

According to South Park, Apple’s Geniuses know all about open communication

According to South Park, Apple’s Geniuses know all about open communication

Open communication – Much like sobriety, you must take the crucial first step and admit there’s a problem. This is immediately followed by communicating with your team to maintain awareness of all the major changes happening to your website and app. If the signup page has been redesigned and signups suddenly fall, you can save hours of detective work by assuming there’s a correlation. Google Analytics’ annotations feature is a good place to start.

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Analytics – You MUST be tracking as much as you can. If you’re not tracking something, how can you know you have a problem to begin with? I love Google Analytics for monitoring web traffic, Mixpanel for tracking user activity through our apps, and we use Dashing for a customizable real-time display of our key metrics – so we know there’s a problem as soon as (or shortly after) it manifests.

It’s dangerous to go alone! Take a developer...

It’s dangerous to go alone! Take a developer…

 A friendly developer – If something’s broken, and you’re not a developer yourself, you need someone who can help you fix it. Without a machine-fluent buddy, you’re pretty much just a brain with no hands, which, um… ew. Negotiate hard with whomever you must, to clear their schedule and get dedicated developer time. Which brings me to…

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Code-level access – For a lot of scenarios, you’ll need the ability to quickly deploy certain diagnostic tools in order to get a clearer picture of what’s happening. In lieu of this level of access, you could petition for a tag management system to get set up, or I could slyly recommend you check out the CodeDrop app on Filament, because it lets you drag and drop code snippets onto your site in seconds, and with zero hassle. But I would never be so direct…

These things are table-stakes for solving a serious problem – if you encounter resistance from the rest of your organization in acquiring these basic items, then by definition this is not being treated as A. Serious. Problem., and it’s up to you to either change that perception, or de-prioritize it accordingly.

The Usual Suspects

Okay, take a deep breath and resist that hot, prickly freakout sensation that’s crawling up from the bottom of your skull – even if everyone else is letting theirs run rampant. They need your calm leadership the most at this very moment.

Now, what seems to be the problem? Choose one from the list of usual suspects below.

My traffic has dropped

The “Duh” question(s)
Tips for Diagnosis

6_GA-all-traffic

7_GA-all-referrals

Possible issues:
Useful tools:

My signups have slowed down

The “Duh” question(s)
 Tips for diagnosis:
Possible issues:
Useful tools:

My Activation rate has tanked

The “Duh” question:
Tips for Diagnosis:
Possible Issues:
Useful Tools:

Revenue is falling rapidly

The “Duh” question:
Tips for diagnosis:
Possible Issues:
Even if it isn’t true, this screen will scare away your customers

Even if it isn’t true, this screen will scare away your customers

Useful tools:

My churn has spiked

Sounds like you should see a doctor! (Aw, c’mon a little levity in a fix-this-or-you’re-fired scenario never hurt, right?)

The “Duh” questions:
Tips for Diagnosis:
Possible issues:

It could be anything, really, but typically if you have users who were previously paying for your product that suddenly decided to stop, it’s due to:

Useful tools:

You know when a grizzled police chief credits “good old-fashioned police-work” for solving a difficult case? That’s what you have here. No tools will replace just diving in with your churned users and identifying the root cause of their sudden dissatisfaction with the product.

In Summary

It really sucks when your metrics slide – but it sucks far worse to find out about it long after the fact. Good analytics coverage prevents such unwanted surprises, so keep calm and have your tools and resources ready.

“When you hear hooves, think horses – not zebras”

The simplest explanation is usually the right one. When you do have to dive in, look at the usual suspects first. Checking your entire funnel for the most common issues will most times lead to the quickest fix.

How are you supposed to keep an eye on all of this? It’s a great question – we’ve struggled with maintaining this visibility ourselves, which is why we’re building Filament Insights, a system that proactively notifies you of significant changes in the engagement of your websites. You should sign up for the beta!

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