Analytically Speaking Evangelists Needed

    April 28, 2008

 Almost five months ago, I and several other writers suggested that 2008 was going to be the “Year of Analytics”. As the year approaches the half-way point, it turns out we were collectively half correct. The first five months of 2008 have seen a great deal of attention granted to analytics and the companies that provide them. With Yahoo!’s purchase of Index Tools and click-quality deal with Click Forensics, and Google’s constant additions to its own analytics suites, the search marketing community has been abuzz with talk of ever more quantifiable numbers.

Outside of the major search engines, existing and emerging analytics packages are bettering their offerings, improving their usability and expanding their reach. The recent introduction of Enquisite Pro following the integration of Enquisite’s powerful Long-Tail analyzer to SEOmoz’s toolset demonstrates that the market for even stronger measurement and metrics continues to be healthy and hungry for more information.

Good analytics are important, especially during a time of economic turbulence. The primary function of website analytics is to provide an accurate account of website traffic and the activities of website visitors. With this information, webmasters and web marketers should be able to improve their websites or web marketing efforts and thus increase the numbers of visitors and the time those visitors spend on the website thus increasing the number of conversions achieved through the website.

Getting good analytics, or at least getting to the information good analytics can provide, is often a bigger challenge for both the smallest businesses and largest corporate sites than it needs to be. This is the part where myself and other commentators should rightly concede we were only half right.

In practice, I’ve seen the rising trend towards information-based marketing personally. I have been working as a consultant with Enquisite since the beginning of the year and have delivered or monitored a number of product demonstrations at conferences, over the telephone and in person. While I am constantly gratified with the looks of surprise and awe during the demonstrations, I am often left slightly perplexed when it comes time to determine what users figure they can do with the information the Enquisite suite offers them. It’s like looking at the ocean. More often than not the users only see the surface, entirely missing the volume beneath the waves.

It’s not that there is a lack of amazing analytics packages out there or that the designers of analytics suites are failing to make products useful to consumers. The biggest part of the problem appears to be that though there is an ocean of data available, webmasters and advertisers often don’t know how to use information in that data properly or with priority.

An article by Manoj Jasra in his Web Analytics World Blog points out four unique issues that impede the advancement of analytics-based website marketing in many organizations, regardless of the size or scope of their operations. I read Manoj’s work regularly, often to judge whether Enquisite meets the high standards and explicit needs of professional webmasters and search marketers. As both a search marketing analyst and an analytics reviewer, Manoj has a wealth of experience working with people and the metrics they measure.

Though this article doesn’t deal with the algorithmic guts or empiric output of any specific analytics package, it touches on something far more important, why the users of web analytic products tend not to use them to their fullest potential.

Manoj starts by noting many organizations fail to see analytics as a priority, suggesting that analytics are often an afterthought, installed and monitored long after a website or specific campaign is launched. This points to the need for more consumer training in the use and benefits of analytics packages.

His next point is even more precise. To quote, “The right stakeholders are not getting the right data.” Most analytics suites offer the same information to all people using them. In reality, a person in marketing might need to see one thing while a person in IT needs to know another. Customizable reporting features are extremely important.

His third point touches on an area no analytics firm can address. While analytics can provide reams of data, it doesn’t free up the necessary human resources to deal with that data. As a matter of fact, analytics often tie up human resources in the short term before cost and time savings combine with increased effectiveness to produce more resources. Ultimately, investments in knowledge tend to pay dividends but those dividends could take a while to be realized.

One of the reasons it’s hard to reap immediate benefits from analytics is that it’s hard to find well trained analysts. The process is increasingly complicated when you realize that every organization uses analytics to measure information unique to their own businesses. This fourth point is especially acute with larger organizations and websites where a larger number of factors need to be considered by a larger number of people, often different groups of people.

Manoj’s article points to the growing need for training and evangelism. Every organization requires an analytics specialist or a team of specialists who can act as an information hub and interpreter for various parts of the organization. There is a wealth of untapped potential passing through or around most websites. Knowing how to approach and take advantage of those opportunities is the key to bringing the maximum returns from your website.

So how do you find and foster an analytic evangelist on your team? Chances are, you already have one working in IT or marketing and might not even know it. Short of hiring, the simplest way to find your evangelist is to listen to what your staff (or colleagues) says about website development and increasing sales. Listen closely to any discussion about statistics, user numbers, visitor traffic, time spent on site, and keyword determination. Ask people what they think about these terms and any numbers associated with them. One of your staff is bound to suggest actions to go along with those numbers and, having thought the process through, is probably passionate about his or her suggestions. That’s your evangelist. They could well become one of your greatest assets.