Interview with Web Analyst WDave
Continuing my series of interviews with Web Analysts, here is an interview with Wandering Dave Rhee also known as WDave.
I’ve been OX2’s Analytics Country Manager for Germany since September, 2007,
before which I directed the business and web analytics group for Gateway
Computer in Irvine, California. (http://www.ox2.be/)
How long have you been working in this field?
I’ve been involved with Web Analytics directly for a few years now, before which
I was working on creating new metrics for the financial valuation of social
networks. Discussion boards and other online communities, specifically.
Tell us about your work, education prior to making a switch.
I’ve held various positions in IT strategy consulting, network engineering, and a handful of other varied roles — check my LinkedIn profile if you’re really curious. (http://www.linkedin.com/in/wdave)
My background includes a bachelor’s degree in computer science and organic chemistry, an executive MBA, and a Ph.D. in MIS (that I’m still working on — my dissertation topic focuses on social networks, as mentioned above).
Why did you decided to switch to Web Analytics?
Web analytics was a natural extension of my earlier research — how do people behave on the web, and what methods or processes are available to influence that behavior for a given purpose, such as eCommerce or online marketing? Most social network products and services today are about generating buzz or "viral"
marketing (which is a widely mis-used term), but I believe that as the true value of social marketing emerges, the demand for solid, actionable metrics will also increase. And I think web analytics is the most likely place for that need to emerge.
How did you find your new job? How long did it take? Did you interview a lot?
Like most people in most circumstances, I found my first job in WA through various social networks, and just searching job boards. At the time, I knew little about web analytics, but was fortunate to have been "found" by a manager who recognized that I could be "trained" for the role quickly and easily, so it worked out well for everyone involved.
My current position I found through meeting people at Jim Sterne’s eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summits(http://emterics.org/) — there is no better place to meet prospective employers or employees in our field, I’m quite certain.
What are you responsibilities in your current job? Describe your typical work
As country manager, I assist with business development, but also help other team members in other countries with their ongoing consulting engagements. This means assisting our clients who could be anywhere in the WA lifecycle — from those just beginning their needs analysis, to those looking to change analytics service providers for various reasons, to those who are trying to get to "the next level" of really managing their online spend as one aspect of their overall marketing portfolio. Web analytics seems to be the cornerstone of marketing optimization, and with good reason. Web analysts generally have the right mindset to ask questions based on business goals, not merely on gathering data for its own sake.
What are the skills that you think are important for a web analyst?
Analysts work at various levels — the most fundamental level requires some understanding of basic statistics, such as linear regression, seasonality, and simple trend forecasting, combined with an understanding of how the web "works." In other words, what do we know about browsing behavior, combined with cookie
deletion probabilities, web server caching, and other artifacts of the web experience, to put our data into a reasonable context, from which we can draw useful conclusions?
Beyond that basic level, though, is an understanding of organizational politics, and some fluency in "managing your message" so that the analysis you’ve worked hard at creating actually influences managers in making better decisions. Otherwise, you’re just creating "doorstop reports," that don’t help your organization, and don’t really justify your efforts.
What, if any, education or work experience helped you in making the transition to Web Analytics?
Like most people in the field, I discovered it accidentally – only in the last couple of years has web analytics become a recognized position for which there are training programs, reasonably standard job descriptions, and expectations which are fairly common to measure an analyst’s success in an organization. As recently as a couple years ago, these weren’t really in place, nor was it clear which job boards were the best for new opportunities. Today, I’d say Eric T. Peterson’s board at Web Analytics Demystified (http://webanalyticsdemystified.com/job_list.asp and the Web Analytics Association’s own job board (http://www.webanalyticsassociation.org/en/jobs/search.asp) are the two best places for those on either side of a job search.
What web analytics/online-marketing books have you read and/or own?
All the "classics" — but the ones I refer to most are actually ones with Excel tips and tricks. Analytics is a mindset, and a set of lenses through which to view business data. Once you’ve learned to look through
those different lenses, and had your "Aha!" moments, you continue to hone your analysis in other ways — creating more compelling presentations, for example, to increase the decision-making influence of your analysis.
What are the major challenges you are facing in this industry?
I think the entire industry is at a point where our ability to analyze goes beyond the ability of the tools to deliver unified data in a cost-effective manner. In other words, we can imagine many different data sets we’d like to correlate, but only very few of us can get the various data sources to play nicely with each other without spending an inordinate amount of time, effort, and money, most of which we don’t have access to.
Beyond that, most organizations aren’t yet at the point where they know how to take advantage of the insights web analytics, or rather, an analytics-framed mindset, can offer. As a consultant, I see mos firms struggling to implement a tool correctly, and after that, maybe to figure out some truly useful KPIs, then do some basic campaign analysis. Few organizations are at the point where multi-channel measurement is common, or where web analytics is used to help allocate marketing spend most effectively, or where true ROI is being captured, and good business decisions made accordingly.
Web analytics will mature as an industry, but part of that means that the skill sets will become better defined and more widespread, so that any firm that really needs an analyst will be able to hire one. Beyond that, web analytics and business intelligence will merge in terms of an aggressive approach to data analysis being applied to many areas of an organization — not just their web site, or even their online marketing, but all of the marketing, production, sales, and other operations. It’s neither easy nor cheap to get there, but I’m sure that those firms which can execute well on an analytics vision will certainly see unparalleled success.
How do you make sure you are learning and growing in this field?
I’m a little biased here, but as someone who reads nearly every message in the Web Analytics Forum (the free Yahoo! Group that Eric T. Peterson founded, and which I now serve as the primary moderator
(http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/webanalytics), I’d have to say it’s one of the best ways to stay abreast of what’s going on.
Membership in the Web Analytics Association (http://www.webanalyticsassociation.org/) is critical too, of course, as is attendance at at least one of the eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summits a year. (http://emterics.org/ — I prefer the big one in San Francisco, but regional ones also make sense for many analysts closer to DC, London, Germany, or any of the other venues, as networking with peers is one very valuable way to keep current.)
Do you have blog? If yes, what kind of article do you write?
I write occasionally at the OX2 site, http://webanalytics.wordpress.com/, about industry trends, advice to new analysts, and respond to interesting points raised by others, either on our blog, their blogs, or in the Web Analytics Forum. Some things also get posted to my personal blog, http://influenceanalytics.com/, particularly analytics for social networks.
What is your advice to aspiring web analysts?
Join the Web Analytics Forum, read the archives, and keep current with what people are asking about.
Join the Web Analytics Association, and support your professional community by volunteering for a committee — there’s no better way to get to know some of the most influential people in the industry than by working on a project with them.
And of course, attend an eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit (http://emterics.org/), get to know your peers, chat with some of the brightest minds in the industry, share your fresh perspectives with others, and quite possibly, walk away with a dream job.
Thank you for your time.