Web analytics needs some serious PR

Funny enough, we need a good shot of something most of us aren’t that crazy about.

PR. It isn’t measurable most of the time. It’s “soft.” It’s all rainbows and butterflies and about “reach” and perception. Perception can’t be deposited into a bank account! Woah, how lame does it get, right?

Well, right now the world thinks we are a bunch of report-running, World of Warcraft Level 128 elf wizards. We don’t “have a seat at the table,” and most of the times we do, we test the limits of executive eye rolling when we talk about metrics that these people have never heard before. A CEO can’t set a company’s direction based on bounce rate.

Despite considerable effort, people really do think that the WAA certification is proof that you know how to use ASI slots in SiteCatalyst. They think that Web Analytics 2.0 will teach you how to report the ROI of your paid search campaigns. They think that “insight” is something that your tool delivers. Not you.

And, worst of all, our mother-f*#%*@g hashtag on twitter is #MEASURE. What in the hell are we thinking? Are we actively trying to convince people that we are less than we are?

This is my petition for the guiding bodies of this industry to start (continue) retraining the world (and us) about what this job is. The WAA needs to get CEOs, COOs (and, unfortunately CMOs*) more involved. They need to publish a newsletter or somehow communicate directly (and frequently) to that audience, talking about what we do in terms of business outcomes, actively seeking out case studies. They need to train the decision makers on what they are buying. While the membership may be practitioners, the primary function should serve the role, not those who fill it. And that means focusing their efforts on the executive suite.

And I am not passing the buck. If you are with the WAA (or something else), let me know how I can help, and I’m there.

Avinash has been steering his blog this way for a long time, always talking about the business side in addition to the tactics employed by the analyst, with his most recent posts aiming right at the heart of the issue. But I feel like his audience is and will continue to be analysts. The executives will either not have the time to read posts because of the level of detail that doesn’t apply directly to their day-to-day work, or they’ll [wrongly] pretend to not have the time. I think and hope that the check writers and decision makers read it, but my gut tells me they are the minority of the readership. But when you get Kaushik in front of the execs, you literally might not hear a single metric mentioned. It’s a pitch. And it’s a hugely great one. He adapts to the audience at hand.

This is the real crux of the issue. This is our bullseye: the thing that we as practitioners can start doing while the governing bodies work on their part. When we talk to decision makers, they should feel like their decisions just became clearer, not that yours did. Our message is usually a litany of tactical fixes. We identified x number of issues, fixed them, and here is the upside. We justify our existence by essentially showing the outcomes of our janitorial work on the web site. Nerd camp. Okay, that was rude, but to make a point.

But what we haven’t done frequently is come to the CEO with an issue that they want to fix. How do we reach a completely new market? How do we vastly improve profitability? How do we create a paradigm shift in productivity? How do we create additional shareholder value? How do we improve culture? How do we communicate our future plans in more concrete terms that appeal to the BoD?

Good analysts make decisions that improve performance and generate value. Great analysts enable other people to make changes that move markets and help move the business to a new level on a quantum scale.

I hate to keep beating the Wall Street horse, but think about what these guys do. They may have their own portfolios for their retirement, but their decisions don’t drive upside for themselves or a small team, they enable other people to move billions of dollars of capital to companies where growth opportunities are evident. Your company has incredible growth potential, beyond landing page optimization, marketing campaign improvement, and UX issues. Become a part of that.

As a practitioner, listen to the other half of message that Avinash and others are screaming from the rooftops. Become a great analyst by sharpening your tools, but make it part of something bigger than yourself.

As an institution, begin a new PR effort. Get the practitioners aligned. Get the decision makers aware of what the industry is capable of. Let’s give ourselves a 3-year horizon for changing perception. If 2014 eMetrics isn’t full of CEOs and COOs, and topics aren’t case studies of how analytics has impacted the shareholder value conversations (among the tactical changes and upside), let’s call it a failure.

What are we going to do to succeed?

* Why “unfortunately” CMOs? I believe that CMOs have done a good job with the tools they’re given, but the web is not a marketing effort. It’s a business unit. It requires tremendous process and culture oversight. Marketing has historically been a strategic effort married to budget control, with very little operational complexity. You can’t say that at all about the web. Now these poor CMOs have to manage project managers, BI and analytics people, information architects, usability designers, and [they’re completely unprepared for managing] IT resources who have zero respect for them and their “strategies,” because the CMO doesn’t know what JSON is. The process of web development at most companies is a hot, tangled mess, both operationally and culturally. Sadly, people dread meetings with other teams of specialists which usually turn into wars of myopia. Work gets mangled at various handoff points. The CMO is simply not the person for the job. Especially if they’re good at traditional marketing, where none of their experience has prepared them for managing this whole functional universe.

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  1. I think you’re right on. I think one of the differentiators between web analysts and wall street analysts is the scope of analysis.

    Wall Street analysts look at just about everything, and talk about details within the context of the whole. My experience is that most web analysts don’t do similarly.

    We allow ourselves to be married to the website, yet our powers of analysis extended beyond the company website and social initiatives. Our approach doesn’t inspire confidence that we understand the business as a whole and have insights beyond our little sandbox.

    Much of this is company issues, but if a web analyst wants the license to interject more broadly he or she needs to prove their value beyond the current scope. That boils down to who do I know and of whom am I asking “how can I help you make more money?”

    Posted November 12, 2010 at 12:27 pm | Permalink
  2. Here’s a bold PR move: the WAA should put an ad in the WSJ and list the Certified Analysts: boost credibility of the WAA, be seen by managers, get serious!

    Posted November 12, 2010 at 1:26 pm | Permalink
  3. I couldn’t agree more that some healthy PR is needed, although I would offer that cost effective PR is available.
    Example: Flash Cookies
    Why didn’t the WAA study and report this to the public?

    Our lack of action on this issue makes us look negligent, or worse.

    Ultimately we want to be a voice for the online measurement community, or something like that. Taking an impartial stance on tough issues that are going to piss off constituent vendors/end-users/members from time to time is what I expect from an organization that leads.

    Perhaps our goal should be to simply lead the conversation about online measurement, instead of reacting to the next WSJ/Time/AP new article about online tracking.

    Posted November 12, 2010 at 2:43 pm | Permalink
  4. Michael,

    Great point. And Eric also brought this up on twitter.

    I think that we need to be very clear about these being separate issues, though. The CEO will never hear about flash cookies in their lifetime. Our action or inaction on matters of this level will never make us look anything to anyone that matters, and our consistent focus on these types of topics, sometimes to the exclusion of the important, big ones, is what has earned us our Erkel reputation from the decision makers’ standpoints. Flash cookies are unlikely to get anyone quoted in a publication that will meaningfully impact the potential of our industry. Yes, vendors and practitioners do have a real issue here, and it needs addressing, but the type of PR I am talking about has nothing to do with tactical outputs or inputs, but the perceived value of what we do and how we contribute to a business, from the view of the executive suite.

    I’m going to do a follow up post, however, on the topics you’re discussing, because they are certainly just as valid and important, but in a different area. I don’t mean any of the above to say that you aren’t focused and contributing to something vitally important to the future of our industry. Clearly, without good information, the potential of our role is crippled, and the point I am making here is moot. But if we can battle on both fronts, we will win a lot more than good tracking. We will exponentially increase salaries, importance, and impact.

    Personally, I feel that we need to focus on the value conversation first. Today, we have what we need to drive value. If we can show the leaders of the corporate world that this is true, they will join in our fight to preserve the value of this practice, and the value of having them involved in these types of issues is enormous. Nobody in our industry has the influence that these people have, and they will fight because this value is tied directly to the bottom line, rather than just being “data.” It isn’t that way now.

    My vision of WAA is not really representing the online measurement community (although it will/should/is), but representing the output of that measurement; the value it creates. Of course, that’s my vision, and my not represent others.

    Whew, this feels like a post itself!

    Posted November 12, 2010 at 3:10 pm | Permalink
  5. Ditto!

    A funny thing happened on the way to the CMO’s office….

    Posted November 12, 2010 at 3:24 pm | Permalink
  6. Ned Kumar

    Hi Evan,
    Good post and you raise a lot of good questions and points. The bottom line is that WAA needs to really take stock of where it wants to be in 5 years and how it wants our community to be percieved by the business and consumers.

    There are way too many issues currently in play that needs discussion by (& between) the WAA Oracle (Board), the community, the users (individuals/business) and the public (outside of WAA). For one, the word ‘analytics’ & ‘measure’ itself carries with it a certain mental model of the folks using it. As you say, we really need to come out of that shell – it is not just about analytics or metrics. It is about engaging for success and assisting facets like sustenance and value creation.

    Another is about being proactive and getting to be the authority. We are not about solving each other’s problems — it is more about understanding hurdles, fears, perceptions, and needs of the public and and being there to tackle/address those. I do think addressing items like ‘flash cookies’ are important but not from a tactical point of view but more from alleviating privacy concerns or helping businesses on regulatory compliance.

    One thing I don’t agree with – ” If 2014 eMetrics isn’t full of CEOs and COOs, and topics aren’t case studies of how analytics has impacted the shareholder value conversations (among the tactical changes and upside), let’s call it a failure”. But that is another discussion 🙂


    Posted November 13, 2010 at 1:21 am | Permalink
  7. Hi Evan,

    I’m a big fan of the WAA and I’ve signed up all of the YWA account managers to it, so please don’t mistake this for bashing – but as a vendor (and a listed WAA founding member), I don’t really feel that we get a voice.
    I’ve heard other vendor representatives say they feel the same way and I’m not really sure I understand it. What I mean is that vendors are seen as only in it to push a particular product so we have some kind of a self-serving bias. Well, of course! What business doesn’t? But that doesn’t mean we don’t try to be part of the Web Analytics industry. It doesn’t mean we don’t care about the community and how it is perceived.
    I think it would be great if things like the WAA outlook survey etc were more inclusive. Can’t we all just get along?

    We (and other vendors) provide opt-outs for tracking so that visitors can go to a Privacy Policy and see that the website freely admits to collecting non-identifiable information in an effort to better serve the customer through website optimisation. If a poll I recently saw on LinkedIn (and my own observation) is anything to go by, that option is not being passed to the the visitors by those that manage the websites. Why not? If there was more clarity, standardisation and good old-fashioned honesty, there wouldn’t be such a taboo.

    As for executive buy-in – that’s a long-standing issue. Perhaps there is too much exclusivity in web analytics. Perhaps there needs to be more socialisation though efforts like the Analysis Exchange or further Web Analytics Without Borders programs. Perhaps the WAA is preaching to the converted in a way and there need to be more case studies etc produced that can be shared with the metric-shy?

    One thing I do know is that there are a lot of smart people in the WAA between the committees, the board, the country managers etc – I’m sure it will get where it needs to go.

    (Manager @ Yahoo! Web Analytics)

    Posted November 13, 2010 at 10:35 am | Permalink

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