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Introduction

Introduction

“No great marketing decisions have ever been made on quantitative data.”

John Sculley

This astounding declaration was made by the former PepsiCo executive and Apple CEO John Sculley, the same visionary responsible for ousting Steve Jobs in 1985. While some traditional marketers might still agree with his statement, today most marketing executives recognize data-driven decisions will shape the future of marketing. With the expansion of digital marketing, web analytics is at the forefront of this data-driven transformation in marketing.

Since joining Omniture’s business consulting team in 2004, I’ve had the privilege and opportunity of working with several online leaders. I’ve seen the industry grow in size, prominence, and popularity, embracing new technologies and consolidating around a core group of vendors. Although some organizations have had tremendous success with web analytics, too many firms are still struggling to reach their full potential and some are even questioning the value of their web analytics investment.

The current state of web analytics raises an important question: Why aren’t more companies successful with web analytics? Between vendors battling on features, companies fixating on implementation and reporting, and industry experts pushing the latest metric-du-jour, I believe we’ve lost our focus on what’s important as an industry. Although the technology, data, and metrics are essential elements, they are a means to an end. We need to return to the fundamentals in order to move forward.

The original value proposition of web analytics was to help companies achieve their online business goals and maximize the return on their digital marketing investments. Web analytics achieved these objectives by helping companies to measure, analyze, and optimize online performance. In other words, CMOs invested in web analytics to improve their online marketing initiatives through insights found in the online data.

Somewhere in our executing against this vision, a noticeable breakdown has occurred. While measuring online performance with a web analytics tool is common practice (and comes with its own set of unique challenges), the necessary analysis isn’t happening across most organizations. Many firms simply lack the analytical talent or bandwidth to take full advantage of their online data. When analysis typically drives action (optimization), most of the potential value that could be created by web analytics becomes stunted by the scarcity of analysis. The fate of your company’s online success hangs in the balance, and somebody needs to do something—fast—before your competitors can strike first.

Enter the Action Hero

Cue the cool, action theme music because a new breed of web analyst or data-driven marketer is about to enter the picture: the action hero. In pop culture, an action hero is “often simply an ordinary person in extraordinary circumstances, who, despite the odds being stacked against him or her, typically prevails in the end.”[1] Maybe that doesn’t sound like you at first, but think about it: By most standards, web analysts and marketers are just ordinary individuals (not rich, famous, or powerful), and aren’t you caught in the extraordinary circumstances of the fast-paced, ever-evolving digital space? Constrained by limited bandwidth, budget, and training, you may even feel the odds are stacked against your success. With the right mind-set and strategy, however, you too can prevail in the end and save the day.

Web Analytics Action Hero reveals how you can fill the void of insight and action that is plaguing many companies today. Chapter by chapter you will walk through a transformative process that will elevate you from ordinary analyst to action hero:

  • Chapter 1 covers the growing need for action heroes, as well as how the responsibility for performing analysis extends beyond analysts to marketers and other individuals.

  • Chapter 2 introduces two important regions in the land of web analytics: Setupland and Actionland. You’ll learn how companies need to move beyond focusing on implementation and reporting and instead emphasize analysis that drives action. Likewise, you’ll discover key differences between reporting and analysis as well as how you can escape from being a reporting robot.

  • Chapter 3 highlights the three key success factors of any action hero: ability, environment, and approach. After fleshing out the required talent and skills of an action hero and the necessary environmental factors, the chapter introduces the Action Hero Framework, which will transform ordinary, unassuming analysts into action heroes.

  • Chapter 4 focuses on how to prioritize your analysis approach before performing any analyses. The chapter concentrates on five key criteria for targeting your analysis: your understanding of the business goals, your ability to influence an outcome, the potential impact of an analysis, the level of effort to obtain the insight, and the context required to stay plugged into the business.

  • Chapter 5 concentrates on the actual process of performing analysis. The chapter introduces the HEROIC framework, which is based on the scientific method, that provides a disciplined approach and various techniques for finding the key insights and optimization opportunities buried within your online data.

  • Chapter 6 looks at how you can mobilize or rally people around your insights and recommendations. The chapter looks at how you can become an agent for change within your company by focusing on the following four areas: knowing your audience, communicating your message effectively, driving your insights through to execution, and closing the loop on your recommendations.

  • Chapter 7 explores several practical, real-world analysis examples and techniques across four main action zones: acquisition (finding both high-converting and cost-effective sources), site interactions (understanding visitor behaviors on your site), conversion process (identifying key attrition points), and visitor value (targeting valuable visitors).

  • Chapter 8 concludes by highlighting how both companies and individuals need to be ready for action and what they can do to better prepare.

Heroes never complete their quests without meeting a villain or two, so the book introduces you to an eclectic group of the villains that vex and challenge many web analysts. To assist you in accomplishing your data-driven mission, I’ve included tips for defeating these adversaries who span the senseless to the downright sinister. By the end of the book, you’ll have a clearer understanding of what it takes to become an action hero. Each chapter builds on the concepts and techniques shared in the previous ones, so I would recommend reading them in sequence for full effect.

Who Should Read This Book?

With the online channel increasingly affecting a greater portion of most businesses, more and more individuals and teams can benefit from analyzing and optimizing their respective online results. Not everybody has grasped they can’t afford to wait and be passively fed information anymore. They need to be more proactive about diving into their own online data to find solutions and opportunities. The few that adopt analysis will be in a stronger position for driving their own online success. As I prepared to write this book, I identified three main audiences who stand to significantly benefit from web analysis:

  • Web analysts. Whether you’ve been in web analytics for several years or are just breaking into the field (college grads), the material covered in this book will be invaluable in either forging a new path or further refining your craft. The concepts, frameworks, techniques, and practical tips will help you to be more strategic, efficient, and effective in your analysis approach. Although other authors have covered different aspects of web analytics, none have provided a comprehensive focus and robust framework for mastering the art and science of online analysis.

  • Marketers. Increasingly marketers are being thrust into the path of online data. Rather than being paralyzed like a deer in headlights, why not manage it with the skill and confidence of an action hero? You’ll not only be able to optimize your online content and campaigns but also manage your marketing spend more effectively, which can pay dividends for your company and your career.

  • Executives. If you would like to create a more data-driven organization, this book will highlight some of the key areas where aspiring action heroes will need your political influence and budget authority to make it happen. They need brave, data-driven leaders who are willing to roll up their sleeves and work collaboratively alongside them to make the data-driven culture a reality. I recommend reading the entire book, but if your time is limited you’ll definitely want to focus on Chapters 2, 3, 4, and 8.

The concepts and approaches in this book are not specific to any one tool and should be applicable and relevant to whatever web analytics tool you’re using. My intent was to write a book for anyone who performs or consumes online analysis, regardless of their affinity or allegiance to one vendor or technology. Although all of my analysis examples are taken from Adobe SiteCatalyst (Chapter 7), in most cases the screenshots could have come from any number of web analytics tools. This book was never intended to be a product guide for a particular tool but more of a practical, principles-based handbook for performing online analysis. In fact, many of the analysis approaches in this book could also be applied outside of the field of web analytics to drive action.

Why I Wrote This Book

Back in college I found myself debating between choosing accounting or marketing as my major—yes, two areas traditionally viewed as being diametrically opposed. If you were good with numbers in business school, you typically went into finance or accounting—not marketing. Even though my analytical skills had served me extremely well in all my quantitative classes, I decided to break away from the path that would have led me into a safe but uneventful career in accounting and instead pursued my deeper passion for marketing. What might have been viewed as a somewhat irrational move by my fellow students has turned into one of the best decisions of my life when it eventually led me into web analytics, an online marketing discipline that has challenged both sides of my brain.

I share this background information to highlight two simple things you need to know about me. First, before focusing exclusively on web analytics, my educational and professional background wasn’t grounded in statistics, business intelligence, web development, or some other highly technical field—just good, old-fashioned marketing. While I’m definitely of the data-driven persuasion, I can appreciate the day-to-day challenges that all marketers face because I’ve experienced them firsthand. Having seen both approaches in practice, I’ll admit being data-driven is my preferred path. For the most part, optimizing online marketing efforts comes down to making relatively small bets, measuring performance, making course corrections, and constantly moving forward.

Second, I’m incredibly passionate about the power and potential of web analytics. The intersection of marketing, analysis, and the Internet that web analytics represents is a real “sweet spot” for me. As a consultant, I’ve had the opportunity to meet with several web analysts, web analytics teams, or entire organizations that are struggling to build momentum for their web analytics programs. Over time you begin to spot troublesome patterns and warning signs that can lead to full-blown problems as well as identify key best practices in the most successful organizations. In writing this book, I hope to help more companies to become more data-driven by sharing these observations and insights.

More importantly, I want to equip you with the tools, techniques, and tips needed to lead the change at your firm and become a real-life action hero for web analytics. In most cases, web analysts get only small doses or glimpses of what it would be like to be an action hero; just imagine what high concentrations of undiluted analysis and action would be like. Be prepared to transform your current role into one that

  • Provides more intellectual stimulation as you acquire a license to explore and innovate (not kill) through analyzing and optimizing your online business

  • Focuses your time on things that really matter to the business and provides a greater sense of achievement when you deliver significant value

  • Gives you a deeper understanding and better perspective of what’s happening across your business, both in terms of its inner workings and high-level trends

  • Forms relationships with key individuals and teams throughout your company, where your cross-functional knowledge can connect ideas and solve business problems that span multiple areas

  • Equips you with the latest and greatest analytics tools to drive even deeper insights and more optimization opportunities

  • Earns you the respect and recognition from your entire organization as well as the promotions and pay increases that come with the territory

  • Provides you with the experience, results, and influence that can take your career any direction you want

If you’re not excited about the prospect of becoming a web analytics action hero by now, I don’t know what to say other than you might have mistakenly picked up this book thinking it was some new online action thriller. For the rest of you, I look forward to initiating your action hero journey, and since there’s no better time than right now, let’s begin your training now.

Endnotes

1.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hero


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