Transcript of Gary Angel and Eric Enge Podcast

Podcast Date: September 12, 2007

Gary Angel

The following is a written transcript of the September 12, 2007 podcast between Gary Angel and Eric Enge:

Eric Enge: Hi, I am Eric Enge the President of Stone Temple Consulting; you can see our website at www.stonetemple.com. We are here today with Gary Angel the President of SEMphonic and we plan to talk about a variety of issues with the web analytics. You can see the SEMphonic website at www.semphonic.com. How are we doing today, Gary?

Gary Angel: Not too bad, how about you Eric?

Eric Enge: I am doing great. So, the first thing I would like to start with is your thoughts on Omniture's recent acquisition of Offermatica.

Gary Angel: Yeah, that was pretty big news, and I think pretty exciting news. I think everybody has realized that Omniture is in an acquisition mode. I think they made no secret about it, and they raised money expressly for it, and I think it's really interesting to see how that's playing out in the market place. I guess my perception of it is that it's a natural fit, I think Omniture is a high-end enterprise tool that's primarily where they play.

Offermatica is probably the most sophisticated of the multivariate testing firms, and I think they play in very similar clientele. I think it's a really nice fit there, and I think it extends what Omniture is offering to their large clients in a very consistent way. Once you start acquiring companies I think it's really easy to bite off more than you can chew, and maybe go into directions that seem fun and exciting. I think the more consistent you are with the acquisitions, the more useful it is, and I think the more the outside world can kind of grasp what the whole company is doing.

I look at that and I say that looks like Omniture's really building a consistent theme of top enterprise tools for web optimization, and I kind of expect them to consume more in that field, but they have already covered some of the major bases. I do think, one thing that occurred to me about it was that, the data was already pretty well-integrated. I think that if you were an Offermatica client and you were an Omniture client, you already had a pretty good path for getting those two pieces of data together and working with them through genesis.

So, I am not sure that the biggest impact of the acquisition is so much going to be in terms of additional analytic power, but I think it is just considerable convenience. I think that if you are a large enterprise, the fewer vendors you have to deal with and the more consistent that vendor interface is for all of your web channel marketing needs, I think the better, and I think that's really where they are going with it.

Eric Enge: It does seem to confirm the importance of services in their overall model.

Gary Angel: I totally agree with that, I think that's clearly a continuing focus for them, and I think given again where they are playing at the enterprise level, that doesn't surprise me. I think that's a natural place to play, I guess I see them as really refining a strategy of playing at the high-end enterprise level of building multiple relationships with large clients. And, I think that's something they have been trying to do for a while to use the web analytics as the entree point for the client, and just establish the key repository for all the data, and then to start building services on top of that. And, I think that's both software services and professional services, and I think that makes a lot of sense for them.

Eric Enge: Right. Well, and they need to be there, because you look at the cheaper or the free vendors and they are all improving their tools, so they have to have higher value add to be playing in those territories that the other guys just can't do.

Gary Angel: Absolutely, I think that more of a demarcation there is between the enterprise tools, and as you say the free tools down at the low end, I think that's going to be essential for them, and I think they are accomplishing that. I don't think anybody looking at the Google Analytics in the world is going to confuse it with Omniture at this point. There really is a pretty striking difference in their approaches to the market and what they are offering. So, that's also good for them, and I think the strategy is going to play out pretty well for them overtime.

Eric Enge: Yes, you can't imagine Google doing anything that would cause actual support issues in their tool, and that's always going to be a constraint as to how far they will go with it.

Gary Angel: I agree. That's always been something about Google is that, they are interested in scaling technology bases, and if you look at all their products they have been very careful even with things like AdWords and AdSense to stay out of the business of a lot of high touch type things. So, when you are talking enterprise web analytics, there are components that are necessarily high touch, and I think you are right to say Google is just never going to play in those spaces, because it just doesn't fit their corporate culture.

Eric Enge: Right. You've got this Exchange conference coming up in just a little over a week it looks like, can tell me a little bit about that?

Gary Angel: Yeah, that's a big deal for us and a really exciting thing. So, Exchange is September 20th and 21st, and it's a conference for web measurement professionals and online marketing people. It's intimate, it's not a huge conference, it was something that originally was conceived as primarily for our clients, and probably about half the attendees there will be existing SEMphonic clients, but it is open to other people. We've got people from really all around the country and even some international people, and it's mostly for the places where we play, it's mostly enterprise clients coming out in financial services, and media, and e-Commerce. There is a great line up of speakers, we have a lot of really good people; I am really pleased with that. Eric Peterson is doing the key note, but we have people like Rand Schulman, and Ned Balkan, Erin Grey, and Olivia Sylvester, Terry Cone, and Matt Jacobs from Digitas. The whole SEMphonic team is going to be out there, there are a lot of really good people, and I think what really makes the conference sort of special is that we planned it to be a very small conference where everything is in small group discussions.

So, when you are out there, when the people who are out there attending, it's not going to be a bunch of presentations, it's not going to be these guys getting up and giving their usual canned speech that maybe they have done twenty times or thirty times, and there maybe people who have heard once or twice. It's a chance for you to sit down in small groups of like four to ten people and really work with these guys, and I think that's pretty exciting, I think from our perspective we didn't want just another conference. We wanted something that was going to be pretty special for people, that was a deeper dive than most other conferences offer, and would really get a chance for the experts and the people who are serious about this feel to get together and really talk more than anything else. I think that's a lot of what the conference is about, and that's why we call it Exchange.

Eric Enge: How many people do you expect to have there?

Gary Angel: Well, so all told, it will probably be about 90 people or so, and that will be a mix like I said of SEMphonic clients and people who are just interested in attending, and then about 20 speakers or so who are going to be facilitating all these small group discussions. So, it's in a very nice venue called Copeo which is in Napa Valley, and it's a place for wine and art and things like that. So, it's a little bit of an a unusual venue, it's not giant, but it should be really nice and I think everyone there, I am hoping will have a great time, and I am hoping it would be a pretty special experience too. I just don't think there are too many opportunities for so many people who are really deeply into web analytics and web measurement, online marketing to get together and just talk in an atmosphere where there isn't a lot of sales going on, and it's really more about learning.

Eric Enge: Right. Yeah, so from SEMphonic's perspective I guess it helps you show a real high level of added value to your client base.

Gary Angel: I think that's part of it, I won't disguise the fact, but I think a good part of this was we wanted to do something special for our clients; we wanted to give them a bonus. Most of our clients are people that we've worked with for a long time, we have good relationships with, but we don't always get a chance to see them except in the course of business. So, when we first came up with the idea, I think a part of it was to sort of say it would be great if we had an opportunity to bring these people out we've been working with for a year or a couple of years or 5 years, and sit down with them and just talk in a more theoretical and exploratory way, then we get a chance to do when we are on the job.

I think we initially viewed it as a great big offsite for our clients, and as we thought about that the idea really appealed to us, and we thought like this is a great thing to open up to other people who are similar to our clients and of similar interests. And so, it's really designed to play to both those things, but I think from our perspective a lot of it is a chance for people who we know to just relax with us, and talk a little more. And, for people who haven't worked with us to get a sense of who we are, but I think we are to not just to really get a chance to do an offsite about web analytics with a lot of really great people.

Eric Enge: Right. So, if someone is interested in going to the conference, how do they go about signing up?

Gary Angel: Yeah. Well, you can still register online; we are getting pretty close to booked. I am not sure if that's going to persist, but you can go to the SEMphonic website and right off the homepage of course there is a big thing you can click on to go to the conference site, and you can register directly online. There are still a couple of spaces left, so I think that's still at least possible to do at the moment. (Editor's note: The conference has already taken place)

Eric Enge: Right. And, you talked about things taking place in small groups. Can you expand on that a little bit, just to give me a better sense as to how that works?

Gary Angel: Yeah. Well Eric is one of the more popular speakers, but we are trying to keep all of the groups to no more than ten people or eleven people. And so, that is what it's going to be like, and I think at the low end we want to have at least four people in a group, so that there will be enough people to really air views and chat and get a conversation going, but we don't want presentations, we don't want lectures. I think from our perspective when I thought about my experiences at conferences, both as an attendee and as a speaker, I think the conferences are great. They are great way to get a, pretty good sense of where an industry is, to maybe pickup some, a couple of new tips, but I think what I found is that after you have been to a conference a couple of times, or if you are being doing a couple of conferences, they are related to search engine marketing or web analytics or whatever, the value tends to decline.

Because, as the conferences get bigger, speakers have to pitch their presentations to the room average, and they are speaking to more and more people. They necessarily have to go to presentations that are little more plain vanilla. Frankly as a speaker, I think I get a little bored with it, and I think the other speakers do too. You have your stump speech that you are giving; it's probably really good, but on the other hand you given it a few times, and it's just not that exciting anymore.

I think when I thought about it, what I felt like was that most of the really interesting times at conferences were when I got a chance to really just sit down and talk with people, be it the attendees there or the other speakers. And, I look back on some of the conferences I have been to and just think about how much I learned just in conversation with people talking about our business, and how to do web analytics and people's problems.

As we thought about this conference we knew we weren't going to be an Emetrics or anything nearly that big or complicated. We knew we wanted something that was a lot more small and intimate, and I think as we thought about it, what we felt like was that there was a place here for a conference that was more relaxed and more conversational where really was a chance to sit down with people. So, the way it works is this, each experts' basically picked a couple of topics that they are especially interested in, and they are going to be a facilitator. So, they are going to be there with an outline, some questions, there maybe a few discussion starters, some things to think about.

Basically, it's a chance for people to go back and forth with these guys, and not only that, but one thing we're really encouraging is that for the experts who are there not just, they are going to do a couple huddles for each. Each one will be doing a couple hurdles, but they will also get a chance to attend the other peoples' huddles. So, you might have Eric Peterson and Ned Balkan in the same group, and you might get to hear those two guys go back and forth. So, it is a just one expert per huddle, there is going to be a lot of back and forth, or at least that's what we are really striving for as hoping to really get everybody there in the conversation and talking back and forth, and I think that should be really fun for people.

Eric Enge: Yes, it sounds like a great event. It's sad for me that I can't make it, because I am coming up to California the exact following week.

Gary Angel: I am looking forward to it, I have to say as one of the organizers on this thing, I go back and forth between the inevitable nervousness and fear on how this thing is going to work out and real excitement about it too. But, I think I wish I could just be an attendee and not have the nervousness and fear.

Eric Enge: Yes, indeed. Well great, let's talk a little bit about a core analytics issue which is the common measurement mistakes or common mistakes that people make when they try to go deep with analytics.

Gary Angel: This is something that I have written about in the past, and I think overtime we see organizations struggling with certain aspects of web analytics, and analysts struggling with certain aspects of web analytics. Overtime, I guess we'll evolve the list of these things, but I was thinking about the place where I really think web analytics falls down in a big way. The one thing that really stuck out to me was that too many times I think organizations approach web analytics as something you do, not something you plan for.

We found it makes a huge difference in the overall effectiveness of web analytics program, if you really figure out in advance why you are doing web analytics, and what you are going to accomplish in the next 6 months or 12 months. What we like to do with people is sit down and build something we call an analytic road map, where it's literally a description of the exact business problems and analysis that we think the client should tackle over the next year. So, we will sit down and we will look at their business, and we will say as we look at your website, here's where most of the traffic is coming from, but here's where this traffic is mostly failing, that's we are going to tackle first.

Maybe we are going to tackle optimizing your SEO traffic, because you are bringing a lot of people in through these doors, but you are not getting a lot of value added from those people. And then, as we look at that further into your website, we see that you have 4 places or 5 places where you've got key engagement tools. We are going to look at those five tools, and we're going to decide which of those is the best place to really get certain types of people engaged first, which ones have the most mind share; which ones really drive return engagement.

After that, we are going to go look at this other part of your site, where you've got internal search and maybe internal search is used by 20% of the people on your website; that makes it pretty darn important. We are going to look at the way it's interfacing with people, who uses it, is it effective, are there things you can do, sort of layout from a business perspective. Here are the analyses we are going to tackle, here is why we are going to tackle them, here is the order we are going to tackle them. And, we found that going through that process has a lot of benefits, and I think really precludes a lot of the biggest failures in web analytics. I think one thing it does is it gives everybody in an enterprise or organization a real understanding of what web analytics is supposed to accomplish.

I think that's a big hole for a lot of companies, yeah they will look at the web analytics people, and they have no idea what they are supposed to be doing except analyzing the sort of black box thing. But, when you have laid it out like that, you get a chance for all the stakeholders in the company to come forward and say this is my business problem, this is what I need. And, when they see other people doing that it gives them the ideas, and they will start coming to the web measurement people or the analytics people and say I need to know this, I need to find out this, what can you tell me about it, and that really helps.

I think it gets everybody buying into the process, but the other thing I think it helps, is it helps the analyst. A lot of the analysts, I believe understand how to use the web analytics tools, they understand how to do analysis. A lot of times where they struggle is what should I be working on, where should I be starting? I really try to fight one thing that I see as a really common misperception which is this, the job of the analyst to sort of explore the data, and I sort of picture that as someone sitting down in front of a Visual Sciences or an Omniture tool, and just sitting there writing reports and looking for interesting things.

I think the truth is that you will never find anything interesting that way, not where there is too much data and there is too many reports, and there is no way to fit anything you're looking at into a context. You got to start with what problem you're trying to tackle, and then move into how you're going to tackle it, and then tackle the tool. I see a lot of times a rush to the tool by analysts where they are so anxious to go and start writing reports that they haven't really sat down and thought about, A) what's my problem, and B) if this is my problem what do I need to do to attack it.

So, as I thought about it, I think that failure to have a plan, both at the strategic level of where the organization is going, and at the tactical level I am an analyst, I need to solve this problem, what am I going to look at? Move to thinking about everything you are going to look at before you do it. I think that's probably the biggest problem, the most common measurement mistake that I see organizations and analysts making.

Eric Enge: Yeah, so there are a couple of things that are just observations. First of all web analytics, real high value web analytics is hard, and what it means is that, when you are trying to bring analytics into a company, that to do a good earnest job of telling the business team of the company, decision makers of the company, what's involved, you probably need to plan on a fair amount of expenditure. One of the things that's really bad about not having a plan is that, now you have told the CEO that you need to spend this money on this package. Well, if you don't have the plan, you can't tell him what he is going to get.

Gary Angel: Yeah, that's so true.

Eric Enge: And, if you can't tell him what he is going to get, then he is never going to approve it. So, there is that issue and even if you are starting small and the budget dollars aren't, the absolute numbers that you are spending in terms of dollars on analytics aren't that great, there is always a good chance that the reason for that is it's a tighter budget situation for you at your company, than it was at Ford Motor Co. as an example.

Gary Angel: Absolutely.

Eric Enge: So, it's still a significant expenditure, and you just need to know what you are going to get out of it.

Gary Angel: I really agree with that, and I think it's a matter both of knowing what you are going to get out of it, so that you can get the dollars, and so that you can justify it. But, also I think so that you can be productive. I think it's both sides of that issue, I think this belief that we are going to throw dollars at analytics without understanding what exactly we are doing with our analytics, just doesn't make sense. And, I think a lot of times too I see companies get into the hiring mode, we are going to hire someone to do web analytics, but they hadn't really clearly thought through what they want their person to tackle.

I believe that makes it really hard, you are coming new into a company, you are a new hire, you don't know the company that well, and people just expect you to be able to go off and figure out what the analytics agenda is. It just doesn't work that way a lot of the times, I think if you are laying the ground work for an analytics effort, it's important for all the stake holders, the people who are the product managers, the marketing managers, and the CMO's, just sit down and figure it out.

These really are the questions I have, these are the things we need to answer, which of these are really important, which are foundational, which could change our business, which could drive the most value. And, I think once you have that discussion, it just makes it so much clearer for the analyst and for the people in charge, and for all the surrounding stakeholders, why they are doing this and what they darn well better get out of it.

Eric Enge: You mentioned earlier something I want to expand upon too which is how important the question is why you are doing web analytics? I am actually going to pull a thought that was planted in my head originally by Avinash Kaushik, and that is the companion question. In fact the question before that one is what's the purpose of your website?

Gary Angel: Yes.

Eric Enge: A lot of people I find don't have that in mind when they try to do their analytics plan. And of course, you really need to know what you are trying to accomplish. As soon as you have that in your mind, what I am trying to accomplish for the website, the things that you want to do with web analytics start coming clearly to you I think, and quickly the idea as to how you can use analytics to help your business, becomes a lot clear.

Gary Angel: I agree with that, I'd even take it one step further. I think that it's not only important to understand the website, it's actually important to understand the whole business. And, by giving example of why I think that's true, we've been doing some analysis lately which we call the Mass Media Analysis, where we actually look at the website, and we use the website purely as a test bed to measure the impact that certain kinds of mass media are having in particular target markets. And, that's a use that you would never have thought of if you started out with what's the purpose of the website. Because so often people you know, that what their website is for in one sense, but if you understand what the business is about, you may think of ways that the website can contribute to the business that would never have occurred to you, and measuring the impact of mass media by the quality of an increase to traffic on the website is something that it's a great analysis.

It's something that's very appropriate for certain kinds of clients, and it's something that you would never have thought of, if you didn't start out with what's my business about, and what's going on in the business. So, I totally agree knowing what the website is about is the primary thing, you have to know that. Most of the analysis you do is going to fall out of that.

I also I think that it is important in general to even go beyond the website and think about the businesses as a whole, because if you get there you may find that there are things you can do on the website and analysis you can do on the website that contributes to other aspects of the business. The websites are great way to find information out about what's effective, what appeals to clients, what engages them, what kinds of customer segments you have, and that's all information that a lot of times can flow back into other areas of the business in a very productive way.

So, I am totally on board with the idea that you got to know the website, and like I say I actually like to even take it one level higher. If you really want to be a good analyst, if you really want to find all the ways that you can exploit web analytics, you even have to go beyond what the website does and I think understand the whole business picture of what's going on in the largest sphere for the business, and think about are there ways for the website to contribute both from measurement perspective and a marketing perspective to them.

Eric Enge: Right. It all sort of gets back to that old fashioned saying about you don't want to be in the position of not seeing the forest for the trees.

Gary Angel: Which is so easy to do when you are an analyst, I mean I think we all fall prey to that sometimes. Being an analyst is definitely a down in the weeds kind of job, and in fact that's what I like about it, I mean I like being down in the weeds, I like getting in and actually dealing with the numbers. But, it is true that before you get down in those weeds, you need to know what path you want to take, and I think that's the important thing. And I think, I guess it's probably fair to say that people can make the mistake and go out of their way, I mean I think there are people out there who are so big picture that they never get down in the weeds and actually see whether the numbers you are confirming or what the numbers are saying about that big picture.

They just make a bunch of assumptions and assume that they are right, but it's also true that if you just dive down into tools and you start looking at numbers and stuff, nothing's going to come with that. I don't think I have seen pure data exploration of sitting down and just looking at reports really ever produced value for a company. I think it has to be a lot more directed then that.

Eric Enge: Right. Well, I think that's great advice. Gary thanks for taking the time to join us today.

Gary Angel: Well, this has been fun, thank you.

About the Author

Eric Enge is the Founder and President of Stone Temple Consulting (STC). STC offers Internet marketing optimization services, including SEO, Social Media and PPC optimization, and its web site can be found at: http://www.stonetemple.com.

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