The following is the transcript of an interview of Brian Induni, the Executive Director of the Web Analytics Association. A native of Vermont, Brian Induni is the owner of Induni NorthWest, a web analytics consulting practice. He brings 20 years of experience in product, engineering and business management to his role, including four years as Product Manager at WebTrends.
Prior to joining WebTrends in 2000, Mr. Induni was an entrepreneur, founding several companies, including a web site optimization and search engine placement firm with which he continues to be involved. Prior to founding Advanced Site Promotion, Mr. Induni managed a Test & Measurement Business Unit for AMP Incorporated, and was an R&D engineer on various aerospace projects such as the backbone communications cable for the Boeing 777 while with Champlain Cable.
While with WebTrends, Mr. Induni was the small business / beginning web analytics user evangelist, and was responsible for integrating customer focused training into WebTrends products with the introduction of Professor WebTrends in the fall of 2000. He also proposed the concept for traveling customer training sessions, better known as the WebTrends Seminar Series, focused on teaching the 5 key areas to measure in web site business performance.
Eric Enge: Why don’t you start us with a brief background of yourself and your Consulting Firm Induni, Northwest?
Brian Induni: I have been in this industry for ten years. But, I am a mechanical engineer by schooling, and I started off my career in Aerospace Research and Development. But, I ended up being the person that was assigned the task of getting our company’s website upon the Internet back in 1995, Once it was up, we then asked “how are we going to use it and how are we going to justify the amount of money we are putting into it?” So, when I started looking at hit-trackers and eye-ball counters, I saw WebTrends popping up more and more. So, I became really interested in that, and that space of web analytics; it wasn’t even called web analytics then.
Eric Enge: Right, they called it statistics, right?
Brian Induni: Yeah. And, it was born from looking at who is on your internal network, with Novell Networks and the whole concept of understanding traffic on a network was born from internal networks. And, then there was this new thing, the Internet. I never really got deeply planted in to it until I moved to Portland Oregon and, start working for WebTrends. That’s kind how I got my start in this whole web analytics world; just diving right in with one of the top vendors.
And, then I took a little hiatus when I left WebTrends, and moved to Idaho, for a life change. And, while I was here I started thinking more and more about the people that I used to work with; and I kept in touch with a lot of them. And, it was at that time that some of the folks that I had been working with said “your background and your understanding of web analytics is great but, you also understand what the small business person wants. And when you start leveraging that together, that would make a great consulting business”.
It was Bryan Eisenberg that called me up one day and said we are finally going to get this Web Analytics Association off the ground. And, are you interested in being a part of it, having some major part of it in its business. And, I said “of course; I said yes, it would be a great opportunity”. At the same time, there I was, just starting this new consulting business. Most of my work came from LA and Chicago and New York and the big cities, where some of the customers were big and needed help but didn’t quite know what help they needed. The vendors were great at helping them setup their product; but not helping them answer their business questions.
So, that was my next step in realizing that “well, maybe I am not going to be just that small little business person’s hand-holder like I set out to be”. So I decided to take on just a few clients and work for the WAA as well. That is how I got to where I am today and how the Web Analytics Association fits into that whole scheme of things.
Eric Enge: Right. So, can you expand the discussion about the formation of the WAA when Bryan Eisenberg came to you?
Brian Induni: Sure. It began late in 2000 or early 2001, when we started to realize that the products that we were developing as vendors were no longer IT products; they were really marketing tools. And, our products are very technically focused and the marketing folk said “this is great, but I’ve got different questions and I don’t know what to implement. And, how come my numbers from this tool don’t match the numbers from this tool?”
So, this really started the thoughts around setting standards and getting best practices in place. And, just having a centralized location for information about analytics. But we were swamped at the time, allow our growth curves were like hockey sticks up and to the right. So, nobody had time to collaborate with other vendors and to think about developing an association. So, it was at a little dormant initially, but still in the back of people’s minds. And, then unfortunately I took this hiatus, just before everything was born.
That was when Bryan Eisenberg, Jim Sterne, Ranch Chelmen ????, Greg Drude ???? got together and said, it’s time; we really need to get this thing off the ground. Fortunately, there were enough non-vendors like Bryan and Jim involved to really get the thing moving; because that benefited them greatly and it benefited their customers. Nine of the founding members were vendors, and that was great because they had the seed money to get things moving.
I think it was 2004 when this idea finally gelled together and in 2005 it was launched. And, then I spoke with Bryan in late 2005 and he asked me to take this on. So, then we thought “okay, we’ve created a website, we’ve created a nonprofit business and now what do we do?” We need somebody to be the hub, to run the business and answer the questions. So, that’s why they brought me in to takeover this new little seed that they planted, but that hadn’t even started sprouting yet. But yet, all kinds of people were jumping on board. So, the formation of it was really over a long period of time, and then it became my job to say “okay, here’s what we are going to do; and are you on board with me, and we need this much money and here’s what we are going to do.”
Eric Enge: So now the WAA is a place where people come for answers about analytics.
Brian Induni: So many people are involved in constructing and maintaining these sites, business that have put up the hundreds and thousands, and possibly millions of dollars to create websites, and they are asking “show me some kind of ROI”. And, the web analytics world is one where Joe gets the assignment of putting the website up and then he is given the task of justifying its existence. You know it’s a double edged sword for somebody that gets this assignment.
Their next step is “okay, how do I do that; what is this conversion?” And, I remember hearing about hits ten years ago; why aren’t we tracking that? And, so they come to the WAA for answers and, that’s an excellent next step for somebody that’s looking for basic answers, or in-depth answers.
Eric Enge: So, you talked a little bit about getting answers, or an educational component. You’ve also talked a little about helping introduce some better standardization as to how we talk about all this stuff. Are there other goals and objectives to the WAA that you want to highlight?
Brian Induni: Yeah, we have many active committees and, the advocacy committee is creating; I want to say best practices. We put together informational positional papers; some best practices, and bring things to the surface that we’ve all been afraid to talk about before. Things like Spyware, cookies and getting a non-vendors input on what is Spyware; and what are cookies and, how are third party cookies compared to first party cookies? And, so the advocacy committee answers all these kinds of questions, and allows the membership (about 900 members) to vote on a position. And, so the position that the WAA takes is the position of the membership at large. And, that’s always a very strong tool for people to use in the industry.
The advocacy committee really does a lot of that creation; the education committee has developed courses for the University of British Columbia, and those courses have been sold out every single semester. And, our online courses do well too, we have people going through final of the four courses. We are now leveraging this course content through other universities and curriculums, where these people can now use their skills that they have learnt in their MBA class, and, the skills that they have learnt through their curriculum with the Web Analytics Association, and start to really apply business practices through this type of the world.
We have an event called Web Analytics Wednesday, on the second Wednesday of every month. Everybody worldwide is encouraged to meet at their favorite meeting location wherever that may be and, have a web analytics discussion. It’s a place for newbies in the industry to come and meet those who have been in the industry for a while and ask questions face to face or, just to collaborate on what’s new. For example, Web 2.0 and AJAX; how are you dealing with that now? Our folks in the Netherlands and the Nordic regions are actually outperforming everybody in the world. There are typically about sixty people at these events.
Then we have an international committee that works through country managers across the world. Our country managers are responsible for their particular country or region of countries. For instance, Italy has a country manager that’s very active and strong in promoting the Web Analytics Association to the industry; folks there within his region. And, this committee is really designed to help foster those country managers and help them push out the kind of information that the Web Analytics Association can give.
And, then there is the public sector committee, where our chairperson and co-chair are based in Virginia and Washington DC, I believe. So, they are very tied-in with the government. They get involved when people in government start talking about related issues, such as a discussion about cookies being bad. So, they are very active in you know speaking with senators and regulators.
And, then finally the research committee and, the standards committee are fairly self explanatory but, very active and very important in the Web Analytics Association. The research committee will do research projects on things that have to do with the industry. So, they may go to the membership at large or just to anybody that wants to be part of this survey. What’s important to the industry or what is next? So, they are very broad in what they might be looking at.
Eric Enge: So, an example of something that they might look might be: “how are we going to deal with New Media and AJAX?
Brian Induni: Yes. That is some of it, they will ask questions and put out surveys to our membership at large and say “how important is this New Media; how are you using it; how are you getting past the hurdles of”. And, we actually have some questions out to some folks now on getting their prognostications on the next coming twelve months. Because, I really see a lot happening in the next twelve months; for example with Second Life and Web 2.0; that could be huge industry landscaping changers.
So, there is a lot going on, and we recognize a lot of this. We are trying to get some creative juices flowing from the membership. What do they see as the challenges coming up? So, the research committee will publish some papers, and newsletters that will disseminate this information and get more of the membership ready for it.
Eric Enge: Right. So, is the WAA funded primarily through member fees?
Brian Induni: Yes, the primary funding for the Web Analytics Association is through membership dues, but we also have revenue coming from our course content at the University of British Columbia. We have revenue generated from our job boards too. But primarily, it is revenue from membership dues.
Eric Enge: Right. What needs would you say that WAA has at this point?
Brian Induni: The association is a voluntary organization made up of members. We have nearly nine hundred members covering probably forty different countries. I think the biggest need that the organization has is to get more active participants for each of these committees that I mentioned. Now, the committees are very active and very full, but I think what happens is as a volunteer you tend to be very enthusiastic when you join and, really dive into it and go hard. But, after about a year you start to realize that you already have a full time job that needs your attention.
So the members tend to lose interest or lose their ability to be quite so enthusiastic. So, we really need people to jump in and be active in committees. And, as the committees grow, the tasks can be sliced up into smaller pieces. So, the chairperson of these committees tends to be the coordinator of all of the tasks instead of being the one to actually do the task. So, active participants and committees is our number one need. And, that drives the whole organization in being successful.
Eric Enge: Right. Do you have some people who are compulsive volunteers?
Brian Induni: I wouldn’t say so much. Yes, there certainly are some keeners in the industry. I use that term to describe somebody that’s above and beyond enthusiastic. And, somehow they work thirty hours in a twenty-four hour time span.
So, you know they tend to be very vocal and very visible. But, I don’t think you see the need for new blood quite so much because, people tend to like to move around from committee to committee too. And, that keeps it very fresh because, then you get a lot of cross pollanization. And, part of my job is to facilitate the discussion and intellectual cross pollenization of these committees.
Eric Enge: Right. So how do you see the organization evolving in the future?
Brian Induni: The organization is made up of a lot of vendors as board members and as chair-people. Now, that’s changing pretty drastically, but I think what we need to have is more end user participation. We still need to have vendor participation so that they can be listening to what customers need. But, we really need to have end-users; those that use the products and make the decisions for business to be the primary drivers of the organization.
I would like to see that happen more and more and we are getting there. I would like to see us to take it to the next level, such as with organizations like Wilma and some of these other marketing organizations that are enormous with fifty thousand members and huge participations in each of the committees. And, I’d like to see us be able to get to the size where, when you join a committee it doesn’t feel like you are taking on another job. It’s a small piece of being active in a larger organization.
Eric Enge: Right, so you can spend a few hours a month and contribute.
That’s a great overview; let’s broaden things a little bit and talk some analytics. I know one of your passions is the small business persons needs with regard to analytics. So, how do those differ from the needs of a larger organization?
Brian Induni: Yeah. I think one of the fundamental differences is that the small business obviously has fewer people to get the same amount of work done. So, that the difference between a big organization and a small organization online is very minimal. They still have websites to maintain; e-commerce to keep track of and conversions to make sure happen. So, those types of issues and obstacles are where large organizations have an easier time.
The small business is really behind with those two being limitations. And, when I say smaller; I don’t mean you are doing ten million a year. I mean, the smaller business that’s two or three people that are making a living. So, really what they need to do is to get up to speed very quickly and be efficient with the kinds of questions they ask and tackling the learning curve as quickly as they can. So I really encourage them to join the Web Analytics Association; it has a fee membership that’s very small compared to some of the other marketing organizations out there. And, it really is a great place for these people to find out what questions they should be asking first and to figure out how to learn to get to the point where they are actually making a difference with their marketing online.
Eric Enge: Right. And, is WAA providing any specific focus for the small business people to help them when they are new?
Brian Induni: I have a project in place right now that’s being created as a newbie track for our site. And, last fall in October at the Emetrix Summit; we had a one day training seminar that was a Web Analytics Association funded training seminar. And, we ended up sealing the room and bringing in more chairs for people to just hear what these folks in the industries had to say about how to get started in web analytics. And, I think that was a big light bulb for us that this was the beginnings of how to get involved in the industry as a much we needed resource. So, we are continuing to do the Web Analytics Training Day at the beginning of each of these Emetrics Summits, in the US at least. We haven’t managed to get over to the UK or Germany just yet for these training days. And, then I am going to use that same content to distill, and make a much more concise training track for through our website. So, that’s really the focus, to have a one day session where we can answer questions as best as possible. And, then the content that we have with the University of British Colombia; and soon with other universities, is the beginnings of web analytics one-on-one up through data integration.
Eric Enge: Right. Can you talk a little bit about the best strategy for a small business person to use in getting started?
Brian Induni: I would say that the best strategy to get started is just to ask a lot of questions. I think getting a hold of the right people in the industry to ask the questions or finding the right resources. And, one of the biggest issues that the industry has always faced has been amounts of data. When you get your reports back from your web analytics tool; you had so much information that you really don’t know what’s important and what’s not important. So, understanding what to measure is kind of one of the first key issues. And, it’s like that in this world of learning about web analytics too. There are so many blogs and forums, and resources to go to that you could get inundated with that kind of information.
The WAA really tries to be the central location for this information. And, so they really need to tap into some resources, like Eric Peterson has a (http://www.webanalyticsdemystified.com) Web Analytics Demystified website; and he has some really great books. Jim Stern has written some great books on what to do, and Bryan Eisenberg has some great information on how to make the next conversion happen through your website; and what that conversion means. So, there is a lot of fairly dry reading; and fairly good informational resources.
I personally think that; and this isn’t a plug for me or other consultants. I personally think that a lot of these small business people get the best benefit out of hiring a consultant for a day; and sitting down and saying, “I have no idea, what to ask”. Get them to start you from question one, and every time after about thirty minutes of conversation they are asking questions. And, they are asking the right succession of questions and they get to the end of the day; and they have this huge light bulb go off. So it’s really kind of getting to that point where they can see the forest through the trees, and then pick their way to the next path.
Eric Enge: What are the first things the small business person should do with their web analytics package?
Brian Induni: Resources and revenue are the biggest problems that a lot of these small businesses have. So a lot of their service providers provide free web analytics tools. And, then there’s other free tools out there like Google Analytics; they are good. And, I think as a small business person begins on a limited budget, using what’s available for free is always a good start. And, these these prompt a lot of questions; and so the next step for this business is to dedicate somebody or part of somebody’s time to learning the industry or at least how the industry affects them and how they can better leverage their Internet presence, and make some money out from it.
Or at least, justify their existence with their online presence. It wasn’t till a few years ago that people saw their online presence as part of their marketing budget. It was always I have a marketing budget and that means, radio, print, sometimes TV, and mail. Then I have an Internet budget; and that means I can create a website, I can host it, and I can pay somebody to maintain that. And, it’s just been on the past few years that these two budgets have been combined. And now the marketing teams see this as a holistic approach to marketing. So, it’s another medium for them to generate leads, or revenues.
Eric Enge: Right. Excellent. Thanks for taking the time to speak with me today.
Brian Induni: Thank you!