Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Web Analytics in practice: your online analytics strategy – how to get started?

[This post is the third post of the Web analytics in practice series - practical posts on various topics based on my own daily experience – as a practitioner. It aims at providing tips, advices and examples that – I hope – may inspire and help you – whether you are a beginner or more experienced Web analyst]

In my view, the role of a Web analytics expert goes beyond than just implementing tags, reporting and analysing data. It is also his/her responsibility to develop the online analytics culture. In order to succeed in this perilous quest, he/she needs to have a strategy!

Ok it’s easier said than done. Everybody would agree that “all we need is a strategy” but practically, how do I define such strategy? Well, I don’t have the pretention to teach in a post how to create your strategy but at least, I would like to share with you some hints on how you can get started. Ready? So, let’s start first with the key aspects you should consider.

The critical factors for success
In Web analytics, the focus is too often on the technology, the tools and the data. “What?! There is something else?” you might think.  Of course there is! If you want to make Web analytics a successful practices (you know delivering insights, driving actions, adding business value and all), you must address the following factors:
  • Management & governance: Who does really care about Web analytics? Who’s managing it?  Just the analyst? A project manager? Top management level? Does anyone know where it is going? Governance is essential as it will unlock access to budget and resources, it will make changes in the organization (i.e. breaking silos) possible.
  • Objectives: what’s the main goal of Web analytics? Optimizing specific tasks or the overall customer experience? Optimizing online marketing? Or does it serve to improve business efficiency including offline processes – within marketing and other departments? Too often organizations expect a lot from Web analytics but have no clue to what they really want to do with it.
  • Scope: What are the boundaries of your web analytics “playground”? Are you looking at limited, specific areas of your site (e.g. check out process, campaigns...)? The whole site? All your “e-cosystem” (e.g. social media, intranet, mobile...)? Other factors will depend on the complexity of your scope.
  • Resources: Who’s working on web analytics? Do you have dedicated resources? Are they working part-time or full-time? Do they have the required skills (business, technical and analytics)? You can have ambitious goals but you need to have the manpower and skills to make it happen. What’s the point of spending lot of money in a super- tool if there is no one to exploit it?
  • Process & methodology:  How do you translate business needs into KPI’s and measurements? Everyone having his method or is there a department/company methodology? How do you ensure that insights drive actions? Do you have any process for checking data quality? Too often efforts are put in implementing measurements and delivering reports but then we move to the next projects – providing little insights and rarely driving actions.
Then comes the factors we love so much to talk about:
  • Tools & data: What tools do you have and what tools do you need? What are you doing with them? Basic reporting or advanced KPI dashboards? Are you equipped to cover different areas of web analytics (multiplicity rules!)? Are you integrating online data with other sources (CRM, BI data, market research, competitive data...)?
If you know Stéphane Hamel’s Online analytics Maturity Model (OAMM), these factors will sound very familiar to you. Indeed, I took these from Stéphane’s model as I think it is very complete, relevant and most of all very practical.

Getting started: current situation vs. Ideal situation
Now that you know what you should consider in your strategy, you need to assess where you are and where you need to go.

You need to evaluate your current situation using objective and well defined criteria for each area. Instead of reinventing the wheel, I really advise using Stéphane’s OAMM methodology (I do use it). You can do this by yourself – make sure to be really honest and objective as much as possible. Another possibility is of course to call for external help (but then it requires budget that is not always easy to justify). And because Stéphane is a really nice guy, he even has developed a FREE assessment online tool. Go and give it a try!

Evaluating your current situation will require you to gather all necessary information regarding the above points. Do not under estimate the work. Go around your organization, meet marketing managers but also other department managers (IT, sales, product research...). The extra benefit from this is that you will meet important people and it will get you some visibility. Never a bad thing!

Once you know where you are (a good starting point), the next step is then to set your destination where your company needs to get, based on the knowledge you have gathered.  It will be your ultimate target, your ideal situation. Note that not all organizations need to reach highest level for every factor. As usual, it all depends - a good understanding of your business and organization will be crucial. Make sure to review your work with your management.

One element I like a lot with the OAMM is that it is a very good communication tool. You can easily visualise both situations – current and ideal – using a radar chart (see examples below). Why doing this? To show gaps between where you are and where you want to be. It will help you highlight your biggest weaknesses.

From there you can define a high-level roadmap with main goal being to get to a balanced situation i.e. reach a similar level for each criteria. Split your roadmap in phases where the goal should be to move one factor to the next level - one step at a time (Kaizen approach). Do not try to jump several levels in one go – it will not work.

Practical examples
Let’s illustrate the principle with two different examples (note:  these examples are fictitious examples of course – any resemblance with real cases would be pure coincidence. Or maybe not ;-))

Example A:
Company A has very ambitious objectives (optimize all e-business) and scope (everything online, from web to social media). It has an analytics champion working full time on analytics who has defined some methodology and process within his department but not especially applied within all the organization. The company uses dashboards and KPI’s but mostly relies on one single WA tools –integration with external data is almost inexistent. Basic segmentation, no testing. The big problem is the lack of governance. Apart from project manager level – no one at senior management level is really taking ownership and having Web analytics in his/her top priorities. The current situation is depicted in the left diagram below.


The second diagram (on the right) shows where company A should ideally be (=long-term target) to leverage the added-value of web analytics (i.e. moving beyond reporting).

What’s next (mid-term target)? The company needs first to get strong governance otherwise no way it can get the support to get extra resources to cope with the ambitious objectives and make process known within all departments. It also needs to do more than web reporting and must consider A/B testing, segmentation and valuable analysis techniques as well as integrating data from outside the web (CRM, sales...). Again without strong management support, it will be difficult to upgrade technology, break silos and change mindsets.

Example B:
The situation is quite different for company B, management is taking the lead and ownership – there is a strong support from higher level (director level) and the objectives are currently limited to e-marketing optimization. Focus is on the main websites. Because of strong management support, company B just hired a dedicated full-time analyst. However there is no process in place and while there is a tool implemented, it has been used so far for standard reporting.


The aim of management is to extend analytics to other business areas and go beyond just online processes and integrated online data with other sources (CRM, offline channels...).

What’s next? Here priority should be on establishing appropriate methodology and process in order to define adequate measurements & KPI’s – first at department level before extending it to other areas. This will help leverage the use of available technology before adding other tools and integrating online data with customer & offline channel data. Achieving data integration will allow expanding objectives outside the online scope only to other business area.

Moving further – some more tips
This is just the beginning but at least you should have identified key areas to develop.  There is of course a lot of work to do from there - you will have to break down each target into practical projects or initiatives before getting management approval. But it’s a start. To conclude this post, here are some more practical tips:
  • Set achievable targets:  think about SMART objectives and take into consideration politics, organisation capacity, internal culture, available budget... Having a strong knowledge of your company and business is essential.
  • Set the right priorities: address first most important levers such as management and resources. You will see that technology & data will often come after (except if you really suck in this area)
  • Convince your direct management first i.e. the person right above your (i.e. your direct boss). Once you have got his/her support – it will be easier to get to the level above. 
  • Track your progress and review your strategy on a regular basis – every quarter or 6 months for example and align your plans based on your progress and changes of your business environment
  • Think big - start small: be ambitious but remain with your feet on the ground. Start with small practical pilots to demonstrate your case – it will help you move forward.
  • Prove your claims: to get support and convince management, you will have to back-up your plans with tangible evidences (i.e. ROI, added economic value...). If you can not answer why it worth investing money and time, you are doomed.
Defining your strategy takes a lot of time, effort and experience but it is a must have if you want increase your company maturity – past the initial level. Trust me.


I hope you have found this post interesting and practical. Such a difficult subject I must confess. May it inspire and help you moving Web analytics maturity further in your organization. Good luck

What do you think? Do you use the OAMM? Or any other model? How do you practically define your strategy and roadmap? Any experience you are will to share with us? If so, please do.

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5 comments:

  1. Merci Michael - one of the critical aspect of a model is to pass the test of fire. While working on OAMM I leveraged my own experience, did research, countless interviews, spoke to tons of practitioners, consultants and vendors. Since its initial publication I have received a lot of very constructive feedback which I'm using to further refine and adjust the concept. But there is nothing more rewarding than getting feedback like yours!

    Your summary is really good and helpful - and I hope for your readers will like it too! :)

    Stéphane

    ReplyDelete
  2. Stéphane:I am happy to contribute to this fantastic work. I have been following your project from the early days and I can hardly imagine all the experience, hard & long work you put behind it.

    Thanks again for making this available to our community and I am looking forward any update or new developments.

    Cheers,

    Michael

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thank you- this post really helps me think about an analytics strategy framework- something I was struggling to pull together completely in my mind. Great read!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Nancy: Thank you very much for the feedback. Glad that you enjoyed the read.

    I wanted to write such a post as I think there are too few posts and article on that subject. I hope it will be helpful. Good luck!

    Cheers,

    Michael

    ReplyDelete
  5. Michael

    How are you and nice to meet you. I have came here from Avinash's blog. I see that you write and specialize(?) in web analytics. Are you also keen on google analytics?
    I am looking for some expert advice. I have a problem with a project I work on, and solution is still not there. Have you written about setting specific filters on the website you analyze?

    All the best
    Martyna

    ReplyDelete

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