Monday, November 10, 2008

Some controversy in the field of web analytics... at last!

When a group of people all agree and nod their heads to any opinion that is theirs, "wisdom of the crowd" sometimes becomes "stupidity of the mass"... No surprise, the web analytics industry follows the same pattern. Let's look at three hot topics:
  1. The economy
  2. The (free) holly grail of web analytics
  3. Hiring: dumb & dumber

1. The economy

We comforted ourselves in saying "when the economy is hard, web analytics is even more important". As a group, we all agreed with big "YES!" head signs. It seems we just forgot to tell everyone else outside our group! In this economical tsunami, our industry is getting hit like any others. Vendors sales are going to dramatically slow down, agencies are going to see some of their tasks be relegated to a later time or simply canceled, and analysts are likely to suffer unless their employer is already deeply involved in analytics and is already getting a big ROI on it.

2. The (free) holly grail of web analytics

Google... Google... as much as we love your free love, we start to hate you for building fences around us, then slowly turning them into cages walls. As a herd, we look at the great pasture of free stuff and we all move into that direction.No abyss to cross, just easy stuff, the path is straight and we just have to follow it.

Then there are some black sheep troublemakers who try to tell us it's a trap. It can't be true! There's always a cost! Nothing is free! And they are right, because once we are all nicely parked within the boundaries set by Google, grass will eventually become less tasteful and so scarce we won't be able to survive unless we eat each other.

As much as Google Analytics is great and raise the bar, I don't think it's the magic solution some people would like us to believe. Don't get me wrong, GA is great in some cases, not all. There is still lots of room for other players, but the playing field is getting smaller as Google gradually grab a large chunk of the prairie for itself. We haven't seen such a great thread on the Yahoo! forum in a long time. Like other things in life, what worries me are the uneducated, almost extremist believers who have never been exposed to other web analytics solutions, large projects and business cultural changes and who are becoming experts in the field after "discovering" web development, online marketing, ebusiness strategies and business intelligence web analytics just six months ago.

3. Hiring: dumb & dumber

Another great thread on the Yahoo! forum: Web analytics hiring questions.
  • Rule #1: diploma is no proof of intelligence: Some of the replies reminds me of the days when I had a college degree and was told by some potential employers I was too stupid for them because I didn't have a graduate degree (not how they said it... how I felt!). In highschool I had poor grades, in college I was among the top students. Years later, I've almost completed my MBA and so far I've been on the honor roll twice for being among the 5% top students.
  • Rule #2: admit you don't know everything: I once had a full day round of interviews with a bunch of tests like some people sugested in the thread. Clearly abusive to spend a whole day doing that... Anyway,  by the end of the day I met the CFO, who asked me a very specific question about finance I couldn't answer. I did my best to offer a logical answer and clearly said if I had the job I would look for the answer and get back to him. Thus, I admitted I don't know everything... that's the single thing that failed during that day and the HR person was really sorry to tell me I didn't get the job because of that... looking back at this, I'm glad I didn't get it!
  • Rule #3: broader experience might be better: web analytics is a very young field of expertise, taking from traditional marketing, statistics, information technology, management and a whole bunch of others. As such, I think it's better to demonstrate a strong sense of autonomy, desire to learn, leadership, analytical mindset, communication skills and political acumen rather than acute knowledge of a tool such as SAS or any specific vendor, or concepts such SQL and Web 2.0.
Anecdote: Can you believe in my early days as a programmer (20 years ago!) an employer asked me to cite all the keys on a keyboard, in order please! Asking a specific SQL sentence is the same type of stupid question - and yes, I can answer that later one, but I still can't recite all the keys on my keyboard!

I would rather look for someone who can take an ebusiness challenges, identify the problem, find out the underlying issues, understand and/or define the objective and goals, how they would measure success and what kind of recommendation they would make.
    Debate is open! Pick you topic and fire at will :)