The Analytics Assessment: Gary Angel Goes One-on-One with Web Analytics Guru Eric Peterson

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I know you’re in the process of re-writing Web Analytics Demystified — tell me about that. Web analytics has changed in all sorts of ways — what types of things felt most pressing to re-write and re-work?

E. Peterson: Ha! It’s good to know you’re reading my weblog Gary. Awhile back I posted this super-cute picture of my son Cooper and talked about updating the book.

Since then I have had two realizations:
1) Writing a book is hard, and re-writing a book is even harder!
2) With other books on the subject coming out this summer (three by my count) I’m interested to see what they will add to the body of available information

Short-story-long, the re-write project is on hold for now. That said, when I eventually do write a second edition it will cover many of the things I talk about frequently in my blog — the need for process in web analytics, higher-order measurements like visitor engagement, and the omnipresent issue of staffing for analytics.

Funny – I was meaning to ask about that. I hate re-writing. The more I work on material the deader it feels. You’ve been away from it for a while – but is that how it felt?

E. Peterson: Yeah. Like I said, so much of what I originally wrote still feels very true to me, but I’m a pretty critical writer so I found myself trying to edit perfectly fine sentences when I should have been adding new content. I have a target for 100 new pages, which is why for now I’ve opted to spend time really focusing on the work I do for Visual Sciences and my family.

One of the things you and I have talked about is that web analytics isn’t as easy as a lot of people think. And I know you’ve been critical of the idea that the best way to do web analytics is to get started picking cherries. Was web analytics ever easy — and have the cherries been picked or do you think this always a myth?

E. Peterson: Ah, the “low hanging fruit” versus “process, process, process” debate … an excellent question.

No, the low hanging fruit has not been picked yet, at least not all of it. While many companies have stepped up their game in terms of knowing where to look for problems, new problems always exist.

But web analytics is not easy, I’m not actually sure it is supposed to be. I think of web analytics as a science, one that benefits greatly from deep consideration of the questions and the ramifications of the answers before you “jump in and start measuring,” looking around for easy answers that will supposedly encourage the entire organization to stop what they’re doing and embrace web analytics.

The thing that makes web analytics ** seem easy ** in my experience is rational processes that support measurement — processes that help the entire organization understand what is being measured, why it is being measured, and what will be done with the results when they’re available. One of my worthy competitors scoffed at this notion, saying the time it takes to implement process is wasteful, but he seems to be a lone voice in the wilderness.

As you and I have discussed ** at length ** (at this point we can easily be accused of navel gazing in our respective blogs) web analytics is about incremental discovery and analysis. No one number has all the answers, no one report solves all the problems, no one person can do it alone. It is the gradual and repeatable building of context that brings value to an investment in web analytics, and it is process that makes this context development repeatable in any organization.

I want very much to come back to the process discussion – but something you said really struck me – that web analytics is a science. I’ve always thought of it as a craft. And I think computer programming and web analytics are examples of what I would call modern craft jobs. Does that make sense to you?

E. Peterson: Sure. I think of web analytics as a science because that’s my background, I hold a B.Sc. and M.Sc. in biological sciences, but calling what we do “modern craft jobs” is fine. Something that reflects that what folks like you and I do for a living is not something you get from books but rather requires a significant investment of both your time and your ** self ** to make you (and by inference your businesses or clients) successful.

We’re the model train enthusiasts for the information age. Geeks, yes. But madly passionate geeks!

Exactly. Craftsmanship has always demanded passion. It also seems like an almost necessary part of being a craftsman is the desire to teach and pass on. Does that seem right? You seem to feel that way with things like the Blog and your books and this webinar…

E. Peterson: I’m an “all in” kinda guy, I bet you get that about me. Folks comment about my books and blog and the job board and all these things I do in the wee-hours of the evening as being somehow special but to me it just seems like the right thing to do.

Early on it was Matt Cutler and Jim Sterne’s seminal “E-metrics” report that NetGenesis gave away that grabbed me and said emphatically “You can provide great value to organizations without always having to make money doing it.” Yeah, NetGenesis and Jim used that as a lead generation piece, but man, what a lead generation piece it was!

So I try and do the same type of thing — standing on the shoulders of giants as it were — and trying to bring more people into the fold. So far, based on the email I get from folks all over the world who appreciate my books and blog, it seems to be working out okay.

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