Friday, September 29, 2006

Changing someone's world

Yesterday I had an opportunity to explain to our Digital Marketing department (and project managers, and an engineer) about an alternative way to get some complicated statistics out of the relatively simple ODBC output of one of our web analytics tools, WebTrends 8. Actually the statistics are fairly simple - function-based quality measures for six categories of events. But the current process of getting them from multiple WT reports and profiles and into deliverable form is tedious.

So I explained what DataLinks can do ( Or, rather, what we can do with DataLinks. This tool creates a refreshable conduit between an Excel workbook and WebTrends. Implementing requires configuring WebTrends, creating the conduit with DataLinks, then adding programmed layers to the Excel output, with the top layer being the deliverable sheet. It's too simple, really. And it's 'way overdue in the WebTrends-user world.

Within two hours of our meeting, two people - an engineer and a Digital Marketing person - separately told me that if I could do this it would "change their whole world" and I could "name my reward." They're pretty fed up with the tedious and lengthy and, frankly, broken MS Access process they are using now to process the output from WebTrends.

There are only two slightly out of the ordinary things here that are going to "change their world." One is that there's a person involved (me) who knows WebTrends AND Excel AND their measurement objectives. The other is the DataLinks tool, which we didn't have last year.

I'm not surprised that the above two things are going to make things easier. What I'm surprised about is that WebTrends (and its competitors) just don't get that this kind of front end (made possible in my case by the indispensable DataLinks tool) is the future of their products. WebTrends sorta knows it --- it has made a few attempts in the past to shift computational and data management responsibility to Excel via WebTrends tools like SmartReports and ol' Export. But there's been no visible, on-purpose progress from WebTrends since SmartReports a couple versions ago. Then a few months ago WebTrends accidentally opened a door with version 8 which had a 75% complete ODBC driver connecting to the reports (not to the databases). DataLinks has pushed that door open a lot wider. WebTrends still doesn't get it, though.

HBX may be ahead of WebTrends with their Report Builder tool. But from what I have seen, the tool is a little on the complicated side. DataLinks can be used in a very simpified way, which is what I'm doing now. I'm using my existing Excel knowledge to do the funky parts. And if I used the more advanced abilities of DL, DL also holds my hand for more complicated things --- dropdown menus, drag and drop stuff. I'm not a HBX Report Builder user but its interface seems to ask for a lot of knowledge (and a four-hour training session at the recent HBX conference). I may come back and retract this statement later ...

Sunday, September 17, 2006


I recently had a dialog with somebody who was somewhat justifiably complaining that what she wanted was not analytics, but analytics that actually mattered. She was having trouble threshing out the latter from the chaff that all these programs produce in abundance. Or maybe that's the wrong metaphor. She had this full pantry of ingredients but didn't own a cookbook and, furthermore, didn't even know what she wanted for dinner. Or (sorry, sorry, sorry! I'm going too far with this ...) she didn't even know whether it was time for breakfast or dinner.

It sounds like a pretty typical conversation that analytics people hear a lot (or have with themselves when nobody's around). But this lady was a really smart and experienced person, although as she admitted, a bit of a princess at times. This particular got-analytics-so-what conversation was more thought-provoking than usual.

Her half of the conversation (which was sporadic over a couple of days at a conference) made it clear that she had already done a lot of good analysis that was definitely in the "matters" category. The perplexing thing for me was that a lot of this analysis didn't use site traffic data. She was doing focus groups and surveys as well as site data. A lot of what she was learning was coming from the former.

So the first thought-provoking part of the conversation was this musing: I have a survey research and focus group and interview background and the situation is familiar. A web site is an experience for human beings. Being able to ask direct questions to actual human beings is probably what most of us would instinctively gravitate towards. So surveys and groups happen.

When analyzing site traffic we are a couple of concepts removed from asking human beings about what we want to know. We may be able to come up with really smart questions (which is 90% of the talent of good researchers), but when doing site traffic analysis we have to do additional steps, namely translating those questions into other questions that can be answered by what amounts to photographs of footprints.