Interactive Agencies and Web Analytics

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As I was discussing an e-Commerce Google Analytics project last Thursday with Julien, I saw the ZAAZ’s Web Analytics book lying on his desk. I quickly gleaned through the index as Julien was finishing up his emails to Omniture and noticed in the last chapters a mention of Interactive Agencies.
Julien promised to hand the book over as soon as he’s finished as I’m quite curious to read what the ZAAZ boys have come up in their position as an Interactive Agency and long term Web Analytics professional consultants. Jason Burby has always been a beacon of light in my web analytics journey, ever since his first presentations landed on my desktop through the help of WebTrends. So, I’ll have to be patient until Julien finishes the book and I’ll keep on reading Naom Chomsky’s Failed States, which seems to be costing me some sleep lately.

In this post, I just wanted to share my experiences over the past couple of years as a web analytics consultant, through different projects, within multiple sectors and using different tools as well as multiple actors, ranging from IT to marketing, including other Web/Interactive Agencies. Please don’t worry, clients and vendors, I won’t get specific as I do respect confidentiality.

My first worse nightmare is a lead generation website.
It’s a good concept, a growing company in the right business, using different channels effectively.
As they are acquiring customers and the market is still quite open and growing, real need for optimization for a very small portion of the marketing budget is apparently not worth the hassle.
An inconvenient truth
I’ve been waiting for 18 months for correct integrations of tags…

Correct integrations of tags by third parties are usually quite a burden. This also counts for internal IT departments that consider that Web Analytics is still a very low ranking priority if a solution has already been installed some months/years ago.

Thankfully, other companies are coming to the rescue and recently mainly SEM companies.
As adequate building up of URLs and title pages as well as H1/H6 SEO friendly tags are becoming the standard for search engines top rankings, making use of such updates is also a good way to tackle Web Analytics along. Apparently, we’re on the same side, SEM companies and Web Analytics specialists and Google, for one, has understood that quite well.
Personally, I must admit not really caring for SEM as I’m just in for the CPC bottom line and how it generates revenue, compared to other traffic acquisition methods.
Up to the SEM company to show me ROI: generated revenue minus costs. Organic search results and branding KPIs are another aspect where, when their job is done well, interesting insights appear about further online communication opportunities.

Media buying agencies are another breed I come in contact with lately. But they don’t like me very much as they see my little business unit more and more as external auditors, putting a clear price tag on their online – and sometimes off line – traffic acquisition efforts.

So, I’ve got aligned goals with SEM companies and love/hate relationships with vendors and media buying companies.
Life is like a box of chocolates😉

But what about the other Interactive Agencies?
First of all, let’s be honest, when there’s another Agency in the picture, you can smell trouble. But it doesn’t always have to be so!
But first, why do I often sense trouble?
Because I’m in the accountability business and I know darn well that a banner CAN NOT, NEVER, EVER cost as much as 20.000€ !!!
Shame on you for having customers pay such a ludicrous price.
I also very well know that adding Google Analytics basic tags to a, fairly pricy but still basic, content management system – that doesn’t even integrate a newsletter module or maps – can not make the system “unstable”. Would you please? With over 1 million GA accounts worldwide, who would have allowed that?

Interestingly enough, I discovered a new way of working this week.
A way in which collaboration is at hand when we are talking about integrating technical, navigational, design and marketing initiatives in the online world.
Each party is responsible for his own thing and we are willing to contribute, together, to the responsibility of the bottom line.
An interesting concept and a first, I must admit. Looking forward to learning and sharing knowledge with some cool Dutch people. It will also allow me to visit my sister in Amsterdam so I’m really excited.

So I did my homework and picked up one of my very recent ecommerce websites, trying to convince my client that a 2% visitors conversion rate for a retail website would be a worthwhile target.
Yes, I know Avinash, we shouldn’t obsess with conversion rates but hey, I’m at 0,04 so would you mind?

Interestingly enough, the party responsible for the technical set-up of the website is an Interactive Agency. Yes, a competitor even though different from OX2.
In the meeting I held with the PM of this company, I wanted to emphasise our will to support their technical team in the changes that needed to be made.
Heck, I won’t charge for a couple of basic questions so you might as well pick up your phone.

To be honest, it doesn’t really happen a lot unfortunately. Knowing my boys, they’d love to show off and after all, it’s good for the overall online community right?
If the IT is internal to the company, while tagging, they will sometimes send the odd mail or 2. But when we’re talking to external agencies, forget it, no communication what so ever even though we set-up meetings and deliver literature to the extreme.

And what to say about external agency who finally do get down to tagging the websites or applications but do it wrong?
You could even go one step further: what about those agencies that claim to do professional web analytics services but don’t even set-up any kind of tagging strategy, let alone long term data collection in line with company objectives. Not only does the client suffer from lack of vision while building up the online communication as no measurement strategy has been set-up. They also have to support multiple inefficiencies while setting up the basic beacons of measurement in order to identify ROI opportunities, once the online communication has been set-up.

What happens for example to a client that is unsatisfied with the web analytics services of an agency and asks it to adapt tags according to their professional web analytics auditors? Usually, this unfortunate client still pays both parties to do the job and prays for the tagging to be adequately done. On our side, we’ve added a quality control step to our service offerings as we’ve spend far too much time going over and over and over the tagging to make sure that no “;” is lying around, that the right DCS tags are in place and you name it.

I still find it bewildering to see so many Interactive Agencies not bothering about the project bottom line and how their developments actually work out compared to initial objectives.
Often, they’re just in for the sell of the Web Analytics product and then clients come back to us about a year later, demanding results.
Yes, fine, glad to help out but as we are not the ones that built the website or application in the first place, the best we can do is set-up clear descriptions of what is needed and support their IT as much as possible.

This is a call for all those Interactive Agencies that have received documentation about adequate tagging of their client’s websites.
Read the documentation! Don’t just put tags out there to “test it out”, you’re wasting everybody’s time.
And call the writer of these documents if something is not clear. As there is not always a clear cut way to integrate tags and the environments are getting more and more complex, adding tagging to specific pages can indeed be a hassle and needs to be well thought of in order to allow for further evolution. Again, OX2’s specific positioning as an Interactive Agency still building its own Content Management Systems will be really glad to help out related to (automatic) tagging.

Furthermore, clients should be made aware that they should require accountability from their agencies right from the start and if not, enforce them to do the job of correctly integrating tags. To be honest, their position is the worst one as often they have already paid the agency for the project.

I don’t see a clear cut, optimal sales process here for the moment. The most efficient way to work is clearly to integrate monitoring and definition of KPIs when you’re actually building the websites or applications. Get your Web Analytics external auditor into those discussions right from the start in order to make sure you avoid unnecessary additional costs and loss of time, thus setting up and creating new processes when you are releasing new online collateral.
I’m not saying it’s too late when you’ve already something online. I’m just saying that if you’ve already encountered such problems, you should seriously think about how to avoid them in the near future and thus add another step to your online projects: KPI definitions in order to adequately determine ROI. Process, process, what can I say?
I recently picked up a new quote for my email signatures for this great guy I recently met, which goes like this “Few things help an individual more than to place responsibility upon him, and let him know you trust him”. It’s Booker T. Washington’s quote and I’m willing to live by it. Will you?
Let me know of your thoughts, I’m always open for suggestions.

4 Responses to “Interactive Agencies and Web Analytics”

  1. Lars Says:

    Conspiracy theory: Measurement and analysis will expose ridiculous pricing which is not in the best interest of some agencies.

    That’s why I like the idea of interactive agencies that also do web analytics.

    Then again, a buyer may want to have a third party revise measurement sometimes.

  2. Jean-Marc Says:

    Hi Aurélie,

    I am reading your blog for few months now and I decide to react on this post for 2 main reasons.
    The first one is that this is the first time I see a post in all the blogs I read almost everyday talking about the significant impact and difficulty in tagging a web site. Reading the experiences of great people like Avinash or Peter, it seems to me that implementing the tags are a secondary problem of a Web Analytics project. Not a problem it is worth to talk about it because a technical issue and then, it can be solved by technical people.
    From my experiences, the internal IT processes to update a web site were always the biggest issue in the Web Analytics projects.

    The second reason is that I had a similar experience about the difficulties to work with certain Interactive Agencies.
    I work for an IT company which -among other stuff- is implementing web sites. I really insist on the fact that we are an IT company acting also in the Web and not “only” an Interactive Agency.
    Thanks to several opportunities, we have started to develop a quite good knowledge in Web Analytics (even if we are still beginners) and I had to work on the implementation of tags for a web site according to the recommendations of an Interactive Agency positioned as Web Analytics specialists.
    We were really surprised when we received the documentation with the recommendations of tags to implement. The site is based on a CMS tool and have a significant amount of pages generated dynamically, and the recommendations were nothing else than a list of URLs with the name and value of tags for each.
    ???
    What about the new pages ?
    Is there any logic for the name of this tag in that section?
    What if there is a new sub-section?…

    When we asked about more generic rules to implement a smart automatic tagging, it was quite impossible to find somebody to talk to understanding what we were talking about.
    It took 2 months before arriving to a satisfactory agreement and we finally wrote the documentation of implementation and asked the Interactive
    Agency to validate that the way we wanted to implement the tags was what they expected.
    And finally, the Customer paid twice for the same work…

  3. Aurélie Pols Says:

    To Lars:
    I quite agree that independence is of essence, you can’t be the Agency that recommends an online campaign, does the media buying and the analysis behind it as objectivity is lost in the sense that you are like they say in French “juge et partie”, both judge and jury.

    On the other hand, of what I see from our stand point as an Agency (and I really don’t like that word because we don’t consider ourselves as a “beauty contest” or “branding” agency but more a ROI agency as technically speaking, we build our own solutions – OniSystem, the eMarketing platform and OniPortal, which includes SDKs) is that tagging goes a lot faster with our own tools: I talk to IT, I need such and so and they are happy to help out or it’s already imbedded into our own systems.
    When other parties get involved, either they are good technically as Jean-Marc points out and we can work together on issues such as (gradual) automatic tagging or, it takes ages, the work is sloppy and it’s not ideal because we lack half of the mentioned code.

    So, in response to your conspiracy theory, yes, I am aware of the fact that independent audit is the ideal solution but for the moment, technical knowledge related to (certainly automatic) tagging is not really out there, unfortunately.

    Add to that that between vendors, we are not really seeing true standardisation efforts (which would be in the interest to the entire sector) and you end up with natural barriers to entry – and to switching solutions – in this discipline.

    I hope that within a near future, it will become almost natural to tag (but I fear we might move over to something else) and that I won’t need to interfere with that technical part anymore, taking full advantage of my analytical skills in order to influence strategy.

    To Jean-Marc:
    Oh, I can relate very well to what you mention!
    I remember a Dutch public sector project some years ago where the pages were tagged but the Web Analytics partner did not bother to take a look at the WCMS so all new pages that were created after the WA project did not include even the basic tags.
    Imagine the look of horror on this prospects’ face once we pointed out that, after having used a basic crawler, we wondered why only half the site was adequately tagged.

    The thing is, as I mentioned, we are not your “classical” branding agency as we come from a fairly strong technical background as we still build our own content management systems, one in .NET and the later in CFM (I know, there is still some debate about the technology but we like it and with the advent of Flex & Flash, to us, it’s of interest but I can understand a possible grin on your face).

    It’s therefore part of our Web Analytics services to sit down with IT or the integration partner and discuss a gradual roadmap of automatic tagging. Gradual because you have to walk before you can run, starting with the basic tagging and gradually adding more specific data capture methods as demands in terms of reporting also become more specific from a business perspective. Sometimes it’s also a mater of defining what goes where (templates for example) but some custom developments are also needed on certain pages so WCMS sometimes go as far as allowing content creators to manually add tags. There’s off course also the issue of Web 2.0 tagging, Flash tagging and the recent, slow but certain, abandonment of page views to move towards events.

    That’s where it becomes a continuous process where a beta version should include tags and be tested to make sure it feeds the chosen WA tool before the page/content actually hits the online world officially, as metrics and statistical requirements should be included within any project and should not be looked at as an ad-hoc exercise.
    Ouch, that was a long phrase, my apologies.
    Some of this tagging should come from the WCMS, some might not (integrated Flash files for examples with Call2Action buttons) and this should be defined within a process as my friend Eric likes to point out.

    I hope I’ve answered your questions/remarks and made sense. Looking forward to your thoughts.

    kind regards,
    Aurelie

  4. Jason Burby Says:

    Aurélie,

    Thank you for the kind words. Shoot me your mailing address (jasonb at zaaz dot com) and I will have a copy mailed to you.

    Jason

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