"This agency was tackling search before Google even existed."
-Andrew McMains, Adweek

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Head-to-Head with Jim Sterne: Tips and Tactics from an Analytics Guru

Mike Grehan and Jim Sterne

MG: This issue we’re blessed by the wit and wisdom of Mr. Analytics himself, the one and only Jim Sterne. Jim, for the benefit of new readers and those people who’ve only been in the online business for 25 seconds, can you give us a lightning strike bio?

JS: Male. Married. Still breathing.

More? Ok…Internet Marketing Strategy Consultant since 1993. Five books. One Conference (eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit) in nine cities, and one industry association (Web Analytics Association). You can also find me at my blog and on Twitter.

MG: I’ve just been looking over the agenda for the upcoming eMetrics extravaganza in San Jose. A session that caught my eye was, “Leveraging the Best of Both Worlds: Digital and Traditional Media.” I think that a lot of marketers still look at offline and online as two separate things.

Offline and online media are intimately connected as soon as you look at them through your customers’ eyes.

How do you best explain the impact they have on each other and how this can achieve vastly improved ROI?

JS: Everything is intimately connected as soon as you look at marketing through your customers’ eyes. Brand advertising drives search. Bus stop posters drive store visits. Television drives tweets. Direct mail drives web traffic. Store visits drive YouTube views.

People consume content and never, ever think in terms of “channel.” If you want to know when a movie starts, you’ll turn to the medium that’s closest to hand. At the breakfast table? There it is in the newspaper. At work? The movie listings are in your browser. On the way to dinner? Pull your phone out of your pocket and either hit speed dial or go online and check reviews as well. Consumers – even business-to-business consumers – just want information and are shocked when they get two different answers from two “channels.” Why your company can’t get its act together is an absolute mystery from the outside looking in.

MG: Data diving in a sea of search is a topic close to my heart. A/B and multivariate testing on landing pages is a given; if you’re not already doing that, then you aren’t even in the race. But funnel analysis is vital too. We should be testing all pages in the conversion path, not just the entry point, yes?

I don’t care about how much traffic I get – I care about how much quality traffic I get.

JS: I don’t care how much traffic I get – I care about how much quality traffic I get. A million people who take one look at your site and run away are not as valuable as 10 people who actually buy something. So I want to keep track of the entire visit for quality.

I don’t expect a first-time visitor to emetrics.org to buy a ticket to the eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit. They need to check with their boss, their calendar, their budget, their significant other and then come back and buy. So for me, a high quality visit is one where they look at the Agenda, the Speakers, maybe the Location – but that’s not as important – and the Registration page. The Reg page is very important because a click there tells me they are sufficiently interested in checking the price. If they only look at the landing page and run away, I’m spending my marketing dollar in the wrong place. So yes, it’s important to measure the visit as a whole rather than just count the people who poked their nose in the door of my shop and then left again.

MG: Obviously, the right choice of analytics tool is essential. But all too frequently I see tools that aren’t configured to provide the data the Client needs. Moreover, Clients often buy hugely expensive tools that they don’t necessarily need. Would you agree that a cheaper tool, while spending more on analytics consulting, can often be a better route?

JS: The common mistake is to buy a tool, install it, get some reports out of it, check the box that says, “Web Analytics” and go home. In all cases, regardless of the tool, all you have is reporting. What you need is analysis. You need humans to look at the reports and (my favourite Isaac Asimov quote) not say, “Eureka!” but rather, “That’s funny….”

No Analytics tool has value without a human to glean insight out of it and determine what action to take.

Free or cheap tools are very powerful, but there are some things they don’t do – meaning there will always be a place for high-end tools. But no tool has value without a human to glean insight out of it and determine what action to take. I am so interested in figuring out just what it means to be an analyst that I am hosting a full day workshop on May 4 called the eMetrics Analytics Symposium. It’s going to be very interesting!

MG: I see that Tim Ash will be doing his usual landing page sessions, including one on The Seven Deadly Sins of Landing Page Design. Can you share with us some of the worst landing pages you’ve encountered recently and why they were so bad?

JS: The worst of the worst all have the very same problems: not matching up to the link I clicked on to get there; not having any proper navigation; and not making it obvious what my options are. I no longer grab screen shots of bad websites and landing pages. There are so many, and I’m not getting any younger.

MG: Couldn’t do this interview without touching on the whole social media scene. What and how do we measure in that cacophony?

JS: I find wetting one’s finger and holding it up in the air is very effective. Alternatively, the numbers are straight forward: How often was my company mentioned? How many of those mentions were positive? Did they drive traffic to my site? Did those visits yield the business outcomes that I’m after?

There are a whole new set of companies out there that scan social media, find your company or product name, record the comments and then assess whether people are saying nice things or not-so-nice things about you. You can get reports showing how public opinion is changing over time, and you can also automate your marketing programs to respond accordingly. I recently saw one firm that even tells you if a site visitor has seen your name on the blogs recently. Very clever stuff.

Are analytics firms the marketing agencies of the future?

MG: And finally your thoughts on the future. Are analytics firms actually the marketing agencies of the future? Email was the first killer app online and then came search. Is search about to be trounced by social media? Who will reach the conference bar first – me or you?

JS: Wait! One at a time please!

MG: Are analytics firms actually the marketing agencies of the future?

JS: No, no, no. Analytics are a great tool to tell you how well your agency is helping you. But they can’t touch creative. A multivariate testing tool is very sophisticated, but it cannot decide whether to test the singing nun or the race-car driving camel. The need for truly creative people to create truly engaging stuff is always necessary. My media buyers are not going away either – they just have better tools now that help them decide where spend should be spread.

MG: Next…is search about to be trounced by social media?

JS: Social media is search fodder. That’s why companies need to be paying attention. If I’m searching for a “cool new phone,” then I am trolling through opinion rather than datasheets. They are symbiotic.

MG: Most importantly, who will reach the conference bar first – me or you?

JS: I know when I am in the presence of greatness – please save a seat for me.

You can meet both Jim and Mike at the eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit, to be held May 4-7, 2009 in San Jose.

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