Web Analytics Consulting: A Simple Framework For Smarter Decisions
As I’ve gotten older I’ve come to appreciate the value of frameworks a lot more.
When we are young, the answers to everything are simpler because, of course, we know everything.
What metrics should I use? Use BR & CV. What digital marketing works? Definitely Y, do that. How can I improve my business? Simple, do A then B and you’re done. So on and so forth.
One upside (or is it a downside?) of age is the wisdom of realizing how much you don’t know. Suddenly you don’t have concrete answers because you realize: 1. You usually lack all the information you need and 2. Even the most mundane and obvious situations are incredibly complex and unique.
So you start answering questions like “What is two plus two?” with “Tell me a little bit more about what you are adding” or “It really depends on the process you use to add them” or … you get my point.
This is the main reason I love frameworks. They don’t contain answers; rather, they help place a situation or a process or steps and encourage you to think a certain way. They force you to step back and think. They make you go talk to other people. They force you to say “hmmm …” And if you can make a person think, if you can encourage them to cover all the bases, if you can get them to ask themselves some tough questions, then you have given them the greatest gift of all. Not the pat answers, but rather the way to figure out the best answers for themselves all by themselves.
So, whenever possible, don’t ask for perfect answers, ask how to think. You’ll thank me.
Two of the frameworks I’ve built and shared on this blog are the Digital Marketing & Measurement Model (how to pick the best KPIs for your business that guarantee success, using a powerful five-step process) and the Clear Line of Sight Model (to ensure every bit of Marketing and Analytics you are doing is tied to the Net Income of the company).
The DMMM and CLoS are strategic frameworks (you should embrace them right away!), and in this post I want to share a really, really simple framework for structuring web analytics consulting contracts.
The Web Analytics Consultant Quandary
BB sent this query:
If I take on a consulting project then what could be expectations out of me?
From what I understand, I would be creating a Web Analytic Report and giving my recommendations. That would be one deliverable from my end.
What could be the other deliverable for a web analytic project? What could be their expectation beyond submitting the report?
Would I be required to set up various A/B and multivariate tests for that company?
And what if they are at initial stage and have just set up Google Analytics with no goals, events or internal search tracking. Would I be required to implement goals, events or set up internal search tracking as well as exit survey?
What is the timeline of a web analytic project in the above case where there is no tracking and as a consultant I set up tracking for them. When should I start creating reports?
When does this project end? I mean where do I put a stop.
When I get this type of open-ended query my instinct is to figure out how to create a framework that would encourage structured thinking, force for assumptions and flaws and opportunities to rise to the fore.
And it does not have to be complicated, even for something as open and expansive as the query above.
For any web analytics consulting contract, the beginning, middle and end really depend on the contract you’ve signed, and – you’ll be surprised – not the actual amount of work that needs to be done. The contract, and the hourly rate it provides for, will motivate the consultant to do as much or as little as is required to meet the contractual terms.
So, what’s the fix?
The Optimal Web Analytics Consulting Framework: DC – DR – DA
Before jumping into any engagement (and signing a contract) I recommend using this simple framework for web analytics consulting contracts: Data Capture. Data Reporting. Data Analysis.
Ask your client: “What is it that you would like to accomplish in these three simple buckets: DC, DR, DA?”
This will force them to think about what they really want to get done, and their reply will be a really huge gift to you because you’ll know:
1. If what they want is a fit with the skills you/your company possess,
2. How long the contract will be, and
3. How much you should charge for the work required.
So, what type of work falls into each of these three buckets?
The work that falls into this bucket is to perform an audit and/or update current data capture mechanisms.
If you are a Web Analyst who is really an Implementation Specialist, this is work that you’ll enjoy because it is right up your area of expertise. If you are Web Analyst who is really a data processor (bucket two, below) then you’ll find this a little frustrating. If you are a true Web Analyst, you’ll find this work to be utterly frustrating. It is important you know who you are, and what the contract/client requires.
Life is too short doing things you hate, so sweat details here. Always match skills with work required for the sake of world peace.
Data Capture consulting work is also quite thankless work because there is always someone who is willing to do this work for less (the web analytics consulting world is brimming with Web Analysts who are essentially Implementation Specialists, not that there’s anything wrong with that).
Just be aware of this. Talk to your client. Get specifics. Figure out if you want to do it (or someone at your consulting company).
There are lots and lots of pure Data Capture consulting contracts, and sometimes they’ll also include our next bucket…
Essentially, this work is the client saying: “I want someone to send me my paid search performance every week” or “We have Google Analytics, we need a package of reports each week” or “Our Finance team needs their reports set up.”
You’ll get access to SiteCatalyst or CoreMetrics and you’ll scrape the standard reports into PowerPoint and send it out each week. Or you’ll set up some custom reports to give the client exactly what they want. You might have some back and forth with the clients that will help you pull the right metrics into the reports, but for the most part you’ll be told what they need and you’ll do that for them.
In some cases you’ll use your license for Nextanalytics to completely bypass the web analytics tool, Google Analytics in this case, and create the reports and dashboards inside Excel using the tool’s free API.
There is less thinking required in this work, you don’t even have to be a real Analyst, you can just pass the Adobe certification, the GAIQ test or other tool front-end things and you might be able to do this work. It is also a little less thankless than data capture simply because meeting the clients needs and actually seeing their numbers come together is rewarding.
But there is a lot of competition for this type of work because it requires less experience and analytical sophistication to be successful, hence many Consultants enter the field with this work (then graduate to Capture and if they are really, really good move to Analysis).
Bonus Pro Tip: If you are going to take a lot of Data Reporting contracts, then you should create for yourself (and your company) a massive bank of the best of breed custom reports for various purposes (types of companies and types of reports requested). Then when you sign a Data Reporting contract you can pick the best custom reports from your bank, simply import them into your client’s account, and boom (!) you’re already in business. Don’t forget to ask for a bonus for finishing early. 🙂
Bonus Custom Reports: You can download my favorite Paid Search Custom Reports and my Content Efficiency, Visitor Acquisition Efficiency and Search Micro-Ecosystem reports and get a head start with your own reports bank!
This is the type of work that happens when the client gives you an open-ended assignment to really look at the data.
The client will not usually know what they want, they don’t have specific guidance (“give me bounce rates!”) and they really you to tell them:
1. What to measure,
2. What the data is saying, and
3. What they should do based on what the data is saying.
These are the most gratifying contracts, with a painful amount of work, because you have to really go in and create a Digital Marketing & Measurement Model (and how amazingly fun that is because you get to root causes, you get to work with an expansive set of company Sr. Leadership, you get to really, really nail down what’s important for the client).
You then get to create really cool custom reports and dedicated unique advanced segments (to deliver on the DMMM identified priorities). You can often force someone else to do the implementation right (let the cheaper Implementation Specialists take care of this important but repeatable work) – either a resource with your client, or someone inside your consulting company. You can focus deeply on data analysis and helping drive the recommended actions at your client.
This does mean that you must possess specialized skills for this type of a contract, you have to be a real Web Analyst and not a Web Analyst that is essentially a Implementation Specialist or Report Creator (both very important jobs but don’t require analytical skills). You have to know statistics 201. You have to know analytical techniques. You don’t compare percent differences (they hide more valuable insights); instead you have your own cluster of techniques like Weighted Sort . You know 19,000 ways to get optimal context for your KPIs and insert it into the dashboards. You have a superb amount of business experience in your industry/line of business, that understanding means you ask nuanced questions when it comes to people and data (killer!). So on and so forth.
This does mean that you’ll be able to charge a lot for contracts that are heavy on, or all about, Data Analysis. During my experience I’ve seen people charge, depending on the client and the consultant skill, $500 a day and $5,000 a day.
Not even 3% of web analytics consulting companies have people with optimal skills to be called an Analyst, so you can see how easy it is to charge a lot for this resource.
Astonishingly, pure Data Analysis contracts are hard to come by because companies are still so obsessed with Data Reporting (“if we just data puke we’ll automatically be data driven because everyone in our company is a data analyst”). And since most web analytics consulting companies are Implementation Specialists, there are also lots of Data Capture contracts. Both don’t reflect optimally on our industry, but do explain why despite our ecosystem having more data than God should allow anyone to have, we are still mostly gut-driven.
But if you do get a contract with a large component of Data Analysis (“come in and really help us figure our DMMM and take it from there to delivering pure insights and actions we should take”) then grab it (if you or your company has the skills). They are deeply satisfying. They are high paying. And you do get a chance to change the world.
So when does the work of a web analytics consultant start or end? How much can they charge for it? Are they required to fix the code or set up experiments? What about customized data dumps?
It all depends. Is it a Data Capture, Data Reporting or Data Analysis contract?
You would be right to state that there are probably no pure DC, DR or DA contracts. They are rare, mostly because when you start doing analysis you’ll notice you can’t get away from meeting some reporting needs at your client. When you do reporting and analysis you’ll discover implementation problems and then someone (you?) have to go fix that.
There is most certainly a symbiotic relationship between the DC, DR and DA.
But it is not uncommon for a contract to be heavily weighted in only one of these three areas. If you use this web analytics consulting framework then you’ll be able to identify that upfront and set optimal scope for your contract, charge an appropriate lump sum or hourly rate, and go about working like crazy to become super rich!
A Client Perspective:
If your company is looking to hire a consultant then you should go through this exercise upfront as well. Before you call the blogger you’re impressed with, before you sign on the dotted line from a consulting company that’s “certified,” before you extend a contract to the speaker at an industry conference.
What work do you actually have for the consultant/consulting company?
Is it majorly Data Capture? Data Reporting? Data Analysis?
What is your core weakness in terms of skills inside the company?
Why is it that your organization is HiPPO- or gut-driven, rather than you providing cogent insights to your HiPPOs so that they can mix data and their experience (or gut) to make optimal decisions?
It is never obvious.
But if you take our simple framework, ask the right questions and do some root cause analysis (or just soul searching or at least sleep on it for one night) then you’ll be able to better understand what you need, you’ll pay optimally for that need to be fulfilled (both contract amount and contract duration) and, I cannot tell you how brilliantly important this is, you’ll find the optimal consultant who has the optimal skills you need.
It is not unusual for a million dollars to have been spent and the company to have progressed to zero percent data driven. That’s because they thought they were getting a real analyst, they got a superb implementation specialist who’s done data reporting but possesses zero actual analytical skills. This person, group of people if a consulting company, then spent a year (charging a million dollars) doing the world’s most sophisticated implementation of Site Catalyst / WebTrends / Google Analytics. The company now has 900x more data than it needs, they have 25x more reports than they need. They just don’t have any analysis.
That’s a big company story.
But if you are a small business you don’t have that kind of money. Hence it’s even more critical that you go through, even a rough exercise, the DC, DR, DA framework. You likely need all three. Know that it is very, very hard to find the Purple Elephant that will be good at all three, so figure out where you have the greatest need. Hire her. When she’s done with her core competence, go out and get the next person to take you to the next level. (And then the next.)
The Data Capture, Data Reporting and Data Analysis framework helps both clients and consultants have an immense amount of clarity on what the needs are (client), what skills are required to meet those needs (consultant) and how much time and money will be required (from the client to the consultant) to deliver glory.
I’ve created a helpful summary based on my humble experience along four key dimensions that I think you’ll find to be of value (regardless of if you are the client or the consultant):
So use our delightful framework. Spread happiness in the world, happiness that only actions based on great data analysis can deliver.
Ok, as always it is your turn.
Do you have an alternative approach to sizing up the opportunity with a client? As a client, do you have a specific set of instructions you send out when looking for consultants? What kind of contracts are most common out there? Why can’t we find more fantastic analysts in our ecosystem? What are your secrets to delivering joy to your clients? If you are a client, what secret ingredients did your last DC, DR or DA consultant possess?
Please share your insights, advice, kudos, and critique below via comments.