A Chat with Analytics Guru Jim Sterne

By Christine Churchill

SES London 2008 is nearly upon us. Looking over the agenda and speaker list I was happy to see Analytics expert and all around good guy Jim Sterne. I’ve known Jim for a couple of years and I continue to be in awe of the man.

Jim Sterne PictureJim is a prolific author of books and articles, a famed speaker, and the producer of the eMetrics Summit Conferences. Energetic and engaged in life, Jim runs Target Marketing and is the Founding President and current Chairman of the Web Analytics Association, a wonderful organization of which KeyRelevance is a proud Premiere Corporate Member.

Jim and I will both be in London next week speaking at SES London. Jim is legendary on stage and I’ve heard other speakers playfully call him the PowerPoint King. He’s one of those rare people you occassionally meet in life who exude positive energy and great ideas. I caught up with Jim the other day and asked him a few questions.

Christine: Most of us running online businesses are going in many directions and have to prioritize where we spend our time. Here’s a question for all those harried business owners who are trying to make every minute count. If I only had 15 minutes a day to spend on analytics, where should I spend my time?

Jim: That would depend on my goals. If my obsession for the day were in conversions, then I would spend my time looking over the persuasion path to see where I could improve the visitor interaction. If my goal was to sell more advertising, I would be measuring what makes people look at more pages so I can display more ads. If my goal is to bring in more qualified leads, I would watch how well my advertising money is being spent – where are people coming from and are they the sort of people I’m after?

Christine: Now here’s a related question. When evaluating a new site, what’s the first measurement you would look at?

Jim: It completely depends on the goals of the website. The first thing would be to get the basic numbers, just as a benchmark. How many visitors? How many events (what we used to call pageviews) per visit? How often do they come back? That way, we have something we can compare with tomorrow’s numbers.

Christine: Since both of us will be in London next week, let me as a question related to analytics and geography. Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are important measurements that companies track. Do you see any regional or national differences in KPIs?

Jim: None at all. KPI’s are particular to industries and website types. Even the ability to track those KPI’s is the same. There are very smart companies in every corner of the globe and some of the most advanced places harbor the least capable companies.

Christine: That is excellent news for businesses with global aspirations and your answer makes perfect sense. Jim, you are well known for your clear thinking and forward looking approach to life. Where do you see Analytics heading?

Jim: Given enough traffic for statistical significance, I think we can use the activity on a website to measure the impact of all our marketing. The web is so much a part of daily life now that an ad in the newspaper, an ad on the radio and a direct mail postcard will all have an effect on the behavior on the website. Capture that activity, sift through it and the impact of your marketing spend will be revealed. We’re not there yet, but it’s right around the corner.

Christine: In the good old days of the web, the “hit” was the unit of visitor interaction, at least until we figured out that it was a lousy metric. Then, the “impression”or “page view” became the standard. Now along comes Web 2.0 sites with their richer, more interactive mode of interfacing with a visitor. Google Maps, for example, may occupy a visitor for several minutes, without the URL on the Address line changing. When a visit can no longer be accurately be measured in “impressions” how do we properly quantify web site traffic?

Jim: While those better and brighter than me are working on measuring “engagement”, I am happy to break down a visit to a website into “actions”. Searching for an address is an action. Scrolling the map is an action. Zooming in on a location is an action. Commenting on a blog is an action. These actions add up and spell out the flow of individual activity and quite readily replace the pageview as a means of understanding behavior.

Christine: The search engines are offering analytics tools as a part of their offerings. I’m frequently asked this question by students and clients who invest heavily into online paid advertising. From a web advertiser’s perspective, is there any danger in letting the search engines have such a detailed view of a company’s conversions, revenue, and other business metrics?

Jim: One first has to assume that your website is interesting enough and the data about your website is valuable enough to put a $166.2 billion enterprise at risk.

Christine: Jet lag or bad food? What’s the worst part about travel?

Jim: The worst part about travel is yet to come: when they allow mobile phone on airplanes.

Christine (laughing): Thanks much Jim. I’ll see you in London!

Jim: Looking forward to it!

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