With so much happening in the web analytics world it’s a bit difficult to even remember that I had promised a capping post in the SEM series on the political nature of SEM Analytics and how it might best live in an organization. Since then, I’ve written extensively on the VS acquisition and Score. But I haven’t even touched major issues like the recent purge at WebTrends.
I don’t know the people at WebTrends particularly well, and we have fewer clients on WebTrends than on VS or Omniture. So don’t look to me for an insider’s take. My suspicion is that negotiations with Omniture and subsequent VS acquisition unearthed significant differences between management and investors regarding exit strategy. It’s easy to see how that could happen and easy to understand why it would be fatal to working together. I’ve worked with VC’s before, and while you and your investors don’t have to see eye-to-eye on every aspect of running the company, you MUST agree about exit strategy. If investors think management isn’t on the same page about selling the company or yielding control, then change is inevitable and necessary. That’s just speculation, of course. It’s a bit like guessing why a marriage failed – sometimes it’s pretty obvious but sometimes it’s a thousand little things you never see from the outside.
It's unwise to ignore the political dimension in most real-world decisions. As analytics practitioners, we tend to believe in the power of an “objective” view of reality – one in which rules of reasoning and evidence are used to structure decision-making and eliminate the most common sources of error. Certainly I believe that most organizations and most decision-makers can and should work to improve the quality of their decision-making. Not the least because business and marketing decisions are quite often mainly – if not entirely – political.
And nowhere is this truer in our world than in the Search Engine Marketing Analytics space. Here’s what I wrote in my last SEM Analytics post:
“SEM Analytics lives in a peculiar place – both in terms of web analytics and Search Marketing. As a web analyst, you aren’t generally responsible for optimizing your SEM program – either PPC or SEO. And there’s a pretty good chance that the people that are in charge of that optimization aren’t going to welcome outside measurement. That makes life a lot more difficult and challenging than it really ought to be. “
The heavy reliance on vendors for both SEO and PPC and complications around brand have created silos in many organizations that are extraordinarily difficult to cross. I have seen companies where online managers were not able to get information about their own PPC buy because their agency didn’t want to release it to them and was responsible to a higher power or a different organization.
That’s silliness of an extreme sort. But it’s not particularly uncommon. And what passes for normal in most organizations is a nearly complete segregation of SEO, PPC, Brand Marketing, Channel Marketing and Web Analytics into autonomous and often uncommunicative fiefdoms.
I’m going to talk about Brand at some later date (one of my planned posts dating back to X Change huddles!). But what about Search Engine Marketing – what’s the right way to structure your organization?
In a previous series of articles and rather controversial posts, I asserted that it was perfectly reasonable for an organization to bring Search Marketing in-house. I continue to believe that. It’s also perfectly reasonable to use an Agency. We see so many mismanaged programs of each type that it is difficult to choose which option is worse.
One of the advantages to going in-house is that you will typically get much better cooperation between the SEM team and the analytics team. This isn’t universal, but it is frequently true – especially if a measurement team is already in place when you start building your SEM team.
But whether you are using an Agency or going in-house, it’s important to understand how your web analytics team should interact with your buyers. The web analytics team is not going to be in a position to perform day-to-day optimizations. That’s the buyer’s job.
The web analytics team should be responsible for setting the framework within which the buyers work and tracking the larger picture of how PPC and other marketing programs are interacting and performing.
It should be the job of the web analytics team to determine the appropriate optimization points for the PPC buying program; to help make decisions about new resource allocations (SEO, PPC, Banner, other); and to play a watch dog role on the program by insuring that gross mis-optimizations don’t exist and that channels are playing well together.
In particular, I think it’s important that the web measurement team be responsible for management reporting on SEM (and other online marketing) channel performance. Allowing teams to report up to management independently will practically insure that there is no way for management to compare their true effectiveness.
It’s these last two functions (watch-dog and reporting) which are likely to create resentment. Many a program buyer will insist that if they are meeting their goals they should be left alone. Maybe. There is no one right way to manage – most people and vendors respond better with oversight, others don’t. However you choose to manage, though, the necessity for STANDARDIZED performance reporting across channels is absolute.
It’s essential to keep in mind that web analytics practitioners have tools and data that usually aren’t available to your buyer. A good buyer, realizing this, should be open to outside measurement that increases their knowledge of what’s working and what isn’t. If your buyer resists this, perhaps you need a new buyer. I hate to say it, but often, the less competent the buyer, the more resentful they are of measurement.
With SEO, the situation is usually more straightforward. Unlike PPC, SEO doesn’t have real-time optimization and SEO vendors don’t deploy their own tags for measurement. Instead, you’re more likely to have to deal with a general lack of understanding about the need for measurement in any form.
Certainly one of the most common mistakes in SEO is to have vendors measure their performance by tracking position on search terms. This strategy creates serious mis-optimizations of SEO effort.
You should be managing SEO to total quality of traffic provided. And to do this, you are responsible for providing data back to your SEO firm.
Remember, SEO practitioners don’t have alternative data sources. It’s your job to make sure they know what the optimization goals are (ala PPC) AND how well they are achieving them. No vendor, however astute, can somehow intuit this data or know what’s working and what isn’t. Like they always say in marriage counseling – you have to say what you want, your partner isn’t a mind-reader.
It’s also true that SEO engagements often stall after a very productive first round. Using analysis techniques like the SEO Holes study, your measurement team can help focus SEO efforts as well as track their subsequent success.
Unlike PPC buyers, SEO vendors are unlikely to push for their own measurement solutions – but perhaps even more likely to resist the need for measurement at all. Make sure your vendor (or in-house team) buys into your measurement paradigm – not the “# of terms in high positions across engines” that otherwise passes for SEO measurement.
Building effective communication between your web measurement team and your SEO and PPC teams ought to be a significant priority for anyone serious about online marketing. That means carving out a clear role for web measurement and making sure you have teams or vendors willing – even excited - to accept those roles. And don’t neglect to back up those decisions with hands-on management to insure that the behaviors become institutional. Left to themselves, most organizations will quickly revert to the comfort-zone of “leaving well enough alone.”
I see far too many bad programs to believe this works. Measurement is your safeguard against complacency; your defense against both institutional and vendor arrogance. Use it.