Author Talk: Adam Greco on Adobe SiteCatalyst and Web Analytics (Podcast Transcript)
This interview is a transcription of the podcast, Adam Greco on Adobe SiteCatalyst and Web Analytics.
Nancy Aldrich-Ruenzel: I’m here today with author Adam Greco, a guru in one of the hottest fields today, web analytics. And he’s a recognized Abobe SiteCatalyst expert. Adam is a senior partner at Web Analytics Demystified and one of the founders of the Omniture Consulting Group. I want to welcome Adam and congratulate you on your new Adobe Press Book called The Adobe SiteCatalyst Handbook and Insider’s Guide.
Adam Greco: Thanks for having me on.
Nancy: Well I know you spent months writing in, what I think you called your Web Analytics Cocoon? Right?
Nancy: Every author needs care and feeding during that period because boy, you know, writing is not easy and it’s hard work. So, before I ask you anything else, here’s the most important question of the day: what was your favorite music to listen to that sustained you through the process?
Adam: I happen to be a music aficionado. I have thousands of songs, and I actually made a playlist, which I called my Rock Songs Playlist, because I spent many late nights working on the book, and I needed some upbeat music. I needed a little Bruce Springsteen and Eagles to keep me going through the process.
Nancy: There you go. I’m an Eagles fan too. How about your favorite foods?
Adam: Well, I actually put a picture up on Twitter of that. My wife bought me the largest bag of M&Ms you’d ever see, and I actually took a picture of it with the manuscript of the book and the big bag of M&Ms. I actually had one client who said I’m looking forward to getting the book, and I’m going to send you a bag of M&Ms when I get it.
Nancy: What a great promotion idea. We’re going to have to figure that one out. So chocolate was your drug of choice over caffeine?
Adam: Yeah, you know I’m not a coffee drinker. I just have never gotten into coffee, so I need chocolate as my caffeine source.
Nancy: Well, listen, we appreciate all your hard work. Let’s start with who you wrote the book for. So as you were cocooning for those many months, who were you thinking about?
Adam: Well, it’s an interesting story. I worked for Omniture for five years prior to them being acquired by Adobe and was in the consulting group. During that time, I actually was a customer before I joined Omniture, and as a customer I always found that web analytics as a field was new and exciting but also challenging at times. I found that when I started using the SiteCatalyst Product, I always felt like there was more I could be doing. Then I joined Omniture and was surrounded by some great people in the consulting group, and I learned so much over the five years I was there. Towards the end of my time, I really wanted to kind of give back, and I wanted to show other people who were customers, like me, and have them learn as much as I had learned. So, I started writing blogs. I wrote tons of blog posts about the product and how to use it and cool things I’ve seen people do with it. As I started writing these blog posts, people would email me or ping me on Twitter. Everywhere I went people were just so generous with their thanks, and they were so happy that there was a good resource out there. It was really for all those people that I said, you know what, there has to be a book out there to teach people how to really push this product to the limits. So, when I was working late nights, it’s always those people who motivated me to get some really good information out there on how to use this product.
Nancy: That’s a great story. When there isn’t a lot of information out in a particular field, people really on experts like you to write those blogs. Question for you: what kinds of job descriptions did those people have, just so we get a sense of the SiteCatalyst users, because they’re not all from the same job description. I think it ranges anywhere from marketers to business analysts, right?
Adam: Yeah, web analytics is very unique niche field. The way I look at it is at the high level you’ve got you marketer, your CMO’s – people who are managing websites who really want to know what’s happening on the websites, what’s happening on all these iPads, on all these mobile apps. Then, you get down to people who focus on web analysis and that splinters the group. You’ve got people who are into the implementation, “How do I tag my website so I can get the right data?” Then you’ve got the business users who are saying, “What are the questions that business really needs to know about what’s happening on the website?” Then you have your web analysts who are the people who just love getting great data and they like to sift through data – do pivot tables, do statistical analysis, and find those nuggets of gold and say “Hey, if we do this one home page, or if we take this page out of this process, I think we can get this much more money.” So, there’s a lot of different groups of people who are interested in web analytics, and all of those different groups touch web analytics products like SiteCatalyst. So one of the challenges in writing a book or talking to this audience is, there’s not going to ever be one book that meets the need of all of these people. For example, if we could write a whole book just on everything related to the tagging and coding of Web Analytics. So we had to pick and choose – what is the most amount of information that we could share in this book that would be to the largest audience of people. So we focused, on this book, really understanding the product, understanding the fundamentals of the product, and understanding how you can apply the product to real business scenarios.
Nancy: So, in that way then, would you call it an introduction to SiteCatalyst, or would this also be a book for folks who are already using it and want some tips and tricks for using it in an improved way?
Adam: Yeah, it’s both actually. The way we structure the book is that the first section really goes through the fundamentals of understanding the product from how is the product built, what is it expecting you to do to use the product. Then the second section of the book is more of a how-to. How do you actually use the product? So if you are working in an organization and your organization uses SiteCatalyst but you maybe are a little fuzzy on how you can really use it, how do you make a report, how do you build a trend report, how do you send a dashboard you made to a co-worker, the whole second section of the book is going to walk you through that and teach you how to do that. The third section is the more advanced section for folks that may have been using the product for a couple years who want to understand how do they really push the limits, how do they apply this product and see some really cool ways to stretch it. Because, in many respects, the SiteCatalyst product is a platform. It’s a tool that you have that you can implement and it allows you to do anything you want with it. There’s some companies, they just have a couple variables set, they’re just looking at how many hits each page gets. All the way to the other spectrum where you’ve got companies who’ve integrated SiteCatalyst with backend systems that are doing some really advanced implementation stuff. There’s a little bit of something for everyone in the book and I do think, as we talked about in the first chapter, I think even if you’re a CMO there’s some benefits of learning about this product so that you know what your team should be doing with it. Because in my experience in the consulting world, I’ve found that on average, most organizations are using maybe 20-30% of this product’s capabilities. Since it’s not the cheapest product on the market, you do want to make sure that you’re really taking advantage of it and using it to its fullest extent.
Nancy: Well it’s interesting you mention that because I’ve heard that before, too. So how do you explain to people how it’s different than Google Analytics? It’s such a neat product and there’s so many things you can do with it, that many organizations just scratch the surface. But if you help us by comparing it Google Analytics, which most people are familiar with, that might frame it a little bit.
Adam: I mean, we could probably spend hours talking about the differences but at a high level. Google Analytics is an impressive product. They’ve got the full weight of Google behind it. On a volume basis, more organizations use Google Analytics than any other tool combined, mainly because it’s free and it’s got a really easy-to-use interface. However, the reason why many Fortune 500 Companies use Adobe’s SiteCatalyst is a couple reasons. One is because they like to own the product. They like to know that they own the data, that they can customize it and tweak it to as deep as they want to. You can customize Google Analytics, but there are some limits there. They want to have support, they want to have an organization they can call and get support from. Google has recently added a paid product that you can get some of that support as well, but there’s just a huge ecosystem around SiteCatalyst having been in version 15 now. I think also the ability to integrate it with your other systems and be able to have data flow in and out. There’s just a lot of differences that people see when it comes to the free Google version versus the paid SiteCatalyst Version. I’ve seen over the years that many of the smaller organizations have migrated over to Google Analytics, but there are large organizations that have both SiteCatalyst and Google Analytics. They have different groups of people who use each. Generally the hardcore web analytics team would focus more on SiteCatalyst and then the casual users might use Google Analytics if they have both. But, it really depends on the organization, and there’s about three or four really good books out there in the marketplace that teach you how to use Google Analytics, but it always frustrated me as a past Omniture employee and past Omniutre customer that when you go to the bookstore, there’s no books on SiteCatalyst. I always felt like there was a need to have one so that people could understand the pros and cons. I even think that there’s some benefits for people using Google Analytics to reading this book because I think it’s interesting to see how SiteCatalyst works, and maybe apply some of those same principles to an implementation with Google as well.
Nancy: Interesting. I know in your tips and tricks and case studies and so on you talk about things like Campaign Tracking or Shopping Cart Analysis or Visitor Engagement. These are all business issues that anyone in an organization has no matter what tool they’re using. Can you share with us a few of the kinds of tips you might share with readers in your book?
Adam: So when it comes to web analytics a lot of people think what I call inside the box. They say, “I want to be able to see the traditional things—I want to know how many hits each page gets, I want to know when people go to the home page, what’s the next popular page they go to?” But, where I like to push people and where I’ve kind of made a name for myself is thinking creatively about how you apply tools to be successful. So visitor engagement is a perfect example. A couple years ago I was working with a client and they said, you know, we don’t sell anything on our website, but our executives really want to see how people are using our website and we do have successes. We call those micro successes. For example, if someone views a video on our website, that’s really good. We know that most of our products are sold offline. But, if someone views a video, then they’re more likely to buy a product based on some past research we’ve done. If they view our pricing page on the website, then that is really indicative of someone who is interested in our product, and there’s a button there that they can fill out a form and we want to be able to know that they viewed the pricing page, than they filled out the form. So what I showed them, they said well why don’t we assign visitor engagement points as people do these different actions. Every time they watch a video maybe we’ll give them 5 points, if they view the pricing page maybe we’ll give them 10 points. When I headed up web analytics at SalesForce.com, one of the interesting things we did is we said when someone fills out a form and the salesperson is about to call them, wouldn’t it be cool if that sales person could see a website engagement score that said, of all the people I have to call today, if there’s 100 I have to call, which ones have 100 points? Which ones have two points? Maybe my time is better spent calling the people who have 100 points because they’ve done a lot of the research on the website. They’re probably ready to talk to the salesperson versus if you look at someone who maybe only has one or two points. Maybe you scare them off by calling them too early.
Nancy: Well yes, that’s a brilliant example because it points out how some folks doing web analytics don’t often come up with the right business ideas to get at the information that would help them convert customers. Here’s a question I have for you: don’t you find in your consulting work that folks track a lot of data that they then find is not useful, they find they can’t take action with? They’re interested in knowing the data and so they go after the data, but once they compile it, they don’t know what to do with it.
Adam: Yeah, that definitely happens. I’d say that more often than not, in my experience, that they track things just because they can track that. That’s just usually ignorance on the clients’ part of just saying, “Well we want to track everything just in case we want to use it.” I call that the lazy man’s approach to web analytics. There’s one great book that Pearson actually did with Brent Dykes that talks about how you can avoid that problem by taking the time up front in what Brent calls “Setup Land”, where you can figure out your business requirements and make sure that every piece of data that you’re collecting is valuable and has a business question, or a report, or a dashboard that it’s intended for, to make sure that you’re not just shooting in the dark. You could spent a year doing the implementation of a product like SiteCatalyst before you ever get any value out of it, versus Brent’s approach where if you say, “These are the ten questions we want to answer; let’s just implement what we need to do to get the answers to those ten questions. After we’ve done that we can always go back and do more.” Make your implementation not just a one time exercise, but make it a living, breathing, organism.
Nancy: That’s great that you brought up Brent’s book. We published that book a few months ago and when I think about it, it’s just a real complement to your book. So would you recommend people read Brent’s book and then your book to get the most out of SiteCatalyst?
Adam: Yeah they are complementary. I don’t know if the order matters, but I do think that where Brent’s book leaves off – the end of his book talks about some specific analyses you can do and how you might set it up. That chapter literally could go right into my book where you just start saying, if you have SiteCatalyst, here’s where you want to pick up where Brent left off, and now you can learn how you can do that in the tool.
Nancy: I also wanted to mention you have a very popular blog. I think it’s called the OmniBlog is that right?
Adam: Well, for years it was always on Omniture’s website. It was called Inside SiteCatalyst. Then when I left Omniture I continued blogging because I had a lot people emailing me saying, “Just because you left Omniture doesn’t mean your going to stop teaching us all the stuff.” So, it was called the OmniMan Blog because my Twitter name a long time ago was the OmniMan. I’ve moved all that content over to the Web Analytics Demystified Blog, where I work now. But all the content is either one the Omniture Blogs or the Web Analytics Demystified Blogs.
Nancy: So now we know where to find it. So once we find it, can you tell us what some of the most frequently asked questions are from your readers?
Adam: In general, most of the questions are all over the place. People are just saying, “I know that this can be done somehow, but can you tell me the best way to do it?” You know, I’m really good at translating business questions into the way that you would do that in SiteCatalyst. It’s not always the most intuitive way to do it, but I see a lot of implementations and I see a lot of people who do things wrong. They make things much harder than they have to be. Usually when I blog, I try to share the best way to do something. Now everyone always has opinions on the right way to do things, and I don’t profess to be the ultimate expert in SiteCatalyst. I just think that I’ve been involved with so many implementations, I’ve seen so many things done, that I’ve kind of evolved into what I call my best practices, which is what I put into the book.
Nancy: One more thing before I let you go – tell us about the bonus chapter on Adobe Report Builder. What is it and how can we use it?
Adam: So Report Builder has a fun history. For many years Omniture had a product called Excel Client. As you may know, people who are into web analytics, they love Excel, they love doing numbers and crunching numbers. So it’s natural for them to want to push data from SiteCatalyst into Excel. In the old days you used to have to export and it was kind of a pain. So Omniture made a product called the Excel Client that was a plug-in to Excel that allows you to just pull data programmatically so you just setup data blocks, as they’re called, in SiteCatalyst. You set them up and you put them in Excel and you push a button and the data just comes programmatically and it’s really powerful. Well, then they bought a company called Web Side Story that actually had a product called Report Builder that did something similar to what the Excel Client did, but it was so much better. So Adobe made a really good choice; they decided to kind of sunset the Excel Client that they had and switch everything over to this Report Builder tool. This Report Builder tool is so robust. You can make amazing dashboards and spreadsheets and do unbelievable things. How do you have a book about SiteCatalyst without talking about this really cool add-on tool that you can pull data into Excel? Now, I’ve used Report Builder a lot but just like I was writing the book from SiteCatalyst’s perspective, and I look at myself as an expert in SiteCatalyst, I wanted to bring someone in to write this bonus chapter who was the best at Report Builder that I’ve ever seen in the world. It happens to be a partner of mine at Web Analysts Demystified, Kevin Willeitner. So Kevin was gracious enough to help out and help me write this chapter, really from the ground up, and teach people the basics of using Report Builder. He and I have joked, we probably could have written a whole book about Report Builder in itself. A lot of SiteCatalyst customers don’t know about Report Builder. I think knowing how to use it, and the chapter will actually show you how to setup your first Excel Spreadsheets and get data in there step by step. Once you do that, I know people are going to be thirsty for more, so I’ve told Kevin to be prepared to write many more blog posts and maybe we’ll have to add more chapters to future releases to show the really advanced things. Kevin wrote about 40-50 pages and we had to kind of cut it down, so we may have to see how we can add more later.
Nancy: Well that’s something we need to talk about, so in our next conversation let’s go there. Thanks to Kevin for the contribution there. I can’t wait to start seeing all the reader reviews come in. I know this is going to be a must have in anybody’s library. I want to thank you so much Adam for all your hard work and congratulate you again for the release of your new book.
Adam: Well thanks, and if I can I’d like to give one more big shout out. This book would not have been possible without a lot of people’s help and obviously all the folks at Pearson who were so great in helping everything get going. But I do want to call out Ben Gaines, and for those of you listening who are in the SiteCatalyst world, Ben Gaines’ name is ubiquitous. Everyone knows Ben Gaines – he works at Adobe and he did an amazing job helping organize the book for me, helping me figure out the right content that should be in there and also doing a technical editing job to make everything that was in the book, as much as we could possibly could catch, was factually correct and technically correct when it came to code. So Ben worked an enormous amount of hours to help make this book happen. He has a history of helping the SiteCatalyst Community so I don’t think they would expect any less from him. But I also wanted to mention his amazing contributions.
Nancy: Great. Well, we appreciate Ben’s contribution as well and thanks again Adam!
Adam: Thank you so much.