Avinash Kaushik – an amazing interview

August 19, 2007

I’m so glad of presenting to you this interview with Avinash Kaushik. If you are reading this blog is because you are, at least, interested in web analytics, and of couse you know him, but just as a formality here is Avinash’s BIO.

Avinash Kaushik

Avinash is an Independent Consultant with a focus on speaking and consulting engagements that help organizations unlock the power of web research and web analytics to create truly data driven organizations and gain a strategic competitive advantage. He is also the author of the book Web Analytics: An Hour A Day, published by Wiley.

Web Analytics an Hour a Day

Currently He is the Analytics Evangelist for Google.

Most recently Avinash was the Director of Web Research & Analytics at Intuit Inc where He was responsible for supporting the decision making for Intuit’s 60+ ecommerce and non-ecommerce websites. His team focussed on Intuit’s needs in the areas of: Advanced Web Analytics, Competitive Intelligence Analysis, Experimentation and Testing (A/B, Multivariate etc), ClickStream & Outcomes Analysis, Customer Satisfaction measurement & VOC analysis, Web Research (Lab Usability, Site Visits, Heuristic Evaluations etc).

Avinash’s professional career has focused on Decision Support Systems at Fortune 500 companies such as DirecTV Broadband, Silicon Graphics Inc & DHL in Asia, Middle East and the US. If you are interested you can check out his LinkedIn Profile.

He is also thrilled to have the title of Associate Instructor University of British Columbia, having contributed three modules to the UBC Award of Achievement in Web Analytics course.

He has given keynotes / speeches at the eMetrics Summit in Santa Barbara and London, Ad-Tech NYC, Frost & Sullivan Internet Marketing Strategies 2006, Ad-Tech Impact and ATG Insight 2006. For a full list of speaking engagements click here.

JUAN: What does web analytics means to you?

AVINASH: I paused for eight minutes when I read this question! It has so many answers, some probably more philosophical than others. Let me try the straight answer…..

Web Analytics to me is a way of understanding the customer experience on your website with the goal of improving the experience so that the customer is able to complete her / his task as efficiently and as quickly as possible.

On the personal side, to me Web Analytics is the opportunity to collect and analyze data in one of the most interactive environments where you can have a direct and bottom-line impact faster than on any other channel on the planet at the moment. It is so cool when you think about it for a second.

JUAN: How would you define web analytics?

AVINASH: As a member of the Board of Directors of the Web Analytics Association I would be remiss if I did not first provide the official WAA approved definition, here it is…..

“Web Analytics is the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of Internet data for the purposes of understanding and optimizing Web usage.”

Typically people tend to think of that in very restrictive terms, just clickstream data you can get out of Omniture or HBX or Google Analytics.

I think of Web Analytics as collection and study of any data related to the website and the web channel. In addition to clickstream it would include survey data, experimentation and testing, competitive intelligence, integrated off site and on site data etc etc. It is a much broader view to understand the holistic picture.

JUAN: Why should companies do web analytics?

AVINASH: Because it feels good to make lots of money, rather than staying poor, and it feels good to have happy customers who love you, rather than those who hate you with passion because your website is a hindrance and not a help.

JUAN: Some managers think that having a web analytics professional is not necessary because “anyone can manage the web analytics tool”. What is your opinion about it?

AVINASH: I have a rule called 10/90 rule that I had created three years ago. It came out of years of my experience in the space. It states simply: that if you have $100 to spend on Analytics then you should spend $10 on the tool and $90 on people. That should give you a feel for my opinion about the importance of people in finding insights. Tools are just….. tools.

You might invest in people in your own company to help you understand your goals and objectives and analyze your data to find insights and help drive change. If you don’t have that horsepower then you should go get it from outside, get a consultant who will do that work for you while you find someone and hire then and transition from consultant to your own employee.

I cannot state it more simply: If you don’t have the people (in-house or consultant) to truly analyze the data and find insights then why have the analytics tool?

JUAN: Would you recommend companies having a web analytics professional in-house or outsourced (a consulting company).

AVINASH: Ahhh I have a blog post for this one as well, here is the link…… Web Analysis: In-house or Out-sourced or Something Else?

In short my recommendation is that the end goal should be to have that expertise in-house because no one can understand your company uniquely like people in your company. But in the post above I recommend a four stage plan of moving from getting tactical help from consultants to finding someone in-house to training them to do tactical to transitioning consultants to only do cutting edge competitive stuff. That’s a simple lifecycle.

JUAN: You were part of the new Google Analytics version. Are you completely satisfied with the result? If not, what things do you think must to be improved in the immediate future?

AVINASH: I was, unfortunately, not a part of the new version of Google Analytics, though it sure would be nice to claim credit! The leadership of the new interaction model in GA goes to Jeff Veen and his merry band of design and UI experts. Google is lucky to have them.

I think that even Google’s competitors will agree that the new GA interaction model is a radically better and sets a new benchmark for how users should interact with data and quickly and efficiently find insights. Its strengths are data discovery, providing context everywhere, lots of interesting visualization, non-ecommerce reporting etc.

There are a whole bunch of things I would love to see evolve or added. Even since the release of version 2 of GA there have been two major releases with new features. This rapid improvement will continue because the team is passionate about solving real world problems of its users.

JUAN: Which technology do you prefer, page tagging, web log analyzers, hybrids, packet sniffers, others or it depends on every particular project?

AVINASH: This is a whole chapter in my book (note from Juan: you SHOULD read Web Analytics an Hour a Day, you have years of Avinash’s experience in that book) and I don’t want to bore your readers to death here. I do encourage them to read the book – or I have some posts about this on the blog as well – if they want deep details.

Each data collection methodology has its merits and should be weighed carefully, it is perhaps the single most important decision you’ll make about web analytics because once you make that decision you’ll be locked into the technology, people, organization structure, future evolution etc.

For most websites and businesses I recommend considering page tagging for two reasons they don’t think about as much:

1) Innovation: Most innovation in data capture, processing and reporting is happening on top of solutions that use page tags as a data collection mechanism. Vendors are not investing enough in other solutions, for better or for worse. So unless you have the wherewithal to build your own infrastructure and innovate in the web analytics space then it is perhaps more prudent to give stronger consideration to page tag based solutions (from any company).

2) Integration: You want your web analytics solution to integrate with your survey tool or your behavior targeting tool or your multivariate testing tool etc etc. That way you can understand customer behavior better and even optimize it. At the moment it is easiest for you to achieve this if you have a page tag based web analytics solution.

There are others who will swear by different ways of collecting data. I encourage everyone to take a step back from the tactical arguments and consider the choice in the context of the above two thoughts.

May the force be with you!

JUAN: How do you imagine the web analytics industry in the future?

AVINASH: I think we are in for a couple years of rapid evolution and revolution. Tools will change, the skills we expect from a Web Analyst will change, Marketers will get directly in charge of using their own data and driving changes, there will be consolidation and there will be closures and new starts.

I wish I had a crystal ball and I could pin point exactly what will happen. But I am convinced that the world of web analytics will radically change in the next two years.

On and in the next three to five years there will be no such thing as “web analytics”, it will simply be all “business analytics” because the web will be that big and all the business will be on the web!

JUAN: Which advice / recommendation would you give to a web analytics professional?

AVINASH: You are the hottest commodity out there, if you are any good, ask for a raise :-)

On a serious note here are a couple of thoughts:

– If you are only well versed in Clickstream data and “web analytics tools” then it is time to expand your expertise. Clickstream is just a small part of what it takes to understand web customer behavior.

– Common sense is greatly underrated (and under applied) when comes to doing analysis. It is important to be aware of its importance (and always remember the principle of Occam’s Razor).

– Get close to your marketers and website owners. Being close to the business will give you the key context that you need to 1) know where to focus your analytical efforts and 2) understand your data a lot better than you otherwise would.

– Read Juan’s blog religiously, it is very good!!

JUAN: What’s the best book you’ve read?

AVINASH: Growing up I was a voracious reader, the Indian mythology comics (Amar Chitra Katha – http://tinyurl.com/yrpgju) perhaps had the greatest impact on me during my formative years.

In terms of western books I read Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead (http://tinyurl.com/29bv3u) when I was very young, and another three times over the years. It left a very deep impression on me.

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I would like to personally thanks Avinash not just for participating in this interview , which took a lot of his valuable time,s) but also for all what he does for web analytics. He is one of the people that is driving web analytics to the next level. I always say that I don’t think that some people are more intelligent than others, but more passionate, and Avinash has a contagious passion. He probably is one of the most passionate and dedicated professionals I’ve ever meet.

Thank you very much Avinash!

Juan Damia