in Web Analytics

Should You Only Hire Web Analysts With Experience?

My esteemed colleague Greg Meyers recently wrote about the dearth of paid search marketing candidates. Anyone who has tried to find an hire a web analyst has felt the same pain. Greg’s basic point is that in our HR desperation to fill vacancies, we are ever more willing to hire entry level candidates with no experience. We focus on raw talent and training to get people up to speed, but that decision comes at a price: more seasoned professionals have to slow their pace to teach newcomers and newbies are more likely to make mistakes be unable to handle complex situations. This begs the question, should you only hire web analysts with experience? The answer is… it depends.

You Must Hire Someone with Experience

If you’ve worked in web analytics for any period of time, you’ll quickly realize that it’s a murky field full of nuance and trial by fire. That’s especially true if you’re learning the ins-and-outs of a particular web analytics package, say Omniture. If you’re investing 10’s or 100’s of thousands of dollars in a web analytics package, you should be investing an equal amount (some would say 90% of your budget) in your web analyst. A seasoned web analyst buys you a few things:

  1. Insurance Against Bad Implementation – Your decisions are only as good as your data. Granted, web analytics data isn’t exactly precise. That said, there are real and painful consequences of implementing a web analytics tool improperly. Hiring a veteran web analyst will have been through this process before, possibly with your tool, and can save you some of the trouble of learning lessons the hard way.

  1. A Data Whisperer – Measurement is about action. Good action depends someone with an insightful, analytical mind to translate figures and stats into actual optimization. An experienced web analyst will be able to hit the ground running instead of spending his or her time trying to figure out how Google Analytics calculates their time on site.
  2. Lifeline To The Web Analytics Community – Fortunately for those of us in the trenches, the web analytics community is kind, generous and forgiving. A good web analyst will be tapped into the many community resources (like the Web Analytics Association), the active community angels (like Robbin Steiff and Judah Phillips) and the many happenings in print and the blogosphere. For your business, this means someone who can track down the answers to even the most esoteric questions and, occasionally, a bit of PR and recruiting help.

Give The Newbies A Chance

Everyone was a newbie at one time. I was hired as a web analyst with neither web analytics nor interactive marketing experience. What I had was pharmaceutical and marketing analysis experience, as well as an analytical inclination. So, I’m living proof that you can actually pluck someone at entry level or with 1-2 years of experience and train him or her to be an effective web analyst. That said, if you want to take on a newbie, keep these considerations in mind:

  1. Won’t You Be My Mentor? – There are plenty of great resources to pick up web analytics, but nothing rivals a great mentor to help you separate the signal from the noise. I was fortunate to learn from my friend Jason Epstein. If no one in your organization is analytics savvy, or even interactive savvy, the a newbie web analyst’s life can be lonely and frustrating. Having thought ahead about guidance and growth will go a long way.
  2. Process: Let’s Not Reinvent The Wheel – It’s intimidating enough to start in a whole new field, but if your company/department/guy in a cube is run completely ad hoc without standards then it’s going to be a frustrating learning curve. Trust me, I’ve been in the situation where I had to create something from the ground up–3 different times. It’s a very educational experience, but it’s also a lot to expect of a new hire. Just consider how much infrastructure and process you have and whether you’re willing to give your new web analyst time to build any.
  3. Show Me The Training! – Yes, you may think you’ve already spent enough on HR after the long and arduous task of identifying and recruiting the right candidate. If the right candidate for you (or your budget) is someone more green, then you’re going to have to be prepared to spend some money for training – general web analytics training, tool specific web analytics training, conferences, etc. The good news is that these kinds of investments catapult your newbie past the woefully confused phase into the mildly overwhelmed phase without having had to learn on your precious systems.

What’s Right For Your Business?

Greg’s remains skeptical about hiring new folk right out of the gate and he has a set of ways he screens even before they come in for an interview (detailed on his blog). I’ve been both the newbie, the colleague of experienced web analysts and a mentor to one (at least I hope Mike thought so). So what’s my recommendation? If you’re a business with larger web properties, then a seasoned pro or some outside consulting can speed your web analytics along pretty fast and give you the option of hiring newbies later. If you’re an agency with a department in place, you have to make your decision based on currently signed clients and positioning for the future. If you plan to hire a newbie, make sure you have a clear plan of professional development and training for the first 6-9 months.

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