Web Analyst Interview: Daniel Shields

Continuing my series of interviews with Web Analyst here is an interview with Daniel Shields.

What is your current position and the name of the company you work for?
I am currently employed by CableOrganizer.com, a South Florida based eCommerce business dealing in wire-management products. (It has recently been brought to my attention too that we have been named a company which has risen into the ranks of the Internet Retailer Top 500.) I am keeper of the Analyst title, which implies marketing as well as web analytics. As a smaller company, many of us have to wear a couple of hats. It just happens to be that I end up straddling the fields of marketing and online marketing. I’m sure that’s pretty common.

How long have you been working in this fields?
While my job, in its current state is only technically in place since January of this year, I have been practicing analytics, in one form or another, for about fifteen years. My interests started with Bulletin Board Systems. I had a dedicated dial-in in my home when I was in grade school and high school. There was a software platform called TriBBS available and I crafted what would have been equitable to a website sometime around 1990. I started to count the files people were searching for and started seeing other areas where they were coming from and building up my credibility as a site through those means. It was essentially my first foray into marketing and advertising. As the technology evolved, so did the methodology, and so did I. My job now seems like it was a logical progression in hindsight.

Tell me about your work, education prior to your job in web analytics?
Well, as we all know, nobody is offering degrees in analytics. So, I was forced to make decisions for education which most closely reflected my interests in hopes that somebody would pay me when I finished. I studied math, history, communication and psychology. I got degrees in several fields in the end and even continued education in Public Policy while walking the path close to becoming an attorney. After all that work, I ended up landing a job at an environmental company in Florida. So, for about 4 years, I spent time working in the field for a US Army Corp of Engineers contractor and sub-to –prime contractor for FEMA and the federal government.

So how did you end up in Web Analytics?
The real reason, despite needing financial compensation, was the fact that I met Paul Holstein – Co-Founder of CableOrganizer.com. Paul is a person who is passionate about web analytics and loyal to its role in creating a successful business. When we met, he explained the job functions and outlined for me an offer which would enable me to catch up on the learning I needed to be competitive, and he believed in me enough to give me the space I needed to develop. It’s a great environment to work in and the job is rewarding on so many fronts that I didn’t have to think about making the decision to join the team.

How did you find your new job or met Paul? I think it was monster.com, I can’t be sure though. I sent out a ton of applications. I mean a ton. It took me about 4 months to get the kind of offers I was interested in. I did have some other offers and plenty of interviews where I left knowing I wouldn’t make another call. I don’t know about everywhere else, but South Florida is pretty ripe with snake oil in all aspects of business. Paul and CableOrganizer fit the idea that I had for myself. They seemed to be very good people and the rest of the company was loaded with talent, diversity and intellect. It was a real breath of fresh air.

What are you responsibilities in your current job? Describe your typical work day.
I get up pretty early to see what the previous day was like. I look at the comparative traffic and use all of our available analytics tools to make sure things are running and populating correctly. I look into the campaigns, the new referrers, how search progress is coming along, etc. and then I start to perform path analysis to get an idea of what isn’t carrying its weight. I run some engagement reports to see what pages are getting plenty of traffic but seem to be disproportionately bouncing. I then flag those in a queue to get them ready for optimization through testing scenarios. I spend some time developing elements as alternatives for testing. I look into the keyword reports to see if something is jumping out at me. We are now measuring keywords by bounce rate and profitability which has been a big help, so its consumed a great deal of my eye-time. In the end, I produce a weekly executive report and an insight report for the stakeholders. I’ve also been working on getting some departmental reporting and involvement to make the most of our program. Lastly, about twice a month, we schedule and run 3 usability tests and some multi-variable testing. All the progress from those is summed up in monthly versions of the reports mentioned earlier.

What are the skills that you think are important for a web analyst?
A great deal of tenacity and being sharp enough to make the connection between right and left brain items.

What, if any, education or work experience helped you in your current job?
Like I said, I did some of the basics with this already. Knowing that, I just had to catch up to the technology and the methodologies. That wasn’t easy, and I still feel like its moving ahead of me, but I think I have a pretty solid grip on the materials now.

Do you feel any education or experience is lacking? Education or experience that would have helped.
If anything is truly lacking, it has to be awareness to the value of analytics. It’s the most fundamentally scientific aspect of business. People have a fear of things that they don’t recognize or understand as being part of the deal, but its cast aside like witchcraft or astrology for a great number of executives still. Dave Eggers wrote in a book called “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” , and I paraphrase, that we are the new model and the people with the power are often the old. Many times, in order to maintain the status quo, decision-makers will ignore evolution and advancement. Imagine walking into General Motors and saying “we should change the way we determine our designs based on these methods by Genichi Taguchi” twenty years ago. I’m sure Toyota was happy that they instituted his methodology.

What web analytics/online-marketing books have you read and/or own?
I own none. Paul’s extensive library became mine vicariously and through an inter-office exchange. We have a bunch of really good material though. All of Eric T. Peterson’s books are on the shelf. Then, there is a book called “Submit Now” by Andrew Chak, which is awesome. There is “Don’t Make Me Think” by Steven Krug which is also very helpful. Then, there are the Dummies books etc. We have plenty of work on Search Engine Optimization and PPC and the like.

Which book(s) have you helped in your new job or finding new job?
I don’t think any books helped. I think you just have to know your interests and be able to indulge them in a way that you can find value. For me, I felt when I got hired for this position that I wasted five years chasing money for somebody who didn’t appreciate it. Now, I’m finding money and business, and discovering new science, for somebody who does.

What were the major challenges you faced or are facing in your current job?
The number one issue for my with my job is that Cable Management is difficult to dress up. It appeals to people who don’t know that it appeals to them until they get the items and see what an impact our world has on them. Its neat though, because, it makes the challenge that much better. I have to find avenues to deliver people from isolated niches into our optimized landing pages. The information that I come across in the process can be really exciting and interesting. Sometimes, really useless when tested, but that’s what this is all about.

How do you make sure you are learning and growing in this field ?
I attend more than my fair share of events on behalf of the company. I’ve been to New York City, Salt Lake City (for the Omniture Summit), Shop.org here in Fort Lauderdale, and to San Francisco for eMetrics. I also keep up on the blogs and the forums on analytics topics to see what new techniques are being refined. Its my personal position that a disproportionate amount of time is dedicated on some of these to pointing out problems with software or speculating on irrelevant or in-actionable insights. I find it frustrating too that certain parties use the venue to advance their tool’s position or beef up traffic for their own purposes. It’s the kind of thing that obscures the ability to use the web-group like an academic journal.

How do you make sure you are learning and growing in this field?
I attend more than my fair share of events on behalf of the company. I’ve been to New York City, Salt Lake City (for the Omniture Summit), Shop.org here in Fort Lauderdale, and to San Francisco for eMetrics. I also keep up on the blogs and the forums on analytics topics to see what new techniques are being refined. Sadly, a disproportionate amount of time is dedicated on some of these to pointing out problems with software or speculating on stuff. Even more sadly is that from time to time, people infiltrate with the purpose of their own marketing etc. It makes it tough to appreciate the forum for its original intent.

You are referring to web analytics yahoo group, right?
Yes.

Eric, I hope you are taking a note of it.

Do you have blog? If yes, what kind of article do you write?
Yes. I do have a blog. I’ve only started it very recently and have two posts nearly refined enough to let go. Its located at http://danalytics.blogspot.com. I will be publishing information with regard to analytics, usability and multi-variable testing, my experiences with software and some of the formulae which I have developed for our purposes. I’m sure when its realized, it may be useful to some folks in the industry. At least, I hope it is.

I ams sure it will be.

What is your advice to aspiring web analysts?
My advice…..hmmmmm, my advice is to understand the goals of the business first, then learn how to apply the practice of analytics. Further, know how to prioritize your information for the purpose of gaining more value from important analysis and leaving some of the more trivial analysis aside. For example, find ways to make money, save money and save time. Do that by managing keyword strategies, fixing problems, and optimizing landing pages. Sounds simple huh?

1 thought on “Web Analyst Interview: Daniel Shields”

  1. When Daniel says “Even more sadly is that from time to time, people infiltrate with the purpose of their own marketing etc. It makes it tough to appreciate the forum for its original intent” the irony makes me smile.

    All the old timers know that I basically founded the group to market my books … who would have known that it would become this wild, thriving community?

    I think sometimes people get too hung up on some of the messages that are posted to the group. I mean, it’s called the DELETE button and we all have one. If you don’t like what you’re reading, ignore it. And know that the moderator crew does our best to make sure that the posts you do read confirm to the existing guidelines.

    Anyway, the comment was noted. Nice interview as usual, Anil.

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