Analytics agencies: what’s the right fit?

Much as in web and mobile development, in analytics, there are almost as many different kinds of practitioners as there are reports in an enterprise reporting tool. If you don’t know how many that is, assume it’s a lot.

To be fair, you may not need to engage with anyone at all. If you’re on a low budget, it’s safe to say you can throw a basic Google Analytics tag on your site and learn plenty about your traffic. And if you’re mid-sized, you are probably still thinking about that free Google Analytics tool and maybe a little custom configuration. In this case, you may want to bring on a consultant rather than a consulting company. You’ll be able to define goals, create some custom dimensions, track events, and move away from Page Views as your key metric. What you gain in savings, you may lose in continuity, but you would have known that going in.

However, if you’re a big outfit and you need to get analytics driving forward, you will probably need to hire a company with analytics expertise to help you get it done. Most of these will operate like agencies in the way they run accounts and deliver services. However, they’re not agencies in the purest sense; they don’t necessarily buy and sell ad space the way traditional agencies have done in the past.

Split Focus

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There is a school of thought that the digital agency itself may not be the best choice for doing analytics consulting. There are a couple of reasons for this.

First – and probably most important – digital agencies are not dedicated specialists in the discipline. Analytics is pretty difficult to get right and if your agency is mostly about site development with a few analytics folks on the team, be prepared to accept it may not have the depth or maturity of a dedicated analytics consultancy.

Second, there’s almost always a conflict of interest. That’s because it may have created the content being measured. Does anyone who builds something want to then see it measured in detail and judged? Not if they can help it. Too often, the agency’s narrative with your firm may overwhelm any data insights coming out of the analytics team.

There are some very large consulting teams that do digital analytics, but again, this isn’t their specialty. They often hire other agencies to do the work, while passing you a higher bill than you’d have paid to an agency directly.

Dedication

You’ll benefit most from finding a consultancy that specializes in digital analytics. This is where you will find the best and most focused practitioners in the space, and there are certainly more than a handful of them in the market.

Here are some things to look for and ask yourself as you choose your digital analytics partner. I say “partner” because the relationship will most likely be long-term.

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1. Are They Technologically Agnostic?

It’s a good thing if they are partners with large vendors, but you’ll want to make sure they aren’t just an arm of the vendor itself. The agency can have a concentration in, say Adobe or Google, but you’ll want to know they can pitch a tent in either campground. And if they have further partnerships with testing vendors, retargeting vendors, tag management vendors, and visualization vendors, that is even better. Good partners make good partners.

2. How Are They Organized?

Do they seem more like a body shop that sends individuals to do individual jobs, or do they organize a cohesive team to get the job done? Is there an account manager, a senior technical advisor, an executive sponsor, and an analyst on the team?

The ideal team will usually have between three and seven consultants on even large projects, and sometimes up to 10 consultants for plus-sized engagements. But whether it’s just one gal or a gang of 15, ask some more questions before committing. One person will likely get overwhelmed. On the other hand, nothing is more expensive than a room packed with consultants.

3. What Kind of Processes Are In Place?

Do they publish detailed plans before digging into the work? Do they have extensive documentation of the work they are performing? Do they work toward having regular meetings about your project, even between milestones? Do they offer training, webinars and help desk support? Do they keep you apprised of how many hours are being used in order to get the project completed? Are they meeting deadlines or missing them?

4. Do They Actually Consult?

In other words, they don’t just say yes to everything you want; sometimes, they may push back and suggest another way of doing it. This is likely because they have done this many times before and are aware of a gap between your plans and best practices.

When you’re looking for an analytics partner, look for the above signs of maturity: dedication, organization, well-defined process, and domain expertise. Engaging with a partner that lacks these qualities may lead to a broken engagement.

Homepage image via Shutterstock, article images via Flickr

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