Thom Craver Satisfies Your #Analytics Cravings: An Interview

With seventeen years of industry experience under his belt, it’s an understatement to say Thom Craver knows what’s up with the World Wide Webz. Currently working as Web and Database specialist for the Saunders College of Business at Rochester Institute of Technology, Thom’s responsible for all Web and social presences. From client consulting to guest lecturing at RIT to piloting one of Rochester’s first Web marketing firms he’s seen the spectrum of search marketing up close and personal. You’ll find his expertise showcased in Search Engine Watch as well as  a monthly column for ComputerLink Magazine, not to mention various training manuals published by SVI Training Products and Technical Learning Resources.

Next month, Thom will lead marketers through the Introduction to Analytics on Day 2 of Search Engine Strategies San Francisco. AIMCLEAR‘s Matt Peterson attended this same session in the New York installment of SES earlier this year, remarking, “Elementary essentials of analytics were addressed, but there were deep technical chestnuts that would pique the interest of even seasoned marketing vets.” In other words, don’t let the “Intro” angle of Thom’s session fool you; attendees should saddle up for a seriously deep dive into the core technologies of analytics every deep marketer should master.

AIMCLEAR had the pleasure of sharing a candid interview with Thom a month outside of #SES SFO. Topics of conversation ranged from shop-talk to dream dashboards and metrics in need of some TLC. Read on for the full effect.

| AIMCLEAR: You’ve been knee-deep in HTML code for almost two decades and involved in search marketing for more than ten years. Impressive. What about coding attracted you in the first place – and what prompted the shift towards SEM?

In 1991, I got involved in a student-run campus information system for RIT. It was, essentially, a series of hypertext map of the campus with information about the buildings, departments, etc. When we were at beta, another student outside the project said to us, “That’s cool and all, but why didn’t you just use Mosaic?” At the time, I didnt’ know what Mosaic or HTML was. I learned very quickly, becoming the “Web guy” at every position I held afterwards.

A number of years later I started one of the first Web development (and hosting) companies in Rochester. I took a unique approach of teaching my customers about the Web. I would create custom back-end interfaces to updating information on their site, putting that power in their hands. These types of interfaces are known today as a CMS.

During that time, I had a number of clients asking for confirmation that if I build it, they (the customers) would come. After a while, I couldn’t guess my way to that answer any longer and started researching how people got found online. I read everything I could and started attending SES Conferences. Ultimately, the coding was less important to me than helping people make the Web actually work for them. I learned a great deal about SEO, conversion and calculating ROI online. I passed this on to my clients and led the new SEM initiative after successfully merging my firm with a local interactive agency.

Now, I’m back at RIT as an employee, passing on information to students and leading the charge on analytics for the university’s mobile web initiative.

| AIMCLEAR: Quite the backstory. I dig. What’s your “most underrated” analytics package or feature? Or what metric do you think doesn’t get the love or attention that it should?

I think bounce rate gets more attention than it should, but not in a good way. Everyone looks at bounce rate as a bad metric (even Google, to an extent). But in the grand scheme of life, if someone searches for some arcane piece of information that’s burred deep within your Website, finds it in the first few blue links, clicks it and instantly has their answer by viewing the first page they see on your site, is that bad? Having deep content appear atop the search results and serving the customer’s needs quickly with less clicks is what good SEO is all about. Content is king. Not having a confused and frustrated customer clicking 20 links only to fail to find the information they seek is horrible service. Certain returning visitors with high bounce rate may conceivably show customer retention and loyalty.

| AIMCLEAR: You turn on your computer one day and the analytics dashboard of your wildest dreams magically appears on screen. What three features or data points are present that you couldn’t see before?

It should show that I’m earning enough to retire early and spoil my kids rotten clear through college!

Seriously, it depends on which site I’m looking at and which metrics I’m measuring. However, I can assure you the metric will never be an aggregate number measuring all visitors at the same time. The metrics will be segmented by certain criteria and would include historical trends, groupings and automatically suggest actionable recommendations for me.

| AIMCLEAR: Care to share your two cents on the future of analytics, in regards to recent EU case law, and where we may be heading with Do Not Track? Are we moving towards more obvious disclosure, opt-in only analytics, or are we about to lose all the cool data we love so much?

Privacy is going to be a concern. I’ve seen many opinions, too. On one hand, there’s a few generations of individuals who do not want to be tracked at all. I know many people that don’t want to be tracked ever, but want to make sure we track everyone who hits their site. On the other hand there’s a whole generation of students at our mostly technical university who have the opinion that they’re not doing anything wrong, so track away. Which, by itself isn’t a stance on privacy laws. Both the EU and Congress need to apply some common-sense rules regarding non-personal tracking. Everything on a computer is tracked; it’s the way networks are analyzed and repaired. Marketers just happen to hitch a ride on existing logging of publicly accessible information. If the government says we have no reasonable expectation of our cars parked in our driveway, we should clearly have no reasonable expectation of privacy when we request information from someone else’s Web site.

| AIMCLEAR: What is it about analytics revs your proverbial engine?

Making sense out of chaos; it’s the ultimate thrill.

Having gone from simply building “cool Web pages” to tracking how much revenue a company earned as a direct result of those same cool pages is really fascinating. I’ve been helping build the Web longer than this year’s incoming freshmen have been alive. I’ve grown from “this is cool” to “I had 100 hits” to “how do people get here” to “these kinds of people are more apt to buy” to “We saved n-thousand dollars directly because of x,y and z actions online.” It boggles my mind everyday.

The ever-changing Web landscape and the myriad of metrics feed my ADD, too.

| AIMCLEAR: Day 1 of SES San Francisco will find you up on stage delivering a solo presentation on Intro to Analytics. Can we get a little behind-the-scenes look at what you’ll dish up? (Also… what are some ways you like to get beginners excited about something as analytical as… analytics?)

I truly go through the all the basics of collecting data and determining which metrics are available. I start with how data are collected to how they are measured and a bunch of lame jokes. I move on to which metrics are available and, without actually mentioning the phrase KPI, I talk about which metrics make sense to use and which ones don’t. As we progress, the jokes get worse, but you’ll have some great insight into a dry subject by someone with a gentle bedside manner. When you’re done, you’ll have a good understanding of where to start measuring your own site and a better appreciation for good comedy.

| AIMCLEAR: Right on, Thom 🙂 Thanks for your time today. See you in San Fran!

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