Interview with: Robert K Seolas, Co-founder and CEO, ObservePoint
We recently had an opportunity to interview Robert Seolas, Co-Founder of ObservePoint. ObservePoint is a partner of Lima Consulting Group and is the software that we use to conduct web audits for Omniture’s SiteCatalyst products, Coremetrics, Google Analytics, and other popular web analytics solutions.
Q: Why did you start ObservePoint?
RS: My partner in ObservePoint, John Pestana, was a Co-Founder of Omniture, one of the world’s foremost Web analytics platforms. Before retiring from Omniture, John knew the company received regular calls from customers who often complained that their analytics software wasn’t working. They always wanted to blame Omniture, but when there were hiccups, most of the time it was because there were problems with the tagging on their websites.
This is the challenge we’re solving. Our tools enable companies to have more confidence in their data-driven decisions. Analysts are often keenly aware of the weaknesses in their data, which prompts them to qualify their reports or present less convincingly. And our research shows that executives don’t act on the data as much as they should. So we try to do two things: help the analyst confirm a good implementation or fix it, and provide assurance to management that the data is sound. And in web analytics, there are many ways for that data to become inaccurate.
John and I started ObservePoint to identify when website tagging is flawed, and to provide realistic, reliable solutions to the common and sometimes, uncommon problems associated with the implementation of Web tracking systems. Tag management is critical, and we want to add to the conversation.
Q: What is different about your analytics auditing solution than your competitors?
RS: ObservePoint is the only digital analytics auditor that provides fully automated, vendor-agnostic audits. As a third-party audit, ObservePoint is not tied to any specific vendor, which is what you want. You don’t want the fox watching the hen house.
An audit from ObservePoint is unbiased and objective. There might be things that a vendor’s self-audit finds that they may not want to reveal to their customer.
For implementing or de-implementing tags, for cleaning up old or mismanaged implementations, for removing technology that is no longer a part of the company’s strategy or needs to be removed for privacy lawcompliance reasons, and for analyzing the variables inside of tags, ObservePoint is the market leader.
We’re able to give you information about your entire site’s analytics implementation that nobody else is able to provide.
Q: What new technologies will compliment your offering?
RS: Our tag auditing platform is revolutionizing how companies approach the management of tags on their websites. Tagging can be difficult and complicated, and in the process of examining website tags, ObservePoint finds all of the pages on the site. It sounds obvious, but most of the time, companies do not know how many pages are on their website, and what those pages are. That’s something you need to know. So we crawl the website to find out where all the pages are. We find every tag on those pages, and we figure out what all of those tags are doing. It’s a lot of information behind the scenes, but what our customers get at the end are a set of really useful, easily understood reports to improve their tagging.
It’s common for websites to have a dozen tagging solutions, and some have several dozen. Recently we audited a site with 120 different tags. With the complex tagging situations, things get out of control very quickly.
Using ObservePoint’s SiteAudit, Web analysts needn’t worry about whether their analytics is working correctly. And for those that need a quick check or, frankly, have more time than money, we offer a free plugin for Firefox that identifies all page elements, files and tags.
Q: What has surprised you about the analytics auditing industry since you’ve started?
RS: We were surprised at how many companies blindly trust or blindly distrust web analytics. We’re constantly talking about how important analytics auditing is for building trust, and we have become the market leader in Web analytics auditing, testing, and data quality certification. But the message is catching on and we’re hearing a lot more dialogue about data quality.
Right now, most organizations don’t leverage the information web analytics provides, outside of the digital group. There are lots of reasons for this – web analytics is definitely still considered to be cutting edge. And an effect of that is that the data doesn’t get the level of confidence – perceived or real – that managers outside of digital needed to act. The information is prone to error and, as we find, this prevents correct conclusions. Managers sense this, so they are reluctant to apply data-derived insight. We want tochange this. We want to improve the overall quality of the data and then show that it ought to be trusted. We envision companies that move beyond reporting – companies who trust digital data as scientific evidence.
Q: What is the size of the analytics auditing market?
RS: Any company which is investing any resources whatsoever in analytics should be auditing that data. Otherwise, how do you know any of the insights or any of information you are getting is even close to correct?
You can’t have good data without first confirming that the data was collected according to established statistical methods. For web analytics, this means a tag on every page. And just like anything else, these tags require maintenance. Tags aren’t a set-it-and-forget it type of thing. Website pages change, code versions change, tags get broken. So ObservePoint is here to audit and even constantly watch over your tags to ensure they continue to work as designed.
Q: Where do you see the Web auditing analytics industry in fiveyears?
RS: Really, we’re a subsector of the analytics industry, and everything is changing pretty rapidly. It’s undeniable that web analytics is here to stay, and in the next five years things will certainly continue to evolve and improve.
What we’re concerned with for the foreseeable future is helping web analytics become much more authoritative. But in order to get there, the industry needs to mitigate the risk that’s introduced by some fundamental weaknesses with the technology. Of course I’m talking about managing tags. If tags get out of control and aren’t maintained, all of the resulting data – be it analytics reports, or audience measurement, oradvertising – can become worthless. And by the time that happens, thecredibility of the data is lost.
One organization that we’ve been working with for more than a year, they came to us with a suspicion that they had tagging problems because their SiteCatalyst reports seemed wrong. And the management was ready to shut down the whole web analytics group because of it. So they asked us for an audit, and after a few days and we went back to them with answers to the problems they observed. We found several issues that were fairly typical – pages missing tags, broken links, some syntax errors, and so on. But what was really interesting, was that an older section of their website had 4-6 copies of the Omniture tag, and this was inflating their visitor data by 4-5 times. Not to mention data collection costs. They told us that it was decided to spend resources to keep that section of the website online because it had certainvisitor numbers – and those numbers proved to be wrong.
So after a few rounds of fixes and audits, their tags are now correct and their data is sound. And now that the issues are resolved and we’re there to audit and report that the data is right, the organization is warming back up to analytics.
That’s a story we see over and over again. We want Web analysts to move out of the proverbial basement and into the boardroom. They have information that is vital to the company and if they can go and present data with confidence because they know that it’s third-party audited and certified, what they say will be stronger. And then we’ll have done what we set out to do.
About Rob Seolas:
Rob is a fifteen-year online marketing veteran who focuses on web analytics auditing and website performance. Having audited thousands of online properties, he is a frequent speaker at industry events and is a strong advocate for analytics data quality improvement. Robert co-founded and later arranged the buyout of an online advertising network in 2006.
Robert is an active humanitarian, and serves as the Chairman at the Utah Hemophilia foundation. He holds Bachelor’s degrees in Business and Political Science from Brigham Young University. He and his family reside in Salt Lake City, Utah.
ObservePoint helps data-informed companies trust their data through the application of best practices in tag management. ObservePoint pioneered automated web analytics auditing and their worldwide distributed network audits millions of pages every month to report data loss, inflation and leakage to web analytics managers and stakeholders. ObservePoint helps companies serve their customers better – and helps you trust your data.
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