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The Innovators: John Marshall, ClickTracks

For this installment of the Traffick Innovator series, we're delighted to share some fresh thoughts from John Marshall, cofounder and CEO of web analytics innovator ClickTracks, until he recently left to form a new company, Market Motive. John has always been a popular speaker at conferences like SES, and has been noticed for his initiative in offering free webinars to anyone interested in wanting to learn more about web analytics.

Among other things, we learn that John definitely considers California home, is big on granularity in marketing campaigns, and seeks to fill a gap in corporate professional development whereby companies today are nearly always handicapped by a failure to keep up on the latest in specialized fields. We agree with John -- anyone who is committed to sharing information can move the needle for private companies more than you generally expect. Few training sessions or focused seminars today have employees walking away saying “hey! I already knew  all that!” -- especially when those companies can gain access to the leading minds in the field. . 
 

 



* What did you do before ClickTracks? How about before that?

Well, I've done many things technology related, but one that stands out was web analyst. It was my experience of trying to interpret the data that lead me to create ClickTracks. Go back far enough and you'll uncover that I wrote video games in assembler in the 80's. 

* You're British but you live in California. Do you go back and forth a lot? Which do you consider home?

I travel back and forth 2-3 times a year. California is home, definitely. It's a very welcoming place to entrepreneurs. I still spell most words the British way, however, ignoring the nags from Microsoft. 

* Jim Sterne jokes that his "degree is in Shakespeare," but he's also a stats maven and an analyst of the nuts and bolts of corporate IT deployments. Early on he began advising large companies on their use of web stats, and wrote the leading book in the field. You grew up messing around with technology, but you define yourself as a marketer and thought leader, not strictly a CTO. How important is it that online commerce fuses strategy and communications with the more technical side of things?

I definitely find the technical aspects easy, whereas the creative side less so. Therefore when I look at a campaign I'm quick to notice technical questions but I have to really stop and think about the copywriting and the call to action. Many other marketing folks are biased in the opposite direction, so I think I stand out a little. Either way, you have to smoothly combine both sides to succeed online. Marketers who think they can 'leave the technical details to others' get burned. 

* You were with ClickTracks a long time - six years, a lifetime in some tech circles. Do you feel the company developed a unique corporate culture internally in that time? What was that like? Did ClickTracks contribute a bit of a different approach to the whole field of analytics and web marketing, do you think?

The culture was very strongly defined by myself and even more so by Dr. Stephen Turner. We started with a different approach to the analytical process. Stephen carefully guided the design decisions we made and we rarely regretted our choice to be different. We didn't take a different approach for the sake of it, we simply wouldn't accept mediocre implementations. Sometimes this made the product harder to sell, because the customer's frame of reference was all the other products, plus ClickTracks with its different approach. The sales team might beg that we implement a funnel report just like everyone else, but Stephen and I stood by our choices because we knew the other funnel reports simply didn't work properly. A consequence of this was that we made ourselves available to the entire company to explain these design decisions. The entire company therefore was comfortable being different, and unconsciously, we hired people like that, because they needed to fit and accurately represent the product. 

* About your new venture, Market Motive. What interests you so much about the training and professional education space, and what void in the marketplace made you see an opportunity there?

I've always enjoyed teaching and explaining new ideas, and of course speaking at SES and other conferences gave me the opportunity. I found myself wishing I could do that full time. Most people working in marketing at companies can't keep up with the pace of change. They need a reliable, authoritative source that is available on-tap. Traveling to conferences helps with big strategy questions, but day to day tactics get ignored. Their marketing efforts are substandard because they need more knowledge. We provide the environment to learn and advance.  

* At ClickTracks you were involved in developing challenging new products to help search marketers, such as a bid management product, BidHero. You mentioned once it wasn't always easy to coexist with leaders like Yahoo and Google, because their search advertising API's terms of service were often changing, you might not get top priority as far as custom interactions with them in spite of your large customer base, etc. I'm also guessing the cost of API tokens affects a third-party service enormously; and major changes in the ad programs might necessitate going back to the drawing board and redeveloping new software. Any comments on any of that? Can small third party bid management services survive? What about larger ones? Is Google setting things up so these kinds of companies have trouble, while custom apps developed in house for companies trying to access the API's for specific purposes may be treated in more friendly fashion?

I think the situation is better than it was. You used to have unpredictable rules for how many API requests you could make and it was hard if you needed to make more requests. Now you simply pay for requests, so although the API costs money, you at least don't have an arbitrary cap on how much you can use. I think the cost is reasonable. The search engines need to do something to throttle usage. 

* As a "neutral" technology vendor, surely nonetheless you must have gained many insights as to best and worst practices, let's say from the standpoint of improving conversion rates from clicks to sales. What from your experience are the top two best practices or uncommon insights you might offer marketers wanting to improve the user experience? What are the no-no's that make you gnash your teeth?

Best practice #1: Test everything. You think you know your customers. You don't. Test test test.

Best Practice #2: Once a week examine your keyword buys. Kill the bottom performing 10% and reallocate that money to new campaigns or better ranking on existing ones.

No-no #1: When I type keywords into a search page, I expect to see relevant ads. When I click into the ad I expect the page on the site to match exactly what I just searched for, with copy that matches the ad. Too many sites (usually national brands that should know better) dump me into the generic page for DVD players when one page back I specifically typed in the model number I want. 

* Is the click fraud situation improving?

Yes in that the big players have got much better at reining it in. However small PPC engines keep popping up like mushrooms and the problem over there is as bad as ever. I recently blogged about these third tier engines here : http://www.marketmotive.com/marshall/ 

* Now's your chance to plug your upcoming seminars, and talk a bit about how you structure your services. ;)

Market Motive fundamentally does two things: We teach online marketing through a subscription service, which is priced at $299 per month. You get unlimited access to exclusive training content plus the ability to ask questions and discuss specifics of your site and needs with the worlds best practitioners. The content is created by the top minds in internet marketing. Details here: http://www.marketmotive.com/knowledge/ 

The other side of the business is consulting, implementation and best practices. Many people having learned what we teach still want someone else to worry about the details of getting it done. Our expert staff handles that : http://www.marketmotive.com/services/ 

* Will you come speak at SES Toronto next year? What topic interests you most?

Social media is something I'm spending some time investigating. Right now the SES crowd probably thinks this means Digg and ways to game it, plus link building. Actually social media is maturing and it would surprise search marketers at the degree to which social media completely bypasses search, and even the public web. 

(Ed. Note: We're intrigued, but not surprised. :) Thanks for the insights John

 

About the Innovators Series

Online innovation, be it soft innovation or revolutionary breakthrough, drives the contemporary economy. Traffick.com interviews leaders in e-business models, search, and vertical niches to find out what makes them tick. Like the interviews
(11 questions), our innovators "Go to Eleven."

 

Speaking Engagement

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