My interest in analytics started because of my passion for civic engagement. I had two wonderful role models as both of my parents are Presidential Volunteer Service Award winners. My father was a driven environmentalist who started Maine’s first recycling center and helped introduce the first bottle bill. My mom created (and still runs) the local food pantry in my hometown.
Inspired by my parents, I started a rainforest preservation nonprofit called The Rainforest Challenge when I was 16, which focused on getting young people involved in the preservation of the tropical rainforest. I firmly believe that anyone can work to change the world no matter how young or old. When I later created my first website in 1994, I put the Rainforest Challenge curriculum online to promote it but measuring the distribution and impact of those materials was limited. I didn’t like limited data, even back then.
When I was responsible for marketing for 1-800-Volunteer.org as the Director of Marketing & Sales, I worked hard to implement Omniture to track the impact of the system at a national, state and local levels, but it was later at Environmental Working Group (EWG) that I caught the analytics “bug.” I got hooked and focused on getting clean web, social, PPC and web data that I could use to pivot our campaigns.
EWG at the time had 6-10 websites and blogs on different domains. They weren’t tagging their emails with UTM, and they had a HUGE email list. The CEO wanted to know how the websites were performing but their reports were a hot mess. Being at a nonprofit with a limited budget, I set out to figure out how to configure those Google Analytics (GA) accounts properly by myself. I bought books by Google Analytics Evangelist, Avinash Kaushik; did a full day workshop on GA, and was able to get a scholarship to Market Motive where I was able to take Avinash’s Google Analytics course. And yet, even after all that, I still couldn’t clean up the analytics to get usable data. At that point, I convinced EWG to hire a GA consulting group to clean it up with the caveat that I participate and learn as much as possible from these consultants. Not only was I able to finally report on the data, but I was also able to use the insight to launch a campaign that increased the site’s traffic to 1.2 million in one month (up from 300K) and drove thousands of new donors to their email list.
The reality is, most GA accounts have misleading data. It’s tempting to just turn on Google Analytics without modifying it, which is a critical, often missed step in the process. Of the 200+ accounts, I have had access to in my career, I could count the numbers that were set up correctly on one hand. Often the installation is so messy that the data is useless.
I’m obsessed about getting the cleanest web analytics data possible because I need that insight to support my marketing strategy decisions. For instance, bounce rate (where a users visits from search and then leaves the site quickly to return to search) can affect rankings in Google and organic traffic to the site. Most GA accounts are not configured to cleanly track bounce rate – often leaving that measurement unusable.
I am also passionate about using social media insights in conjunction with SEO, paid and web analytics data to drive social media campaigns – and was able to use that data during the launch of NYStateofHealth.gov. Helping that exchange become the leading enroller during the early days of the ACA, and for HealthIT.gov – allowing us to drive adoption of electronic health records nationally.
I love to teach others to learn more about analytics and use that data to strengthen their marketing campaigns. Ultimately, whether it’s fostering my young daughters interest in STEM (my oldest at the moment is obsessed with aerospace) or spreading my love of analytics and search to everyone I meet, I think that a belief that anyone can change the world and anyone can learn anything if they put their mind to it has served me well over my career.
Meet Katherine Watier Ong: Analytics and SEO expert, former youth activist, and mom of a future astronaut.