Sarah Hodges

Archive for 2011|Yearly archive page

It’s Not Them, It’s You: Connect & Pay it Forward

In Startups on November 8, 2011 at 9:48 pm

This post focuses on the Boston startup scene, but anyone anywhere can get connected and become a connector. Get on it, and don’t forget to pay it forward…

“How the hell did I get here?”
As I stood in the Copley Fairmont Hotel Ballroom at DB Tech Prom last month, I couldn’t help but wonder, how the hell did I get here? Just a little over a year ago, I was a Boston startup scene outsider. But suddenly there I was, taking in the sight of hundreds of startuppers Boogieing down to 80s jams, loving every minute of it.

It’s Not Them, It’s You
Last fall, I remarked to my buddy, Aaron White, that it seemed he was a member of an exclusive club of startup folks in Boston. It’s such a clique, I argued, how can new entrepreneurs and startup peeps break into the circle?

Turns out, it wasn’t them…it was me. I was standing on the other side of the glass looking in, when all I had to do was open the door. Want to connect with startup folks? Speak up, get out, and network up a storm. It’s up to you to make the first move!

Have Some Fun (and maybe a few libations)
Sure, there’s a lot you can do to start meeting people in Boston from behind the safety of your MacBook Air…but c’mon, that’ll only get you so far. I’m a bit of an introvert, so it was tough for me to get out and socialize when I first joined the RunKeeper team last fall. I remember my patient co-worker, Tom Boates, practically holding my hand as he introduced me to folks at a BostInnovation party.

You know what also helped that night? A few cocktails. Nothing lets your guard down better than an open bar…Seriously though, some people are more comfortable in a formal environment, but I thrive in a social setting, where I can weave work in with play. Cort Johnson recently wrote a great blog post about the power of experiential events to foster meaningful connections. BostInnovation, DartBoston and a host of others have done a fantastic job creating innovative startup events this year, so there are plenty of opportunities to kick up your heels while you network your tail off. If you’re more fiesta than fireside chat, make sure to tailor your event calendar to include environments in which you feel comfortable.

Got a game plan?
Don’t know where to start? Check out these tips for how to break into the scene:

Rob Go’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Boston Startup Scene is an awesome step one.
Greenhorn Connect also has a killer event calendar.
– Don’t forget to follow @DBTechProm, @BostonBoogie and #rubyriot for the inside scoop.

With A Little Help from Your Friends…
I’ve been amazed at how supportive the startup community has been this year; there are connectors everywhere. Every time I’m at an event with Jennifer Lum she asks, who do you want to meet today? Get in the habit of having a list at the ready of people you’d love to meet in the Boston startup scene; whether you’re at a social event, a conference, or a Meetup, chances are someone you know knows someone on your list, and would be more that happy to make the connection.

Here’s a quick shoutout to some of the folks who have been generous with their time & intros:

Jennifer Lum
Cortlandt Johnson
Jake Cacciapaglia
Mike Troiano
Dave Balter
Aaron White
Matt Lauzon
Kai Gray

Pay It Forward
There’s a reason Matt Lauzon was able to bring together 1,000 startuppers to #payitforward at this year’s #rubyriot—Bostonians are down to help out. It’s great to be connected, but don’t forget to pay it forward!

Sarah Hodges Tech Prom Boston


A, B, Cs of 1, 2, 3s: Marketing Analytics Resources

In Analytics, Campaign Anaytics, Web Analytics on August 2, 2011 at 2:17 am

Forget dipping a toe in the water–when it comes to learning marketing analytics, you’ve gotta hit the diving board and break out your best cannon ball. Start measuring something!

1. Read, write, practice, analyze and optimize. Then, start over.

2. Start a blog and write on topic you’re passionate about.

3. Create a Google Analytics account and install GA on your blog.

4. Consider incorporating other free analytics tools: Crazy Egg (heat map); 4Q (task completion survey); Clicktale. GA is a fantastic starting point, but you may want to cast a wider net to build up a broader portfolio of knowledge and complement insight from GA.

5. Start following the #measure tag on Twitter; some serious analytics superstars show up in this stream, and you’ll learn tons just by from reading/interacting.

6. Read anything and everything Avinash Kaushik has ever written. Word.

7. Check out these blogs from awesome practitioners:

8. Sign up to be a student on the Analysis Exchange; work on a project for an organization in need alongside an expert mentor.

9. Finally, if you’re interested in a career that may also require to build out your knowledge of paid platforms, start by reading their blogs. Though context is always helpful, you can learn a lot from pros before ever shelling over $ to implement the tools.

10. Just do it.

This is my attempt to put lipstick on a response to this Quora analytics question.

Vanity Metrics: Are you optimizing for what really matters?

In Analytics, Campaign Anaytics on July 31, 2011 at 6:22 pm

Vanity Metrics
Erick Schonfeld wrote a great piece in Tech Crunch this weekend, warning of the danger in what Lean Startup guru, Eric Ries, refers to as ‘vanity metrics.’ Can I get a ‘hallelujah’? An ‘amen’?

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met with a founder or marketing manager who references a startup’s tweets, followers, ‘pageviews,’ etc. as signs of success and an indication of its future growth trajectory. Unless you’re earning $ based on the number of pageviews your site receives, these metrics likely don’t mean beans. Startups need to focus on what really moves the needle–metrics that directly impact revenue over time.

Key takeaway? Make sure you’re optimizing for the right metrics. Period.

Read more on Tech Crunch.

Campaign Results: Sharing is Caring

In Campaign Anaytics on July 23, 2011 at 8:50 pm

Sharing Campaign Results

You rock at identifying optimization opportunities, pulling together a strategy and executing on your vision. But just because you get it, doesn’t mean your team does.

Alright Casanova, use your words to make us swoon

It’s up to you, master marketer, to tell a story that will resonate with your co-workers and lay the foundation for future marketing efforts. Learn how to share and communicate test results by painting a compelling picture, and you’ll quickly catapult from JV to Varsity.

True Story…

At a previous company, our team tested three different tones in our page content. The end result–tone didn’t matter. Bummer, right? Wrong; what a killer thing to learn about our content strategy! By sharing this information across the organization, we were able to help other teams focus their testing on more meaningful elements of our landing pages that might actually move the needle.

Goldilocks had it right

Sometimes you have to try out a few options before you figure out what really works. Through a process of trial and error, you’ll quickly come to realize what methods of sharing campaign data work for you, but my general rule of thumb is to be thorough and diversify.

Here’s a strategy that’s been effective for me in the past:

– Send out a launch email to key stakeholders when you deploy your campaign with a summary of your hypothesis, success metric and campaign details.

– Follow up with a results summary email at the conclusion of each campaign.

– In my experience, concise email summaries are well-received; few stakeholders take a deep dive into more comprehensive docs.

– Track tests in a spreadsheet on a shared drive that anyone across the organization can access. Consider including fields for :

1. Start and end date

2. Hypothesis

3. Success metric

4. Key takeaways

Link each row to a PDF or similar summary of the results. Include a high-level overview, as well as any relevant charts and detailed campaign info. Most importantly, be sure to include recommendations for next steps!

– Depending on the nature of your organization, it might also make sense to periodically present results to your team (monthly/quarterly).

I wrote this post in response to a conversion optimization post on Quora. It also appears in a killer new Marketing Playbook entry on Performable Analytics‘ site. 

Don’t Make Me Think: Embrace a Single CTA

In Email Marketing on June 14, 2011 at 5:08 pm

Getting to ‘inbox zero’ these days can be such a challenge that email gamification apps have even begun to emerge. Don’t make your customers think too hard; eliminate the burden of choice and make it easy to act by including a clear call-to-action (CTA) in your emails. 

You’re playing for gold

Email can be a fruitful communication channel when you respect your customers’ inboxes by sending relevant, well-timed emails. Take the time to map out your email marketing strategy and individual CTA; your customers will look forward to receiving your emails, and the time you invest up front will pay dividends in increasing conversions. 

Too legit to quit (i.e. it really works…)

A few weeks ago, we launched ‘win-back’ campaign targeting recently lapsed customers.

Our goal: drive conversions. Our customers’ goal: get motivated and get fit.

We kept the CTA simple, included a link in the header, body of the email, and a single button; a simple email with just a few lines of text and a single button increased conversions by 14%!

What’s your game plan?

1. Is your CTA relevant to your customer?

If you’re objective’s not aligned with your customer’s needs, prepare for your click-through rate to tank. Ask yourself, how does your CTA create value for your customer?

2. What’s your objective?

Let’s say you want to drive referral by reminding your customers about a positive experience they had with your product. Tell them a story to evoke that emotion, but don’t lose site of your CTA! You want your customers to share the experience (through Twitter, Facebok, etc.) to drive users back to your site.

3. How easy is it to locate your CTA?

So, you went to the trouble of making sure you have a compelling CTA; now, how will your customers find it? A few tips:

  • Include the CTA in the subject line of the email (under 40 char. recommended).
  • Include the hyperlinked CTA in the header of the email.
  • Include the CTA above the fold.
  • Include the CTA link in the P.S. of the email (if applicable).
  • Test a mix of links and buttons; take a look at your clickmap or use utm parameters to track your links, and evaluate which links your customers engage with.
  • Extra credit: link the images in the email to the same landing page to which you link the email CTA.

As always, after you’ve launched the email, measure the efficacy of your campaign by monitoring the unsubscribe rate and conversion rate for the email, and evaluating the click map to identify future optimization opportunities.

I wrote this post for a new Marketing Playbook from Performable that I’m pretty sure is going to change the world

For Better or For Worse: Guide to Choosing an ESP

In Vendor Selection on April 7, 2011 at 4:29 pm

ESP Vendor Selection

Warning: this is a long post…because choosing an ESP is a big deal!

Choosing an ESP is like selecting a spouse

Disclaimer: I have never chosen a spouse.

When you choose an ESP, you’re looking for stability, a good fit, room to grow together and a trust fund…er, the first three. You’re not looking for sexy features that are appealing today but will fade over time. Choosing a vendor is a long term commitment; you might select a provider knowing that you’re going to get divorced in a few years when you grow out of your relationship, but remember, the switching costs are high. Both the financial costs and the time investment in migrating your data and integrating with a new platform warrant serious consideration up front.

Exception: If you’re a startup betting on totally bananas, Groupon-style overnight user growth, you need a different game plan.

Make a list of  ‘must-have’ traits

Define your requirements before your get started. I’m a broken record, but there it is. Create a simple vendor requirements doc. to guide you through the process. If it’s thorough, it’ll also knock the socks off potential vendors and let them know you mean business. Neurotic freaks like me can even use this list to create a comparison spreadsheet to log how vendors stack up on each of these items during your sales call! Totally baller tool.

1. Dedicated IP: If the ESP doesn’t provide a dedicated IP, other users with whom you’re sharing the IP could potentially compromise your sender reputation. Likewise, the ESP might reserve the right to police your account and suspend it at any time if they feel that your volume of complaints, etc. put other senders at risk (I’ve heard this about MailChimp…). Update: if your send volume is large enough you may want to use multiple dedicated IPs. Consider starting with at least one for your transactional emails and another for your marketing newsletters. I’ll follow up on this in a future post.

2. Email types: Do you need a vendor who supports transactional real-time ‘triggered’ emails, automated daily emails, one-off Marketing newsletters?

3. API database integration: Is this a must-have? Nice-to-have? Don’t need it? Will it add value to your emails? Will it increase efficiency by freeing up your engineers and letting your marketers create email filters/targets on-the-fly? What integration options are available?

4. Dynamic merge fields: Again, how critical is this? Sure, it lets you throw in some sick personalization, but will it add tangible value to your communication strategy?

5. Conditional content: See above. Does this fall into the bells & whistles category?

6. A/B testing capabilities: How sophisticated? Subject line only? Body content? Specific sections of body content? Delivery times? You get it =)

7. Analytics: Start with the basics. At a minimum, they should be abe to show you # sent, # delivered, # bounce, #complaints, open rate (BS metric=), clicks, click-through-rate (clicks/delivered).

Ask questions on the first date

Remember that list you made above? It’s time to put it to work! Cover all your bases with each vendor, moving down your list to confirm whether they offer your make it or break it features:

  • What was their uptime last year? You’re looking for 99.9%.
  • What type of backup infrastructure do they have in place for downtime? How is data backed up/recovered?
  • What’s their policy regarding the collection of email addresses? Will they allow you to mail to rented lists? Single opt-in? Only double opt-in?
  • Who owns the unsubscribe process? Can you manage this on your end, including the link in emails and the page to which you send users?
  • What type of performance monitoring do they offer? Is there a way to set alert thresholds for unusually high/low volume, etc.?
  • What channels do they offer for customer support? Ticketing system for email? Chat? Phone support?
  • What’s the acceptable support response time set forth in their SLA? If you’re having a critical email issue, believe me, you’re going to want an immediate response.

Don’t get in bed together too soon

Start with drinks, then dinner, then maybe a weekend away. Give it at least three dates.

(1) Discovery call

(2) Platform demo

(3) Technical call (top three vendors and the engineering lead from your team and theirs)

Google your potential partner

When you think you’re ready to take the plunge, it’s time to dig up some dirt. Absolutely request references from you top three vendors. But those guys aren’t going to tell it like it is. Check out Quora, ask around within professional organizations, tap into your network and reach out to other clients to find out what people really think.

If you ain’t no punk, holla ‘we want pre-nup’

Ask yourself, what would Kanye do? I’m going to bet he’d negotiate like a mutherf*cker and get it in writing. When you’re ready to sign the deal, put on your poker face and get down to business. Nothing’s off-limits (we convinced our existing vendor to revise our SLA!).


  • Highlight your projected growth trajectory. Include supporting examples. Do they really want to miss out on the opportunity to be the ESP to the next Foursquare?
  • Bring some hard numbers. Get quotes from several potential vendors, not just your final three. Use this to your advantage when you’re driving down the CPM with prospective vendors. And do not, I repeat, do not, agree to any set up fees.
  • Find out when their sales cycle ends. Make sure your closing date is ~1-2 days before the end of the cycle; your bargaining power will increase dramatically.
  • Agree to sign on for a longer term in exchange for a lower CPM. And insist that there be no penalty for early termination! I know what you’re thinking- there’s no way they’ll go for that. Wrong! You both know it’s in your best interest for this relationship to be sustainable long-term. You don’t want to have to pay for another wedding…they just want to put you in the mindset of long-term commitment.

And then they lived happily ever after…

The Hills Are Alive With the Sound of Data

In Data Visualization on March 26, 2011 at 6:20 pm


I recently had the pleasure of attending one of Edward Tufte‘s workshops here in Boston. To my shock and awe, the master of data visualization commanded a crowd of the size you’d expect for Charlie Sheen’s new traveling road show. I had no idea there were so many data geeks in my ‘hood!

Tufte is The Man

Can I tell you a secret? Tufte is the man; he doesn’t disappoint. Along with whipping out one of Galileo’s original observation books (baller!), he kicked off the morning with one of the most stunning sites I have ever seen- Steven Malinowski’s Music Animation Machine. Suddenly, the hills were alive with the sound of data.

You must watch this video. It’s required viewing.

Totally bananas to see the visual depiction of a beautiful piece of music, and through the simplicity of an intuitive map of colorful chords, be able to anticipate each subsequent note.

The Verdict: Go Get Your Tufte On

I’m not a big fan of throwing down $ for conferences and seminars, but this was totally worth it. Just the experience of setting aside time to contemplate Tufte’s impressive books was worth it. I’ve had The Visual Display of Quantitative Data sitting on my coffee table for months, and have barely cracked it open. Aside from giving me a few moments to indulge in his work, Tufte’s guidance truly changed the way I approach data visualization. Sign up. Do it.


  1. No matter how beautiful your interface is, it would better if there was less of it.
  2. On sparklines: It’s better to be approximately right rather than exactly wrong.
  3. As a presenter, provide intellectual leadership.
  4. Use all information necessary to convey your message and don’t predetermined the means by which you convey it.
  5. Illustrate causality; annotate causal relationships and be consistent in describing connections.
  6. Don’t dumb down data with distracting visuals.
  7. Refine information into core data points and causal relationships; establish credibility through mastering detail and incorporating independent data.
  8. Celebrate that people have been kind enough to look at your material; you don’t have to be present in that transaction. Your audience can read selectively what’s relevant to their own interests.
  9. Let people use their own cognitive style instead of Microsoft’s (i.e. PowerPoint) to evaluate the material.
  10. Never put data in alphabetical order. Order by performance.
  11. Talent imitates, but genius steals. (interpretation of T.S. Eliot’s quote)

Facebook Insights: Badass Ninja Knives for Page Data

In Analytics, Campaign Anaytics, Web Analytics on March 23, 2011 at 7:10 pm

I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that your company has a Facebook page.

I mean, your mom has a Facebook page. Your dog has a Facebook page. Everybody has a Facebook page. You’re churning out content like a champ and working your Facebook page like a pageant queen to engage your users…but how do you know your hard work is paying off?

When was the last time you showed your Facebook analytics a li’l love?

You’ve seen the AsSeenOnTV infomercials for those knives that are so kickass they can cut right through aluminum? Facebook Insights is the equivalent of those badass knives for your Facebook Page data. Do you have two minutes and the ability to toss a meta tag up on your site? Boom! Instant insight.

It’s time to start measuring your Facebook page like a ninja!

Christopher O’Donnell, from Performable, heard your cry and whipped up a video to walk you through the basics of Facebook Analytics. Check it out!

Often people ask “How can I measure my Facebook Page?” or “How do I install analytics on my Facebook Page?” What many people don’t know is that Facebook has built its own analytics product that comes baked-in for free. And while there are compelling use cases around measuring user behavior across channels, from mobile app to website, to Facebook and beyond (something that Performable‘s Lifecycle Analytics excels at), Facebook’s Insights analytics product will help you take a deep look at adoption and engagement across all the facets of your Facebook Page.

In order to get valuable insights from this new product, it’s important to understand the key performance indicators and paths of optimizations for Facebook publishers. I’ve made a little video that tours through the Facebook Insights tool itself, and discusses how to interpret the data and drive performance improvement for your social community.

The video is about 8 minutes long … does it help if I call it a “micro-webinar?” Enjoy, and please leave your feedback in the comments!

Campaign Tagging: Part 2 – Strategy

In Analytics, Campaign Anaytics, Web Analytics on March 9, 2011 at 9:47 pm


You rolled up your sleeves and started tagging your campaigns…now what?

I’m sure you jumped right into the basics of campaign tagging video I posted last week, and now you’re tracking your marketing efforts like an animal. But all your good intentions can quickly snowball into a world of pain, if you don’t employ a consistent strategy across your organization.

Combat the chaos.

Campaigns, and sources and mediums, oh, my! You’re a sophisticated marketer with a robust portfolio of campaigns, but all those values can start to get confusing without an organized approach to tracking.

I heart Google docs!

Whether you’re an Excel geek or a Google Docs. evangelist, throw your utm parameters into columns and start tracking the values you’re using. Not only does this instantly create a simple guide that others in your organization can follow when tagging new campaigns, but it also gives you a clear reference point when your data starts to roll in.

Check out your report card and make a plan for next semester.

Revisit, refine and revise your approach to optimize for insight!

Lose your Omniture training wheels!

In Analytics, Web Analytics on February 22, 2011 at 12:24 pm

What are the best resources to learn Omniture SiteCatalyst?

Questions like this one pop up on Quora from Omniture newbies all the time. Kick off your training wheels and check out my response below for a few tips-

I painfully sat through every single Omniture training course offered. And you know what? I didn’t really learn that much…

Amy Chua was onto something by making her kids do 2,000 math problems each night.

She might be a little off her rocker and generally missing the big picture, but her kids sure as hell have mad arithmetic skillz. Practice makes perfect! Want to learn how to use SiteCatalyst, Discover or one of the other Omniture tools? The only way you’ll truly learn is by jumping in and exploring:

Cozy up to the engineers on your team. Get a basic understanding for the way information is captured and passed into Omniture.

Identify the questions you want to answer. Dig into the reports, see what you can uncover and get over the initial intimidation of learning a new UI.

Fill in gaps with a li’l help from the pros. You don’t have to look too far to find experts who are throwing down the Omniture knowledge day in and day out for free! Soak it up!

Dig into Adam Greco’s Blog for a wealth of information about SiteCatalyst, from the fundamentals to implementation tricks that will boost the insight you generate from the tool.

Take a look at Omniture’s Blog; it’s a fantastic resource for learning more about their entire suite of products. You’ll find posts from top notch account managers, analysts, product leads and engineers.

Follow other practitioners! I learned so much about Site Catalyst just by interacting with other analysts and developers who work with the tool everyday. A few top minds in this space include-

Check out Web Analytics TV. Jason Thompson recently planted the seed for what’s sure to become a huge contribution to the web analytics community by launching this killer site. Check out analytics video tutorials from Omniture vets in an easy-to-consume format. After you become an Omniture champ, make sure to go back and submit your own!

Follow the #measure tag on twitter, attend analytics conferences and reach out to other people who are working with the platform for creative solutions to the measurement challenges you’re trying to address.

I haven’t been thrilled with the Omniture training courses. I’ve taken every Omniture training course out there, including the SC courses, Discover and Test &Target. While you can definitely pick up a few helpful nuggets during the classes, I’ve found the pace slow and some of the topics too rudimentary to merit the time investment. Hang onto your $, and instead, invest some time in coming up to speed by doing, reading, watching and learning.

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