My hopes for Web Analytics in the Future
26/01/2012 | Written by | Categories: Analytics Philosophy

Imagining the future

As usual at this time of year, there have been numerous blog posts with predictions for the next year.  I jotted down a couple of thoughts and this post was the result.  It is not the same as most of the others in that while I would love to be able to call these predictions, they are more my hopes for the future.  Some are near future, others further away but just some ideas about how I would like our industry/community to evolve.  Not a complete list but some interesting ideas…

Cookie laws

We need a simple to implement solution to be developed that satisfies the UK privacy “cookie laws” EU mandated legislation (although it appears as though the legislation may have all just changed).  The solution for web analytics is not to just develop alternative methods of tracking visitors (e.g. digital fingerprinting), this is a short term cheat and not a solution.

The solution I am visualising is a combination of

  • an easy to use template for privacy policies
  • this policy to contain a list of cookies (automatically generated?) and links to opt out of tracking
  • the link to the privacy policy clearly visible at the top of the page
  • Browsers to continue to develop their solutions for opting out of tracking

I spotted this ad on the London underground before Christmas and it is great to see someone trying to inform the public about what cookies really mean (and similar issues in the range of ads).  It would be even better if this was supported by other companies & the government to inform the public of the “pros” of cookies.

Ad on the London underground from Google explaining cookies

My web analytics tool is bigger than yours

The in-fighting that is going on within the web analytics community needs to stop.  I think everyone knows what I am talking about and we are all tired of senior members of the community arguing in the style of you say tomato and I say tomato.  Let’s move beyond who is the cleverest and start pushing the awareness of web analytics into the wider business community.

I want more initiatives developed that are clearly for the benefit of everyone with it clear that they don’t exist to promote a single brand.  Less control generally allows ideas to spread faster and further and the originator of the idea still benefits.  It feels to me like there are a lot of ideas/techniques/approaches to still be invented with web analytics, let’s focus on that.  At the end of the day, I would rather be a small fish in a big pond than a big fish in a small pond and hopefully everyone else feels the same.

The potential of the Web Analytics market

On the point of the size of the web analytics pond, let’s recognise the potential size of the web analytics market.  The end goal of what we do is to improve performance, whether that is defined by sales, leads, content viewed, etc.  This is the same end goal as advertising.  Given that, we are competing for the budget that is currently spent on marketing, both online and offline.  We just use a different approach, improving the conversion of current spend/traffic instead of acquiring more.

Therefore, the potential size of the web analytics market = the amount companies are willing to spend on advertising.  Put in those terms, who thinks this is a mature market?

I believe one of the things holding us back from realising this potential are the case studies that are currently released by vendors and agencies.  Ignoring the ones that are ultra light on detail, most seem to state company X wanted to improve performance and either they used tool Y or agency Z to improve conversion rate by XX%.

True but it definitely wasn’t the tool that enabled the improvement in performance and often it wasn’t that specific agency.  It was using the intelligence from web analytics data to make smarter decisions that produced this result.  I know everyone is trying to drive their own business but given the potential size of the web analytics market, it feels like we are missing a trick here.

I think we need to focus on increasing awareness of web analytics and getting companies to invest in it, using any tool and any agency (if external support is required).  By always saying that the improvement wasn’t possible without the tool/agency, we are giving people too much choice which leads to no choice being made at all.

Tools don’t use data to understand and improve business performance, people do.  So let’s get companies worried about the fact they are not investing in web analytics, not that if they select the wrong tool, they won’t get the results.

Figure confused by multiple paths

Making web analytics tools usable for non analysts

Vendors continue to release a range of new features, incredibly impressive ones, making their tools even more powerful.  But with great power comes great complexity.  Web Analytics should not be limited to Web Analysts and these really powerful tools are starting to make it that way.  This is again limiting the uptake and investment in web analytics by businesses.

I would love for a vendor to produce a secondary user interface containing a subset of reports that is designed to be used by Marketers, Product Managers, Sales team, etc.  It would contain the exact same data but with less reports and therefore less potential for non analysts to be overwhelmed by it.  Dashboards would obviously be a focus and it is an area that web analytics tools are still lacking in in my opinion – I am yet to find a web analytics tool with what I consider to be really powerful customisable dashboards.

Web Analytics integrating with other digital fields

I wonder what proportion of website design companies currently ask early in the process which web analytics tool their client uses?  And if asked for a good implementation of even Google Analytics, how many would do anything for this client except add the standard page tag to all pages?  A similar question for marketing agencies, what proportion ask new clients about their web analytics tool and the naming convention they should use for campaign parameters to be included on all landing page URLs?

I have dreams of a world where these questions are part of the default service.  In this world, everyone works to integrate web analytics within websites and marketing campaigns.  And the default implementation of web analytics on a new website is not just the basic page tags but with all key visitors interactions tagged using a strong naming convention so that website owners can understand visitor behaviour.

I think the agencies that behave in this way will have a big advantage over their competitors.  Organisations will begin to expect web analytics to be incorporated with their websites/campaigns and it will become one of those questions asked to differentiate between agencies.  The sooner the better.

Taking this a step further, it would be amazing if CMSs were designed for at least basic A/B testing.  In theory, it shouldn’t be too difficult to test alternative headings, calls to action, images, colours, sizes, etc.  So any CMS field where the website owner enters details can then be selected to be used within a test.  This takes the website owner to a setup page where all they have to do is provide the alternative values for that field.  It could be a nice plugin for WordPress and definitely a competitive advantage for any company that builds custom CMSs.

Your Thoughts

Anyone want to disagree with me or ask for clarification on my thoughts for the future?  Do you want to agree with me or share some of your own hopes for the future of the web analytics industry/community?

5 responses to “My hopes for Web Analytics in the Future”

  1. I think you’ve said a lot that’s very right here.

    Two of the subjects you raise are of particular interest to me.

    1. Raising general awareness of what businesses could and should be doing.
    As you say: Tools don’t use data to understand and improve business performance, people do.
    I suspect there are a lot of companies who have installed GA (or, heaven help their bottom line, one of the paid for solutions) and are doing almost nothing with it.

    I would like to see more general promotional activity to raise awareness. GA’s “Checkout in real life” video was one of the few attempts at that I saw last year.

    2. Integrating with other digital fields
    A big “yes” to all of that! Coordinating campaign tagging ought to be standard practice. But I seldom see it. And yes, please, to developers of new sites including “and what are we going to track and test” into the early stages of specification instead of as a “you what???” afterthought.

    • Peter O'Neill says:

      Hi Tim, I can always tell I am on the right track when you agree with me. Marketing & development agencies should be getting right on board with web analytics, it seems so obvious to us (we may be a little biased) and hopefully will start to filter through the community. Thanks for the comment.

  2. Very good thoughts.

    I agree with all of them although not in the same priority order, maybe.
    Yes, companies using a web analytics solution need a better insight into less reporting, therefore easier to do. Perfectly said. But this is not something for the Analysts, but for each and every department within the company. Because the analyst should have the full spectrum of reporting and cross matching functionalities.

    This leads me to a topic I would like to add: Web Analytics needs to be represented within the Management Board. Be it a CONO (Chief Online Officer http://www.web-analytics-blog.de/2010/06/12/kommt-cono-8782852/) or someone else representing those insghts into the board.

    Regards.

    • Peter O'Neill says:

      Thanks for the comment Ralf and very interesting suggestion for a CONO. Adoption of web analytics intelligence does need to be championed at board level in order for it to succeed and that would be one way of achieving it. We will have to wait and see if a few forward thinking companies start to create this positions. Although I would be happy right now if all online companies at least had a web analytics position, too many don’t even have this.

  3. Lukas says:

    “Taking this a step further, it would be amazing if CMSs were designed for at least basic A/B testing. In theory, it shouldn’t be too difficult to test alternative headings, calls to action, images, colours, sizes, etc. So any CMS field where the website owner enters details can then be selected to be used within a test. This takes the website owner to a setup page where all they have to do is provide the alternative values for that field. It could be a nice plugin for WordPress and definitely a competitive advantage for any company that builds custom CMSs.”

    Oh man, I couldn’t agree more! Testing is still the best way to improve your content. Unfortunately, it is still soooo tedious that it still requires a load of work to get set up. That’s why such few people do it.

    And it’s not only the Website CMS’s. Most of the email marketing tools’ split testing features are a pain in the ass when it comes to usability. No. 1 reason why people aren’t taking advantage of it. If it takes you 3 hours to create your email marketing campaign and then another to set up your split tests, a lot of people – and I don’t blame them – shun the test and just blast off.

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