The 5 C Requirements for a Web Analyst
21/06/2011 | Written by | Categories: Analytics Philosophy

Multiple coloured figurines with speech bubbles

This post was partially inspired by Avinash’s post on the path to web analytics glory and partially as I have been frustrated by comments there and previously that you must have SQL skills, statistics skills, used these tools, done those courses, etc in order to be a real Web Analyst.  I don’t believe there is a definite list of skills required.  But I do believe there are attributes required, in line with my belief that web analytics, done properly, is an art not a science.

Curiosity

I strongly believe you will always be able to tell a true web analyst by their curiosity (the ninja as opposed to the reporting monkey).  They have a desire to explore data, to check one more report in case that provides the answer.  Good web analysts have a thirst for knowledge, displayed by constantly asking questions and striving to learn more.  On the downside, they are occasionally at risk of getting lost in the data.

Kitten playing with yarn to represent curiosity

Communication

This is the ability to talk the language of the customers that you deal with.  For the technical web analyst, they need to be able to speak the language of developers and designers to explain what code is needed and how to get it to work.  The business web analyst needs to be able to speak to marketers, sales people and senior management, to make complex ideas simple and to persuade them to use data to make smarter decisions.

It is a bonus if one person can speak to all groups of stakeholders but, just as it is with actual languages, people who can speak more than 3 languages are rare.

Creativity

Analytics is typically associated with very scientific and logical processes where there is a single answer for each question.  That may be the case in the finance world but it definitely is not the case for web analytics.  Instead web analytics requires a creative approach to problem solving to complement the logical thought processes.

Web Analytics data gives the “what”, web analysts need to be able to think of potential “whys”, to create hypothesises that explain the data and to make recommendations for improving business performance.  It means that when the first three approaches to solving a problem have failed, possibly about how to evaluate a certain visitor behaviour, you are able to think outside of the box and give three more ideas.

Coincidently, Neil Mason has just written a post for ClickZ on the need for right brained creatives in the web analytics world.

Craft

There are numerous techniques and approaches available for turning raw web analytics data into actionable business intelligence.  These range from statistics through to numerical reasoning & segmentation and further on to SQL and data mining.  But at the end of the day, these are just tools.  And tools do not solve business problems or improve business performance.  They are just tools.  It is how well the Craftsman (or Craftswoman) uses the tool that leads to success.

Toolbelt full of tools

Faced with the same problem, each web analyst will use the tools they are most adept with.  They don’t need to be able to use all of the tools, as long as they can get to the required end point.  To explain the ‘C’, the tools and techniques that each web analyst uses defines their Craft.

I have very strong numerical reasoning and creative problem solving skills.  I can’t write website code but I can conceptualise what should be captured and I do a great configuration in Google Analytics.  No knowledge of SQL at all and I have forgotten more statistics than I remember.  When my Craft is not sufficient to improve business performance, then I will learn how to use other tools.

Common Sense

This to me is the most underrated attribute and yet one of the most important – basic common sense.  A good web analyst is able to apply common sense to their work, ensuring they are using their time where it is most valuable.

Examples of applications of common sense include:

  • Ignoring a drop in traffic over a weekend as it was clearly affected by the first sunny weekend of the year.
  • Identifying obvious issues with a website like internal search functionality where you have to click through to a new page before you can enter the search term.
  • Knowing when data is too good to be true and therefore disbelieving it.
  • Ignoring minor differences in data e.g. between web analytics revenue and actual revenue.
  • Keeping things simple where appropriate e.g. not tracking every single navigational click on a website as this adds no value.

Your Thoughts?

So, do you agree with me?  Or do you still believe that statistics must be applied to every web analytics data set?  Have I got this list of required attributes right?  Do you think Web Analytics is an Art or a Science?

Have you ever got lost in the data…

6 responses to “The 5 C Requirements for a Web Analyst”

  1. Penelope says:

    Hi Peter,

    Although statistics may be useful at times, (for example, you might want to know whether an outcome is statistically significant or not), I don’t think either that this is what matters when it comes to mastering web analytics. I think all the attributes you have listed are extremely valid. I would add one more C: Connection/Connected. By that I mean that a web analyst needs to be focused on what matters to the business on a given month and believe it or not this information is not always available to web analysts. Of course we all know we need to sell more but what in particular, how and for how much? I tend to find that clear business objectives are not communicated to web analysts or at least they rarely are at the right time. Business objectives tend to unfortunately be communicated to only the people that “do” stuff: the campaign managers, the product managers, the buyers etc… but not to the web analysts… As far as I am concerned, I make sure I make as many connections as possible with as many people as I can in my business but this is not enough. Being connected with people is one thing (a really important one) but there is also a need for more connections at a function level: as an example, I think web analytics as a function should be more connected with senior management.
    Thanks
    Penelope

    • Peter O'Neill says:

      @Penelope thanks for the comment and agree with your point on Connected (very clever to make it a C too). Actually I would split what you have suggested into two – Connectedness and Commercial understanding. The first is, as you say, being in touch with people throughout the company to understand actions/strategies that being taken which could impact on performance. The second is an understanding of the wider impact of website performance on business performance e.g. looking at profit instead of revenue, seeing a key metric as ROI not page views per visit.

      However I would not call either a new attribute, instead I would suggest that are other tools that form a web analyst’s Craft. Being able to explain, due to your network within the company, that a change in performance is due to a new creative going live is just as useful a tool as being able to identify that creative within the data. I think that makes sense…

  2. Tim Wilson says:

    Great list, Peter! And, I’m with you that “common sense” is a biggie. Ours is a profession of “little wins” and “incremental improvements” — the Big Aha and the Massive Step Function are rarities. It can be tempting to run shout from the rooftops when a major spike/dip occurs in the data…but a lot of time that’s a measurement blip more than a reality blip.

    I’d also claim that most of these are more “talents” (innate) rather than “skills” (learnable). One of my favorite business books is “First, Break All the Rules,” and it makes the case that it’s important to hire for talent first and skills second. That applies in our world, too.

    • Peter O'Neill says:

      @Tim nice to have you agreeing with me. And yes, I was pitching this as a focus on talents/attributes rather than skills. I feel that being able to understand/interpret numbers in the context of website design, marketing campaigns etc is something that you either can or can’t do, not a set of rules that can be learnt and applied to any situation.

  3. @measurefuture says:

    I think Connected is part of Curiosity. Nice post !

  4. […] have seen a couple of posts about this subject (post 1, post 2) but most of them focus on the traits or actions a web analyst should have and take. They are […]

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