An Analysis of U.S. and U.K. Web Analytics

This is my first ClickZ column, and I’m looking forward to contributing. Having agreed to write, I immediately got writer’s block and started worrying, “What am I going to talk about?” A good place to start is a personal perspective from here in the U.K. on Web analytics compared to what is happening in the U.S. at the moment. I had the opportunity to take a close look at this recently when I attended the Emetrics Summit in both Santa Barbara, CA, and London this year.

I first attended an Emetrics Summit in Santa Barbara in 2003. I was just starting my Web analytics consultancy in the U.K. I wanted to see what was happening the other side of the Atlantic and understand best practices.

I came back thinking there wasn’t a lot of difference between what was happening in the U.S. and was happening in the U.K. A lot of issues seemed to be the same. I wrote in a newsletter at the time:

There are some issues with scale in the U.S. which are not as applicable to European markets, but the fundamentals are pretty much the same; determining what it is that needs to be measured, getting reliable measurement systems in place and extracting the “nuggets of gold” from the data generated. It also seemed to me that the business techniques and processes being used in the U.S. to analyse e-channel operations were not any more sophisticated than those being used in the U.K., no doubt in part due to the active market here in Web analysis tools and systems.

I attended this year’s summits, wondering if anything had changed in the last two years? Are the issues and solutions the same or have things moved on in the U.S.?

Things do seem to have moved on faster in the U.S., for a number of reasons.

First, scale issues in the U.S. market have meant developments in Web analytics have accelerated over the past couple years. In the U.S., businesses are expressing concerns about the shortage of skills and resources dedicated to Web analytics, though it seems most businesses have at least one person doing the job. Some companies had three or more delegates at the U.S. Emetrics conference. Maybe it had something to do with the location!

In the U.K. market, it’s still rare to find a person dedicated to analyzing e-channel business performance. Only the largest and most enlightened businesses have made that investment. Often, it’s considered just part of somebody’s job.

A couple years ago, U.K. and European Web analytics vendors were holding their own. I’m less convinced this is the case today. Then, European vendors were very active, developing some innovative technologies in the space. Now, the scale of the U.S. market has enabled U.S. vendors to invest money into R&D to develop and enhance their products to a greater extent than the U.K. and other European players.

This has meant when looking at functionality across the board, U.S.-based vendors have increasingly had an upper hand. I know this comment won’t endear me to U.K. vendors. It doesn’t mean they can no longer compete in the market, they’re just need to think more carefully about their differences. These might be in technology features (e.g., visualization), local industry expertise, or even customer service and account management.

Finally, in greater evidence at the U.S. Emetrics summit was a trend toward “Web intelligence.” This is where multiple data sources are used to generate an overall or holistic view of what’s happening on the site itself. In particular, this is about the combination of site-centric data divined from a typical Web analytics tool with user-centric data coming from other sources, such as surveys, panels, and focus groups. This is something I’ll look at in more detail in future columns.

Where does that leave the U.K. and European Web analytics scene? Very positively, I believe. There are plenty of best practices to be gleaned from the U.S. to speed up developments, particularly in areas such as A/B and multivariate testing, data integration, and visitor identification strategies. However, there is some really interesting stuff happening here in the U.K., too, such as technologies for campaign targeting and optimization and visualization.

I’ll keep you posted!

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