Becoming an Experienced, Invaluable Web Analyst

There’s currently a strong demand for experienced Web analytics people who can help make sense of and derive recommendations from all the rich data available through the more powerful Web analytics tools. Companies spent a tremendous amount of money on the tools and are realizing the tools don’t provide the answers. They provide data that when analyzed based on the overall business goals and the proper analysis can be very powerful.

Although there’s a shortage of experienced people to help companies digest this data, with open positions taking months to fill with even a partially qualified candidate, there are also a lot of people trying to get into the space.

Readers and conference-goers frequently ask me how they can get started in the industry. There are, of course, the books, the message boards, Web Analytics Association (WAA), blogs, conferences, and courses, such as what the University of British Columbia offers. But what’s often needed is hands-on experience.

That means taking real business goals, understanding site performance, and identifying opportunities to improve the business. How do you get started? There are a lot of jobs out there, but they want someone who already has experience in the field.

Yes, this is the case with nearly any career choice. The primary difference is there really isn’t any formal education, precedence, or history within the industry to get up to speed.

Many people get started by working with a Web analytics tool vendor and get to know one tool really well. Though this is a good place to get experience, it might not be the experience that will help you most down the road. The tools will continue to change, and you don’t want to have all your knowledge tied to just one tool.

More important, the real upside in the Web analytics employment space isn’t the tool specialist (although there’s a strong demand for those people as well). It’s the people who can understand the business and identify the best opportunities for improvement through analysis.

You might consider starting at a smaller company or a company that isn’t doing much with analytics that you could get involved with and make it a portion of your role with the company. Many people started in this field by working with analyzing data and making recommendations as just a portion of their jobs.

Many of the most successful people I’ve worked with in this area didn’t actually come to analytics from a technical or statistical background. They came from more of a Web strategy or an MBA background and were trying to solve a problem on the site or trying to improve something. They began digging into the Web analytics data to understand what people were doing and found a nugget of insight. The next time they had a problem to solve, they looked at the analytics data to gain insight. Over time, it became a formal role, team, or group.

Also consider finding a mentor in the space who can help aim you in the right direction and give you tips as you hit roadblocks. Since the industry is still so small, many of the people who’ve been doing it for a while enjoy talking with others about the craft.

One of the best ways to get experience may be in working in an analytics position in an interactive agency with a strong Web analytics team (I’m the director of Web analytics and optimization at my company, but I don’t believe this is a bias statement). The benefit is working with an experienced team and a number of clients. You’ll be able to learn much faster from a larger, more experienced team that has a lot of projects under its belt.

The industry needs more people who really understand how to put the data to work, derive recommendations, and drive change from this data type. Those with a Web strategy/MBA background who are passionate about data and helping evolve businesses have an ideal DNA for this type of work. Find an opportunity to learn and take advantage of the strong, growing demand!

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