Web Analytics: Insights From the Front Line, Part 1

A few weeks ago, I took stock of the Web analytics market, particularly at some key European trends. This week, to get a sense check from someone in the United States, I turn to Avinash Kaushik, a fellow Web Analytics Association (WAA) board director and a friend. Kaushik, an author, is a leading thinker about Web analytics and where it’s heading, having actually “been there and done it” at Intuit. This is what he had to say.

Neil Mason: Avinash, you had a busy year in 2007. What were some highlights for you?

Avinash Kaushik: It has indeed been a hectic year, becoming an independent consultant and analytics evangelist role at Google and publishing “Web Analytics: An Hour A Day” in June. Along the way, speaking at conferences and running around the country became normal! Oh, then there’s the blog, Occam’s Razor — my baby! — that took more time than I could ever have imagined.

The biggest professional highlight has to be the book. In five months, sales have vastly exceeded my expectations. Since all of my proceeds go to charity (The Smile Train, Doctors Without Borders), it has meant a nice amount raised for them.

NM: The book is a great primer and reference document for all things Web analytics. But in this fast-moving industry, isn’t it a risk writing a book? Are there some parts of the book you think you might have to rewrite soon?

AK: The core of the book, I think, will stand the test of time. And by that, I mean five years at most! But there are many sections I’d update. The book has been out only five months, but I’d add new things to the SEO [define] section. Ditto for blogging metrics…I touch on social media, but when I write the next version of the book I think things will be more settled and I can add more interesting things.

New tools will come with time, as will new sources of data. And my book, and those of others, will accommodate for that. But the biggest goal of “Web Analytics: An Hour A Day” is to teach you a new way of thinking that I think will be relevant for quite some time to come.

All that said, Willem from Wiley [the publisher] was over the other day asking me to start work on the next version!

NM: What do you consider to be some key industry developments in 2007?

AK: I get the distinct feeling that we’ll look back at 2007 and remember it as a turning point, a good one, for the industry.

NM: Why is that?

AK: Every site in the world seems to have Google Analytics — a leading indicator that even the most common person with tangential interest in data now has access to a great Web analytics application. More interest translates into more mind share.

The industry has consolidated quite a bit. Omniture has built on top of its already impressive growth by acquiring Visual Science (/WebSideStory/HBX), in addition to Instadia (analytics and surveys), TouchClarity (behavior targeting), and Offermatica (multivariate testing). This year all roads seemed to lead to Salt Lake City!

WebTrends is going through some temporary management turmoil, but with its excellent set of solutions I expect them to come back strong.

There were more Web analytics consultancies launched, more than on you can count. Ditto for Web analytics conferences. Actually, a really interesting trend was how many non-analytics conferences had “Web analytics day” or “Web analytics pre-intensives” — a real sign of growing demand.

It was also a year of Web analytics 2.0. An expansion of the core definition of what Web analytics is, stretching beyond just clickstream to include qualitative research, testing, competitive intelligence, multiple dimensions of outcomes, etcetera.

NM: What are some key drivers?

AK: Many, if not all, of the trends above were driven by a singular phenomenon: The Web is becoming serious business.

It seems odd to say this in 2008, but in many companies Web and Web analytics have been a silo that someone else is taking care of. Web sites are becoming the most important customer touch point and the most important revenue generator, even for businesses that are not first of mind.

The consolidation in the industry, the increase in interest (tools or conferences), and expansion of the definition is a reaction to the demands now being placed and driven by a desire to move beyond printing reports (to perhaps printing money!).

Thanks, Avinash.

Next time, I’ll continue my conversation with Kaushik and talk about where he thinks the Web analytics industry is headed. Till then…

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