The E-Business Insights Industry

I don’t like Web analytics.

There, I’ve said it. There’s no turning back now. It may seem a strange thing to say for someone who has been involved in the industry in one form or another for over six years, but it’s true. I don’t like Web analytics.

Let me clarify. It’s not that I don’t like the activities involved in Web analytics. It’s more the name: “Web analytics.” The term misses the point of what people are trying to do. It’s not about the Web; that’s just a channel. It’s about doing business over the Web. And it’s not about analytics. In fact, though I know what “analytics” is, I struggle to understand what it means. One definition suggests it’s the logical process of analysis.

It seems like the industry has developed its identity on the output of a certain technology rather than on a solution a business need. It’s the proverbial technology solution in search of a problem. This issue has been addressed to some extent by the definition the Web Analytics Association came up with (according to Bruce Clay Inc.): “Web Analytics is the objective tracking, collection, measurement, reporting and analysis of quantitative Internet data to optimize Web sites and Web marketing initiatives.” That’s analysis with a purpose.

But surely it’s not about the process of generating analysis, it’s about the process of generating insights that people take action on. Web analytics needs rebranding, and the industry needs to broaden its scope.

By spending the majority of our time and efforts focused on the output of site-centric measurement systems, we fail to answer fundamentally important questions. This has become clearer to me as I’ve consulted for organizations whose primary purpose is not to sell stuff over the Web. At the recent Emetrics conference in Washington, D.C., I saw presentations in which organizations struggled to measure the effectiveness of their online investments with metrics from Web analytics software.

In a recent project for a nonprofit organization, I interviewed a number of stakeholders in the online channel to understand what they wanted to know so they could better understand and optimize their ROI (define). People consistently told me they really wanted to know:

  • Are we attracting the right types of visitors?

  • Do people think we’re providing a quality service?
  • Are people satisfied with what they find on the Web site?
  • Can they find what they are looking for on the Web site?

All very important questions, all very difficult to answer using site-centric metrics.

Web analytics vendors must think about how they can develop their technologies to improve the ability to measure a visit’s value when there are no discernable conversion points. And the Web analytics industry — vendors, associations, and customers — must broaden its scope to include additional ways of measuring and optimizing online marketing performance. Site-centric metrics are necessary but not sufficient.

Techniques, methodologies, and approaches must be developed to help organizations measure quality as well as quantity. All clicks are not equal; some are more important than others. In a commerce environment, this is easier to achieve. You can measure orders, sales, and so on. On some non-commerce sites, you can measure registrations, downloads, and the like. But how do we measure content’s value and worth? What’s the ROI of generating hundreds or thousands of content pages? How can we better measure content’s quality?

To help answer these questions, the industry must broaden its scope beyond the output of Web analytics software. It must more formally include such areas as customer satisfaction surveying and user profiling. These skills are a must for those we currently call Web analysts. The danger otherwise is the data will remain in its functional silos and Web analytics will just become a special interest group of the business intelligence industry.

And what should we call the industry if we rebrand?

During the ’90s, the market research industry became consumer insights and market researchers became consumer insight managers. Aren’t we really in the e-business insights industry and shouldn’t we be looking for generators of these e-business insights in any of the tools, processes, or people we employ? What do you think?

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