The Importance of Web Analytics Standards

Last week, the Web Analytics Association (WAA), released its most recent round of Web analytics definitions.

Together with Angie Brown, I co-chair the WAA’s Standards Committee. Over a year ago, we began looking at the definitions common among people using Web analytics. We quickly discovered there really wasn’t a common language. Depending on the analytics tool, people have different names for the same thing, or the same name for very different things. Obviously, this can lead to problems.

The committee’s mission is to help define Web analytics measures to develop a common vocabulary, definitions, and standards for measuring and reporting Web metrics. Using the same data metrics and methodologies results in:

  • More meaningful industry benchmarking
  • Comparability of results among different tools
  • Better understanding of the metrics terms we use
  • Meaningful Industry Benchmarks

    Currently, it’s difficult to compare your own metrics to industry benchmarks other than at the highest level of traffic. Yes, you can use some of the different competitive data providers, such as Compete, comScore, and Hitwise. Outside a few specific industries, though, it may be difficult to compare your conversions with others’.

    And when industry reports poll different companies on performance, the results must be taken with a grain of salt. You must determine how they define the action, cross your fingers that everyone followed the same methodology, and hope to measure yours the same way. Again, this can be done a lot more easily when looking at higher-level metrics, but it becomes difficult when you look at the more granular ones.

    Standards help define industry benchmarks and allow people to more easily compare themselves to others, to establish best practices, and to improve site performance.

    Comparable Results

    Companies often switch metrics tools and subsequently change the terms they use to discuss analytics. One tool will call something one name, while another tool calls it by a different name or applies different meanings to a very similar name. When people switch tools and bring data with them, they don’t get an apples-to-apples comparisons. As a result, companies lose the important year-over-year view.

    Though the new standards won’t instantly take care of that issue, they provide a step in the right direction.

    Better Understanding of Terms

    This is the big one. Over the past few years, Web analytics has left the hands of the über-technical folks and into the hands of marketers who can act on this data. These aren’t Web analytics experts, they’re Web strategy experts — merchandisers and marketers — who may run a specific portion of the Web site. They must understand site performance is key, but they won’t spend all day using an analytics tool. These are the people who can act on data. They must understand analytics basics so they can act on data and change the site accordingly. Yet if they can’t even understand the basic terms, they’ll have a tough time leveraging the data.

    While the WAA’s new standards can be used by even the most technically advanced Web analytics expert, they’re also be easily understood by that marketing person. And that’s the point.

    To view the WAA’s standards, download the PDF at

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