Web Analytics: Data Drive Business Forward

As it’s that time of year, today I’ll look back over the past 12 months and try to look forward to the next 12.

A Look Back

In 2005, the industry continued to develop and mature. It’s emerging as a distinct marketing analysis practice, albeit still a niche one.

U.K. and European organizations took measuring online business performance more seriously this year. Certainly, Web analytics came of age in 2005 on the Euro-side of the Atlantic.

We saw this with a retailer client early in the year. They were looking to segment its online customer base, so it could improve its email marketing program’s effectiveness. However as I mentioned last time, this project reminded me it’s important to align the analysis program with the ability to execute and implement the findings. There’s little point to developing a sophisticated segmentation approach if there’s no ability or tools available to leverage the insight.

This is an issue with Web analytics in particular. The discipline is relatively immature compared to other marketing analysis disciplines. You can learn a lot by looking at established processes and practices in, say, direct marketing and bringing that learning to the whole area of e-business marketing analysis. We needn’t reinvent the wheel!

We spent a lot of time this year working to ensure our clients were counting the things that count. Web analytics isn’t a data-poor environment; the challenge is to measure the important stuff. Having clear, distinct key performance indicators (KPIs) is an important component of any Web analytics strategy. Once KPIs are in place, all the challenges around data quantity and the focus on analysis and interpretation are easier to manage.

This past summer, I had the opportunity to travel to the states and to compare the state of Web analytics in the U.S. and the U.K. and the rest of Europe firsthand. I also had the opportunity to meet some great people in the business, such as Eric Peterson and fellow columnist Jason Burby, and to learn from them about best practice on the American side of the pond.

That trip demonstrated there’s a vibrant community of Web analytics professionals emerging. People from all sides of the profession: clients, analysts, consultants, and vendors, are engaging with one another in conferences, meetings, and forums to learn from each other and improve the overall body of knowledge.

That knowledge became more formalized this year. We saw the creation of the Web Analytics Association (WAA), which has the purpose of creating a focus on standards and training. The WAA worked with the University of British Columbia (UBC) to launch formal qualifications in Web analytics. In the U.K., the Institute of Direct Marketing launched its qualifications in digital marketing, and I’ve been working with it to develop content to make Web analytics a core component of its courses.

The Year Ahead

It’s going to be an interesting ride, for sure. We haven’t yet seen the full effect of Google Analytics launch and the impact it will have on the discipline and the vendor landscape. It’s shown Web data is increasingly becoming a commodity item. Data access and reporting have relatively little value in their own right. We’ll see more focus on the analysis and interpretation of that data in 2006.

Over the next 12 months, we’ll see a shift away from putting decent Web channel measurement in place to using the data to drive business forward. We can no longer afford the luxury of continuing organic growth; businesses will have to compete for market share. It will be survival of the smartest. Those who drive the business by the numbers will have a better chance than those who don’t.

As I said, it will be an interesting ride! Best wishes for 2006.

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