Web Analytics: Not Just Growing, But Diversifying

Wow, that was the week that was. As I write this, I’ve just about recovered from a three-day immersion in online marketing performance measurement and optimization. I think we used to call it Web analytics. Now that I’m back in my own time zone, I’m beginning to process some of what I saw and learned at the eMetrics Summit in Washington a couple of weeks ago.

Before going, I was already picking up vibes that the event was going to be bigger and broader than anything I’d been to before. That certainly proved to be the case. There must have been over 600 people in attendance. OK, that may not be huge compared to some other U.S. Internet conferences, but this shows how far the ugly duckling of online marketing has come.

One challenge at conferences these days is deciding what to attend. I probably spent as much time looking at the program and trying to work out which sessions to see as I did wandering around the hotel trying to find the actual sessions. At various times during the conference, there were six simultaneous tracks on topics ranging from behavioral targeting and testing to public sector success, from search analytics to e-mail metrics, and from Web 2.0 measurement to statistical analysis. A very eclectic mix of subject matter!

This industry is not just growing, it’s diversifying. Some of the more interesting conversations I had in DC weren’t with Web analytics vendors discussing the latest features of their particular software, but with smaller companies tackling a particular problem in a different way. For example, new approaches to gathering and analyzing customer feedback data through text mining or a methodology for media planning optimization using predictive analytics.

Time and space don’t permit a blow-by-blow account of what I saw and learned at this conference, and it’s already been documented in other columns and blogs. Instead, let me share some of the event’s key takeways:

  • Jim Sterne‘s keynote. I have heard Sterne speak many times and am always impressed. This time he challenged us to “think different.” Getting us to “think,” full stop, is often challenge enough, but Sterne’s presentation reminded me that as an analyst you can’t realize strategic value unless you also deliver tactical benefit.
  • Microsoft’s Ronny Kohavi’s presentation on controlled Web experiments. Everyone’s getting excited about multivariate testing, but Kohavi demonstrated what immense benefit you can obtain from just running simple tests on a continual basis. When evaluating those tests, don’t look just at short-term gains. Look to understand longer-term value as well.
  • Meeting a bunch of people for the first time. You read people’s blogs and see their posts on the e-mail groups, but there’s no substitute for meeting them in flesh and discussing their ideas face to face.
  • What next? As you read this, I’m probably on my way back from the first eMetrics Summit in Sweden. This is another sign of our industry’s growth and development, particularly outside the U.S. Sure, the size and scope will be different from what I experienced in Washington, but I expect the enthusiasm, interest, and lobby bar conversations to be very similar!

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