Web Analytics Survey Points to Need for Better Processes

In what it claims is the largest such survey ever conducted, the Web Analytics Association (WAA) has released a report finding most analytics professionals feel they and their companies struggle to grasp Web analytics.

Among analytics professionals queried, 81 percent say the practice is poorly understood in their companies; 56 percent of respondents, even those with several years experience, say they find Web analytics to be difficult; 50 percent say they have looked for, or are looking for, a new job; and 69 percent say most people in their organizations don’t understand Web analytics data they provide.

But Eric Peterson, Web Analytics Demystified founder and co-author of the March 2007 Web Analytics Survey, said a thread seems to run through the often startling findings of the study, which may explain many of the bulletpoints.

“I absolutely believe that so many people say Web analytics is poorly understood at their companies because there are so few companies that take a process-oriented approach to it,” said Peterson. This tendency to handle Web analytics in an “ad-hoc” and unstructured manner causes all sorts of problems, from wasted money to unhappy employees, he contends.

In fact, Peterson said he is now working on a follow-up report that will show employees who work for companies that embrace a structured, process-oriented approach to Web analytics “are less likely to think about switching jobs.” The new report will show that 55 percent of the Web analytics experts working for companies that do not treat their craft seriously — by embracing a process approach and acting on the analytics data, for example — say they want to find employment elsewhere.

Peterson’s next report will also reveal that Web analytics staffers at United States companies that have a process-oriented approach earn an average of $103,182. Their counterparts at companies that let individual employees manage Web analytics make about $86,000.

“One of the most important things about applying process to Web analytics is an organizational recognition,” said Peterson. “It’s not enough to just generate reports. You have to have analysis and do something with the information.” Those laboring to provide meaningful Web analytics get frustrated when the problems they find with the company Web site are not corrected.

The report stresses companies must recognize that Web analytics is not an easy-to-digest topic “even for the most experienced users of the technology.” Peterson and co-author Zori Bayriamova write that a good response “would be to invest in education for both analytics end-users and data consumers and, most importantly, to invest in learning and implementing the core processes behind Web analytics.”

The report also says companies must acknowledge that most of their workers don’t understand Web analytics information when it is presented. It’s important, therefore, that the reports be simplified and — even better — be interpreted in an “analysis” fashion that points out problems and potential solutions.

Not all of the report’s findings are negative. “The Web analytics industry is at a turning point in 2007,” it says, adding that vendors are consolidating and their offerings are expanding while ” the external support network for companies working to leverage Web analytics is positively exploding”

Almost a quarter of the respondents have five or more years experience in the industry and 48 percent said they have three years under their belts. That means companies should have increasingly less trouble finding good Web analytics professionals to hire, wrote Peterson and Bayriamova.

Meanwhile, the skills of people using Web analytics tools appear to be growing as they gain more experience with the software. “The vast majority of respondents report using licensed (paid) Web analytics tools and 40 percent report having run the same primary application for three or more years,” says the report. It says two in five companies have kept the same analytics system in place for at least the last three years, suggesting “either the available technology has finally become mature or companies are starting to recognize that Web analytics is more about how you use the technology than the technology itself.”

Unfortunately, it also found that “a surprising 31 percent of respondents report that Web analytics tools and processes are currently answering less than half of the questions they have about visitor interaction on their Web sites,” says the study. Questions about the accuracy of data provided by the programs was reported to be a big topic of discussion among 80 percent of the respondents but only 40 percent discussed the validity of cookie-based measurement, “a common topic when the issue of data accuracy arises,” says the report.

Nevertheless, 65 percent of the people said their companies are using Web analytics to make tactical or strategic decisions.

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