Web Reporting or Web Analytics?

Last week, I was presenting at a conference organized by a Web analytics vendor. In one session, the vendor showcased one of its new products. I heard a couple of phrases that resonated with me.

The presenter was talking about the product’s ability to allow analysts to follow a train of thought by querying the data in a number of different ways. He described this as allowing the analyst to develop “analytical momentum.” I hadn’t heard the phrase before, but I wish I’d thought it up. I knew exactly what he meant by it. Momentum is about the ability to keep going. The less friction there is, the greater the momentum.

It’s exactly the same with the analytical process. In the search for the resolution to a problem or some insight that can be leveraged to your advantage, you want to be able to follow a trail or a lead and quickly move on from one perspective on the data to the next, until you either come to a dead end or find the insight you’re looking for. There’s a difference between the analytical process and the reporting process.

Last year, I asked John Marshall, CEO of ClickTracks, what he thought the difference was between analysis and reporting. He replied: “‘Reporting’ requires that you know what you’re going to want to know, whereas ‘analysis’ gives you the ability to learn on the fly what you don’t know and then to know it.”

Analysis is a journey of discovery. You don’t know where it’s going to lead, and you’re likely to wander down a few blind alleys in the process. Speed becomes a vital issue.

The second phrase in that vendor presentation that resonated was “analysis at the speed of thought.” I sometimes compare the reporting process to the analytical process this way: reporting is like walking to work each day. It’s predictable, you know how long it’s going to take, and you’re fairly certain what it’s going to look like when you get there. Analysis is like trying to find the middle of a maze. You have no idea where it is, what it looks like, or how long it’s going to take. That’s why speed and momentum are important. If you’re under pressure to get to the middle of the maze, you want to be able to run rather than just walk.

Why is this important? There’s much competitive advantage in just having good reporting. Good reporting is certainly better than poor reporting. But as Marshall said, you have to know what you want to know, so it’s all very predictable. Analysis is about discovery and insight. Doing it well requires tools that provide speed and momentum in the process. You also need the right kind of people to drive the process and extract the value. There’s no point investing in software without people who can realize the potential.

Are your reports predictable or are you on a constant journey of discovery? With many organizations having had their Web analytics systems in place for a couple years now, can you see how you are going to make the next breakthrough? Are you doing Web reporting or Web analytics?

Meet Neil at the ClickZ Specifics: Web Metrics seminar on May 2 at the Hilton New York in New York City.

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