Last month, the Web Analytics Association (WAA) released a global survey showing that seven in ten companies were planning to increase their spending on web analytics this year.
We asked WAA president Richard Foley a few questions about where that cash is likely to go at a time when companies are struggling to recruit experienced analytics staff.
What was the main figure that grabbed you from the Industry Outlook Survey?
For those of us in the industry who have been at this for five or ten years, it's still surprising that companies aren’t using the analytics they have.
One third of our respondents said that their biggest hurdle in 2008 will be “business decisions driven by analytics”.
Web data is still a significant competitive edge for those who are operationalising the optimisation of their websites.
Fortunately, "acting on the data to improve site performance" is the top initiative in 2008 for almost three quarters of those we surveyed.
With many companies reportedly looking to ramp up analytics training, do you see that as a natural response to the skills shortage affecting the sector?
Yes, the necessary skills are known, but there are few places where they are taught, aside from the WAA online courses and Base Camp seminars.
Also, several consultants are doing private seminars and the tools vendors are doing their best at teaching clients - but that's all there is. So companies are indeed ramping up their training.
The WAA is looking at offering company-specific seminars to help fill the void.
What advice would you have for companies that are looking to train up in-house analytics staff?
Get your web analytics group to be active in the web analytics community.
This includes being an active member in the WAA and sending at least the management team to the eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit.
Also, participate in vendor user groups; watch or better yet participate in the Yahoo discussion groups; and read the dozen or so blogs that are helping to define the industry.
Also encouraging your people to network with the web analytics community - one of the most open and friendly communities you can ever work with, full of passionate, experienced, and helpful people.
Is anything skills-related in the pipeline from the WAA in Europe?
Yes, we're rolling out Base Camp seminars in conjunction with the eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summits and will start offering them stand-alone as the need arises.
The online courses we offer in conjunction with the University of British Columbia are available world-wide... but there's a waiting list.
Would a rebranding of web analytics help attract more people into the industry?
Web analytics is encompassing a lot of different activities from many different disciplines - Marketing Science, Usability, Web Design, Campaign Management, Business Intelligence and Data Mining to name a few.
It has moved out of IT and is now part of marketing and continues to grow its footprint in companies.
Just a few years ago web analytics was not as prominent as it is today and companies are still investing in the development and understand of web customer behaviour.
Overall, web analytics as a discrete endeavour will fade as web data becomes a normal part of marketing metrics and marketing optimisation.
But that's years away.
Other than training, where do you expect companies to invest their analytics budgets this year?
Our survey shows that there is going to be a lot of money spent around putting Web Analytics into the business processes and integrating web data with other corporate information.
On integration between analytics and data from other applications, what should companies be prioritising?
The first thing companies need to do is customer data integration and data quality.
This does a few things. It puts the focus on the customer where it belongs. Everything revolves around the customer; many companies have web customer IDs that are different from their call center customer ID for example.
Matching customer activities, both online and offline, not only allows companies to do better analytics but also allows companies to better serve their customers.
The integration allows companies to better address customer needs at the individual level because they now know in all customer touchpoints what the customer needs are.
Data quality can often be overlooked, but without quality data you end up with garbage in, garbage out.
This hurts your customer interaction in many ways as well - it can cause you to send multiple emails and the customer feels like they are being spammed or you can call the person by the wrong name, which is just inexcusable in any interaction with a customer.
This lays the groundwork for proper business processes. When a company starts to put the focus on customer needs and the processes to fulfill those needs, good things start to happen.
How do you see content atomisation affecting analytics?
The immediate answer is that the 'pageview' becomes less and less valuable. A page can now contain dynamic atoms of content and, indeed, application features.
But that's merely a technical point. A large part of web analytics has always been about how to serve the customer through a better and more engaging customer experience.
The survey showed the top function of web analytics is website optimisation.
In this respect, the foundation has been in place for a long time, and we will see more design of experiment - A/B and multivariant testing. Companies will do a lot more experiments at a more granular level to deliver the most effective content to the proper segment.
We will also see better integration with real-time offer systems. The analysis from a web analytics tool will need to be fed into a real-time offer system, to deliver the best and most effective content to the proper individual.
Do you think analytics companies have been a little slow to respond to companies’ needs for widget tracking tools and metrics?
It is still a new field, and a lot of the analytics still need to be defined so in that respect I think it is understandable that web analytics vendors have not made a great leap toward widget tracking.
However, our survey showed that widgets were a big initiative in 2007, therefore in 2008 vendors may respond.
The data that a widget collects can be quite detailed and about half of the web analytics users surveyed said they are planning on implementing analytics around widgets, making it a prime target for analytic vendors.