We've already asked industry experts about what 2012 holds for search and e-commerce, now it's the turn of web analytics.

2011 was a busy year for Google Analytics updates, as well as the EU Privacy law, and our experts identify the issues to look out for in the next 12 months...

What were the most significant trends in web analytics last year?

Brian CliftonFounder of Advanced-Web-Metrics.com:

The biggest change by far has been the introduction of the EU Privacy Law that came into effect on 25th May 2011.

It wasn't a great surprise as privacy has been bubbling below the surface of our industry for the last five years (see my post Five Predictions For Web Analytics in 2011), but how this law has been interpreted did shock the web analytics world, at least across Europe.

Sadly, the ICO (the Independent Commissioner’s Office, who in the UK are responsible for providing guidance and enforce this law) has taken the view that benign web tracking, that is, anonymous and aggregate visit data collected by tools such as Google Analytics, are not allowed to do so without explicit consent of the visitor.

That means you force an ugly and intrusive pop-up window (or similar notice) asking your visitors for consent.

The ICO has done this (see the top banner of their site) and seen a drop of 90% in the traffic they are able to measure. Imagine the impact that would have on an e-commerce site, 90% of your data suddenly lost!

Clearly this is wrong. The focus needs to be on the abusers of online tracking, not people following best practice.

This will rumble on throughout 2012 for sure...

Matt Clarke, E-commerce manager:

As a Google Analytics end user, 2011 has included a mixture of really annoying things (missing data, sampled data, missing keywords), and some really innovative things.

The GA team has certainly been very busy and it's been hard to keep track of the many new additions they've made to the tool.

In just 12 months we've seen the introduction of site speed metrics, social media metrics, the brilliant multi-channel funnels, improved dashboards and reports, flow analysis and code improvements to event tracking and the API. Not to mention Google Analytics Premium, for those big enough to afford it.

Dan Barker, E-business consultant:

The Google Analytics updates have been great. They've updated more this year than in the last few years combined. I think the move toward 'multi-visit' analysis is really nice, and that will only continue.

Pulling in different types of 'off-site' data is also really interesting, and I'd bet that gets extended much further.

From my point of view a really nice trend over the last year is that more of the people I work with have gone from asking "how do we set up reports?" to "what can we do with this data?"

My dad published a Kindle book this year after having realised there was an audience for it on the basis of his Google Analytics data. It's brilliant to see lots of people actually using all this amazing data that's available.

What's on the horizon for 2012?

Matt Clarke:

The thing that's going to be on the mind of everyone who operates a site in the EU is the forthcoming cookie legislation, which is due to be enforced from May. 

I'm sure some agencies will gain new business by offering cookie audits, policies and tools to obtain permission, but I think it remains to be seen how many will even bother to implement anything, particularly initially.

I think many are likely to see what their competitors do and look at the methods being used to obtain permission, as those proposed so far haven't been great.

It would be nice if this problem could simply be passed back to the browser developers, but I don't think that's going to happen. The analytics tool vendors have also been very quiet on the issue.

I'm hoping that it will be possible that we'll be able to avoid prosecution by taking fairly simple measures that don't significantly harm the user experience.

Brian Clifton:

I think 2012 could be the year that the long standing issue of integrating offsite metrics with onsite metrics comes of age.

The big offsite metrics questions are what people (and how many) are saying about you away from your website i.e. social media.

Because this happens offsite and in many disparate systems/networks, its measurement and correlation with what happens on your site, has so far, not been an easy task to achieve.

Dan Barker:

The 'cookie law' (again), mobile, and social analytics will be big topics next year. I think multichannel analytics and 'predictive analytics' will start to go mainstream too, and that automation based on analytics data will become a bit easier.

There's an odd situation in the web analytics market at the moment, in that Google Analytics now serves 95% of sites.

The big 'flaw' in Google Analytics is that it doesn't let you track personally identifiable information, so you can't use it to answer even simple questions like "who were my biggest customers this year, what's bringing them to the website, and how often are they visiting?".

To get those answers, you either have to move to a very niche web analytics tool, or pay mid/high five figures. Someone is bound to fix that soon, as it's a problem that exists for almost every website, and it's weird that the bulk of web analytics is so far away from being customer-centric at the moment.

BI & web analytics will keep moving closer together, and by the end of the year, someone will have used the words 'big data' on Question Time, and the cast of TOWIE will have had a punch up over the merits of NoSQL.

What's on your wish list for 2012?

Brian Clifton:

I hope that a better understanding of privacy, in the eyes of the law, solidifies in 2012. Privacy is a big issue for anyone online, it is simply too easy at present for this to be abused and a couple of high profile cases could really harm the ability of website owners to collect the benign stuff.

Bad practice has to go, so in general the new EU Privacy Law is a good thing. Bad practice includes the surreptitious collection of personal identifiable information, sharing of visit information with 3rd parties (i.e. 3rd party cookies and similar techniques) and the tracking of visits between different unrelated websites (sorry DoubleClick, I don't like the fact that you do this).

Of course, if you have explicit user consent no problem, but otherwise it should be a clear no-no.

I am just hoping that good practice websites are not going to be caught up with the bad stuff, which is happening at present...

Matt Clarke:

As someone heavily involved in analytics implementation, new features in the APIs appeal most to me.

I'm a big fan of event tracking, so the non-interactive event tracking addition was great, but some extra custom variables wouldn't go amiss, given that Premium users now get 50 compared to the mere five in the free version.

A Google Analytics server-side import API would also be nice, as would the addition of some additional metrics to improve the quality of reporting. On the interface side, the enhancement of the brilliant new reports and dashboards tools with custom calculated metrics would be the icing on the cake. 

Graham Charlton

Published 5 January, 2012 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is editor in chief at SaleCycle, and former editor at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin.

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Comments (27)

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Matt Clarke

Matt Clarke, Ecommerce Director at B2B

Excellent point on the PII bit, Dan! Maybe we'll see a clarification to the terms of use this year?

Quite a few people seem to be using the utma cookie visitor ID or the transaction ID (which are the same) as a primary key allowing them to link their GA data to their CRM for offline analysis. However, although this is allowed in Premium GA, it's apparently not in the free version - though I've seen a few people disputing this.

If it were allowed, it would definitely take things to another level! Arguably, it's not storing anything else in GA, since the ID is the same as the one GA issued itself, and it's not really personally identifiable.

over 6 years ago


Tom Hicks

Some interesting thoughts, some of which are mirroring my own.

I personally can't see how this EU ruling is enforceable, and don't even think it will end up getting to that stage.

over 6 years ago


Rob Willox

It would be comforting to believe that Tom Hicks is right and we can, ostrich like, just carry on regardless with no repercussions; but I'm not so sure!

Just as Matt Clarke highlighted very little seems to have been done to address the issue with very little information available to easily comply and that that has been published, like the ICO site itself, does not lend itself to a very pleasing customer experience and more likely to annoy than provide confidence.

over 6 years ago


Ed Percival

If 95% of analytics is controlled by Google, then I'd suggest that it is their job to get a sensible fix sorted out and applied globally.

over 6 years ago

Kristoffer Ewald

Kristoffer Ewald, Group Head of Data Intelligence, Netbooster at Guava / Netbooster

I think the insights here are spot on but I can't help thinking it's a shame we're caught up in the PII discussions when the focus could be on the true innovation what will happen (as Brian mentions btw. the lines) when it becomes possible to mash data up from "off site data sources" - for me that's the next big innovation and it'll allow us to become able to understand how the actual audiences behave in both our owned media but also in paid (even when there's no visit to our owned platforms) and earned media. The ability to combine behavioural patterns with social demographics, sentiment and customer lifetime values (off- and online) will disrupt advertising, media and businesses. As Dan says "BI and web analytics will move closer together" - that's, to me, a very understated way of saying disruption :-)

Happy New Year...

/Kristoffer Ewald, Head of Data Intelligence, Guava/NB Group

over 6 years ago


David Jarvis aka DJ, Business Director, London at cxpartners

Hmm, to my mind you guys aren't thinking big enough here.

Nothing here (much) about:
- "Big" data
- Demand side analytics driving supply side pricing & merchandising
- Fusing qual with quant (analytics + user experience)
- Conversion optimisation
etc etc

You "experts" need an upgrade :)

over 6 years ago


James Moody

I see Google Analytics pulling much of its latest services away from the free service in the next 24-36 months. Google is here to make money and once the majority of websites are reliant upon GA to develop their sites then Google will pull many of the most popular services and make them only accessible via Premium GA.

over 6 years ago

Andrew Lloyd Gordon

Andrew Lloyd Gordon, Digital Marketing Expert, Speaker and Trainer at New Terrain Limited

My hope for 2012 echoes Dan's point in that I wish more organisations would start using the data they have.

Despite the obvious challenges from the EU, organisations already have powerful analytical tools at their disposal.

The surprising, and often disappointing thing, is that the potential for continual change and improvement is rarely seized. Indeed, it's often a classic example of the 'Knowing-Doing Gap' :0

over 6 years ago

Rob Mclaughlin

Rob Mclaughlin, VP, Digital Analytics at Barclays

I'm with David Jarvis on this.

Aside from the Cookie situation these guys have failed to identify any serious trends and themes for 2011/2012.

I'm afraid talking and complainging about the tools is really not proper analyst thinking.

over 6 years ago

Jonathan Kay

Jonathan Kay, Managing Director at 120 Feet

Great thoughts and comments.

Agree 100% that privacy and tracking will be a big issue in 2012. Though given how slowly and badly many companies coped with previous legislation leads me to agree with MC that many will simply wait and see before making significant changes.

I'm looking forward to working with clients and tying the online journey to call centre activity (AdInsight etc) to significantly boost ROI and conversion.

Also, Tag Management should start to make our jobs easier so we can spend more time on planning and analysis and less on the tedious cycle of waiting several months to deploy changes.

over 6 years ago

Rob Jackson

Rob Jackson, UK Managing Director at Elisa Interactive Ltd

Interesting that you guys only mention Google Analtyics here. According to the E Consultancy 2012 Web Analytics Buyers guide IBM, Adobe and others are kind of a big deal too!

GA made some great strides last year (with more to come) but it still has a way to go before it can claim to be the market leader. You can also count on IBM, Adobe and Webtrends to keep innovating too, making this a very interesting tech space in 2012.

For me the biggest challenge in 2012 is not cookie laws. It is the same problem that businesses faced in 2011, 2010, 2009 etc... which is actually making use of the data they collect. A study by MIT recently found that only 17% of companies use more than 75% of the data they capture. Most clients we speak to have set their analytics up with little or no customisation and focus on their actual business model. If data is the new oil we are in need of a little refinement as an industry.

over 6 years ago


Nate Smith

Is this part of a series...or was I misled by the title? Maybe experts with vested interests in Adobe, IBM and Webtrends will get their turn next...

over 6 years ago

Rob Jackson

Rob Jackson, UK Managing Director at Elisa Interactive Ltd

Keen to hear your thoughts Rob M on what the 2012 trends will be.

over 6 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at SaleCycle

@Rob Yes, there are a lot of mentions of GA, but this is because it is so popular, and the fact that Google has been pretty busy in this area recently.

As Dan Barker mentions, there is a 'flaw' in GA which means that other analytics tools are required for some customer tracking.

@Nate We are vendor neutral here, but the experts were asked for their opinions on significant analytics trends, and this is the result.

It is part of an 'ask the experts' series, with other posts on search, e-commerce and social media. Google gets a few mentions in those too;)

over 6 years ago

Philippa Gamse

Philippa Gamse, Adjunct Professor at Hult International Business School

I'm interested that you haven't talked much about the "not provided" organic keywords that Google is now blocking from searches done while logged into Google accounts.

Perhaps this is because you're more UK focussed, but here in the US, I'm seeing over 30% of keywords now not provided as common. That affects all analytics vendors, and the ability to understand visitor behaviour, including that within the "big flaw".

over 6 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at SaleCycle

Hi Philippa, I was surprised as well. In fact, it was mentioned more in our 2012 search round up: http://econsultancy.com/uk/blog/8578-2012-search-predictions-the-experts-view

It is a big issue for us, especially as we are targeting the US as well as UK. We've seen the effect on our analytics stats, and it's only going to get worse once this changes affects UK search traffic as well.

Over the last month, 5.4% of our total visits were (not provided), but when you look at the US traffic, it gets worse. For some posts, up to 33% of data is encrypted: http://econsultancy.com/uk/blog/8263-the-horror-google-now-encrypts-up-to-33-of-search-referral-data

Dan Barker, one of the experts quoted here, has a workaround for this which at least recovers some of the data: http://econsultancy.com/uk/blog/8342-how-to-steal-some-not-provided-data-back-from-google

Hope you find it useful.

over 6 years ago


Richard Beaumont

Amazing to see that some commentators are still putting their heads in the sand about the cookie law.

Technically, it is not difficult: http://www.cookielaw.org

The challenge of the law is to find new ways to get visitors to engage so they will provide consent.

I think this will be a good thing for brands in the long run.

over 6 years ago

Andrew Hood

Andrew Hood, Managing Director at Econsultancy Guest Access TRAININGSmall Business Multi-user

A lot of good debate converging under a "web analytics" banner... and to be honest I'm not quite sure what belongs under that banner any more, so it's a tough gig to do the crystal ball gazing.

I suspect the convergence of web analytics and business intelligence hinted at above is much closer than commonly acknowledged. If you go to a BI conference or read a BI forum, they will be talking about: actually using more of the data collected, better visualisations, mashing up data from multiple sources, predictive analytics, big data platforms, dynamic pricing etc etc..

All of these are important industry trends around managing data and driving business value from it, and while the sources might be different I struggle to see much real divergence in the underlying objectives and technologies. So what is left in the mix for "pure" web analytics trends?

1. 2012 will be the year that we start to look at web analytics as ultimately being Just Another Data Source. The privacy legislation is a key catalyst for this because - like it or lump it - we now have to at the very least think carefully about exactly what we're capturing and why (and the resulting quality of that data) rather than just stockpiling it and hoping to make sense of it later. And looking at web analytics data in isolation is just not going to cut the mustard anymore.

2. Google does unavoidably make this sector unique (notably there is no Google equivalent in the wider data industry), hence why the Big G keeps coming up in any web analytics commentary. However, I think the biggest technology trends in 2012 will (or at least should) be driven by how other vendors respond to the Google Analytics Premium proposition - unless Google themselves pull out another significant rabbit from the hat before the end of the year.

"Data is the new oil": finite, volatile, political, polluting. Should be an exciting year anyway ;-)

over 6 years ago

David Mulhall-Brown

David Mulhall-Brown, Chief Operations Officer at VexPop

To follow on from Rob's comment, I should probably point out that although, "...Google Analytics now serves 95% of sites." that doesn't mean GA is the ONLY web analytics tool being used on those sites.

I have worked for 3 of the major, paid-for web analytics companies and the majority of the clients at all three use GA in combination with other, more sophisticated tools.

I'm only trying to show that although GA is ubiquitous these days it doesn't own the market just yet.

over 6 years ago

Jonathan Kay

Jonathan Kay, Managing Director at 120 Feet

Love the quote from Andrew,
"Data is the new oil: finite, volatile, political, polluting."

over 6 years ago

Rob Mclaughlin

Rob Mclaughlin, VP, Digital Analytics at Barclays

My main themes for 2012 are as follows:

- All business areas will start to demand direct access to data and insights. As waves of young recruits arrive in existing functions they will demand statistics in a way which previous generations have not. Analysts will be challenged to empower and guide these individuals to ensure responsible analysis and interpretation of statistics.

- Analytics related tools will continue to plummet in price for two reasons. Firstly, Google and its constantly improving free tools. Secondly, SMBs are requiring similar capabilities as large enterprises - vendors will see the benefit of many smaller clients vs. a few large ones.

- SEO knowledge will continue to be democratised, partly by Google continuing to give us tools and knowledge to undestand it. Analysts will need to be able to cope with first line SEO challenges without recourse to specialists

- 'Web analytics' will grow up and be seen as just another source of BI. We will benefit from not being special and hopefully further distance ourselves from IT

- 'Web analytics' will enjoy being taken to the hearts of functions outside of marketing. It is time for supply chain, hr, finance etc to become serious stakeholders.

My thoughts so far!

over 6 years ago

David Mulhall-Brown

David Mulhall-Brown, Chief Operations Officer at VexPop

@Rob - funny you should mention "functions outside marketing". At AT Internet, we have noticed a trend with our enterprise clients where WA is increasingly owned by finance and not marketing. I believe this is a direct reflection of the importance WA data plays in management accounting. With that move in ownership, Web Analytics as such will cease to exist and just become another data-point in the larger BI/finance system.

over 6 years ago


Mike O'Neill

You can comply with the law and keep GA analytics (including unique visitor statistics) by only allowing cookies if visitors have agreed. You need a sophisticated client-side solution to do it though e.g. http://cookieconsent.org. This technique also allows you to keep 3rd party content in a compliant way, i.e by default no cookies are placed but visitors can give or withdraw their consent at any time.

over 6 years ago

David Sealey

David Sealey, Head of Digital Consulting at CACI

IBM's CMO report showed that "big data" was a major headache for CMOs. In 2012 I hope to see web analytics tools getting better at coping with other business data.

We enjoy superb UI's in the web analytics tools and if that simplicity could be combined with real business insights then we could be on to a winner.

SoMoLo (Social, Mobile and Local) analytics are being heavily touted by Avinash Kaushik and I think this will have a larger part to play in enterprise web analytics.

Finally the intelligence offered by web analytics will need to improve as they move from being data and information tools to being truly intelligent.

Cookie laws are an unfortunate distraction to innovation at the moment in my opinion.

over 6 years ago

Kelly Jones

Kelly Jones, Head of Content & Marketing at CIVIC

2012 will be the year of the return of server-side, IP-tracking analytics in the UK.

Because most analytics software is cookie-based and an explicit permission will be required (under the new cookie law) for that to work, it will be much less useful than hitherto.

I hope that Google introduce a cookie-less option and 'hook' in their script that can look for an explicit opt-in. If their silence continues then we'll have no choice but to introduce another solution either in paralel with Google Analytics, or instead of it.

over 6 years ago

Brian Clifton

Brian Clifton, Author, CEO & Web Metrics Strategist at Advanced Web Metrics

Market Share Data
Just to solidify the market share numbers that were banded around (a tad too loosely) in this article:

A 2011 study by Stéphane Hamel at Cardinal Path, revealed 64 percent of the top 500 U.S. retail sites and 45 percent of Fortune 500 companies use Google Analytics (www.cardinalpath.com/web- analytics-vendors-market-share).

A 2011 survey of 800 businesses (66 percent of them from the UK) revealed that 86 percent are using Google for analytics compared to 66 percent just two years ago (“Online Measurement and Strategy Report 2011,” Econsultancy.com).

A 2010 study by Metric Mail who analyzed the pages of Alexa's Top 1 million domains by searching for the GATC text within pages, found Google Analytics had a 50% market share.
(http://metricmail.tumblr.com/post/904126172/google -analytics-market-share).

You can find an updated snapshot of major brands using Google
Analytics at www.advanced-web-metrics.com/who-uses- google-analytics.

over 6 years ago

Brian Clifton

Brian Clifton, Author, CEO & Web Metrics Strategist at Advanced Web Metrics

Like others that have commented here, it is a little disappointing to hear people are focusing on PII as a limiting factor of any web analytics tool. It is, by far, a small segment of your traffic....

Typically, customers account for around 3-5% of your web traffic (and that is being generous. Many, many sites languish in the 1-3% bracket). I consider "Customer Analytics" - that is, where you have the PII - as a separate, though obviously related, discipline to web analytics.

For me, "Web Analytics" is about exploring the HUGE potential and possibilities of the other 95%+ of your traffic. I regularly see an enormous amount of money and resource spent on acquiring poor quality traffic. I also often see poorly built websites built around either what "looks good", "guess work", and what the "competition is doing". Few people make informed, data driven decisions.

So focus on the bigger piece of the pie...

Taking an e-commerce conversion rate from 3 to 4% - that is, taking an anonymous visitor and converting them into a tangible customer - often provides an increase in ROI that is orders of magnitude higher than anything that can be achieved with "Customer Analytics"....

Consider this:
According to 2010 data from Forrester Research Inc. (http://www.internetretailer.com/2010/09/28/key- profit-indicators-point), the average shopping cart abandonment rate for U.S. online retailers is 55 percent. In other words, the transaction revenue obtained by site owners is approximately half that customers are willing to, and are in the process
of, spending. That is, on average U.S. retailers leave $1 of the money on the table for every $1 collected! It is an incredible amount of money when you consider that U.S. online retail is predicted to be worth $279 billion by 2015 (
http://techcrunch.com/2011/02/28/forrester-online- retail-industry-in-the-us-will-be-worth-279-billion- in-2015).

over 6 years ago

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