I think a common theme in companies is that there is a need for an ‘expert’ to come in and make use of the data that they are creating or to turn around an organisation that has managed to ignore its customers for too long. 

This is the start of the web analytics function in an organisation. Most people don’t know where it belongs, let alone what it should look like. In my professional life I have been in e-commerce, IT, search, customer insight, and marketing teams, and I’m only 29 (even if the increasing grey hairs belie this fact).

What this tends to mean is that you, as the newly appointed Web Analytics expert, can decide how you want to structure the entire thing from scratch. Which is possibly one of the most daunting, yet wonderful things that you can do. This post is here to give a bit of help.

Eric Peterson talked about how you should set up your analytics function a couple of years ago in a ‘hub and spoke‘ model (following it up in part II with completing the communication strategy), but I want to go a bit further on this.

Web Analytics Team structureThe hub and spoke model for web analytics works on the principle that you as the web analytics team are going to be the ones who are responsible for some of the things, whilst you are going to outsource, for want of a better word, responsibility to some of the teams. This is going to allow you to spend more time doing actual analysis and less time doing reporting.

What does the analyst have to do? Well they have to deal with all the management and producing reporting for the senior stakeholders to ensure that they are capable of making the informed strategic decisions.

There needs to be liaisons with the IT department to make sure that the tagging is up to date. This should be done by the central team so that all the benefits can be seen by all the users of the systems.

The Marketing team need to ensure that they have a close plug in to the analytics function so that they can work out the ROI on their campaigns.

Finally you need to ensure that the content owners (or business owners of the products depending on your business model) are on board with the whole process as they have ultimate sign off on the most important bit of the pages.

Centralised reporting and analysis

There are two ways in which this can be done.  You can take ownership and access of the tools completely away from the teams.  This will enable you as the analytics function to have full control over the data and recommendations that are produced. 

This has a couple of advantages:

  1. You are the expert, you should be able to provide the best analysis and recommendations.
  2. You have a global picture of the site and can link that analysis to overall KPIs.
  3. You know the system inside out and should be able to do it quicker than anyone else.

It also has some disadvantages:

  1. Nobody likes being told what to do.
  2. Your stakeholders may need the insight now, whereas you do not have the resource to do it now.
  3. Your stakeholder nods with fervour to your suggestions, but doesn’t enact them because they don’t feel engaged in the process or don’t understand the implications.

This centralised model works best for websites that are set up to be slow moving entities which can’t change that frequently (in my experience). This usually means nothing actually needs to be done instantaneously, so you can resource your team for a flat rate of work over time.

Just out of interest, I think this is the route that research teams have tended to follow for a long time. I can see why as one of their biggest things about analytics data is the availability of it now, whereas one of the downsides of research can frequently be that you have to go out and collect it (from various different surveys). This means that disadvantage two above becomes a problem however you set up your team.

De-centralised reporting and centralised analysis

For faster paced organisations (those that run in sprints via Agile development cycles and media based sites who upload content frequently, for example), it is sometimes not the best situation to be in where your central team has to do everything because they may not have the resource to do it. 

Without getting more resource is to outsource your reporting to the teams that need the reports, giving them access to your tools. This means you can create a series of ‘superusers’ of the tool whose job it is to do the basics themselves and ask the analytics team for help where they can’t.

Hub And Spoke with decentralised reporting

This has some major advantages:

  1. Freeing yourself from (boring) reporting allows more time to do (exciting) analysis.
  2. Engagement with the stakeholders in the process (they’ve produced the data themselves, so they’ll help come up with ideas).
  3. By getting the stakeholder closer to the data they are more likely to understand it.

There are some downsides to this method though:

  1. You spend more time training people on how to use your web analytics tools.
  2. You spend more time supporting people on how to use your web analytics tools.
  3. If your analytics system isn’t intuitive and the implementation consistent, there will be lots of confused non-analysts.

Of course for some organisations that continue to get bigger, different parts of those functions are going to get increasingly or decreasingly important. 

As you expand it might be that the content owner (or the person who is assigned analytics responsibility in the content team) may have to progress closer to the web analytics team and start doing analysis as well. In this case, they may even devolve reporting out again.

This is effectively the point where decisions need to get made: Can your analytics team support lots of stakeholders (how many will depend on the organisation) and how big can the analytics team get to do this; or do you bring in your superusers closer in to the analytics team, giving them more access and more responsibility and have a group of ‘Clark-Kent-users’ who can go to the superusers as first point of call with any queries on the tool.

I think this is a stage that many organisations are now getting to as the web evolves and I am looking forward to working in new and exciting teams who get to decide this!