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.