“You can’t manage what you can’t measure”. Web Analytics is about understanding how your website is being used in order to optimize performance.
It is often said that web analytics tells you what is happening on your site but not why it is happening. Web analytics provides hard, quantitatively-relevant data to tell you what is happening, but you typically need user-testing to gain the qualitative insight into why it might be so.
More and more businesses are investing in analytics as the web becomes a more established channel. The more money that is being spent online, the greater the requirement to be able to measure, analyze, report on, and optimize, performance.
Web analytics technology is becoming easier for marketers to use with the result that data is more likely to be understood and leveraged as part of decision-making processes.
Historically, most people understood “web analytics” or “web stats” through WebTrends’ log file analysis software which almost had the market to itself in the late 90s. The software, and technologies used, have moved on a lot since then, and there are many more software/service providers.
Google shook up the market for web analytics tools when it bought Urchin, a web analytics technology provider, and turned it into “Google Analytics” – a free analytics tool. This has forced many vendors to think carefully about what value they add when customers have a free alternate option. Additional functionality or services are typically offered. (Microsoft is also launching a free analytics tool based on its acquisition of DeepMetrix).
The metrics, or Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), have also moved on over the years. In the dotcom days everyone talked about “hits” (a fairly meaningless metric). This moved on to become “page impressions” and “unique users” to gauge site traffic levels. More recently marketers have begun looking more closely at marketing and sales metrics (conversion rates, churn, loyalty etc.) by customer segments.
As web analytics is maturing, and integrated multi-channel marketing is becoming more prevalent, web analytics is becoming more akin to “business intelligence” – the lines between online and offline are blurring. Data analysis and customer intelligence is being conducted across multiple channels. Web analytics is increasingly a part of wider business intelligence / customer insight / CRM initiatives.
Perhaps the biggest challenge for successful web analytics is no longer the technology, or even the data, but the resources – particularly the people – and supporting processes required. It is not about what you can do with the technology (pretty much anything) but why you should want to do it, or, what changes are you actually going to make as a result of your web analytics insight.
Recognizing the growth and importance of this specialism, in 2006 web analytics got its own trade association: the Web Analytics Association. It says: “The WAA unites and fosters the interests of industry practitioners, vendors, consultants and educators who use, sell, install, implement, consult, teach or train in the field of web analytics.”