4 Predictions on the Future of the Web and Analytics

Well it is this time of year that the world and his son comes out and does some predictions on the next couple of years, so I who am I to buck the trend?  Admittedly I am going to look stupid when someone comes and has a look at this post in a couple of years time (or will they?), as everyone who ever makes predictions has ever done.  Of course, these predictions are likely to be so far fetched that if any of them come true then I’ll be masked out as a prophet and if they don’t I’ll be derided as a charlatan (or more likely, not read at all).  Otherwise it’d would be pointless making them.

1. The fall of Google

Google was launched in 1996 and first started offering its Adwords service just over a decade ago in 2000 as its main revenue stream.  The world wide web was first used in the 80s, so we’re not looking at something that has been around for a long time comparatively.  Technologies and websites come and go quite quickly in this fast paced world; it only takes a couple of slip ups to suddenly become outdated and unused (cf myspace.com).

Why do I think there will be a fall for Google?  Spam.

Spam is going to cause the downfall of Google and they know it.  Search for any particular product and you’ll be faced with a series of websites that will just point you to places that you can buy the product from along with reviews.  Go on.  I’ll wait for you.  If you want some help, here was my search for a Daewoo television.

Google likes this because back in the day only dedicated customers posted reviews because they wanted to tell other people about the product purchases.  It showed that Google was adding value by not just giving you websites that you could buy televisions from (in the paid search listings) but also reviews to help you decide (and eventually images of them, videos of them, news about them, etc).

Now however most of these are little more than spam sites whose main purpose is to make money through affiliate schemes.  So they get people to make up reviews to make it seem like they have many more reviews than they actually have.  Review sites of products are near on useless.  In the same way that Amazon’s reviews can often be near on useless.

The more users realise this, the less likely they are to use Google to search for products.  The fewer product searches, the fewer the click throughs on Google adwords, the less money Google makes.

How does Google get itself out of this mess that it has made for itself?  A major algorithm change?  That seems unlikely.  It seems more likely that things like ‘instant’ are being designed not for shorter keyword searches, but to encourage longer keyword searches in users.  In real terms it means that SEMers and SEOers are going to have to go to even greater lengths with bespoke landing pages and keyphrase specific searches for much longer search terms.  Years ago you’d hope to optimise for Daewoo.  Now you’re going to need to oprimise for “Daewoo DUB-2850GB reviews” (yes I know I’ve got an old tv).

Or users are going to go elsewhere: straight to Amazon, Kelkoo, ebay, etc.  This will require you to make sure that your site is optimised for a whole range of different traffic types.  Hard times ahead for those content creators (especially as they’ll be asked to optimise the journey whilst doing that).

2. The Death of Online Newspapers

The trouble with newspapers is that they always tended to be for quite niche areas.  The Washington Postthe New York Times, The Sutton Guardian.  Unfortunately the world wide web doesn’t have the limited distribution models of the old print models meaning that they are no longer just local to their states (or small towns).  As they try to cater for their world wide audience of users, the local advertisers are losing interest (especially when they can use other methods online to get straight to their audiences) and the national/global advertiser baulk at the atrocious click through rates money is draining away.

What this effectively means is that there are too many online newspapers for the world.  Some of them are going to disappear down a very bad financial hole (probably dragging their print editions with them).  Those with more sustainable business models are going to survive, those who are just chasing audiences aren’t.

That means that we’re probably going to end up with a few very large news websites, lots of very small celebrity websites (linked together through social bookmarking sites like Digg, Stumbleupon, Reddit, etc or through bespoke blogging websites like Perez Hilton) and a series of websites who follow Murdoch behind a paywall (and there is no guarantee that will work).  These will all be backed up by niche websites that either report on small areas in location or subject matter.

What does that means for us?  It creates a tough job for the analysts who work for those newspapers who are going to have to change their life from optimising the website for all audiences to optimising for those that will provide the most value (either for the advertisers or the products that the website sells one).  Newspapers are very dynamic and these can change over time very quickly.  Report makers are going to have to be on their toes to ensure that those in charge get the best information and measurement is put to the front of all business and technical decisions.

3. The Mobile Web’s Applications Find Wider Use

I’ve talked about the web on mobile in the past.  We’re not at the point of making our websites work on mobiles any more, we’re at the point where people carry around mini browsers on their phone that can view the internet like any computer.  They do it on the go and if it doesn’t come quickly, they get annoyed and go somewhere else.  At the moment (due to my broadband provider having a bit of a fault), my mobile phone’s 3G connection is quicker than my broadband on my computer.  Yep, you heard that right.

My old Sony phone – it needed a mobile version of your site

Does your website have a mobile version?  It doesn’t matter any more.  We’re already at a point where if you are going to buy something from your mobile phone, you are only going to do it if you have a smart phone that is capable of seeing the full website.

Or alternatively you might want to do it through an app.  I predict that every website that sells something is going to have to create an app, otherwise they are going to be left behind.  At the moment the standard with these apps is that you should create one for Apple (and then possibly Android/Blackberry secondly) that anyone can use.  But apps in this sense of the word are probably going to disappear.  Why should I have to download your full app to see your products.

What will happen in the future is that you will create open source applications that can be run within existing web pages.  I want to be able to give my users of this blog access to (for example) web analytics books – I should be able to plug and play a right hand panel that loads (for example) an Amazon application that shows the top 5 best selling web analytics books.  Users can then interact with Amazon, buy books, do searches, etc through my web page.  They’ll never need to go to Amazon at all any more.

This brings a whole new world to internet measurement.  Not only do we need to think about where people came from when they bought things (think referrers), they’ll also have to think about what website they were on when they bought things.  And not only that, the suits upstairs are going to have to think up some way of encouraging websites to have their apps embedded on their sites (cost per acquisition seems the most sensible, but retailers will push for a ‘rent’ style model to start with is my prediction).

4. The boom of use of Analytics tools
Well, I probably would say this, wouldn’t I?  I mean, it’s my job.
Unfortunately the boom of analytics tools has been and gone.  Omniture has been and bought half of its rivals before eventually being bought out itself by Adobe.  Google and Yahoo! both have their own free tools, whereas Microsoft gave up with theirs.  IBM have got rid of their old tools and bought out CoreMetrics.  WebTrends seems to be the only major tool not to hawk itself out.
The trouble was that many of these companies were owned and run by technical people and venture capitalists.  Those dedicated to using the tools have never really had much of a say in how the tools are developed and designed for the users (yes, yes, I know about Avinash, Omniture Ideas, the Yahoo! analytics blogs, etc).  Possibly quite rightly the developers of the tools have been too focussed on ensuring the accuracy of the tools and ensuring that they stay up to date with emerging technology.
Now is the time of the analyst.  They say we are in the information age and nowhere is this more true than in an analytics world.  Who can make sense of all this data and turn it into something that is worthwhile to the website owner?  Well actually lots of people can, but they just need to be taught how to do it.  This is why I see that the changes in the use of analytics tools isn’t going to come from more analysts (there is a distinct lack of them already – there are 94 jobs in the UK on TotalJobs open at the moment for people wanting Web Analytics skills), it is going to come from more people learning basic analytics skills.
A Teacher Talks to His Students in a Classroom at Cathedral High School in New Ulm, Minnesota...

What does that mean for your analyst?  It means they are going to have a hard time linking up the work that they do in analysis (in depth stuff), dashboard and KPI creation/evaluation (not quite so in depth stuff) and teaching those less skilled how they can use the information to do their job.
Whilst a normal consultant would see teaching others to do their job as the death of their industry, there will always be enough of the in depth stuff that the average person doesn’t need (or even want) to do in their day to day job.  There will also always be enough people coming through who will need to be taught the basics of web measurement and how to use the information to do their job that this will be a never ending job.

Personally I’ve already started buying my tweed jackets with leather elbow patches.

Posted in Mobile Analytics, SEO, Web Analytics
One comment on “4 Predictions on the Future of the Web and Analytics
  1. I agree with you statement that this is the age of the Analyst. However, before this happens there needs to be a much broader emphasis on education, something that you eluded to in your post. With an ever expanding number of qualified Analysts, the ability for business to make their own independent decisions will become much easier.

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