What is a Web Analyst

What is a Web Analyst

“Oh Alec!” I hear you saying, “Are you feeling melancholy and wondering what life is all about?”  No more than normal is the answer that you’ll all be happy to hear.  It is a new year, but there is no new whencanistop out there, I am afraid.  Obviously speaking about my alter ego in the third person could be slightly new, but I’m going for the personal interpersonal touch.  If you know what I mean.  And I’m sure you don’t , because I’ve lost it already and we’re only on the first post of 2010 and already I’m drivelling in the opening paragraph.  Oh wait – no, that is normal behaviour.

Actually what has really been going on with me is a little discussion that I eavesdropped on at the end of last year (that sounds so long ago, whilst actually only being last week!) that I didn’t want to comment on until I had read some of the stuff that has been going on.  So lets start at the beginning.  Or the end, as the case may be.  It started with me picking up a ‘conversation’ that Stéphane Hamel and Eric Peterson had been having on Twitter around ‘models’ (in the Business sense, not the entertainment sense :)).  To cut a long story short, Stéphane has created a model (which you can download, read yourself and then pass back comment to Stéphane as I have) which describes how ‘mature’ or advanced a company is with its Web Analytics.

Kate Moss (not the right sort of model in this case) – Wikipedia

The model describes through six different ‘pillars’ how mature your organisation is on a scale of 0 to 5 (0 being not at all and 5 being brilliant – to paraphrase).

This also led me into reading Joseph Carrabis’ “The unfulfilled Promise of Online Analytics” Part 1 and Part 2.  They are lengthy reads – I’d recommend that you plan your dinner for a bit in the middle.  Yes, I was researching this during my spare time and no I should probably not have been doing.  Part 1, in case you are wondering ponders what the problem is and part 2 ponders what to do about it, using some of the methodology that is picked up by the Maturity model suggested by Stéphane (see there is a point to this).

Anyway, all the pondering led me to an epiphany and I stopped asking What is Web Analytics? and started asking: What is a Web Analyst?  This should be something that is simple to answer for whencanistop given that it is in my job title.  I even proclaim to be one in that little blurb at the top of the screen.

What is Web Analytics?

Stéphane proclaims to be able to define Web Analytics at the start of his Maturity model as:

“The extensive use of quantitative and qualitative data (primarily, but not limited to online data), statistical analysis, explanatory (e.g. multivariate testing) and predictive models (e.g. behavioural targeting), business process analysis and fact-based management to drive a continuous improvement of online activities; resulting in higher ROI.”

Which is, as he quite rightly points out, a bit of an increase on what Wikipedia says about it (although the Wikipedia article looks a bit like it has been hijacked by someone from Nielson) .  Really what we’re talking about is collecting data about what people do on the site (by using a Web Analytics tool or by asking them in a survey) and then using it to improve the performance of the site.

What is a Web Analyst

So a Web Analyst (like yours truly) does stuff with that information.  What sort of stuff?  Well we take all that data from the tools, the surveys and any other source that we can find and we turn it into actionable insight (interestingly this last word doesn’t appear anywhere in the Web Analytics page on Wikipedia).

A web analyst (the one on the right, the one on the left is a coatis)

So we take all that information and turn it into insight that the Business people can make their website better.  Is that all we do?  Well, no not at all.  When those Business people implement it, we then tell them afterwards whether it has worked or not. In theory, you then use a continual improvement programme of measuring and providing insight and changing.

However actionable insight relies on a number of things.  Any insight can be actionable.  One of the insights I’d probably have made about this blog very early on is that I should have put it on WordPress.  So I should transfer it to WordPress, copy all the content across, redirect all the links, etc, etc.  But that isn’t going to happen, because the effort and time it would take me to do it isn’t worth my while.  The benefits are there, but the pay back from it would probably take a long time to come into fruition.  That means that not only do I have to come up with insights that are actionable, but the benefits have to outweigh the cost quickly.

Not only do I have to work out the benefits, but I have to work out what the cost is to work out if the ROI is there.  How do I do that?  I need to have a vague working knowledge of the systems that we are going to need to change.  If we’re making a change to a site, then we need to work out the Architecture of the IT, how competent the developers are (if there are any), whether it will have knock on effects, will there need to be lots of testing, etc, etc.  This means I have to have a quite detailed knowledge of the IT systems (or at least access to someone who does).

Now, I’ve worked out that the change I’m suggesting has benefit, I’ve worked out when it has benefit, how much and how long it will take to do, then there is the next step.  I have to persuade the Business that it is more important than any of the other projects that they are doing.  Not least those pesky ones that nobody knows how long it will take, how much it will cost and what the benefits will be.  When you’re working with numbers, you can be very precise about the benefit.  When you’re suggesting that you turn your logo into a dancing hamster, you can make it up as you go along, because nobody will be able to argue with you through numbers.

So we’ve got to know:

  • The information to provide the insight
  • The IT infrastructure and how to alter it (plus all those processes that always go off in IT)
  • The Business framework (how you can get funding)
  • The current projects so that you can push your project
Basically, it turns out you have to be a Business Analyst as well as a Data Analyst.  No wonder people are getting disenchanted.  Web Analytics may or may not be hard.  Being a Web Analyst is hard.

ps – would you have ever thought you’d see a picture of me and Kate Moss on the same blog post?

5 Comments on “What is a Web Analyst

  1. Alec, thank you for a very interesting and funny post. We have to admit finding ways to introduce Kate Moss and a coatis in web analytics is rather… well… very geeky or very cool! 🙂

    It’s interesting to note that your focus is on “improving the site”, which is already a huge task and plenty of work for 2010. But as you concur, the role of “web analyst” is likely to turn into a “business analyst”. At the end of the day, you can tweak your SEO as much as you want, but you can hardly make a simple 3 steps checkout if your backend system requires you to do 5… (I’ve seen all types of nice marketing twists to convince people that 12 easy steps to get an insurance quote was ok! Even making them 4 steps with a/b/c sub-steps… LOL!)

    Anyway, thanks for sharing your thoughts. Our little industry is evolving, evolving very fast, and ultimately those who can develop good “business analysis” and “data analysis” skills will be in high demand.

  2. Stephane,

    Thanks for your comment – Geek is the new cool!

    It was getting a bit late by the time I was finishing writing last night. One of the things that I was going to say, but don’t think I did was that quite frequently the company isn’t set up for mature analytics. This means getting the organisation to be ‘metrics focused’, making sure that the organisation has the processes to be able to deal with the changes (in an agile way), etc, etc.

    When computer technology became available the IT crowd pulled the Business kicking and screaming behind them to get them up to date. But that is now 20 – 30 years ago. The web has only been around realistically for 10 years and is evolving at a ridiculous pace (think when Twitter, Facebook, iphones, etc first really started). We need to pull the Busines and IT (kicking and screaming probably) into the new era. Everything must happen 10 times faster. More importantly, we need to get there before the next big thing hits us and we’re out of date again.


  3. Howdy,
    Thanks for the nod. I’m actively working on Part 3 because so many people(really and truly, lots of people…by my standards, anyway) have asked for it. If you or your readers have thoughts please let me know.
    And thanks again.

  4. I was reading back your comment about the web being 10 years old, how Twitter, Facebook and such seems to be speeding everything by 10 times. In a way, I agree because I’m right into it. On the other end, if I try to take a step back, I could argue that after all, maybe not that much has changed.

    I remember Jim Sterne saying something to the effect that at the beginning of the last century (1900), every sell was a one-on-one negotiation. It stuck me as a parallel to how we want to get back to one-to-one marketing and behavioral targeting.

    At the same time, what we call social media influencers, insiders and such have been there for ever. As Joseph said in a previous conversation, tribes gathered around camp fires, now the camp fire is virtual.

    The importance of listening to your customers is a fundamental requirement of being in business (yes, admittedly… it seems a lot of companies forgot about this!). It is only in the last few decades that a disconnect was created between the producers of a good and the consumers. Now we’re trying to close the gap.

    A bit philosophical, I admit… but sometimes, stepping back and looking at the concepts can shed a different light on what we think is so unique and new 🙂


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