Saturday, June 20, 2009

Successful Web Analytics: what does it take?

The road to successful analytics - the key values you need
Is Web Analytics hard? Well, I do not want to resurrect an old debate here but I must say that if Web Analytics may be not that hard, successful web analytics is.

We all know that Web Analytics is not just about having a tool (whether it is a free or a paid solution) and the right tags & key reports. You may have heard the famous Avinash Kaushik’s "90/10" rule: “For every 10$ you invest in your WA tool, you should invest 90$ in people". Or Eric Peterson’s "70/20/10" rule: “Web Analytics is 70% people, 20% processes & 10% tool”.

So people & process are essential for Web Analytics but is that all you need to be successful in your Web Analytics quest? No. I think you need some key “values” on top of these.

Key values you need to be successful
Recently, Jim Sterne - the Web Analytics Godfather - made a very good analogy when commenting the recent report "Online measurement and Strategy Report" from eConsultancy, comparing Web analytics to building a house:

"Web analytics reports are just lumber. It takes an architect, a designer, a builder and a lot of other skills to turn it into a house.”

On my side, I will use another analogy, comparing Web Analytics with a sport I like a lot – Formula One. Yes. Formula One! To win a race or even better to win the championship, a team (your company) needs more than having a very good car (the tool) and a very good driver (you). It needs other key ingredients to cross the finish line in first position.

The follow promo video from Toyota F1 summarizes well these key values.

  • Determination: Formula One is a very demanding discipline. So is Web analytics. In both cases, it takes a lot of patience and perseverance to get to the top. It takes a lot of time & efforts to make progress, to get all things correctly implemented, to get quality data, to get valuable insights, to make people act upon data, to establish a data-driven culture! It means also doing (and accepting) errors here and there. It means sometimes frustration, lot of frustration. You will need to get over it. Commitment all along the way and at every level is essential. Rome wasn't build in a day!
  • Continuous improvements (Kaizen): Every little detail matters in Formula 1. You need to constantly look for any small improvement that would translate in a slightly fastest lap time on the track – even if it is by 0.01 of a second. Because all improvements together make you faster and get you closer to success. Victory is not achieved overnight. Same for Web Analytics. Try to improve your processes, your work, your website step by step. Instead of looking for THE change that would rocket your results (and that you may never find), look for more modest, minor improvements that will be easier to achieve and that globally will lead you toward your goals. And if you do errors, impacts will be limited and you will learn from these. All in all, Kaizen approach is more likely to succeed than the big-leap approach.
  • Challenge: Formula One is constant challenge. It is a fast changing world with new technologies, new rules... and tough competition. It makes teams push their limits and skills further. It is kind of the same in our industry where Internet technologies, usage and businesses are evolving very fast - meaning new tools and new ways to measure these. New challenges! For example, look at social media or mobile. That is what I like in Web Analytics - the fact that it is a continuous challenge. If you manage to solve a problem, you can be sure new ones will come. There is (almost) no routine. If you don't like that then move along.
  • Teamwork: Victory in Formula 1 is the work of a whole team: designers, engineers, mechanicals, drivers, management team and more. A F1 driver alone can not make a team win. Same for Web Analytics – a Web analyst alone is not enough. It is a joint effort between business stakeholders (to define strategy and actions), IT team to host / support the tools (if hosted internally), developers (to implement tags), agencies (to advise & implement changes)… And you the Web Analytics expert as the key link between all these.
Formula One is TEAMWORK
  • Passion: this one is not in the promo video but I think that Web Analytics & Formula One share that one too: passion. I had the chance to meet many talented Web analytics experts and practioners – famous or not. All have one thing in common: passion for what they do. I think this is an important ingredient for success. Why? Because passion is contagious. Passion is a positive (winning?) attitude. So do not keep it for you – communicate your passion around. Get people on board! Get support!
So don’t think Web Analytics is one-man job – make sure your get the right people around you, working as a team and committed towards same final goal: success! Don’t be hasty and persevere. Be prepared! It is a long road to reach success. But once you get there, you will never forget the taste of victory.

The taste of victory! (Sebastian Vettel 1st victory, Monza 2008, Italy)

Related resources:


  1. Hi Michael,

    Great post as always. If I'm ever trying to explain this to clients I generally approach it from the distinction between reporting and analytics; i.e. anyone can produce a report, but it takes great skill to be able to 'analyse' it. The fact is that a lot of people don't really understand what analysis is. For me, web analysis is about doing, meaning simply that the data must be turned into action. This requires a deep analytical understanding of the business problems and potential applications; something that can never be gleaned simply from a report. A web analyst must therefore be more like a strategic consultant than simply a data analyst.

    Jonny Longden

  2. Hi Jonny,

    Thanks for the feedback (and link) - always appreciated. I fully share your view on the added-value of the web analyst - but I must say that I have not a very objective opinion :-)

    I understand your "frustration" - I feel sometimes the same (unfortunately). Sometimes I face people who think that WA is just about measuring total site visitors, time spent on the site & top pages and putting these on a nice graph & tables. So they don't always see what's special, what is the added value of Web analytics or of my role. Sad...

    It reminds me when I was working as a IT consultant, on Content management system projects. Many companies thought that it was simply a matter of deploying a powerful CMS tool and that all the rest would come along with it. Many had a really bad surprise... WA is not that different in many aspects.



  3. Hi,

    What a great analogy :)

    Do you think that the following key could be added: "money don't make everything" ?

    I ask that because Toyota, since 2002, spent a lot of money in F1 but never had a victory. In its first years, ToyotaF1 tried to enroll the best engineers and drivers to win faster, but building a success takes time, people (and all the key value you detailled). And it's only this year that ToyotaF1 is a good team. Seven years after it beginning.

    From your experience, do you think that is it the same in WebAnalytics?

  4. He, he, he... That is a valid point. I can not agree more with you. Nice contribution.

    Actually, the first time I used this analogy internally to explain why WA was not just about a tool, I concluded by: "Let's hope that we will do better in Web Analytics that we do in Formula One" :-)

    I am pretty sure that "money don't make everything" is a important characteristic and that there are plenty of cases out there where companies are doing a better job with limited budget and free tools than companies that use state-of-the-art solutions implemented by squads of consultants. But I can't talk from my personal experience.

    Unfortunately when it comes to Web analytics, we don't have the budget Toyota have in Formula One. Not even 1% of it - oh God, I wish I could have just 0.1%. That would be Wonderland! :-D

    If you think that because I work for a big name it means enormous budget and team. You would be surprised...and disappointed.

    So I guess we do a more than a decent job with a relatively limited budget and resources.



  5. Great analogy,
    I think the most important for any web analytics users is to define their Goals and KPIs, mostly people simply do not know what they want from web analytics...


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