Thursday, June 4, 2009

Web Analytics, Dutch women and Dennis' vision of tomorrows analytics

Web Analytics Congres 2009
Last Thursday, I spoke at the Web Analytics Congres in Amsterdam – presenting Toyota case together with WebTrends – one of the key sponsors of the event. In my part, I explained how we leverage Web Analytics in our pan-European context to drive actions and to continuously improve our business performances in true Kaizen way.

Me presenting Toyota case @ Web Analytics Congres 2009
I was really pleased and honoured to present at such event. And from what I heard or read in some posts (for example see "26 learning van Web Analytics Congres 2009") and tweets, it seems that the audience was listening and had some interest. If sharing my experience has given some ideas to anyone then my main objective is achieved!

Dutch women rule Web Analytics! presentationWhat impressed me was not only the size of the audience – around 200 attendees – but also the quality of the cases & presentations I saw (even if I did not see all of them). Web Analytics practices seem to be quite mature and well developed in the Netherlands. Web analytics is recognized and has its place in the organization of many companies like Bol or Essent that see the importance of Web Analytics. Others are regularly using A/B testing to successfully improve their website performances (from a business point of view, of course) like Wehkamp or ING.

But what surprised me the most was that in the morning sessions, five of the seven speakers were women! Who said Web Analytics was a male thing? :-)

Future of Web analytics will be on recommendation & automation
This year International Keynote was Dennis R. Mortensen, former COO of Indextools and now Director of Data Insights at Yahoo! It is always a pleasure to listen to Dennis – he’s a very good speaker with a very direct style. And he has always a few funny stories to tell. His presentation was about “Tomorrows Web Analytics Technology and Usage”.

Dennis developed thoughts expressed in a recent blog post. Today, there is still a lot of work to do to reach excellence regarding 3 main areas:

  • Data collection: Simple in theory but often a huge and complex challenge in real life.
  • Data reporting: Looking at some metrics from a WA interface is not reporting – "it is entertainment”. Data has to be reported and communicated in the most appropriate format according to your audience (and I agree on that – said the same thing during my case).
  • Getting insights from the data: Most of us still fail to get the insights we are looking for. This is, according to Dennis, one of the most difficult steps to achieve. One that requires to have a real data-driven culture
Dennis Mortensen sharing is vision of tomorrows Web analyticsBut how does Dennis see the future of Web Analytics tools – from a vendor perspective?

The problem today – Dennis pointed out – is that some companies are collecting too much data. It takes them too much time get recommendations & actions out of it. It prevents these companies to take fast & reliable actions. Being slow in today fierce world can sometimes mean to get killed by the competition. Therefore Dennis believes that focus will be on:

  • Recommendation: Based on all best practices that exist in the Web Analytics industry, it will be possible to use data modelling so tools will be able to not only report on data but to make recommendations. Recommendations on what you should do next in order to optimize your paid search campaigns, your landing pages, your online forms…
  • Automation: If tools can make recommendations, why not let them do the actions (through some advance API’s for example)? Automation would also include testing and taking appropriate actions based on the results. For me this sounds like “learning” or “intelligent” systems (it reminds me AI classes at university :-)).
My practioner perspective
Systems doing recommendations?! Well the idea is not crazy at all. Just have a look at what NextStage Analytics is preparing. This is where they are going. And it will not be in 5 years but in few months!

But, as a practioner, I must admit that I am a bit sceptical about the last point: automating actions. The barrier will not be the technology – I am sure they are plenty of genius people out there that will make that possible earlier than one may think. The barrier will be cultural. Today it is already difficult to have organizations to trust online data and to take even simple actions based on these. So I wonder how can one expect to see organizations to trust a system that would make changes to their sites? I think this is where the biggest challenge will lie. And it will take more time to go over it than to develop the required technology.

But that’s just my humble practioner opinion. What is your opinion on Dennis’ vision? I am curious to hear.

Finally, as speaker, I also received a small gift from the event organisers: a book called “Dutch Delight”. A book about Dutch cooking recipes of course – not a Red Light District guide. :-)
And a very intriguing book I must say.

I woud like to thank again WebTrends for offering me the opportunity to present and the Web Analytics Congres organizers for having me as a “guest” speaker.

Related resources:


  1. Hi Michael,

    Thank you for being on stage at our congress. I think your presentation improved a lot since we met last time in Antwerp. It was sharp and to the point, congratulations.

    Did you share your pictures of the congress somewhere on the web? I would love to use some in my video intro of the congress (i you will allow me to!)



  2. hi Ton,

    Thanks for the feedback and comments. Not sure if I really improved - just that it was a subject I master much more :-)

    Just upload few pictures I took on Flickr:

    Feel free to use them.



  3. Hi Michael,

    First of all thank you for the kind words regarding NextStage Analytics, I'll make sure you're the first in Belgium to see it when ready ;-)

    Otherwise your comment around automatic modifications of websites, I understand your concerns, but I think that there are two elements that will help this to happen:
    1. Money: if you can prove (via an A/B test for instance) that the automated version of your website is bringing you more money, then companies will have less problem accepting it. In the end the important thing is not who has done what but what are the results. If an automatic system brings you better results, then you'll accept it. ROI is king ;-)
    2. Time: History has proven that people have always issues with new disruptive technologies, but with time, mentalities change and what was not thinkable before becomes reality. Take for example the early stages of the Internet, most companies in the 90s didn't believe on this new channel (I remember advertisers saying that Internet was a gadget). Look now, nobody dares to say the the Internet is not important ;-)

    So a matter of proving results and allow time for mentalities changes.

    BTW I'm sure you did a great work presenting, sorry I missed it.



  4. Hi René,

    Thanks for your contribution - very interesting.

    I am not saying it will never work - far from that. But that main barriers will not be the technology but "people". I was the same as you said with Internet. Or any other new technologies like CRM, Content Management systems, etc. All have become quite common nowadays and no one questions the added value of such technology and systems. It will just take a lot of time :-)

    Regarding the "money" aspect, it will depend also on the cost of such technology and what it takes to make it works in a company specific context (expensive consulting services or data modelling experts). Many companies still do not get it with Web Analytics while you can often easily demonstrate positive ROI.

    We will get there - Dennis' vision makes sense. It is just a matter of time...




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