Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A journey into Web analytics (Part IV): Web analytics, a new profession?

[This post is the last one of the series I started in June. Previous posts went through some of the key aspects of Web Analytics such its value for the business, challenges and key factors for success. I want to end it with a post dedicated to the profession of Web Analyst, Web analytics specialist or whatever title you like – there are so many of them.]

We are the people
People are an important factor, often acting as the main catalyser for successful web analytics. If you have been wandering in the Web analytics sphere, you have certainly read or heard Avinash Kaushik’s 10/90 rule: “Web analytics is 10% tool, 90% people”. How is that possible?  How can Web analytics be a full-time job? Why, as an organization, should I hire some specifically for the role?

After all, Web analytics is easy – it is just about setting-up a Google analytics account (anyone can do this) and providing visitor counts & top page listings here and there (any reporting squirrel can do this).

Don’t smile! This is a common problem – still (too) many people tend to have a very simplistic perception of the role of a Web analyst. It goes far beyond copy-pasting a piece of Javascript in a website and creating fancy pie charts in Excel.

Hello, my name is Michael and I am a Web Analytics specialist
Have some doubts? Then let me briefly explain my own role, working as a Web Analytics specialist in a large international organisation.

In short, I would say that I work on and manage online analytics related activities and projects. This includes responsibilities like gathering business requirements for online measurements, identifying key business metrics and performance indicators (KPI’s), providing technical specifications and coordination measurement implementation, implementation coordination, testing & quality auditing, setting-up tools & reports, training & coaching business users, analysing data & making recommendations, presenting resulting to different level of stakeholders, managing resources & budgets, managing relationships with vendors & suppliers. And I can keep going on. So yes, I do more than just Excel.

As you can see these tasks comprise technical tasks as well as business and management tasks. Of course, depending on the particular role, the company and the person’s own interest, it can be more technical oriented (like implementation or tool expert) or more business oriented (“pure” analyst or e-marketer). Even though, it is not rare that Web analytics is between the two sides, requiring varied skills.

The main traits of a Web Analytics specialist
What are the key skills? If you want to lure into the realm of Web Analytics and make it not just an activity but a real full-time job, a good mix of the following skills you will need:
  • A good technical background: While it is not necessary to be a Web developer, you need to be technically savvy and have a good knowledge about the Web and related technologies (HTML, Flash, Javascript). You need to understand how the Web and online measurement tools work, what are the technical constraints and limitations, impacts on the data, etc. And because you are likely to be in contact with developers, agencies and technical staff at some points, mastering a minimum of technical language is essential.
  • Business-minded: To be honest, that’s the side of the job I prefer. While online analytics rely on technologies, it first serves a business purpose. Your primary goal is to help business being successful – not to deploy state-of-the-art technologies and gadgets. Good Web analysts have a strong interest in the business aspects and objectives. You can’t do this in you don’t dive into the business world, learn to think and act in a business-oriented way.
  • Strong communication skills: This is critical as you will spend a lot of your time conveying messages to different types of audience. You need to be able to explain in simple ways sometimes complex concepts and information. You need to remove complexity from the measured data, to turn this data into business insights and recommendations. You will be the interface between two worlds and you will need to translate business requirements into technical terms and vice-versa.
  • Diplomacy & psychology: These come with the communication skills. Political aspects in organizations are important and online analytics is no exception – especially when facing HiPPO’s (Highest Paid Person Opinions). You will have to be careful in the way you communicate – making sure you don’t offend anyone while keeping moving forward. Not everyone is prepared to know the truth about their online business (what I called the “Ignorance is bliss” syndrome). Add to that the fact that IT and business rarely have a love relation and you will get a good understanding of why diplomacy is required.
  • Analytics notions: You will juggle with data almost everyday therefore having a good grasp of basic statistic notions is important. These are important when analysing results, calculating sample sizes for tests or surveys, when evaluating the confidence level (how far can you trust your data?)... While it may be not required to be statistician – in some cases, advanced analytics skills may be more than just an asset.
  • Patience & perseverance, curiosity and more: Web analytics is a long journey as explained in previous parts of the series and it often takes a lot of patience and perseverance. It is still quite young and constantly evolving with the web (i.e. fast) – just look at the development of mobile or social media. You will not have to be afraid of changes and remain curious about new technologies, new practices, and new challenges.

These are only some of the key traits of a good Web analyst. It is not always possible to find all these skills into one single person. It may be achieved by assembling an analytics dream team composed of different persons, each having specific competencies.

Web Analyst, a new super hero? Not!
Web analytics is a very interesting area (of course, I am biased when stating this :-)). Being related to online marketing and web, it is constantly evolving and changing – no time to get bored and one needs to be always willing to learn more, to be curious to explore new territories.

I am not saying that working in Web Analytics is THE ultimate job of the moment but the importance of the “people” factor in Web analytics is often under estimated or wrongly perceived. Web analytics is definitely not just a “side” job or function.

But it is up to us, Web analysts to evangelise our organisation about the business value of Web analytics, the challenges and how we can help make theory a reality.

Is the Web Analyst the new business super hero? No but it is a true profession on its own. And a challenging and exciting one!

Don’t you think so?

If you are not a Web analyst, I would love to hear your views on how you perceive Web Analytics in general, its purpose and the role of a Web analyst.

Related posts & resources:

3 comments:

  1. I enjoyed reading your post from my feeds this morning whilst I was on the train to work :)

    On top of these good traits mentioned, we need passion and great self-motivation/drive for the work we do. Without it, it makes it hard to continue on this long journey. We need to continuously improve and optimise.

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  2. I had the opportunity to listen to one of your speach during a FeWeb conference in May ... From this moment, I am reading your blog and what I can say : great articles with a lot of time to write it in order to show your passion for Web Analytics !

    Do not hesitate to share other thoughts and tips in the future !

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  3. @Joan: Don't have anything better to do than reading my blog while in the train? ;-)

    I think passion is a trait that characterized many of "us" - I can't hardly hide when I get started on Web analytics. I must sometimes look like a geek but I guess we are what we are. No way to hide it :-)

    @Hubert: Thanks for the comment and happy to hear that I managed to share and express my passion for this discipline. I decided to start this series after the FeWeb conference in May - following the good feedback I got from the people that were there.
    Hope that there will be more conferences from the FeWeb on Web Analytics.

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