The Web Analytics Elephant

There is an Indian parable about some blind men all trying to describe an elephant. Each of them focused on one aspect of the elephant and never understood the entire elephant for what it really was.

This story reminds me of arguments about what web analytics is and the role of the web analyst.
There are many voices out there describing web analytics, and yet way too often what is being described is only one aspect of the overall art and science of winning in business by digital means.

There are some that say that web analytics is only an extension of Business Intelligence, and the future is all BI.
There are some that say that web analytics is all about marketing channel optimization with most emphasis on acquisition channels
There are some that say that web analytics is all about site experience and conversion optimization.
All of these are right to a certain extent.

Way back at the beginning of web analytics there wasn’t any consensus about what a web analyst is or does. It was just plucky intelligent people working hard to advance a nascent profession within the context of the organizations they worked in. Truthfully, there is very little consensus today. BUT here are some activities that you might find a web analytics professional engaged in:

    Marketing campaign management
    Brand marketing
    Marketing channel management
    Marketing business intelligence
    Web reporting
    Web program management
    Web project management
    Web front-end and back-end programming and development
    Data base administration
    Data mining
    Usability and user experience management
    Social media
    Public relations
    Market and consumer research
    Actuarial sciences
    and on and on and on….

Here’s the thing. Most of these are stand alone professions on their own, we web analysts just ended up doing them in a web context for our organizations or clients because we understood one fundamental element critical to online success, web data.

I don’t know about you, but I have at many times in my web analytics career felt like a jack of all trades and master of none. What I have become by necessity is a multi-disciplinary marketer with a strong emphasis on using data for making decisions. I still call myself a web analyst and refer to my industry as web analytics but truth be told I am not those things. I just use web data and my understanding of the pertinent metrics to drive forward strategies in some of the above disciplines.

And so, we as an industry struggle with the definition of what we are and what we are going to become. It is delightful to see more and more professionals working on this problem, but sad too in that what most of them are missing is the most important; there is no elephant in the room.

A special thanks to Chris Grant for supplying some additional gray matter for this post.