eMetrics, Dusseldorf – what’s next for web analytics vendors?

eMetrics - Dusseldorf
As Jim Sterne completed the second and last leg of his European tour I attended eMetrics Dusseldorf last week. My German is a tad limited to say the least, so my colleague Timo took the lead on the vendor panel and managed the Google Analytics booth with Rene. Despite my lack of local language, two excellent presentations caught my eye:

  • Rapheal Nolens from Pioneer Europe
  • Mathias Blum from Lycos Europe

Of course I am slightly bias here as both of these included analysis work conducted using Google Analytics. However Rapheal made an excellent analogy which has stuck with me:

Conducting web analytics is like riding a bicycle. The tool you use in the bicycle, but in order to get anywhere you still need to pedal i.e. do some analysis.

That is very much where the web analytics industry is today – great tools, some with bigger bells and whistles than others, but essentially very similar tools attempting to do very similar things. That is, to help you understand the visitor traffic of your web site.

But what’s next for web analytics vendors?

Some vendors are specialising on data warehouse solutions – bringing all you business metrics (offline and online) into one platform. Others are focusing development on tracking the challenges of Web 2.0 – such as social media, blogging and visitor engagement metrics. Bid management, real time visitor survey tools, integrating off-site metrics e.g. search engine rankings, server uptime, download speed etc. are cool features that I have seen.

These are all great developments, but for me the biggest opportunity for the web analytics industry is not an arms race of new features, but simplification. By this, I don’t just mean making a more easy to use menu navigation system, though of course that is also important. What I refer to is two fold:

  1. Simplify the setup process:
    Make it suitable for the average web developer/webmaster to implement. In that way, web analytics will become apart of the design process – rather than an afterthought as it is now.
  2. Simplify the user/analyst experience:
    Make gaining an understanding of visitor behaviour more accessible. The buzz words on this are accessibility and discoverability. At-a-glance reports that are structured in an intuitive manner so that you can quickly drill into the audience segment you want and ascertain “is this data good or bad for my business” i.e. what action should be taken?

Is this simply KPI reporting? No I think not. KPIs are a double distil of information from your web analytics package. Although great for messaging an easy to digest story to senior management, KPIs leave out so much they are not suitable for the strategist. But viewing all the data all of the time is overwhelming, so an intermediate level is what I propose.

What do you think? Are you looking for features that are not yet available in your vendor’s tool or is there something else? Please share your thoughts via comments.

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  1. Aurelie Pols

    Hi Brian,

    Interesting post and as René posted a comment, he asked me to review it and it spurred a(nother) discussion between the 2 of us 😉 Nothing explosive, I assure you, we’re always for a good, constructive argument.

    It’s indeed about simplification of process in order to pick up the right information and get it into your preferred tool(s) but it’s mainly today about the very adoption of this process in the first place. If the tag placement is easier, that’s even better.
    Regarding KPIs, I also agree that they are an easy reflection of some part of reality to get senior management involved and as Joachim from e-Dynamics in Düsseldorf pointed out, they are not set in stone. So, on the one hand, they can evolve and on the other, as you say, they are just one part or reflexion of what is actually going on.

    What René tried to point out, is that our social and economic structure is made out of a lot of SMEs. The unbeatable pricing of GA together with these companies’ reactivity allows them to reap the benefits of the online channel far quicker than larger corporations.
    I’ve seen large corporations blocking the adoption of GA for various reasons, pushing for the use of more “complex” tools and thus engaging into more lead time in order to get the adequate measure in place.

    I don’t think René meant that only SMEs are in for use of GA but they will not “fall” for the usage of a more expensive tool. Adoption and usage of a Web Analytics tool depends finally upon the maturity of the company, not it’s size and the good thing is that GA allows for easy integration and easy adoption of web analytics. In a sense, the pricing is a no brainier for them, allowing them to get their foot into the door and indeed knock on our door for help in terms of interpretation.
    I’m also seeing more and more companies use multiple tagging methods and adding GA on top of other products in order to measure campaign returns and bounce rates, often to please marketing or those that will engage into Adwords spends.

    There are many things that could be adapted inside web analytics tools, starting with another view of data not based in the first place on a calendar. I know it might sound odd but sometimes my focus is what someone did, over time and thus selecting a time frame through the calendar in the first place is already restrictive. Don’t get me started on cookies, I know, I’m talking about user identifiable surfing behaviour.
    Diving into the data from another perspective is therefore lately of interest to me and the reason why I’m looking for tools with open databases. I’m not yet sure it will solve some of my issues but it’s my current best, female intuition, bet.

    I also tend to follow the notion that once benchmarks are set, I would be looking for outliers. Unfortunately, web analytics tools do not just magically show you what is changing or adapting, unless you clearly specify it. I still have to go for Avinash’s “fooling for 20% of the time with the data” in order to find interesting stuff. This, of course, remains time consuming.
    I’m also often looking for correlations between product views and purchases, things that are not always easy to set-up within a tool. It’s getting better today but I remember last time I asked this question in Denmark; it took some time to figure out how to set-up the required report.
    When writing this, I can’t help but think about NetGen and the not recent acquisition by SPSS. My hopes of statistical relevance, correlation and true, valuable predictive analytics are still alive, even though barely as I still don’t see where this company might be heading related to WA. I would encourage Google to also think about Chi square for certain tools…

    Things also like links between web analytics and ad server tools would help pinpoint more specifically the notion of value I humbly believe for media and publishing companies.

    I can’t help but wonder if tools should not, at some point, become sector specific in order to serve their clients better as links between AdServers and web analytics is only of essence for business models based on advertising. I’m still not out of that one and don’t believe there will be an ideal tool. I do appreciate the way Google listens to it’s Authorised Consultants, something that can, unfortunately not be said for the other vendors.

    There was an interesting discussion spurred out by the Danes (The Milk this time) during the GAAC in Dublin about the WebSite optimizer and the fact that the different “messages” or creatives had to be uploaded onto the Google platform, therefore not being part of the content management system anymore.
    Discussions about where data should be kept and finally sit: within your CMS, Emailing tool, Web analytics tool, etc. remains a continuous debate within our organisation. Yet another issue before we might move onto something more integrate in the form of BI tools, lying around within our client’s organisations. After all, what does it mean when a CMS claims to be integrated with a WA tool? Adding tags automatically through templates is easy. Integrating data from your CMS tools with your WA tool depends upon the way you would want to use the data today and tomorrow.

    Different issues, different problems, different possible solutions.
    I know that from my side, setting up dashboards is, for the time being, what we are most about for a lot of clients. Help in terms of setting up those dashboards more easily is always welcome, a reason why we appreciate the work done by the likes of DataLink. They can also be seen as some intermediate level.

    I suppose that as long as these intermediate levels add value to the company at the right cost, there is no problem and the sector we are in will continue to evolve, in a positive way.
    Related to Google, as you pointed out with a smile on your face last year in London, it’s free and of your post, I can gather it’s an evolving product. Getting people like Avinash on board surely assures evolution and moving data centres to Mons in Belgium, capital of Europe, also reassures me.
    I’m almost positive I’m not the only one.

    Kind regards from sunny Brussels,
    Aurelie (Rachel)

  2. Brian Clifton

    You know Rene, a few years ago I would have agreed with your comment that “small businesses, is… the primary target of Google Analytics”. However having worked at Google I can see the needs and problems for using web analytics tools at some of the largest companies in the world. What surprised me in the early days of my job, was just how similar these issues are to any other business – regardless of size.

    Sure, for enterprise size clients, the volume of data is greater and getting changes done on the web site takes longer – mainly due to having to go through several layers of decision makers (content, marketing, compliance, legal, PR etc.). However the issues of a) finding the right data, b) knowing how to interpret it, and c) what to do about it, remain universal.

    In my view from Googleplex EMEA, solving a), b) and c) with Google Analytics (also combining website optimiser for c) gives a company far more insight than any feature I have seen that GA does not yet have. Of course that doesn’t mean the development of new features is not important – just that it is the combination of many facets that make a good analytics tool. I do agree with your comments about better integration and Google is working hard to achieve this.

    I compare GA’s target audience to that of AdWords – just about everyone! The difference between enterprise and small business is only in the level of account management and service those customers require/expect. As you know, Google provides its self service tools for free. However, for an Enterprise user, it makes sense for them to invest in the professional services of consultants as the returns for hiring such expertise can be significant. For example I am presenting a case study next week at Internet World London from Epikone next week which shows how they achieved a 14% improvement in the conversion rate for a retailer. That translates to millions of dollars per year.

    As you may be aware Google has its network of authorised consultants (GAACs) to provide this.

  3. René Dechamps Otamendi

    Hi Brian,

    I’ve been working since a few weeks ago in a post about the different strategies vendors are pursuing (I hope to have the inspiration to finish it soon). As we’ve been in contact with almost all major vendors this past months, I’ve got a better idea of their differences.
    You’re right when you say that many of them are pursuing different paths, and I think that this is due to the complexity of the market.

    The needs will be diferent if you are an eCommerce shop as Amazon (you maybe would better build your own tool fully integrated MVT, Personalisation & Behavioural Targeting), a big multinational (in this case what you need is scalability and being able to assemble the data coming from many countries and websites and provide a coherent technical robust framework), a media company (you have problems in getting management support to buy page views based products…), or a small businesses.

    This last example, small businesses, is for me the primary target of Google Analytics (Brian please correct me if you don’t agree ;-)). And you are right when you call for simplicity. Small business owners lack time. I consider myself one of them, as I always like to say that we are a family owned business (as Aurélie and I manage the company and my sister is also in the team) in the new technologies sector.
    Small business owners need something that will allow us to quickly gauge the state of our online investment(s). Once the owner understands how a WA tool works he will be addict 😉 Believe me it’s not just my personal experience. So simplicity will lower the bar and allow more potential users to adopt WA and pursue optimization and accountability.

    Simplicity will be the key of GA success. But this dosen’t mean that it will only be used by SMBs, we use GA with many other type of clients at OX2.

    This is mho, my 2 euro cents.

    Kind Regards,


    P.S. I’m sure next year you’ll get your medal 😉


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