The Three Heads of Online Analytics

Analytics Competency Center

Cardinal Path articleWho would have thought that suggesting a new definition of web analytics would spark such a great conversation! As my friend Justin wrote in a follow-up post, maybe we need to radically rethink our approach. While Justin addresses the “tools automation” aspect, I would like to share the framework I use as part of the Online Analytics Maturity Model to evangelize the role and benefits of an Analytics Competency Center.

Most people see analytics as some kind of bipolar disorder, a constant fight to find the balance between two apparently unsolvable personalities: marketing and IT.

But I believe there is more to it, as you will see in this article, it’s more like a three-headed monster waiting to be tamed.

Online Analytics

Business: start with business in mind

There is little value in doing analytics if it isn't to bring actionable insights - otherwise it should be called "reporting". Analytics should always start with a thorough understanding of the strategies and business goals which are communicated as requirements (and constraints), preferably stated as S.M.A.R.T. online objectives. In a perfectly mature organization, those would come directly from the business stakeholders. The reality is, most often, you need a business analyst to "translate" and bridge the gap between business considerations and something analysts can work with.

Technology: understand the medium

For most marketing people, this is simply "IT" and often stated with a bit of a condescending tone… There needs to be people who understand the capabilities and constraints of the technologies involved in the solution. Be it HTML, CSS and Javascript or understanding how each social media differs, how Facebook apps can be measured, understanding the differences between iPhone, iPad and Android mobile devices, etc.

You need people who know the ins and outs of the website, its technologies, how it interoperates with the back-office and how the information architecture and page naming taxonomies will impact SEO and data collection. You need people skilled at properly instrumenting the website for whichever tools you are using and how the data is stored and can be leveraged. As you can imagine, this in itself is a critical aspect and can quickly become very complex. Ultimately, the goal is to provide the means, the tools and the data to the 3rd head.

Analysis: the Sherlock Holmes factor

This is where statistics gets involved, where the analytical mindset is put to work in order to identify patterns, trends, and understand correlations. An investigative mind, problem solving methodologies and abilities to synthesize information to their most effective communicational forms are essential. The outcome is clear and simple: to provide actionable insight and recommendations back to the Business head.

Analytics Competency Center

Taming the beast

Nobody can claim to be fully skilled at all three dimensions, thus, the importance of a multidisciplinary team. Every analyst I’ve ever met was strong at one dimension, maybe two at best, but weaker in the third. Yet, all three dimensions are essential to successfully develop an analytical culture and provide the highest value. Based on my work on the Online Analytics Maturity Model, ROI of analytics will stagnate until at least two people with complementary skills are teamed and supported by a proper level of authority, a bit like the concept of "pair programming" in agile development approaches.

Stéphane will host a full day workshop on the concept of Online Analytics Maturity during eMetrics San Francisco in March and eMetrics Toronto in April. He will also present introduction sessions at several events in 2012, see his complete speaking schedule or contact Stéphane for additional information.

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