Web Analytics: Not Dead Yet

In a article titled “Web Analytics Is Dead!“, Nick Sharp of WebTrends wrote:

Web analytics as a standalone discipline is no longer relevant to today’s marketers. We see web analytics evolving into marketing performance measurement (MPM). The problem marketers have today is that they don’t have visibility into their online marketing activities. MPM overcomes these challenges by providing a consistent metrics framework for all online marketing channels so marketers have one source of data. It also puts control and ownership of online marketing back into the hands of the marketing department — rather than IT.”

Responding to this post, Anil Batra replied:

The only thing I don’t agree with is the title of the article. This does not mean web analytics is dead. It is actually maturing, it is growing up.”

My take: Nick and Anil both make great points, and Anil is spot on that WA isn’t dead, but maturing. But business functions — like people — often experience growing pains. For WA, those pains will come from three sources: 1) role conflict; 2) organizational splintering; and 3) methodology battles.

1) Role conflict.
With firms increasingly taking an integrated, multichannel approach to their marketing efforts, WA will play an important role in improving marketing’s campaign measurement capabilities. But that’s not the only role it plays. Marketers are learning that they can gain new insights into consumer attitudes and behaviors by analyzing clickstream data. But that’s not all. WA also helps site developers improve site design (for a good example, see Brad Strothkamp’s report on how Wells Fargo used WA to redesign its home page).

Which role — campaign measurement, customer insight, or site design — is most important? That will vary by firm. But the practical reality is that continually developing skills and capabilities across these roles requires investment. And like so many other organizational needs that fall prey to firms’ inability to determine priorities, WA is prone to being pulled in different directions by these three competing roles.

2) Organizational splintering.
In most organizations that I’m familiar, the campaign measurement, customer insight, and site design functions tend to report into different departments — if not different VPs altogether. As WA matures, and the role conflicts become acute, there will be pressure on the current WA group — whether it reports to marketing or IT now — to split up. The campaign managers will want WA on their team, market research will want on its team, and site designers will want WA with them. Regardless of where WA reports into, the centralization/decentralization struggle that IT and other functions have experienced in the past will hit WA.

My bet: “Shadow” WA groups will spring up within large organizations and the WA function will spend the next 10 years going swinging back and forth through a de-centralization/re-centralization pendulum.

3) Methodology battles. Nick sees WA evolving into MPM and says that “MPM overcomes these challenges by providing a consistent metrics framework for all online marketing channels.” If only it were that easy.

As WA evolves — and becomes more integrated with the rest of the marketing activities in large organizations — it will get sucked into the metrics framework and methodology issues facing the “offline” marketers. The promise of “one source of data” feeding a “consistent metrics framework” isn’t going to come easy. And two of the reasons are points #1 and #2 above.

I know (or at least I think I do) that Nick meant that WA — as we know it — is dead. And that’s a good thing. But growing up is hard. Maybe that’s why some of us refuse to do so.


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